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The South Atlantic Quarterly 101.4 (2002) 869-897

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The Class Consciousness of Frequent Travelers:
Toward a Critique of Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism

Craig Calhoun

Some claim that the world is gradually becoming united, that it will grow into a brotherly community as distances shrink and ideas are transmitted through the air. Alas, you must not believe that men can be united in this way.

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

A certain attenuated cosmopolitanism had taken place of the old insular home-feeling.

—Thomas Carlyle, The Life of Robert Burns (1820)

Among the great struggles of man—good/evil, reason/unreason, etc.—there is also this mighty conflict between the fantasy of Home and the fantasy of Away, the dream of roots and the mirage of the journey.

—Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (2000)

On September 11, terrorists crashing jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon struck a blow against cosmopolitanism—perhaps more successfully than against their obvious symbolic targets, the unequal structures of global capitalism and political power. They precipitated a renewal of state-centered politics and a "war on terrorism" seeking military rather than law enforcement solutions to crime. Moved by [End Page 869] Wahabbi Islamic Puritanism and sheltered by Afghanistan's Taliban, they seemed to exemplify a simplistic opposition between backward traditionalists and Western modernism. That Muslims had long been stereotyped as the bad other to globalization only made it easier for Westerners to accept this dubious framing of the events, and made it harder for them to see a clash between different modernist projects, to miss the evidently popular message that "technology can be our weapon too."

One need be no friend to terrorism to be sorry that the dominant response to the terrorist attacks has been framed as a matter of war rather than crime, an attack on America rather than an attack on humanity. What could have been an occasion for renewing the drive to establish an international criminal court and multilateral institutions needed for law enforcement quickly became an occasion for America to demonstrate its power and its allies to fall in line with the "war on terrorism." Militarism gained and civil society lost not only on September 11 but in the response that followed. 1 This was true domestically as well as internationally, as the United States and other administrations moved to sweep aside protections for the rights of citizens and immigrants alike and strengthen the state in pursuit of "security."

In this context, the cosmopolitan ideals articulated during the 1990s seem all the more attractive but their realization much less immanent. It is important not only to mourn this, but to ask in what ways the cosmopolitan vision itself was limited—overoptimistic, perhaps, more attentive to certain prominent dimensions of globalization than to equally important others. In the wake of the cold war, it seemed to many political theorists and public actors that the moment had finally arrived not just for Kantian perpetual peace but for cosmopolitanism to extend beyond mere tolerance to the creation of a shared global democracy. It seemed easy to denigrate states as old-fashioned authorities of waning influence and to extol the virtues of international civil society. It was perhaps a weakness of this perspective that the myriad dimensions of globalization all seemed evidence of the need for a more cosmopolitan order, and therefore the tensions among them were insufficiently examined. Likewise, the cosmopolitanism of democratic activists was not always clearly distinct from that of global corporate leaders, though the latter would exempt corporate property from democratic control. Just as protesters against the World Trade Organization (WTO) often portrayed themselves as "antiglobalization," even though they formed a global social movement, advocates of cosmopolitan [End Page 870] institutions often sounded simply proglobalization rather than sufficiently discriminating among its forms.

In a sense, the noncosmopolitan side of globalization struck back on September 11. Migrants whose visions of their home cultures were more conservative and ideological than the originals figured prominently. Indeed, most of the terrorists were Arabs who had...


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