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Lecture discusses cosmopolitanism

Brian McKenzie | Monday, October 1, 2007

Cosmopolitanism, a set of beliefs concerned with providing global justice and cultural acceptance, is a critical aspect of global citizenry and communication, Kwame Appiah, a keynote speaker at the gender studies program’s conference said Friday.

Genocide, patriotism and world governments were recurring themes throughout the conference for Appiah and fellow keynote speaker Martha Nussbaum, of the University of Chicago.

Appiah began by outlining the three core tenets of cosmopolitanism. The first is that there should be a global citizenry but not a world government. The second is that every world citizen should care about the condition of every other citizen. Finally, he stressed the importance of cultural exchange and conversation.   

He spoke about how globalization has affected the “ancient ideal of [cosmopolitanism],” because citizens of the world have an unprecedented ability to learn about and affect each other. He mentioned pollution, arms trafficking and disease transmission, but also said that a cosmopolitan world could oppose tyranny and environmental destruction.

“There are so many effective solutions to the problems facing mankind that a single society could not implement them all,” he said.

Diversity, he said, was only important because of what it made possible, not as an end itself.    

He sought to balance cultural sovereignty with inherent human rights. He quoted philosopher John Stuart Mill to assert that men should be free to make their own choices as long as they offer moral consideration to others.   

Genocide was another theme throughout the lecture.

“Tolerance does not mean there is nothing we don’t find intolerable,” he said.

Ruth Abbey, the director of Notre Dame’s Institute of Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, responded to Appiah’s lecture, saying that cosmopolitanism calls for the “cavalier … and very exacting position” of respecting those who do not believe in the equal dignity of others and will not reciprocate that respect.   

She also accused him of relaxing his position on the obligation of the world’s wealthy to the poor.  

Abbey said that one percent of the wealth of the richest tenth of the world could drastically reduce global poverty.    

Alex Neustrom, a senior at Culver Military Academy, was disappointed that the panel did not include scholars that disagreed with the key tenets of cosmopolitanism.

“Respecting views was a core tenet of cosmopolitanism,” he said.    

The conference also featured Martha Nussbaum, who spoke about the relationship between cosmopolitanism and patriotism.

“Traditionally cosmopolitans have distrusted patriotism because it makes appeals to national sentiment rather than global solidarity,” she said. “Patriotism could help create a strong global culture because it could stir citizens to make sacrifices for values beyond themselves.”

Nussbaum cited the Pledge of Allegiance’s “liberty and justice for all” phrase as an example of patriotism creating a sense of solidarity.  

She offered solutions for “purifying patriotism” of harmful exclusion and prejudice. These included constitutional guarantees, fair treatment for immigrants and an independent judiciary.

“Even in times of war, these can protect cosmopolitan values,” Nussbaum said.