In this blog post, Jorge Tanaro, David Waddington and David Talbot discuss nationalism and cosmopolitanism by bringing important historical and literary references.
After Trump, Brexit, the Dutch General Election and the French Presidential election, the split between nationalism versus cosmopolitanism is becoming more and more relevant. Polls suggest a clear political divide based largely on identity: city dwellers versus those living in the countryside; those with university degrees versus those without; the young versus the old.
In his book ‘The Road to Somewhere’, David Goodhart presents two different political identities depending on how people relate to their environment. The ‘Anywheres’ who live on and are comfortable with the global stage, likely to be graduates, have transferable skills, adapt easily to rapid change and are mobile. The ‘Somewheres’ are more rooted to a particular territory, have stronger community ties and are less comfortable with change and less likely to favour the movement of people’s.
Somewheres tend to have a strong affinity with a particular place, where they feel most safe and secure. They are more likely to be in tune with the history of that place and very protective of it. This feeling will be stronger if events within living memory have been traumatic and engendered a sense of common purpose or comradeship. European conflicts of the past are highly relevant here. Somewheres are usually tempted by nationalism, seeking the rights and entitlements that nationality confers.
Nationalists feel nostalgia for a greater past and regret for diminishing influence on the world stage. These feelings cannot and should not be easily dismissed, which brings us to another crucial point in Goodhart’s book, regarding the need “for a less thin and unhistorical understanding of people and society”. One of the problems we face in political debate is the ‘no go areas’ where debate is not permissible. As result, many serious issues that could be worked on openly to the benefit of all, remain unresolved only to become toxic and unreasonable.
Cosmopolitanism offers the possibility of an understanding but on a global scale, viewing the whole of humanity as a single community. Attachment to place is strong, but that place is the whole earth and all its peoples. Sadly, it is likely that understanding and coming to terms with this idea will be brought about only in the face of a global catastrophe, environmental and political. But out of today’s political turmoil comes a widespread desire to find a new approach to today’s problems. Cosmopolitanism is more than an idea, it is a way of life. A way of life that has purpose and a recognisable aim, the fulfilment of our human destiny. One of the most troubling and debilitating ideas today is that life is fundamentally without purpose. We have to get on with it.
In saying this, all constructive effort to imagine and build a better world is fatally undermined. The disastrous failure of 20th Century utopian ideologies led not only to the rejection of the utopian idea but of optimism and belief in a destiny of any kind. To conclude, as Oscar Wilde said: “Progress is the realisation of Utopias “.