In an ideal world, Martha Nussbaum’s generous and enlightened appeal would be exactly right. But we must deal with the world we have; and in that world frail and erring mortals give their allegiance not to praiseworthy abstractions but to specific and familiar communities.
This is surely why patriotism remains the most potent political emotion in today’s world. Unquestionably powerful forces move the planet toward cosmopolitanism: the world market, electronic technologies, instantaneous communications, fax machines, CNN — all undermine the nation-state, rush across frontiers, and foster a world without borders. Yet it is these very internationalizing pressures that drive people to seek refuge from threatening global currents beyond their control and understanding. The more people feel themselves cast adrift in a vast, impersonal, anonymous world, the more desperately they sink into some warm, intelligible, intimate, protective human unit: the more they crave a politics of identity.
Integration and disintegration, cosmopolitanism and patriotism, are thus opposites that feed on each other. The more the world integrates, the more people cling to their own in groups increasingly defined in this post-ideological era by national, ethnic, and religious allegiances. Cosmopolitanism, as Nussbaum concedes, does not command the imagination; “it offers only reason and the love of humanity, which may seem at times less colorful than other sources of belonging.”
Yet this is the world we have, and it is the world of Calvin, not the world of Condorcet. In this imperfect world, perhaps our best hope for the time being is to follow the precept of Carl Schurz: “Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”