Final thoughts on cosmopolitanism

by Cristina Rodriguez

I want to wrap up my participation in this on-line symposium by thanking Peter again for his great contribution, and the occasion for what has been for me an engrossing discussion. I also want to chime in on two of the issues raised yesterday.

1. Peter, I think that many, if not most, Americans have come to value their citizenship precisely because of its inclusiveness. The fact that it has become relatively easy to obtain and that we have eliminated all racial barriers to its acquisition is a reason to celebrate it, and to be proud of it. Sure, for some people extending its full scope to groups such as women and blacks may have diminished its value in the short-term, and the possibility of a Latino plurality in the U.S. as the result of contemporary migration may raise anxiety in some quarters. But, over time, people accept these reformulations of the institution, which make it stronger; exclusion becomes a drag on its value. And yes, as Robert Putnam has shown in his work, diversity can breed distrust. But adaptable institutions, such as our citizenship regime, are the keys to knitting diverse people together. Both our jus soli rule and the relatively open path to naturalization likely have been crucial to the United States’ ability (superior to many of our counterparts’ in Europe and elsewhere) to absorb large immigrant populations. I think I share much of Jonathan’s optimism about what he calls the American creed, which may be under pressure by today’s version of globalization, but whose institutional expressions, such as our citizenship regime as it exists today, are universalist in their orientation and therefore likely to survive the explosion of loyalties.

2. Ken, your citation to Michael Ignatieff’s skepticism regarding cosmopolitanism raises an important issue that we have not really discussed—citizenship as legal status. Everyone needs a citizenship, whether because citizenship is, in Arendt’s formulation, the “right to have rights,” or the primary security we have that we cannot be banished from at least one place on earth, or the mechanism for ensuring that everyone belongs somewhere such that every person is the ultimate responsibility of some government. I don’t understand Peter to be dismissing the importance of citizenship as legal status, but (correct me if I’m wrong Peter) he is cosmopolitan in the sense of seeing the need for forms of membership, including with legal significance, that extend beyond the traditional model of one person, one state. I share the skepticism of the sort of cosmopolitanism that believes that people’s attachments to their national contexts are on the wane, and that a more transcendent form of political and cultural identity is preferable—some of which may be animating Peter’s work. But even as I agree that people remain deeply rooted in the societies or cultures in which they were born or raised, it’s hard to deny Peter’s point that we are all more plural than ever before in our interests and affiliations, if only because of the mass diffusion of a heavily American-inflected popular culture across the globe. And mass global migration, which is hardly just a phenomenon of elites, is contributing to the cosmopolitan dynamic. Whether the condition of cultural pluralism in which we live has been or ought to be accompanied by diminished regard for national citizenship is the question. I think Peter would say “yes” to the “has been” part of that formulation, and your military officers would say “no way” to the “ought.” Whether and how we try to bridge that gap is the hard part.

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