The Nation-State and Its Discontents

The Essay: "Against Cosmpolitanism" by Michael Lind.

The Responses:

Nils Gilman & Michael Costigan: "The Arbitrage of the Nation-State."
Ulrich Beck: "The Reality of Cosmopolitanism."
Michael Lind responds.

When the eurozone was on the brink last fall, Michael Lind's summer Breakthrough Journal essay, "Against Cosmopolitanism," appeared prescient. What just a few years ago seemed to be the permanent alignment of interests between the radically different economies of Germany and Greece was replaced by an awareness of the currency union's fragility and contingency. Economic integration had outpaced political integration. The nation-state wasn't giving way to global governance. It was prevailing everywhere.

Not so fast, say Ulrich Beck, one of the world's most influential living sociologists and author of the landmark 1986 tome, Risk Society, and Nils Gilman of Monitor 360 and Michael Costigan of Global Business Network. Cosmopolitanism may not be up to snuff but the nation-state isn't doing so hot either, they argue in a new Breakthrough Forum we publish today.

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The Arbitrage of the Nation-State

Nils Gilman and Michael Costigan respond to Michael Lind's "Against Cosmopolitanism."

Michael Lind offers a bracing critique of the political fantasies of "cosmopolitanism" -- the postreligious idea of a transcendent humanity that is bound to discover some sort of institutional form that can supersede the nation-state as the primary mode of political organization. In the face of utopian dreams -- from a single world government to more negotiated forms of intergovernmental governance networks -- Lind is no doubt right to reassert the ongoing "preference for the nation-state as the unit of legitimate government," which he rightly points out "remains the most powerful force in global politics for the third century in a row."

Alas, his defense of the salience of the nation-state against the straw man of cosmopolitanism, while elegant and true, is mainly notable for being completely beside the point. For the primary role he accords the imagined enemy of cosmopolitanism obscures the reality of the forces stealthily degrading both the capacity and legitimacy of nation-states, without necessarily replacing it with any functional alternatives.

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The Reality of Cosmopolitanism

Ulrich Beck responds to Michael Lind's "Against Cosmopolitanism."

Michael Lind is correct that cosmopolitanism has too often combined an "ought" with an "is." Unfortunately, Lind makes the same mistake himself, confusing the philosophical cosmopolitanism of Immanuel Kant and Jürgen Habermas, meaning an active, conscious and voluntary ethical choice among elites to transcend narrow nationalist views, which is about norms, with social scientific cosmopolitization1, which is about facts.

In contrast to the universalizing, Eurocentric cosmopolitanism that infused the sociology of Durkheim or Comte, today, a banal, coercive and impure cosmopolitization unfolds unwanted and unseen, powerfully and confrontationally behind the facade of persisting national identities and jurisdictions. It extends from the top of the society down to everyday life -- even as national flags continue to be raised, and even if national attitudes, identities and consciousness are strongly being reaffirmed.

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Against Cosmopolitanism: Michael Lind responds

Michael Lind responds to Ulrich Beck, Nils Gilman and Michael Costigan.

In their thoughtful responses to my essay, Nils Gilman, Michael Costigan and Ulrich Beck agree with me about the naïveté of "the new cosmopolitanism" that leads thinkers like George Monbiot and Daniele Archibugi to support a "world parliament." Instead, in different ways they make the argument that the nation-state is losing authority and capacity to non-national entities and forces. As distinct from the new cosmopolitanism, which calls for the nation-state to be weakened from above by new layers of supra-national political authority, this account of the erosion of the nation-state from below and beside might be described as "the new medievalism."

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Debate Abstract

When the eurozone was on the brink last fall, Michael Lind's summer Breakthrough Journal essay, "Against Cosmopolitanism," appeared prescient. What just a few years ago seemed to be the permanent alignment of interests between the radically different economies of Germany and Greece was replaced by an awareness of the currency union's fragility and contingency. Economic integration had outpaced political integration. The nation-state wasn't giving way to global governance. It was prevailing everywhere.

Not so fast, say Ulrich Beck, one of the world's most influential living sociologists and author of the landmark 1986 tome, Risk Society, and Nils Gilman of Monitor 360 and Michael Costigan of Global Business Network. Cosmopolitanism may not be up to snuff but the nation-state isn't doing so hot either, they argue in a new Breakthrough Forum we publish today.