Cosmopolitanism: An ideology for 2021?

Cosmopolitanism is a political ideology stipulating that all human beings are members of a single global community. In the thought of cosmopolitanism there are many different views about what constitutes this community. This article will focus on the work of Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, who suggests the possibility of a cosmopolitan community in which individuals from various physical, economic and social locations enter relationships of mutual respect despite holding different religious, political and cultural beliefs.

This school of cosmopolitan thought has two main aspects. The first is the universal nature of cosmopolitanism, where everybody is part of a single global community. This postulates that we have responsibility for everybody, and that the boundaries of states should not be the boundary of our moral concern. This creates a universal morality where everybody is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. However, this concept is not unique to cosmopolitanism. What distinguishes cosmopolitanism is the second aspect, which combines this respect for universality with a recognition that there are forms of difference that should be allowed to exist within communities. People do not have to ascribe to the same values and life principles or be within the same social order for the world to exist harmoniously. Cosmopolitanism recognises that all people, who are entitled to equal respect and dignity, are going to be making different choices and living different lives. They will have different interests and faiths, and will choose to organise themselves and societies differently. In this way cosmopolitanism suggests that whilst we are all a single community, there are forms of difference that are a part of human existence in society. What is important is that these differences do not stop people from connecting with each other and existing in the same communities.

Cosmopolitanism differs from current approaches because of its focus on regular interaction between different groups and cultures in the same space. The UK takes a multiculturalist approach, in which different faiths are celebrated but also segregated, for example through single faith schools. A different approach taken in France is an integrationist approach that aims to minimise cultural differences. This approach requires everybody in France to uphold national cultural values, exemplified by the banning of full face coverings in 2011 and the requirement of secularism in its third sector. Conversely, cosmopolitanism argues that unless many of us subscribe to engaging with each other’s differences to promote living with a shared democratic responsibility, it will be difficult to overcome the issues of living together in a multi-religious and multiracial society. In this way cosmopolitanism is fundamentally different from multiculturalist and integrationist approaches, as it recognises conversation and interaction between different groups and cultures as being fundamental to overcoming differences. Regular interaction between people has a substantial impact because it makes prejudice and stereotypes difficult to uphold. Conversely, if people are siphoned off into separate subcommunities and fail to interact, as can happen in a multiculturalist approach, it becomes harder for individuals to counter prejudice. Similarly, cosmopolitanism gives the right of people to make their own lives, not just as societies but individuals. By maintaining regular interaction and dialogue between these different groups people can work together and share responsibility in building equal states. In this way, cosmopolitanism is fundamentally different from an integrationist approach, as it does not encourage a universal sharing of moral codes and ways of living. Instead, it states in order to build better societies our different ways of life and life choices need to be equally understood, acknowledged and treated as legitimate. Cosmopolitanism therefore promotes the idea of conversation, as well as regular intercultural and interfaith interactions as being essential to build societies that are free from prejudice and bias. These kinds of interactions are not fully facilitated through the multiculturalist and integrationist approaches to structuring society, and so cosmopolitanism represents a progressive alternative.

This is a powerful and useful perspective to consider when discussing current racial issues that exist in our societies, particularly relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. A recent Joint Commission report highlighted in the UK that there are clear racial injustices regarding human rights in healthcare, criminal justice, immigration, nationality and democracy. The report highlights shocking statistics, for example that the death rate for black women in childbirth in British state hospitals is five times higher than for white women. Similarly with regard to higher education, the Higher Education Statistics Authority found that black students are underrepresented in the top universities. In 2016, on average 8% of first-year undergraduates across the UK were black, however this average fell to less than 4% in Russell Group universities. This was even lower for Cambridge and Oxford, whose intakes in the same year were 1.5% and 1.2% respectively. This is by no means the full extent of racial injustice present within our current system, but a small illustration of the ways in which the state and state institutions currently perpetuate racial bias and injustice.

The extremely low intakes of black students in Oxford and Cambridge is an issue in many ways, not least because these two universities produce 90% of the country’s politicians. As a result, black voices are heavily marginalised within the core power of the state and its policy decisions, which to a limited extent explains the prejudice and racial injustice that black people face from the state today. This demonstrates the need to adopt better approaches to understanding different cultures in order to begin to eliminate these injustices. Cosmopolitanism offers a useful path forward in this sense because it proposes that interaction between all cultures is needed in order to transform society into a fairer environment, particularly related to state institutions that lead democratic governance. The lack of diversity in the voices of those currently running the country means that prejudices and biases cannot be properly addressed within state infrastructures. If the intercultural engagement proposed by cosmopolitanism is created, it can change the attitudes of individuals involved in both operating within or speaking to the state system. If this fundamental change is introduced it can help to restructure the state system which currency proliferates bias on racial and cultural identities.

As a political ideology cosmopolitanism clearly possesses a lot of merits in overcoming difference and establishing harmonious and multicultural communities. However, as the example of the UK has shown there is still much work to be done. Although this will undoubtedly be a lengthy process, a long and permanent change is needed from the injustices that permeate so strongly in our society. Cosmopolitanism should be considered, along with many other things, a useful tool in assisting this change into a fairer and equal society. On a conscious level cosmopolitanism is therefore extremely beneficial. The issue is how to build societies that support cosmopolitanism and its values of dialogue and interaction between different faiths and values. How difficult will it be in practice to ensure our societies and communities are organised in ways that sufficient conversation and interaction occurs between all the cultures, religions and values that exist within them? Only by achieving this will societies ensure there is a level of cosmopolitan understanding that reduces bias and allows for an equal appreciation and legitimacy of all values present within that society. This is a valuable question and one which is difficult to answer, but if we are to live in completely equal multiracial and multicultural societies it is a question that ultimately will need to be addressed.

Corporate Responsibility in a World Without Barriers

Transnational corporations wield considerable power. In an increasingly globalized world, transnational corporations are powerhouses of economic growth and innovation both in the developed and developing world.  But this power has often gone unchecked, either by rent-seeking states or by corrupt international bodies that allow corporations to exploit the land, labour and natural resources of developing countries and have turned a blind eye to blatant violations of international law and in many cases, to the abuse of human rights.

Although there has been much discussion in the UN itself on how to regulate transnational corporations since the 1970s, the pace and scope of globalization has intensified, and with it the need for greater regulation.  There are now transnational corporations that are more powerful than the developing nations in which they operate and while they have generated economic development there, they have also sometimes generated dire social consequences. There are countless examples of transnational corporations exploiting cheap labour, draining water resources, dumping toxins and in some cases, even accusations of assassinations. This behaviour has often been conducted with impunity.

We believe that the UN plays a vital role in setting the standards for human rights recognition and compliance and has a duty of care to those affected by corporate abuse.

The inter-governmental working group has made significant headway in this sense and we commend its move away from voluntary rule-setting to a more legally binding instrument that safeguards human rights. We particularly commend its focus on justice for victims of corporate human rights abuses and the emphasis placed on corporate social responsibility in resolution 26/9 on the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations.

However we feel that the adoption of the resolution does not have sufficient support in the highly developed home states of transnational corporations where their power is often concentrated.

Increasingly transnational corporations are becoming stateless, allowing them to conduct illicit activities with no accountability or transparency.  We believe the governments of the world must hold transnational corporations to account and ensure that the highest ethical standards are applied to their behaviour. We urge them to withhold contracts from those corporations that do not adopt proper policies in regard to their social responsibility and from those corporations that fail to examine and counter bad practice such as bribery and corporate capture within their own ranks.

Often corporations will adopt social responsibility policies as a simple marketing ploy rather than out of any sense of genuine morality.   We, therefore, call on the UN to hold these organizations to account. But more importantly, we urge corporations to adopt a business culture that fosters the values of tolerance, inclusivity and above all responsibility.  It is only in this way, that we can ensure human rights are extended to citizens everywhere and are abused nowhere. We believe that globalization should be a positive force that benefits the many, not an elite few.

Populism and Nationalism vs. Globalisation

We are living in a world where globalisation and cosmopolitanism are the greatest. However, there has been surprising advancement of right-wing populist and nationalist parties such as the increased parliamentary representation of Marine Le Pen’s Front National. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are similar phenomena. These clear manifestations of social exclusion within the western world prove that immigrants and local residents are not living in harmony and that this dichotomy is threatening our democracy. In order to better respond to the threat, we must clearly understand the reason behind the recent insurgence of populism.

“Make America Great Again” is a campaign slogan used by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. I’ve always wondered what specifically President Trump and his supporters want to “make great again”. Since the supporters disfavour immigrants inflow, does this mean bringing back racial segregation and restoring complete white supremacy? What exactly are his concerns about the immigration? According to research provided by the CATO Institute, Americans feel alienated from their own government and community and feel that they are blocked from resources and opportunities. The CATO Institute further argued that immigrants are usually the target for blame for the alienation because their cultural unfamiliarity gives a sense of negativity which distorts perception of reality.

With the help of the right wing who sees this social chasm as an opportunity to further their political interest, many Americans and Westerners claim that they are discriminated against in favour of immigrants and minorities and that they are being treated unfairly. However, their claims of experiencing “reverse racism” are in fact very misleading and are becoming a huge hindrance when dealing with reality. Then what is the reality? What forced people into this alienation even from ones’ own country?

The answer is financialisation, and the shareholder value model.  As financial capitalism develops more and more, corporate business structure, governance, and strategies have been transformed to maximise shareholders’ profits regardless of social costs. The problem is that when the debt-to-equity ratio is increasing, there is less money available for the real economy. Inevitably, real income for all households in America decreased whereas corporate profits increased tremendously.  The feelings of alienation Americans and westerners are experiencing are real, but the causes are not from the immigrants, but from the careless advancement of capitalism.

Globalisation definitely has increased the wealth of every nation, but a fair spread of wealth allocation was not realised, unfortunately. Stagnating middle-class income and increasing income inequality are causing social unrest giving rise to nationalism, protectionism, racism and you name it. Therefore, to protect our value of democracy and promote social tranquillity, we must seek to modify economic structures altogether rather than focusing on the advantage of one social group. Although Clinton’s “Stronger Together” lost the battle against Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, we must promote social inclusivity and make globalisation great for everyone.