A synthesis between cosmopolitanism and nationalism

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Razib Khan discusses the emergence of a cosmopolitan class in th 19th-century Europe — in part to emphasize that it was not purely a matter of Jewish assimilation:

The great families of Europe which came to dominate the polities of the continent after the fall of the Roman Empire were not tied to one particular national identity or ethnicity. The Anglo-Norman kings famously spoke French, and many of them lacked facility with English. Meanwhile, the mother of the king of France was from Kiev, and, and half Russian and half Swedish. Queen Elizabeth’s family consciously shed their German affinities in the early 20th-century, while her husband’s family had the throne of Greece for several decades, though apparently, he considers himself “more Danish” than anything else.

In the Islamic world for centuries Egypt was ruled by a separate caste of Turks and Circassians, the Mamelukes, even after the Ottoman conquest. The famous Safavid dynasty, which converted Iran to Shia Islam in the 16th-century, was Azeri Turk in language, but their ancestry seems to have been a recent mix of Kurd, Turk, and Pontic Greek. And let’s not forget India, where Turkic and Afghan Muslims ruled vast swaths of the subcontinent for centuries.

The period between 1815 and the present is unique in the supremacy of a particular national idea. It also coincides with the high tide of European dominance in the world. The world is going through economic and cultural rebalancing, but we don’t have the language or the expectations to understand this. The current age is one of globalization, though not necessarily any greater than the decades around 1900. But that was a more limited, European world, with the emergence of a trans-Atlantic elite (remember Winston Churchill’s mother was American). Today we have an international class of people with passports from specific nations, but global affinities. I do have friends who express more fellow-feeling and comfort with upper-middle-class elements in Dubai, London, and Singapore, than with their own fellow citizens in the hinterlands. This is partly a function of the importance of travel to the new sub-elite. And yet in the United States, 64 percent of people do not have a valid passport.

The reality is that people with passports are not going away. And the people without passports are not going away. Both of these groups have to accommodate the contingent historical reality that Westphalian nation-states exist, and we aren’t going to instantaneously create a new political arrangement which can conveniently integrate both groups. The problem with the nature of elite media, academia, and cultural and economic productivity producers is that passport holders dominate these sectors. In the 1990s this led to a delusion that the nation-state would dissolve in substance, if not de jure, just like the state boundaries in the USA are basically administrative realities.

That’s not happening. And the non-passport holding class has been negatively affected in various ways by the efficiencies of globalization, in some ways in absolute terms, but definitely in positional terms. Mainstream parties of the Left and Right, being of the passport holding class, hoped that these consequences would not be extreme. But they have been extreme. And the late 2000s financial crisis undermined what credibility the elite among the passport holding class did have.

At some point, the passport holders need to put neoclassical economic textbooks to the side and accept that there are non-economic variables which generate social cohesion and positive externalities, which allow for prosperity. And the acidic impact of globalization is eroding those factors across the developed world, resulting in the rise of populism.

But just as the medieval Catholic commonwealth is not coming back, the national systems of 1950 are not coming back. The current wave of populists is in denial, and refuses to engage with the global oligarchy’s existence, along with the much larger sub-elite of the new class global upper-middle-class. At some point, a reckoning will occur because the passport holders pay a disproportionate amount of the taxes.

What we need to see in the next few decades is a dialogue, and synthesis, between global cosmopolitanism and regional nationalism. The very forces of global efficiency have now shown us that the gains to trade and integration are not equally distributed, and the non-passport holding class, the populist voter, will never join the universal global class. But neither is the second era of globalization going to end as the first did. We are simply too integrated, and travel and communication are too easy.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Follow one more link to find out exactly why “64 percent of people do not have a valid passport.” We don’t have to go to the world, because the world comes to us. You can’t be all that insular if the people next door barely speak English.

    The elites, on the other hand, are out of touch with everybody except other elites. They are out of touch in the US, and they are out of touch overseas. They are only global in a strictly geographical sense. Culturally and socially, they are as insular and as parochial as can be.

    I’ve spent significant time overseas. Ordinary people are different in many ways, but yuppies are the same everywhere.

  2. Kirk says:

    “Cosmopolitan”. Run down that list of “elites”, again, and ask yourself why the term chosen isn’t “parasite”?

    None of those elites ran their nations to benefit anyone other than themselves. So, how did they get away with it? Why did the natives let them?

  3. Harry Jones says:

    What an elite has that no one else has is political organization. Those in power are those who specialize in obtaining and holding power. They know nothing else because they are specialists.

    Just like any other profession, parasites need to be good at what they do. If you are going to suck blood, suck blood well and ably.

    The thing about yuppies is they don’t even rise to the level of evil. They don’t have the imagination to aspire to malice. Many of them even do productive work, purely by chance. But they know nothing outside their bubble. They don’t even know or care where their bubble comes from or what sustains it. They are froth beings.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    The article made bile rise in my throat. The ‘elites’ have no loyalty to their nations just as a parasite cares not for its host. I met a retired Belgian diplomat. An obviously intelligent multilingual fellow that had all sorts of ideas of how the world from America to Africa should be managed by him and others. It didn’t appear that human nature, liberty or property mattered one whit to him in the elite scheme. The irony… he retired to North Carolina abandoning his country and criticizes American politics. He’s really no different than Ilhan Omar. Does it matter if a parasite is high brow or scum?

  5. Felix says:

    Hmmm. Talk of “parasites”? 4-0 in the comments, so far. So this:

    “the passport holders pay a disproportionate amount of the taxes”

    is not true?

    It seems to me a key question of the modern world is: How do the world’s people organize themselves when their bitterest competition lives across the street and their cooperative colleagues live 6000 miles away?

    Because that geographical arrangement is growing as we speak. Consider the telecommunications field. Or computers. Or cars. Or drugs. All of those fields are quite global. And those global fields live in a world where most power structures are nation states, geographical entities built to protect farm land.

  6. Kirk says:

    Sooooo… You want to put your faith in the trans-national, relying on nebulous “good feelings” between distant strangers and yourself, rather than your immediate neighbors? You want to ally with distant folk, against those same neighbors?

    Don’t see that working out too well, for anyone involved. What you’re advocating for is delusion.

    Raw fact is, there is no “global” anything. Try appealing to the globe the next time you’re in a foreign country, and someone decides you are the enemy. Push comes to shove, you’d better either be “one of them”, willing to join with them, or have some external big brother willing to come rescue you, because otherwise, you’re so much dead meat.

    Humans developed the nation-state for a reason; those reasons are still with us, to this day. No matter how much pie-in-the-sky transnational globalism you espouse, or how much of a true believer you are in the ideal, you still have to live somewhere. And, if you’re not “one of them” with your neighbors, then you are “the other”, and will be treated as such.

    This crap is the fallacy of the age, along with socialism. The people espousing for it truly do not grasp what they’re really asking for, or what they will actually get. The Jews and Chinese were transnationalists before there were transnational ideals, and look where that got them: Persecuted and dead. There’s a reason for that, and apparently you’re too smart to see where that idea falls apart.

    This is one of those “genius” ideas that dumbass college kids throw around the student lounge, never grasping the real implications of their smart-arse ideas, or how things will work out in the real world. The real world? You’re a citizen of the world, and an enemy of your neighbor who you see little in common with, what do you suppose happens when that neighbor figures you out? D’you really think he’s going to let an avowed enemy live next door, or do you suppose he’s going to deal directly with what he can get at? Which would be, surprise, you.

    You may not feel much feeling for that working-class schlub next door, but if you don’t want to recapitulate the experiences of the Jews in Eastern Europe, you might want to recast your elitist feelings and develop a bit of humility.

    Or, not. Too many of these sorts have the common sense of ground squirrels, and the survival chances that go with that.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    For many years, I owned a house, on the theory that I had to live somewhere. I got to know my area pretty well, and realized that I didn’t really want to live that particular somewhere after all.

    I’m grateful to the Internet for helping me connect with people who don’t happen to live close to me. It gives me more possible human interactions to choose from. Am I global? Yes, but not globalist. A nomad is not necessarily a citizen of the world.

    Wherever I happen to be, I make a point of getting to know and understand the locals. A globalist wouldn’t bother. I believe in situation awareness. The thing about wherever you happen to be is, you’re there in the midst of it

  8. Felix says:

    Kirk, was that “you” me?

  9. Kirk says:

    Felix, that’s a generalized “you” directed at the transnationalist fantasists. If you want to include yourself in that number, you would be wise to review and consider the fates of various “transnationalisms” around the world, and down the ages.

    Notably, the idea has not worked out real well for the Jews in Europe, or the Chinese in Southeast Asia, but if you think you can make it work, feel free. Don’t be real surprised when your neighbors band together and decide to do what they do best, and your nearest friends/allies are on the other side of the ocean from you, though…

    Transnationalism founders on the facts of life, which are that you have to live somewhere, and if you aren’t at one with your neighbors, you’re not going to be very well-liked, and you’ll be the first to get the blame when things go wrong. Also, it’s all too easy to loot your property, rape you women, and erase your existence when you don’t have the power of numbers on your side. Which, by definition, you’ll never have locally, as a transnational idealist.

    “Community of Man”, my ass. This has never worked, anywhere, at any time, for anyone.

  10. Felix says:

    Kirk: “that’s a generalized ‘you’ directed at the transnationalist fantasists”

    That’s what I hoped. Comments here are not threaded, so sometimes they misleadingly appear to refer to the comment just above them.

    Note: The growing group of people I referred might be modeled by Christians or Muslims (and other religions?) at various times. Or the Catholic church. This growing group is geno+geo dispersed, mono-culturish. They are unlike, say, Jews or overseas Chinese, both of whom are mono-geno+culture, geo-dispersed groups.

    I say “mono-culturish”. This growing group is clearly *still* building their culture. Specifically, I don’t see what you must chip in to join the group. No painful hazing ritual. Not much in the way of a totally berserk belief you must adopt in public. That sort of thing. (Feel free to disagree on the “totally berserk…” :) )

    Before a mono-culture is settled, this group may get too big to sustain anything like a consistent culture. Does anyone know what cultural group size limit modern communications tech can support?

  11. DJohn1 says:

    Kirk, if the transnational elites are doomed to extinction, why do they rise again and again and again? Khan isn’t wrong – the transnational dynasties ruled Europe for the better part of one thousand years. Eight hundred years before their rise, the Edict of Caracalla wiped out particularist and local Roman citizenship in the Empire.

    I think the phrase “again and again and again” captures the core of the issue. These types of swings are cyclical. As the great societies age, the asabiya that fired local strength and vigor wanes. The bloody borders that terrified the young society and unified its elites and smallholders are pushed back. With no common threats, the elites fray from and eventually turn on the smallholders. The cosmopolitan wins out over the local and rural. But in time the cosmopolitan consumes itself, and new cultures emerge from the pressure cookers of medieval interregnums.

    It is probably no surprise that the North Atlantic West is simultaneously tearing itself to shreds thirty years – one long generation – after the successful conclusion of its great existential struggle. For the Roman parallel – in 340 BC, Publius Decius Mus devoted himself to the gods and rode to his death to grant his smallholder men victory. Three hundred and nine years later, such an act would have been inconceivable madness to Octavian, as he wrapped up his self-aggrandizing victory at Actium.

    The peoples precipitate out of the background mass called population, and in time the peoples dissolve back into that background mass. The mature and curatorial existential empires suppress the peoples, but immanentize on Earth the closest possible simulacra of Augustine’s City of God that humans can achieve. And the humans who live in the cosmopolitan societies of the World Cities pronounce such regimes to be good. For as long as they last, which is not forever.

    Eventually Ibn Khaldun’s raiders emerge from the deserts or the steppe and slaughter the rich and emasculated cities. At which point the great game begins again. New societies are born, grow, and will eventually die.

    And Felix – infotech has not changed Dunbar’s Number. Beyond Dunbar’s Number, bureaucracy is necessary to rule and organize large masses of people. IT provides databases and wonderful new ways for elites to censor deplorables, but I have yet to see it organize a state fundamentally more efficient than Fredrick the Great’s Prussia.

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