Global citizenship is global consciousness

By Andy Ver Steegh

We don’t really talk about nuclear weapons anymore. Nuclear proliferation in regards to Iran and North Korea are prominent in the media, to be sure, but those discussions are less about the weapons themselves than about the individuals, groups, or state who (potentially) wield them. The existential anxiety that was felt during the post-WWII era was about who had nuclear capabilities to be sure, but it was also to a large degree about the existence of the weapons themselves; the fact that for perhaps the first time in human history, we could create our own globally irrevocable apocalypse. Nuclear proliferation is as dangerous as ever, but the idea of global existential calamity has been thoroughly normalized. Our generation has never known anything different.In his articles on global citizenship [“A Critical Examination of Global Citizenship: Parts I and II”, 3/31/09], Andy Pragacz identifies the idea of a common humanity as the latest guise of enduring pathologies in Western thought stretching from (unnamed) Greeks to Habermas. Our conceptions of theories of global citizenship – our vision of a united human species – are not rooted in an unbroken tradition of thought beginning in Athens and ending in the Enlightenment, as Andy Pragacz argues.

Rather, it is largely from the experience of the 20th century – World Wars, ethnic cleansing, mutually assured destruction – from which our ideal of a common humanity emerges. The world of the Rome was in many ways ‘globalized’, but moral egalitarianism was not a part of the picture. The Athenians developed a form of direct democracy, but would never have extended it beyond the city walls. (I would point out in passing that the democratic values and practices devised in Ancient Athens would give most contemporary Americans a heart attack; and vice versa). Neither the Greeks nor the Romans would ever have produced the cluster of documents – now embedded in international law – that make up the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Lying at the heart of the UNDHR is the postulation that all human beings are moral equals. The enshrinement of this value is part philosophic imagination and part reaction to material horrors. Our vision of a united humanity – our egalitarian cosmopolitan vision – does not come from a Plato, an Aristotle, or even a Cicero. It comes from the shadow of the Bomb and the aftermath of a century of global conflict.

Andy Pragacz concludes his exploration of global citizenship by critically stating, “I believe that by promoting global citizenship we are reinforc-ing currently existing societal norms one way or another.” For Pragacz, these norms are to be found in a very specific telling of intellectual history. But cosmopolitanism is not just a theory; it is a system of thought that is actively shaping not only the content of international institutions but also our more general response to the issues of contemporary international relations. Critical thinking is the cornerstone of a Macalester education. But we must have an accurate picture of what it is we will critically engage. This picture includes the nukes, but on this subject at least, not the Greeks.

Andy Ver?Steegh ’09 can be reached at [email protected]