May 28, 2015
It is increasingly apparent that the way cosmopolitanism is conceptualised is neither a productive ideal for cosmopolitans, nor particularly accurate to describe the phenomenon. Since cosmopolitanism and transnationalism share qualities, cosmopolitanism should interest the EU, even if there is clear evidence that, in the purest sense, it does not.
Traditionally, we view cosmopolitanism as an extension of the national relationship. In turn that as an extension of the civic and communal relationships, all the way back to the family unit. I find this idea loses considerable cohesion at a larger scale. It is based around an idea, or norm, of what a family, or culture, and it’s members entail. Deviation from this norm creates resentment from conforming members as they try to herd outliers back into the fold. As central authority becomes more and more distant, this behaviour becomes infeasible to maintain. For this reason, many of our countries have instituted legally-underwritten freedoms that guarantee a conscience of action to the individual. So, “socially unacceptable” behaviour that we would get away with as a private citizen is greatly in excess of what we would get away with a child. For example, the police will not come to reprimand you if you have your elbows on the table or refuse to eat your peas.
However, if we place individuals against the backdrop of the international space, this norm of identity becomes confrontational rather than unifying. The unifying mythologies of nation-states often radically differ, even within vary narrow ideological bands. So, if we are to construct a single overarching human identity– or a European one– then surely we must discard such notions as the “brotherhood of man” and stop trying to describe every relationship we have as a family.
I think Europe already does this on some levels. I think the Eurovision Song Contest is actually a splendid example of a productive transnationalism or cosmopolitianism. Opponents to European transnationalism of the nationalist variety often construe the European project as a replacement to the nation-state. I have heard arguments that once Europe becomes the highest level of authority on the continent, transnationalism will simply replace nationalism an d Europe will become another nation-state. Firstly, this falls into a conceit that every country is a nation-state in its formulation (a topic which I may return to in the future.) Secondly, it is curious that those who consider nations the nucleus of the world, simultaneously consider them to be immutable in aeternum and so fragile that should their authority be supplanted that they would cease to exist. After all, the national identity co-exists with many other identities already (individual, familial, communal, regional), so it would seem that even with a transnational structure above the national level, as Europe already has, it should not disrupt the integrity the nation. It would only add another layer to the onion.
If the onion is to be a global onion, then perhaps we should discard the notion that we are the same. In other words, maybe the only thing we have in common is that we have nothing in common. Accepting that this is, in fact, all right, would be a tremendous step forward in constructing a productive transnational or cosmopolitan identity. This is why I think last week’s ESC is a great example of this cosmopolitanism. At it’s heart, the ESC is several nations come together as nations, to bicker and infight over pop-music. At some point this seemingly disastrous stew actually congeals into, as Jason Farago of the BBC writes, a model for European Unity.
There is no central “European” culture of the ESC. There is an international dynamic and strategies within the contest itself, but I assume no-one has been disqualified for making a presentation that is considered “uneuropean”. Instead, the Italians are let to be Italian and the Finns are let to be Finnish. God bless the French, because if anyone is determined to be an outlier in the ESC it’s them. An ESC without staunch French opposition to speaking any English at all would not be Eurovision. Let the French be French. Celebrate the French for being French. That’s a productive cosmopolitanism. The French don’t need to be Germans or English or Americans or Chinese, because they’re already French and they do a hell of a job.C. Shannon