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  • Being in the World: Dialogue and Cosmopolis by Fred Dallmayr
  • Franklin J. Woo, (retired) (bio)
Fred Dallmayr. Being in the World: Dialogue and Cosmopolis. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. xiv, 270 pp. Hardcover $50.00, isbn 978-0-8131-4191-6.

Fred Dallmayr is emeritus professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. For me, he is an unusual scholar of political science. Most of those whom I know are hard-nosed social scientists who deal only with quantifiable data, while all the intangibles in the realm of culture, such as myths of a people, religion, morality, and ethics, have no place within their academic purview.

As an engaged scholar with the pressing problems of the world, Dallmayr unabashedly trangresses the canons of good scholarship of his stated discipline of political science. He advocates the humanities, a liberal arts education in the manner of the German Bildung, nurturing the image of God as part of well-rounded human flourishing and responsibility. He interprets textual passages from the Hebrew bible (such as Psalm 19:1) in advocating that humans should care for all of God’s creation. Above all, he draws on the Socratic tradition of inquiry, which for him is “sustained dialogue” and “multilateral interactions” between diverse peoples in our shrunken, globalized world, where every place is virtually a “cosmopolis.” His cosmopolis is “the just and harmoniously ordered global city promised in all scriptures and philosophical mediations” (p. xii). For Dallmayr, the cosmopolis contains all the cultural treasures of humanity, which today are readily accessible to be reappropriated and reinterpreted for the common good of our time. In short, Dallmayr is “anguished” about the future possibility of life on Earth, about the prospect of a decent, humane, just “being-in-the-world” (p. xii), amid today’s massive problems of the maldistribution of Earth’s resources, the economic [End Page 71] meltdown in seamless global capitalism, terrorism by the disinherited, the nuclear threat, and the degradation and nonsustainability of planet Earth.

More than a decade ago, Stephen Toulmin described the cosmopolis as an ethos of certainty and exactitude that arose in the late seventeenth century following Europe’s devastating Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). That three decades of religious war ended with the Peace of Westphalia and the rise of nation-states, resulting in the diminishing power and influence of ecclesiastical authorities, especially of the Roman Catholic Church. That ethos of Europe was part of the Enlightenment, with its freedom from authorities and rise of modern pagan belief—all undergirded by positivistic scientific thinking. According to Toulmin, the cosmopolis is a rationally ordered society, just as ordered as Newtonian nature. Its hidden agenda is the delusion that human nature and society could be fitted into precise, manageable, and rational categories. This positivistic approach to reality has given rise to extraordinary advances in all fields of human endeavor, including social institutions and all the better things and conveniences of modern life, including modernity itself. The negative and unintended consequences that threaten humanity and planet Earth itself, however, are manifold. These have led Toulmin to conclude that the notion of nation-states is outmoded, and that some global governance and regulatory mechanisms are imperative. This is not to mention the fact that, coming from an entirely different cultural context, China has, along with modernity, adopted the nation-state model, a concept foreign to the civilizational nature of the Middle Kingdom and forced on China by Western aggressors in the nineteenth century. Ironically, China has not only adopted the Westphalian system but is insisting on Chinese sovereignty, as well as refusing to interfere with the sovereignty of other nations, including those that are despotic towards their own people and others. Toulmin suggests that to move toward a better world, perhaps the United Nation should really become a “Cooperative of States.”1

Dallmayr’s Dialogue and Cosmopolis carries on from where Toulmin left off. The former’s exploration is an Aristotelian quest for the good life in which all in the inhabited earth may live and grow, fortified by a Martin Heideggerian notion of Dasein, “being-in-the-world,” which is much more than simply being present or contained...


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