Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and Geographical Imaginations

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and Geographical Imaginations

Article excerpt

For most of the last 400 years the world-system has exhibited two distinct but intertwined tendencies. On one hand, it has witnessed a proliferation of national states with well-defined borders; on the other, it has simultaneously seen unprecedented growth in interconnectedness, of flows of capital, goods, people, and information across those borders, a phenomenon we may loosely label "globalization." Such processes speak to the endless tension of capitalism between fixity and motion, which assumes economic, political, cultural forms. These two trends are also manifest within the domain of ideology, in the forms of exclusionary nationalism and inclusive cosmopolitanism, the former frequently predicated upon ostensible self-reliance and xenophobic depictions of Others and the latter seeking to forge linkages among groups, noting their mutual reliance and interdependence. Although their interactions cannot be reduced to a simple dichotomy, nationalism and cosmopolitanism offer starkly contrasting views of identity, community, and humanity, with geographical imaginations sharply at odds with one another. In this article I explore the relationship between these two worldviews and their implications for geography.

Although it has a lengthy intellectual history, cosmopolitanism is relatively new to academic discourse and to world politics. Of course, within this intellectual tradition are multiple strains that vary by academic discipline and political emphasis. Briefly, "cosmopolitanism" may be defined as an ethical, moral, and political philosophy that seeks to uncouple ethics from distance, arguing that each person is bound up with, and obligated to, humanity as a whole. Cosmopolitans are moral universalists and insist on the inherent worthiness and dignity of all individuals, irrespective of their place of birth. In this view, no legitimate grounds exist for maintaining that some people--fellow nationals, community members, coreligionists--are more worthy than other people are; that is, those who live far away are culturally different or are not constitutive elements of one's self-defined community. The accident of where one is born is just that--an accident. As Peter Singer put it, "Geographical proximity is not in itself of any moral significance" (2004, 166). For Daniel Archibugi, "Cosmopolitans may be defined as those who know the world and feel at ease anywhere in it" (2008, 143). Pheng Cheah argued that it is "a universal humanism that transcends regional particularism" (1998, 22). Martha Nussbaum called it "a set of loyalties to humanity as a whole" (1994, 3).

My agenda in this article is ambitious. First, I briefly review the rise of the nation-state and nationalism in order to stress their contingent, malleable nature, attempting to denaturalize what is so often reified in popular culture and consciousness. Second, I offer a historical sketch of cosmopolitanism, its tenets, and its varieties. Third, I dwell on the intersections of current forms of globalization and cosmopolitanism, arguing that the contemporary world-system has steadily undermined national states and national borders, opening a space for enacting a cosmopolitan political agenda. Fourth, I explore cosmopolitanism's challenge to, and intersections with, nationalism and their competing visions of the meaning of community. Fifth, I summarize three major objections to cosmopolitanism and offer a defense. Sixth, I point to the implications of cosmopolitanism for contemporary geography, including relational spatialities of empathy and caring. Finally, I argue the case for cosmopolitan global governance and democracy and hint at why such a system may be gradually coming into being.

NATIONALISM: AN UNSYMPATHETIC CRITIQUE

The 1648 Peace of Westphalia marked a pivotal moment in the emergence of the modern world economy By ending the Thirty Years' War and guaranteeing the independence of the Netherlands and Portugal, it signaled the breakup of the vast religious empires that long dominated medieval Europe. …

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