Cosmopolitanism: The Peaceful Utopia

Illustration by Justin Walker for La Jeune Politique.

Illustration by Justin Walker for La Jeune Politique.

This article is the last in a series of three about the place of the Nation-state in a globalized world. The first part dealt with the risks of patriotism and the second part pointed out the danger of governance over government.

There is no chance whatsoever of cosmopolitanism becoming a main idea in world politics in the next fifty years. And it makes me a little bit sad. Since World War II, the world has become increasingly inter-connected. Boundaries have been removed, as have  tariffs, and transport has developed so much that intercontinental travel is now the rule, rather than the exception.

In addition to this progress, the Internet is now connecting us to the rest of the world at lightning speed. This website is no exception: its staff hails from both sides of the Atlantic and communicates on a daily basis over the latest French political news. And yet, in this ever more connected world, it is still considered acceptable that we should be governed through the 19th century structure of the nation state.

Without falling into an oversimplification of history, it is still worth noting that the atrocities of the Old World were the result of nationalism gone awry. Of course, the causes of World War I are significantly more complex than this claim alone, but one cannot deny the tensions and rivalries that emerged among the nations of Europe. On the other hand, the European Union, as something of a “supranational” body, has brought peace to its members since 1945.

Creating relations of inter-dependence is a powerful way to maintain peace, but it is not enough. The European Union is so far failing to consolidate its identity because its citizens lack a true common bond. Similarly, China and Russia have failed to stabilize their territory because they were not respecting the various ethnicities under their authority. The United States and Brazil reached this goal through a federal state and a common identity: the nation state.

Now, the challenge of cosmopolitanism is to extend this identity to the widest limit possible: mankind. “All men are created equal,” claims the Declaration of Independence. If we are, why could we not imagine a political structure in which all mankind could obtain recognition? One might say that such structure already exists in the United Nations, but as its own name affirms it, the UN is nothing but a structure that represents its member nations and not all humanity.

The same argument can be made regarding the problem of currency. In the Bretton Woods Conference that followed World War II, two opposing theories came to the surface. The first theory defended by none other than John Maynard Keynes proposed the creation of a world currency that would help regulate international commerce. Instead, the United States chose to reinforce their currency by establishing it as the universal change device, leaving the world to the risk of currency competition.

In fact, this same argument can be further developed within any domain of a state’s sovereignty: the nationalist structure of the world leaves a risk for war, which creates the necessity for a military and the maintenance of diplomatic bodies. Instead, we could have created a single body that could ensure security all over the world, as the Peace Corps of the United Nations is allowed to do when the Security Council agrees.

The problem with the Security Council is its lack of legitimacy. It cannot pretend to represent everyone when it only counts fifteen countries, with five (United States, Great Britain, France, China, and Russia) having permanent representation and the right to veto any decision. In fact, the Security Council is an instrument in the hands of the five most influential countries in the world to perpetuate their domination. Overall, it damages the reputation of the United Nations, as two of its members are not even democracies.

Therefore, is there a solution for a democratic representation of all mankind? Some thinkers, including Thomas Pogge and Martha Nussbaum, plead for the creation of a World Parliament that could help regulate the economy and the world diplomacy in order to eradicate war and poverty. Those are indeed high-minded goals, but there is little likelihood that such a body would ever be formed.

The reasons for this are simple. The nation state continues to be our framework through which we comprehend domestic and international politics. Even after almost seventy years, the European framework has not managed to replace it. But most of all, it would upset most of the compromises and equilibriums that have been struck since World War II, and it creates a risk that none of our politicians (and none of us) is ready to take. Too much is at stake, and when too much is at stake, no decisions are made. This is the reason why politics favors incremental over radical change and why the idea of cosmopolitanism will always remain a peaceful utopia.

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.


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