Held, David. “Culture and Political Community: National, Global, and Cosmopolitan.” In Conceiving Cosmopolitanism: Theory, Context, Practice, edited by Steven Vertovec and Robin Cohen, 48-58. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
1. Historical backdrop
The globalisation of culture has a long history. The expansion of great religions, pre-modern empires, etc. “For most human history, these extensive ruling cultures passed through a fragmented mosaic of local cultures and particularisms; little stood between the political centre and the village. It was only with the emergence of nation-states and national cultures that a form of cultural identity coalesced between these two poles” (Held 2002, 48). Nation-states and nationalist projects transformed the spatial organisation of culture: education, linguistic policies, postal systems etc.
During the 18th century a new form of cultural globalisation crystallized: science, liberalism and socialism were modes of thought that “transformed the ruling cultures of almost every society on the planet” (49). Much more than McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
However, since the end of WWII cultural globalisation increased tremendously. Though the vast majority of cultural products come from the USA, this does not amount to “cultural imperialism”, because culture is reinterpreted locally.
2. National culture and its Presuppositions
The creation of the modern state has helped creating a sense of nationhood. The consolidation of the ideas and narratives of the nation and nationhood has been linked to many factors:
– Attempt by ruling elites and governments to create a new identity that would legitimize the enhancement of state power and the coordination of policy
– Creation, via the education system, of a common framework of understanding, to enhance the process of state coordinated modernization
– Emergence of new communication systems, which facilitated interclass communication, and diffusion of national histories, a new imagined community
– Building a historical sense of homeland, consolidation of ethnic communities via a common public culture, shared legal rights and duties, and an economy creating mobility for its members within a bounded territory (50)
However, many nations were built on the basis of a pre-modern “ethnic core” (50).
“Political theory, by and large, has taken the nation-state as a fixed point of reference and has sought to place the state at the centre of interpretations of the nature and proper form of the political good” (Held 2002, 51).
Theory of political community:
1. Its members have a common socio-cultural identity
2. There is a common framework of “prejudices”, purposes and objectives, an “imagined community of fate”.
3. An institutional structure protects and represents the community
4. National communities “programme” actions, decisions and policies of their governments, and governments determine what is right or appropriate for their citizens
5. Members enjoy a common structure of rights and duties
Hence, the “ethical discourse cannot be detached from the “form of life” of a community; the categories of political discourse are integral to a particular tradition; and the values of such a community take precedence over or trump global requirements”. (52)
3. The Globalization of communications and culture
Critics of this model by globalists:
1. Cultural and political community today is constantly under review.
2. Failure to appreciate the diversity of political communities that individuals can appreciate
3. Globalisation had “hollowed out” states, eroding their sovereignty and autonomy
4. The fate of national community is no longer in its own hands: regional an global economic, environmental and political processes
5. National communities are locked into webs of regional and global governance
Political community and political good need to be understood as follow:
1. Individuals increasingly have complex loyalties and multi-layered identities
2. Political community begin to be re-imagined in regional and global terms
3. An institutional structure exists comprising elements of local, national, regional and global governance. At different levels, individual communities are represented and protected.
4. Globalization alters what a national community can ask of its government
5. The rights, duties and welfare of individuals can only be adequately entrenched if they are underwritten by regional and global regimes, laws and institutions.
“While for the traditionalists ethical discourse is, and remains, firmly rooted in the bounded political community, for the globalists it belongs squarely to the world of “breached boundaries” – the “world community” or global order” (Held 2002, 55).
4. Cosmopolitan alternatives
A third position, neither traditionalist nor globalist.
Globalists are true to some point about the changes in economics, politics and the environment. But they are underestimating how robust national and local cultures remain, and national institutions continue to have a central impact on public life.
“Cosmopolitanism is concerned to disclose the cultural, ethical and legal basis of political order in a world where political communities and states matter, but not only and exclusively” (57). It dates from the Stoics with “human beings living in a world of human beings and only incidentally members of polities”. But it is anachronistic after 200 years of nationalism. What is not anachronistic is “the recognition of the necessary partiality, one-sidedness and limitedness of ‘reason of political community’ or ‘reasons of state’ when judged from the perspective of a world of ‘overlapping communities of fate’ – where the trajectories of each and every country are tightly entwined” (57).
“Cosmopolitanism today must take this as a starting point, and build a robust conception of the proper basis of political community and the relations among communities”. The Kantian model is inadequate for this. “Cosmopolitanism needs to be reworked for another age.”
No space enough to develop the concept of “multi-dimensional nature of cosmopolitanism”.
Focus on “cultural cosmopolitanism”:
– does not deny cultural difference or the enduring significance of national tradition.
– Capacity to mediate between national cultures, communities of fate and alternative styles of life
– Possibility of dialogue with the traditions and discourses of others, expanding one’s framework of meaning and prejudice
– Emphasizes the possible fluidity of individual identity
Core requirements of “cultural cosmopolitanism”:
1. Recognition of the increasing interconnectedness of political communities in diverse domains including the social, economic and environmental
2. Development of an understanding of overlapping ‘collective fortunes’ that require collective solutions – locally, nationally, regionally and globally
3. The celebration of difference, diversity and hybridity while learning how to ‘reason from the point of view of others’ and mediate traditions.
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