From the nation-state to the cosmopolitan-state: politics and culture for the 21st century

Thank you Peter for commenting on “Polyfonias” and delving into literary analyses.

brueghel-tower-of-babel1I would like to add to your comment on monolingualism. It seems that today we have forgotten our past when it comes to language. Our past was Babelian (but not in the sense that the myth should serve the construction of a universal homogeneity — a powerful Judeo-Christian myth), Babelian in the sense of the plurality of languages. This proximity without a nation-state to impose one national “mother tongue” involved a necessary understanding of other cultures and languages, when exposed to them.

This is not talking about any “intellectual elite”. Central and Eastern Europe, what in the USA has been called the “new Europe”, but which is not a good description of this part of Europe, one should rather speak with Czesław Miłosz of the “other Europe” (bad French translation of “Rodzinna Europa” or “family Europe”). If one looks at a map of all the historical frontiers drawn for the past 150 years in Europe, one is struck by the fact that this “other Europe” is completely dark. Cross-cultural and multilingual exchanges have been common to most of the populations there, outside any overarching authority. Simple peasants were multilingual by birth and by necessity, simply because people were living together speaking different languages.

Even inside centralised countries such as France, it is only because of jacobinism, and the late 19th-century construction of the national state with a national culture that French and a “French identity” took over regional languages and cultures. So much so, that it has long been considered archaic and un-modern to nurture such regional cultures. But why would they be? In Spain, it has not been so and Catalunya is for instance much more recognised as a culture and language. After all, there are more inhabitants in Catalunya than in, say, Denmark. Why would one be only a region and the other a nation-state?

The congruence between culture and politics is an invention of the late 19th century national-state construction. The imposition of a single language, and by there a single culture, supposedly national is con-substantial with this form of nationalist project.

“Cosmopolitanism” need not be an elitist project. First, cosmopolitanism has been labelled elitist and utopian by nationalists themselves in the late 19th century. “Cosmopolitans” were labelled as some dangerous enemies of the national unity, and the “patrie” because of Montesquieu’s theory that a democracy can only survive if its members love the laws and cherish the res publica. During the 18th century the “cosmopolitan” is labelled as a traveller, touring Europe, and having no fixed “patrie”. Therefore, how could he/she be a good patriot? The term symbolised the aristocrats, married to several European aristocratic families. These people were rejected during the revolution, as “tyrants”, and Sieyes and others replaced the King with the “nation”. However, the “nation” at that time was a very cosmopolitan one, it included just any freeman in the world. The French revolution was supposed to be a beacon for freedom. So much so that foreigners were included, and became members of the “national assembly”. So much so that some of these “foreigners”, like Anacharsis Cloots, would proclaim humankind the sole sovereign, and the only possible nation. The concept of “nation” at that time was thus not yet “nationalised” into a French, a Danish or a Spanish nation. This came later. Soon enough however, the idea of nation became exclusive. Cosmopolitan “idealists” like Cloots were sent to the guillotine — this wonderful modern invention used in France until 1981 (1977 last execution).

However, this position of opposing nationalism and cosmopolitanism is not tenable and confusing many things. First, it assumes that cosmopolitanism is based on the idea of a cosmopolitan, and nationalism on the idea of nation. Then it assumes that a cosmopolitan is a traveller, elitist because multilingual, and without a fixed “patrie”, while the national is more concrete, fixed identity, monolingual. The idea of nation, however, can be cosmopolitan, as the concept was during the French revolution.

The real problem is when the nation is understood as a fixed concept around one language, one culture, one country, exclusive of any other, and that it is an ideology in the service of, and policy of a state — the owner of legitimate violence over individuals. In many ways, the nation-state has been and still is a necessary political and social organisation. It has created modern democracies, justice, flourishing cultures. But if understood with concepts of the nineteenth century, it is doomed to fail in a globalized world.

We need to reinvent our nations, and replace the nation-state with a cosmopolitan state, which would live more peacefully in cross-cultural co-existence with other cosmopolitan states, and inside a European Union of cosmopolitan states. Monolingualism would no longer be the norm, and everyone should be taught several languages at school and have the chance to live in other countries during their life. In other words, what the nation-state did to populations, the cosmopolitan-state should now do.

About Frank Ejby Poulsen

Education: MRes History, European University Institute, Florence, Italy. MSc Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. LLM International law and EU law, University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, France. Academia Profile: http://eui.academia.edu/FrankEjbyPoulsen Languages: French: Mother tongue Danish: C2 English: C2 German: B1-B2 Spanish: A2-B1 Norwegian and Swedish: reading comprehension
This entry was posted in Cosmopolitan comments on the news, Cosmopolitan experiences, Cosmopolitanism, Cosmopolite. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to From the nation-state to the cosmopolitan-state: politics and culture for the 21st century

  1. french translation is kind of hard at first but if you get used to it, then it is easy ,~-

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