Commentary: When the term “cosmopolitan” was originally coined, it had a different sense than it might today.
A “cosmopolitan” was not a cocktail and did not refer to a world traveler, or a magazine marketed for women, or a luxury hotel in Las Vegas.
The Greek notion of “kosmopolitês,” was summed up by Thomas Paine when he wrote, “Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
As a way of regarding the world, this proposal is very old.
In the west, cosmopolitanism dates back to the old Stoic and Cynic philosophers who dared to suggest we are members of a human community beyond our city and nation-state. You are not Athenian or Spartan, but a human on Earth.
At the United Nations last month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres argued, as he must, on behalf of international cooperation to safeguard the rights and welfare of all human beings regardless of national identity or citizenship.
President Donald Trump carried a different message, stating succinctly: “The world does not belong to globalists; it belongs to patriots.”
That line was consistent with the president’s approach to the world, which views multilateral collaboration as outmoded and risky at best and, at worst, an invitation to bargain away national sovereignty.
Instead, per this administration, every country should put its own interests first and zealously defend them amid tough bargaining or conflict with other states. That’s what patriots do: Put country first. Nationalism is what matters.
This message appeals to many during hard times. That's how populism works.
For too long, says the messenger, you have been treated as if you don’t matter by the “globalists” and elites who want to tell you what kind of light bulb to use; but I see you, and to me you are real. You are the one who matters.
It does not, of course, acknowledge that international finance capital is not constrained by national boundaries. It does not explain why profit margins soar despite unused production capacity and high global unemployment. It does not explain why the White House escalates tariffs yet compensates capital by cutting taxes and lowering restraints on finance.
When the U.S. proposes, for example, to lower the cap on international refugees accepted in the U.S. to an historic low, or forces asylum seekers from all over Central America to find shelter in Mexico while they wait for process, or seeks to curtail access to nutritional assistance, it is making presentations about who matters.
The fact that America continues to participate in the morally repugnant Saudi-led war on Yemen, the location of the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis, visiting famine, suffering and death on non-combatants, is an indication perhaps that Yemen is far away and its people less real to us. They don’t matter.
Potentially, the onslaught of sobering news about climate disruption brought about by human activity, especially our production and consumption of energy, vindicates a suggestion by the ancient Stoic philosopher Hierocles.
Hierocles visualized concentric circles of concern, proceeding from self to family and friends, then a larger community, proceeding to countrymen and then human beings as a species.
This was not a “globalism” proposed as surrender of one’s own interest to others, but a closely held kinship with our extended human family. I help me by helping you. We both matter.
Many anti-globalists fear losing individual freedom to some grim collective, but for cosmopolites like Hierocles and Paine, individual freedom was a necessity that derived its meaning from one's membership in the greater human family.
In other words, everyone matters.