Cosmopolitanism International Law and the Persistence of Essay

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Cosmopolitanism International Law and the Persistence of the Sovereign Nation-State

Seyla Benhabib can only point to the European Union as an effective and practical example of transnationalism or post-nationalism in today's world. International law and organizations have certainly become more important than they were in 1945, but integration has proceeded much farther in Europe than any other region of the world. Today, this has become a political, social and cultural arrangement, not simply a free trade zone established to create larger markets for capitalist interests. Most rational observers would agree that this has been beneficial for all concerned and that the condition of Europe today is far preferable to that in 1918 or 1945. Will Kymlicka has no argument against European integration per se, and even welcomes the expansion of liberal nation-states to areas once ruled by fascists and Communists. His main argument with Behabib is that the nation-state cannot easily be abolished or transcended, and that liberal nationalism can be tamed to become more humane and multicultural in its treatment of minorities, indigenous and immigrants. Kymlicka concedes that even the Western democracies have come up short of the mark in these areas over the years, but he notes that they have been changing, even if slowly and reluctantly. He is correct that the nation-state can be a liberal or progressive force in the world, rather than simply taking a reactionary and xenophobic form. Kymlicka's point that the more powerful nations are only likely to accept cosmopolitan and internationalist limits on their sovereignty with which the majority of their citizens can support is also quite valid.

Seyla Benhabib: Transcending Liberal Nationalism

Seyla Benhabib's defense of liberal cosmopolitanism and internationalism begins with the defense of the trial of Adolf Eichmann for crimes against humanity, for which he was convicted and executed by an Israeli court in 1962. Like the Nuremberg trials in 1946-49, his crime was one of international rather than national law, and like all Nazi war crimes defendants Eichmann insisted that his genocidal actions had been 'legal' in the Third Reich. For Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers, national law or legal positivism could never be the basis for legality in any ethical sense, but only international standards of justice.[footnoteRef:1] In 1948, the UN Declaration of Human Rights enshrined the Nuremberg Principles into international law, as did the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the International Criminal Court and the war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. One major problem with international law and war crimes tribunals has never been with any naive notions that the defendants were innocent or excused because they were 'only following orders'. Certainly men like Eichmann, Herman Goering and the rest deserved their death sentences if anyone ever did. Few feel any sympathy for them, but the difficulty remains that the Western imperial powers never seem to apply these same liberal standards to their own governments when they commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. This double standard and hypocrisy in international law rankles the most, since no one is able to enforce it against the strongest powers when it counts the most. [1: Seyla Benhabib, "The Philosophical Basis of Cosmopolitanism" in Seyla Benhabib (ed). Another Cosmopolitanism. Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 22.]

Over the last twenty years, the European Union has become the favorite model for internationalists who favor citizenship and human rights that are no longer bound to nations or ethnic groups. Like many transnational organizations, it started as a free trade zone that benefitted large capitalist interests, but unlike all of the others it has evolved much farther in the direction of political integration. Nevertheless, as Benhabib points out "cosmopolitan justice" exists only for those born within its borders, not for illegal migrants -- or indeed even for many legal immigrants and guest workers.[footnoteRef:2] France passed a law against Muslim students wearing headscarves and burkas, for example, while xenophobia and fascist parties have been reviving throughout Europe. Even Britain still has a weak established church while Germany collects a church tax, and by no stretch of the imagination could the U.S. be called a secular society. All Western nations still struggle with the dilemma of "national identity in the age of globalization and multiculturalism."[footnoteRef:3] Benhabib is perfectly correct to assert that even though states remain the "sole legitimate units of negotiation and representation" in the present world order, their sovereign power has become more limited over the last sixty years.[footnoteRef:4] In theory, at least, they cannot violate basic human rights in the name of nationalism and national sovereignty, even though in practice their treatment of minority groups, immigrants and asylum seekers is still far from ideal. Today, the onus and the burden of proof are on nationalists to demonstrate that the nation-state can attain international standards of justice and human rights. [2: Seyla Benhabib, "Democratic Iterations" in Another Cosmopolitanism, p. 47.] [3: Benhabib, p. 55.] [4: Behhabib, p. 31.]

Will Kymlicka: Taming Liberal Nationalism

In the Western world the core of citizenship is based on individual rights such as freedom of speech, conscience and choice, and even today this is mostly still defined in terms of the nation-state. For better or worse, the nation-state is still the primary unit of sovereign power in this world, and recognizes only those limits with which it agrees -- even if many of those limits exist only on paper rather than in reality. Liberalism, democracy or even the modern nation itself hardly existed two hundred years ago, but Will Kymlicka argues correctly that these have been a great success.[footnoteRef:5] Although the nation-state has often mistreated minorities, indigenous peoples and immigrants, and nationalism has been "responsible for some of the greatest injustices in the twentieth century," liberal nationalism can be "tamed" by adopting policies of multiculturalism and regional autonomy for minorities.[footnoteRef:6] All of this has occurred in many Western nations since the Second World War, but for the most part cosmopolitanism and international law and organizations had very little to do with these changes. What really changed was public opinion, politics and social and ethical norms within these countries, that broadened the definition of human rights and who could be considered a human being. [5: Will Kymlicka, "Liberal Nationalism and Cosmopolitan Justice" in Another Cosmopolitanism, p. 129.] [6: Kymlicka, p. 130.]

Only in Europe has the ideal of transcending national citizenship actually become a reality in the form of the European Union, European Parliament and Court of Human Rights, developments which post-nationalists like Benhabib applaud and believe have not gone far enough. Kymlicka also supports the EU, the Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court, but he denies that cosmopolitanism and liberal nationalism are "inherently in tension." [footnoteRef:7] Germany once tied citizenship to national origin and ethnicity, for example, although this has been changing in recent years since EU citizens can now vote there, and children of immigrants can become citizens. For Kymlicka, however, this is an example of "taming rather than transcending liberal nationhood, and praises the EU for disseminating this model to Southern and Eastern Europe, eliminating the fascist and Communist regimes there."[footnoteRef:8] Unlike those who wish to transcend liberal nationalism, he strongly supported widening the EU as opposed to deepening it. He asserted that the EU was not particularly liberal in immigration matters or in integrating its Muslim minorities, and that rightest parties in France, Germany and other countries openly oppose liberal multiculturalism. Even on the Left, there exists "politically regressive appeasement of conservative nationalism," but because national identity is "thinner" in the U.S. And Canada than Europe these countries have been more successful in assimilating Muslims and other immigrants.[footnoteRef:9] They did not have to "abandon liberal nationalism in order to facilitate the naturalization of immigrants."[footnoteRef:10] [7: Kymlicka, p. 132.] [8: Kymlicka, p. 132.] [9: Kymlicka, pp.139-40.] [10: Kymlicka, p. 140.]

Liberal and Illiberal Nationalism in Europe and the United States

Both Kymlicka and Benhabib therefore agree that conservative or illiberal forms of nationalism still exist in Europe and the United States, but differ about whether the best policy for counting this is to tame or transcend the nation-state. In Europe, hostility toward Muslim immigrants and the inability to assimilate or integrate them was a problem long before September 11, 2001. Just the same, "the rise of fundamentalist and jihadist Islamic movements is one of the most striking phenomena of modern world politics," and this 'Protestant-ization' of Islam has indeed led to a clash of civilizations.[footnoteRef:11] Perhaps the recent revolutions in the Middle East will take a liberal-democratic form and therefore decrease the distance between them and the West, but that remains an open question. Riots in Paris in 2005, the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands in 2004, the death threats against Danish newspapers for publishing cartoons of Mohammed, and the bombings in London by British-born Muslims all underscored this cultural and religious clash. These events also lead to doubts about whether modernity always evolves in a liberal-democratic direction of if it will always become increasingly secular. To be…

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