Monday, November 06, 2006

Europe, Religion and Cosmopolitanism

The seeds of cosmopolitanism are present in both the liberal and the Christian traditions. But they both fall short. The universal pretension of Catholicism, for example, stumbles against the practice of enlargement of the European Union. When faced with the prospect of integrating Turkey, the Vatican and other conservative Christians in Europe responded with the metaphor of Christian roots and the necessity to maintain an homogenous society. They want to establish a Christian club, to which we can only enter if blessed by our Christian traditions. It is in essence a race based theory of belonging. Were the EU to accept this perspective, it would prove once again extremely un-European, which is what explains its present stagnation. The EU presently lacks a vision and therefore also lacks high cosmopolitan) standards by which it should judge its politics.

Potentially, the ethics of citizenship as put forward by Rawls/Habermas would have a very cosmopolitan pedigree… the fact of pluralism is central to Rawls. This is what makes him shift from a theory of justice to political liberalism. But political liberalism, even if it is explicitly dealing with the issue of what to do under conditions of unrelenting pluralism, does not give a satisfactory answer as we saw. Bracketing comprehensive views, and relying on a consensus which proves to be much too thin, cannot secure a firm ground for the progressive development of society. A truly genuine cosmopolitan vision can only happen if we let it emerge from the fact of pluralism. We should not be afraid of that. It in fact constitutes an invaluable yardstick with which we can assess the failure of the national communities to develop at the pace of their plural population. It can only in the long term sanction the end of community rooted ethics of citizenship and give way to a truly cosmopolitan ethics, which is an ethics of citizens of the world.

Unfortunately, the way liberal democracies work at the present moment reveals a very serious deficit as far as the universalisation of certain rights standards are concerned. There seems to be a bipolar attitude toward fundamental rights. As long as they are domestic rights they need to be protected, but then as soon as they go beyond the national boundaries there is a troubling hesitation.

A good illustration is the right to free expression as applied to the Mohammed cartoon saga. Imagine that internet was not available. The mohammed cartoons would have been the object of a domestic controversy. In this case, it is easy to imagine that freedom of expression for the journalist would have been protected. Probably, many people would have wanted to protest against the poor quality of those cartoons, but the saga would have ended there. Now, in our real world those poorly conceived cartoons were easily available to nearly everyone in a short amount of time. Does this mean that freedom of expression should be curtailed? Many people thought so. I disagree. The right to satire is a fundamental aspect of freedom of expression and we cannot exclude it simply because it is likely to upset some people.

Both Liberals and Religious people ought to think outside their ideological boxes. Global issues as migration, global poverty and global warming need to be addressed from a cosmopolitan viewpoint. Anything else is bound to fall too short.

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