I think that I agree with each of Martha Nussbaum’s arguments for a “cosmopolitan education;” they are quite specific and sensible. I am less convinced by her underlying and overriding world view — perhaps because I am not a citizen of the world, as she would like me to be. I am not even aware that there is a world such that one could be a citizen of it. No one has ever offered me citizenship, or described the naturalization process, or enlisted me in the world’s institutional structures, or given me an account of its decision procedures (I hope that they are democratic), or provided me with a list of the benefits and obligations of citizenship, or shown me the world’s calendar and the common celebrations and commemorations of its citizens. I am wholly ignorant; and while a cosmopolitan education would be a very good thing, I don’t see, from Nussbaum’s account, that it would teach me the things that any world citizen would need to know. It would, however, teach me things that American citizens need to know: why isn’t that good enough? Can’t I be a cosmopolitan American (along with all the other things that I am)? I have commitments beyond the borders of this or any other country, to fellow Jews, say, or to social democrats around the world, or to people in trouble in faraway countries, but these are not citizen-like commitments.
Nussbaum’s image of concentric circles is more helpful than her idea of world citizenship — precisely because it suggests how odd it is to claim that my primary allegiance is, or ought to be, to the outermost circle. My allegiances, like my relationships, start at the center. Hence we need to describe the mediations through which one reaches the outer circles, acknowledging the value of, but also passing through, the others. That is not so easy to do; it requires a concrete, sympathetic, engaged but not absolutely engaged account of the inner circles — and then an effort not so much to draw the outermost circle in as to open the inner ones out. I would read the Plutarch line that Nussbaum quotes as an opening of this sort: “We should regard all human beings as our fellow citizens and neighbors.” That is, we begin by understanding what it means to have fellow citizens and neighbors; without that understanding we are morally lost. Then we extend the sense of moral fellowship and neighborliness to new groups of people, and ultimately to all people. Nussbaum’s cosmopolitan works by analogy: “regard . . . as . . . ” No doubt, commitments and obligations are diminished as they are extended, but the extension is still valuable, and that, I take it, is the value of a “cosmopolitan education.”
I suspect that Nussbaum wants something more than this, and I am a little surprised by the confidence of her cosmopolitan convictions. She is quick to see the chauvinist possibilities of Richard Rorty’s patriotism, and she worries that he makes no proposal to cope with this “obvious danger.” Shouldn’t her readers worry that she makes no proposal to cope with the obvious dangers of cosmopolitanism? The crimes of the 20th century have been committed alternately, as it were, by perverted patriots and perverted cosmopolitans. If fascism represents the first of these perversions, communism, in its Leninist and Maoist versions, represents the second. Isn’t this repressive communism a child of universalizing enlightenment? Doesn’t it teach an anti-nationalist ethic, identifying our primary allegiance (the class limitation, “workers of the world,” was thought to be temporary and instrumental) much as Nussbaum does? A particularism that excludes wider loyalties invites immoral conduct, but so does a cosmopolitanism that overrides narrower loyalties. Both are dangerous; the argument needs to be cast in different terms.