The cosmopolitan outlook is said to have begun when the Stoic philosopher Zeno announced that he was a “citizen of the world.” By “the world,” Zeno really meant the cosmos, as we recognize in the term cosmopolitan, and by cosmos he really meant the divine order, universal reason, or logos that stands behind everything (1). In saying he was a “citizen of the world,” or a “cosmopolitan,” Zeno was therefore declaring himself a loyal subject of this higher law, and at the same time renouncing his allegiance to the lesser laws and loyalties that bind citizens of a mere city-state.
Or as Marcus Aurelius put it some six hundred years after Zeno,
“The end of rational being is to be governed by the Laws of Nature and the Interest of the Universe, for these two are both the oldest and the best rules we can go by” (2).
In its high philosophical formulation, cosmopolitanism is, therefore, loyalty to logos. This logos is, incidentally, the same universal reason that the Chinese call Tao, which is why both Stoicism and Taoism teach that a good life consists in a man’s “subjecting himself to the order of the whole” (3). Here again is Marcus Aurelius:
“There are several ways of behavior by which a man may sink his quality, use his person very scurvily . . . . This in the first place is more remarkably done by murmuring at anything which happens. By doing this he makes himself a sort of excrescence of the world, breaks off from the constitution of Nature, and instead of a limb becomes an ulcer” (4).
Shut up and stop complaining! Philosophic cosmopolitanism admonishes me to “jog on in the path which Nature has chalked out, till my legs sink under me,” and always to remember that to be “uneasy at the appointments of Providence is a failure of reverence and respect” (5).
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We should not allow this high philosophic formulation to blind us to the fact that cosmopolitanism also very often serves as the ideology of empire. It is all too easy for an empire to represent itself as the “Soul of the Universe,” to represent its libido dominandi as the logos; and to represent objections to this libido dominandi as “high treason against Heaven” (6).
“Just . . . at the moment in which Octavius Caesar became lord of the world, did the age of nations pass away . . . did the universal age begin” (7).
Imperium and this sort of practical cosmopolitanism go together like ham and eggs.
“Jog on in the path in which, err, Nature, has chalked out, till your legs sink under you; and always remember that to be uneasy at the appointments of, err, Providence is a failure of reverence and respect. Above all else, no murmuring.”
This is not an accident, or a corruption of the cosmopolitan creed, because philosophical cosmopolitanism is inherently absolutist and totalitarian. This will be evident if you only reflect on the meaning of such Stoical phrases as “Universal Nature,” the “General Scheme,” and the “Plan of Providence” by which all “Fate and Futurity” is determined (7).
A philosophical cosmopolite understands himself as an “atom” in the “Universe,” and this Universe as a cosmos or “Empire of Fate” (8). Cosmopolitan politics is, therefore, a simple matter of bringing secular politics into line with the logos (or perhaps the logos into line with secular politics). And this is why Zeno, in renouncing his loyalty to any particular city, became a totalitarian.
“Zeno now imagined . . . a universal state, with one government and manner of life for all mankind” (9).
Plutarch called this “a dream of philosophic statesmanship.”
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Empires are also intimately connected to the form of practical cosmopolitanism that the jargon of today calls “multiculturalism.” Having swallowed a congeries of nations, and becoming in time unable to assimilate these nations to a universal pattern, a tired old empire grows permissive and condones every manner of life that shows sufficient reverence and respect for the suzerainty of the empire.
This sort of practical cosmopolitanism is always a twilight ideology, adopted because, as Glubb tells us,
“the influence of foreigners increasingly dominate old empires” (10)
Young empires, on the other hand, increasingly dominate foreigners! And they dominate foreigners because they believe they bear the logos in their breasts.
Permissive practical cosmopolitanism is closely connected to what we might call practical pantheism, which is the religious policy of admitting any tribal god to the imperial pantheon, so long as the tribe makes no special claims for the authority or sanctity of its god. This is “religious tolerance” in the jargon of today, and this post hoc polytheism is also a mark of cultural fatigue, cynicism, and mendacity.
The problem with both permissive practical cosmopolitanism and practical pantheism is that they are expedient, but they cannot be true. If all the gods are equal, then all the gods are equally false. If the laws and customs of every polis are equal, then all the laws and customs are equally arbitrary.
This practical cosmopolitanism is, at bottom, the policy of a cynical elite that no longer believes there is a logos, just as practical polytheism is, at bottom, the policy of a cynical elite that no longer believes there is a God. Both are just poorly disguised nihilism, and their promotion as public doctrines explains a good deal of the malaise (Nietzsche’s “Great Nausea”) that stalks the joyless streets of an old empire.
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We are all familiar with the trashy women’s magazine called Cosmopolitan. When this was launched in 1886, the title was meant to flatter readers with the notion that they were not provincial rubes and narrow-minded hicks, but were rather sophisticates and “men of the world” (it wasn’t in those days a women’s magazine). The phrase “man of the world” is, of course, an allusion to Zeno’s “citizen of the world,” although an allusion from which all of the Stoic metaphysics and morals have been removed.
Indeed, to be a “man of the world” is to be a man so broadminded as to be effectively amoral. A “man of the world” cannot be shocked because wide experience has acquainted him with all manner of men. And in this way, he has, like Zeno, renounced his loyalty to his native culture (although without having set his eyes on logos). The historian Thomas Macaulay described one man of the world this way:
“Lord Arlington . . . had, since he came to manhood, resided principally on the continent, and had learned that cosmopolitan indifference to constitutions and religions which is often observed in persons whose life has been passed in vagrant diplomacy” (11).
Arlington’s “cosmopolitan indifference” is not quite absolute, however, for Macaulay said he had developed a decided prejudice against the English constitution and the English Church. This must be born in mind when we read, for instance, the French libertine Cyrano de Bergerac boasting that,
“An honest man is neither a French man, a Dutch man, nor a Spaniard; he is a cosmopolite, a citizen of the world, and his country is everywhere” (12).
Everywhere but France, we may suppose. Returning to his native land, the cosmopolitan man of the world very often stiffens with censorious disgust.
And there is no getting around the fact that “the man of the world” is very often, in personal matters, a sensual libertine. Indeed, the term cosmopolitan frequently denotes a man who is bound by no political or moral loyalties. He is not so much a man of the world as he is a man of no particular world. The moral philosopher Frederic Denison Maurice describes the character in exactly this way,
“The phrase ‘man of the world’ denotes one who is not a member of [a] limited circle. We take him to be a person who may fall into any society and feel no embarrassment in it, but who entirely refuses to be tied by the maxims, customs, or beliefs of one or another. He floats at large; adapts himself to the circumstances of every country or class; observes them acutely, perhaps with contempt, perhaps with pity, as far as possible with indifference; is entangled by no strong sympathies or antipathies.”
And because of he is not tied by maxims or entangled in sympathies, the man of the world
“can use men to accomplish his purposes if he has ambition or avarice or any other passion to gratify; but can also dispense with them if he finds them inconvenient, or if other tools suit him better. That is nearly, I think, what we understand by a man of the world” (13)
The cosmopolitan “man of the world” is, in other words, a psychopath (just as Cosmopolitan is nowadays a magazine for psychopathic “women of the world”).
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Under certain aspects, philosophical cosmopolitanism is a very attractive doctrine, which is why traces of it are found in all serious philosophies and higher religions. It is simple sanity to believe that the world is underwritten by a logos, or Tao; and it is simple wisdom to do what we can to align our lives (personal and political) with this universal reason. The great difficulty is, however, to discern the logos; and the great problem is the unsparing rigor with which men who believe they have discerned the logos seek to impose their “Empire of Fate” on other men.
As Eric Voegelin wrote, all modern totalitarian regimes began with men who believed they had discerned the form, or meaning, or eidos of history, and who consequently made their libido dominandi into a universal “Empire of Fate.”
“The attempt at constructing an eidos of history will lead to the fallacious immanentizing of the Christian eschaton” (14).
Like so much of Voegelin’s prose, this interesting passage is not free of obscurity, but in a general way he is warning against the cosmopolitan tendency to “discern” (actually fabricate) the logos or “arc of history,” and then make a totalitarian empire to bring it to completion.
Even the “man of the world” is attractive under certain aspects. Fiercely provincial chauvinism is unworthy of a man because it betrays a gross want of charity. But, as we have seen, there is a point beyond which charity decays into “cosmopolitan indifference” and libertinism (this is the moral of Kingsley Amis’s 1971 novel, Girl, 20). There is a point beyond which cosmopolitan charity suffocates the natural human love of home (patriotism in its best sense, which is itself part of the logos). In his critical biography of Robert Burns, for instance, Thomas Carlyle described how the literature of eighteenth-century cosmopolitanism blighted “the affections which spring from a native soil,” and how it presumed a ghostly, bloodless, rootless race of readers who were not men.
“A certain attenuated cosmopolitanism had . . . taken place of the old insular home feeling; literature was, as it were, without any local environment; was not nourished by the affections which spring from a native soil . . . . The thing written bears no mark of place; it was not written so much for Englishmen, as for men; or rather . . . for certain generalizations which philosophy termed men” (15).
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What we want, therefore, is a cosmopolitanism that does not engender a totalitarian empire or louche libertines, a cosmopolitanism that broadens a man’s sympathy without destroying “the affections which spring from a native soil.” We do not find this in what I have described as the philosophical cosmopolitanism of the Stoics, or in the practical cosmopolitanism of young or old empires, or in the personal cosmopolitanism of the libertine “man of the world.”
What we want is what I can only think to call a patriotic cosmopolitanism, the form of philanthropy that begins at home.
As Tennyson put it in an early poem:
“First drink a health this solemn night,
A health to England, every guest;
That man’s the best cosmopolite
Who loves his native country best”
If truth be told, this poem (“Hands all Round,” from 1852) goes on suggest that Victorian England had a unique insight into the eidos of history, and so toys with a dangerous philosophical cosmopolitanism, but the first three lines strike me as just about right.
More nearly perfect are the opening lines of Kipling’s “Sussex,”
God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Beloved over all
Like the true philanthropist, every true lover of the earth has a home. His is rooted to (although not in) one spot that is “beloved over all.”
So one shall Baltic pines content,
As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
Before Levuka’s trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice,
The lot has fallen to me,
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea.
Kipling knew what Zeno did not, and this is that one does not become a citizen of the world by renouncing one’s citizenship in the “fair ground” of one’s home. One becomes a citizen of the world by accepting it.
(1) “I translate κοσμος generally as ‘World,’ sometimes as ‘Cosmos’. It always has the connotation of ‘divine order.” Gilbert Murray, Four Stages of Greek Religion (1912)
(2) Meditations, II.16.
(3) Eduard Zeller, History of Greek Philosophy, 2 vols. (1881).
(4) Meditations, II.16.
(5) Meditations V.4, IX.1.
(6) Meditations IX.1.
(7) Frederick Denison Maurice, Social Morality (1872)
(8) Meditations IX.1.
(9) Alexander Grant, The Ethics of Aristotle (1874)
(10) Glubb, The Fate of Empires (1977)
(11) Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England (1848)
(12) Cyrano de Bergerac, Satirical Characters and Handsome Descriptions (1658)
(13) Frederic Denison Maurice, Social Morality (1872)
(14) Eric Voegelin, The New Sceince of Politics (1951)
(15) Thomas Carlyle, Burns (1854)