Imagining Solidarity: Cosmopolitanism, Constitutional Patriotism, and the Public Sphere
Globalization and the coming of postnational and transnational society are often presented as matters of necessity. Globalization appears as an inexorable force—perhaps of progress, perhaps simply of a capitalist juggernaut, but in any case irresistible. European integration, for example, is often sold to voters as a necessary response to the global integration of capital. In Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere, a similar economistic imaginary is deployed to suggest that globalization moves of itself, and governments and citizens have only the option of adapting. Even where the globalist imaginary is not overwhelmingly economistic, it commonly shares in the image of a progressive and imperative modernization. Many accounts of the impact and implications of information technology exemplify this.
Alternatives to globalization, on the other hand, are generally presented in terms of inherited identities and solidarities in need of defense. Usually this means nations and cultural identities imagined on the model of nations; sometimes it means religions, civilizations, or other structures of identity presented by their advocates as received rather than created. The social imaginary of inherited cultural tradition and social identity is prominent in ideologies like Hindutva and essential Ethiopianness, for example, as well as widespread notions of “cultural survival.” These are denigrated by proponents of transnational society, who see national and many other local solidarities as backward or outmoded, impositions of the past on the present. Both nationalist economic protectionism and Islamist movements, thus, are seen as being simply the regressive opposite of globalization. In each case, such a perspective leaves obscure the transnational organization of the resistance movement.
In many settings, the economistic, or technologistic, imaginary of globalization is embraced by the very political leaders who advocate nationalist, religious, or other imaginaries that emphasize inherited cultural identity. The contradiction is avoided by assigning these to separate spheres. The Chinese phrase ti-yong has long signaled this, a condensation of “Western learning for material advancement, Eastern learning for spiritual essence.” Similarly divided imaginaries inform many Asian, Middle Eastern, and other societies. Even in Canada, a recent Financial Times article reported, “the country wants to become a lean global competitor while maintaining traditional local values.”1
In this essay, I take up two aspects of this discourse of globalization. First, I want to call attention to the dominance it grants social imaginaries that emphasize necessity and obscure options for political choice. Second, I want to address the inadequacy of most approaches to social solidarity in this literature. I will focus especially on the work of advocates of “cosmopolitan” approaches to transnational politics, including Jürgen Habermas with his notion of “constitutional patriotism.”
I don’t mean to denigrate cosmopolitanism—in which I hope I share—but to problematize its acceptance of economistic, modernizing imaginaries without giving adequate attention to the formation of solidarity and the conditions that enable collective choices about the nature of society. In addition to questioning whether “thin identities” are adequate underpinnings for democracy, I will suggest that the public sphere be conceptualized not simply as a setting for rational debate and decision making—thus largely disregarding or transcending issues of identity—but as a setting for the development of social solidarity as a matter of choice, rather than necessity. Such choice may be partly rational and explicit, but is also a matter of “world-making” in Hannah Arendt’s sense. The production of new culture is as important as inheritance (and distinctions between the two are less clear than common usage implies). We should accordingly broaden the sense of constitutional patriotism to include culture-forming and institution-shaping senses of constitution, as well as narrowly legal-political ones. New ways of imagining identity, interests, and solidarity make possible new material forms of social relations. These in turn underwrite mutual commitments. The moment of choice can never be fully separated from that of creativity or construction.
Cosmopolitanism and Constitutional Patriotism
Contemplating simultaneously the questions of German integration and European integration, Habermas has called for grounding political identity in constitutional patriotism.2 This is an important concretization of a more general and increasingly widespread but not uncontested cosmopolitanism. The concept suggests both constitutional limits to political loyalty and loyalty to the legally enacted constitution as such. In the latter dimension, which Habermas emphasizes, the constitution provides both a referent for public discussion and a set of procedural norms to organize it and orient it to justifiable ends. The specific contents of any conception of the good life may vary, then, and modern societies will always admit of multiple such conceptions. Constitutional patriotism underwrites no single one of these, but rather a commitment to the justification of collective decisions and the exercise of power in terms of fairness. It is thus compatible with a wide range of specific constitutional arrangements, and with a variable balance between direct reference to universal rights and procedural norms on the one hand and a more specific political culture on the other.
Similarly, ideas of rights and justice underpin a new movement of calls for cosmopolitan democracy, democracy not limited by nation-states.3 Though this is not a uniquely European development, there is a notable link between the cosmopolitan message and a certain sense of “movement” in European intellectual life. It harks back directly to the Enlightenment (complete with residual echoes of eighteenth-century aristocratic culture). It also commonly expresses a sense of what Europeans have learned about living together in a multinational region and of how Europeans may take on a civilized (if not precisely civilizing) mission in a conflict-ridden larger world. Cosmopolitanism is potentially consonant with a vision of a Europe of the nations—preserving not only cultural difference but also political autonomy—so long as nationalism is not ethnically communitarian and is subordinated to human and civil rights. But it has a stronger affinity with visions of confederation or of an even greater degree of integration, although it emphasizes the outward obligations of Europeans. What it eschews most is nationalism—especially in its separatist forms, but also any application of the nationalist vision of cultural community to supranational polities. What it claims most, in the spirit of Kant, is that people should see themselves as citizens of the world, not just of their countries.
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Earlier versions of parts of this text were presented as a Benjamin Meaker Lecture at the University of Bristol in June 2000 and to the Center for Transcultural Studies in July 2000. I am grateful for discussion from both audiences and especially to colleagues in the Center for their sustained challenges to and shaping of my ideas over many years.
- Scott Morrison and Ken Warn, “Liberals Strive to Sharpen Competitive Edge,” in “Canada Survey,” Financial Times, 11 June 2001, 1–2.
- Habermas’s abstract theoretical formulations are not altogether separate from his contributions to German public debate—notably, in this case, in relation to the incorporation of the East into a united but West-dominated Germany; to the “historians’ debate” over the legacy of the Third Reich; and to the debate over changes in the citizenship law, enacted in watered-down form to grant the children of immigrants naturalization rights. See, among many others, the essays collected in Jürgen Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory, ed. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greiff (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998).
- For thoughtful examples, see essays in Daniele Archibugi and David Held, eds., Cosmopolitan Democracy: An Agenda for a New World Order (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 1995); and Daniele Archibugi, David Held, and Martin Köhler, eds., Re-Imagining Political Community: Studies in Cosmopolitan Democracy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998); and the more sustained exposition in David Held, Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995). Habermas issues a similar call in Inclusion of the Other. See also the essays connecting the present to Kant’s cosmopolitan project in James Bohman and Matthias Lutz-Bachmann, eds., Perpetual Peace: Essays on Kant’s Cosmopolitan Ideal (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).