Humane Studies Review Spring 1996

Humane Studies Review


Volume 10 Number 2 Spring 1996

Liberalism: Cosmopolitan or Nationalist?

by Tom G. Palmer
Recent years have seen increased interest in the study of nationalism, due both to the nationalist conflicts of the post- communist world and to what Karl Popper termed the "logic of the situation" of modern welfare states. The interest generated by the former phenomenon needs no explanation, but the latter demands explication.

The modern welfare state has adopted the language of rights inherited from the struggles of classical liberals, but, unlike the rights demanded by classical liberals, which are generally universal, negative, and compossible, these rights or entitlements are particularized: they apply only to citizens or subjects of particular states and govern particular (and often non-compossible) entitlements and obligations. On what basis can such particular rights (to medical care, basic income, etc.) be limited in the way that they must be if welfare states are to be legitimated in rights-terms? If the right to medical treatment is a "human right," why does it stop at a state border?

Nationalism
A number of works have appeared recently that seek to rehabilitate the principle of nationality as setting the boundaries to these rights and thereby to offer a principled foundation for the modern redistributivist welfare state. Much of this recent work draws from the theory of political obligation offered by Ronald Dworkin in his work *Law's Empire* (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1986), in which he argues that each of us is bound by a variety of "associative or communal obligations" (p. 196) to which consent or even voluntary assumption of a role is not necessary. This theory is offered as "a general justification for the exercise of coercive power by the state" (p. 190). This ties in neatly with the redistributivist theory of justice of John Rawls, who stated in *A Theory of Justice* (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), regarding the application of his "difference principle": "I assume that the boundaries of these schemes are given by the notion of a self-contained national community" (p. 457).

Yael Tamir, in her work *Liberal Nationalism* (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), uses the term "liberal" in its contemporary American political sense (distinguished from classical liberalism) and offers nationalism as the philosophical foundation for "liberal welfare states." In effect, she draws on Dworkin's principle to support the Rawlsian welfare state. Tamir argues that nationalism should supply the "parameters for demarcating state boundaries, buttressing the view of the state as a community characterised by the mutual responsibility and the internal cohesion required by a welfare state," while liberalism provides "the moral principles needed to guide personal and institutional behavior" (p. 140). (Tamir's book is discussed sympathetically by Sanford Levinson in his essay "Is Liberal Nationalism an Oxymoron: An Essay for Judith Shklar," *Ethics* 105 [April 1995].) David Miller, in his essays "The Ethical Significance of Nationality," *Ethics* 98 (July 1988) and "In Defence of Nationality," *Journal of Applied Philosophy* 10 (1993), and in his forthcoming book *On Nationality* (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) argues for nationality as providing the ethical foundation for mutual obligations that are coercively enforceable but not universally applicable.

This development, impelled by the conceptual requirements of welfare state ideology, seems to represent a further retreat from the commitment to universal individual rights of the classical liberal tradition, and, in particular, a retreat from its cosmopolitanism, and may reveal an incoherence in the ideology of the welfare state. If cosmopolitanism is a liberal virtue, and welfare states require nationalist or tribalist foundations, perhaps liberalism and the welfare state are not as compatible as many thinkers would prefer to think.

Cosmopolitanism
The roots of cosmopolitanism in western civilization go back quite far. The idea of a "cosmopolis," or universal city, played a large role in Cynic philosophy and Stoic philosophy, and were widely spread in western christianity through the work of Cicero. The idea of a universal commonwealth of all creatures possessed of reason and speech is prominent in Cicero's writings, and became especially prominent in the high middle ages by reason of the fact that Cicero was widely emulated as a model of Latin style. (See Neal Wood, *Cicero's Social & Political Thought* [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], esp. chapter four, "Law, Justice, and Human Nature.")

Such notions of the universality of rights were further advanced by the Canon Lawyers, such as the Lawyer-Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254), who proclaimed that "land and jurisdictions can be held licitly, without sin, by infidels and not only by the faithful because these exist for all rational creatures." (See James Muldoon, *Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels: The Church and the Non-Christian World* [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979].) Cosmopolitanism and the eighteenth century enlightenment are examined by Thomas J. Schlereth in his *The Cosmopolitan Ideal in Enlightenment Thought* (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), which focuses on the writings of Franklin, Voltaire, and Hume. A recent critical approach to cosmopolitanism, which identifies it, not so much with the idea of a universal commonwealth of agents endowed with reason, but with the "rational ordering of society" (which is not quite the same thing), is found in Stephen Toulmin's *Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity* (New York: Free Press, 1990).

The cosmopolitan ideal incorporated as well the idea that individuals were free to assume obligations and associations. Thus, cosmopolitanism envisioned the movement from a society of status to a society of contract, in Sir Henry Sumner Maine's well known phrase. This ability to change one's role in society is defended against communitarian (and hence also nationalist) criticisms by Rose Lamb Coser in her *In Defense of Modernity: Role Complexity and Individual Autonomy* (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). Ernest Gellner, in his study of civil society, *Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals* (New York: Penguin Press, 1994), writes of the "modularity of man" as an essential element of civil society, i.e., the idea that the individual can divest herself of various obligations or associations without thereby becoming an outcast and a traitor. If not derivative from the notion of cosmopolitanism, these notions of role complexity and "modularity" are evidently related to the general cosmopolitan ideal.

The movement away from cosmopolitanism toward nationalism, among German thinkers especially, is chronicled (favorably) by the intellectual historian Friedrich Meinecke in his classic study Friedrich Meinecke, *Cosmopolitanism and the National State* (1907; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). (One wonders how Meinecke might have presented his subject had the work been written after the second world war and the experience of National Socialism; in his treatment of the classical liberal cosmopolitan Wilhelm von Humboldt, Meinecke regretfully notes that, "We see ... that not only the old absolutistic power state was alien to his wishes but also the modern national state, which comes into existence through the will and participation of the people and is based on a strong constitutional life that binds the ruling and the ruled together. Wherever he looks he sees potential chains for the spontaneous individual whose productivity stems purely from inner resources, and his sensitive eye sees every small cloud that could darken the freedom of the inner life" [p. 37].)

Humboldt was not the only classical liberal concerned about the dangers of national statism; Lord Acton, first Regius Professor of Modern European History at Cambridge University, also warned that "By making the State and the nation commensurate with each other in theory, it [the modern theory of nationality] reduces practically to a subject condition all other nationalities that may be within the boundary. It cannot admit them to an equality with the ruling nation which constitutes the State, because the State would then cease to be national, which would be a contradiction of the principle of its existence. According, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilisation in that dominant body which claims all the rights of the community, the inferior races are exterminated, or reduced to servitude, or outlawed, or put in a condition of dependence." (John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, "Nationality," in *Essays in the History of Liberty*, J. Rufus Fears, ed. [Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1986], pp. 431-432.) The intellectual origins of nationalist ideology are examined, and subjected to withering criticism, in Elie Kedourie's classic study, *Nationalism* (4th edition, expanded; Oxford: Blackwell, 1993).

Although much current political theory is now oriented toward particularism, of which nationalism is one variant (one need only consult the many works of the coercive "communitarian" political theorists), and toward nationalistic welfare-statism, there is also a literature on the rights of freedom of movement that draws on the cosmopolitan ideal. Several essays in *Free Movement: Ethical Issues in the Transnational Migration of People and Money*, ed., by Brian M. Barry and Robert E. Goodin (Hempel-Hempstead: Harvester- Wheatsheaf, 1992) offer robust defenses of the right to freedom of movement and trade, and the economist Julian L. Simon has defended open borders and immigration, in, for example, his *The Economic Consequences of Immigration* (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), which offers detailed analysis of the claims that immigration "takes away jobs," reduces wealth, and so forth. Legal barriers to freedom of movement are examined by Alan Dowty in his *Closed Borders: The Contemporary Assault on Freedom of Movement* (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). Moral arguments for open borders and immigration rights are offered by Joseph H. Carens in his essay "Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders," in Ronald Beiner, ed., *Theorizing Citizenship* (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).

The study of cosmopolitanism and nationalism has a long history within the tradition of classical liberal scholarship, and offers many opportunities for students of history, ethical philosophy, economics, political science, anthropology, and many other disciplines. As a "hot topic" at the moment, the issue also offers opportunities for term papers, journal articles, and other publications.


Tom G. Palmer
Research Fellow in Political Theory
Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University
and Hertford College, Oxford University

Copyright 1996 by the Institute for Humane Studies