andré barata

“O jogo da filosofia é sempre um jogo insensato. Supor, porém, que não fosse absolutamente sério seria um ultraje. Se não fosse subversivo, irritante e insuportável, Sócrates teria sido simplesmente ridículo”.

Towards a cosmopolitanism of proximity


In this brief talk, I would like to take a course along 4 or 5 steps. I will begin by outlining what a global civil society has in common with civil societies in general and therefore justifies it being thus designated. Next, I will trace a parallel: just as civil society stands in relation to a state or political/governmental power, it is important to ask what would be a desirable counterpart for an emerging global civil society. That question articulates an understanding of cosmopolitanism compatible with an understanding of patriotism, and what I propose to call "cosmopolitanism of proximity." On the other hand, I will pay attention to the criticism of what might be called "cosmopolitanism of distances." Finally, these observations will allow us to reflect on European tension in face of cosmopolitanism and the many lessons to be learned from the experience of a country like Bangladesh.



Cosmopolitanism is arguably the answer against the rise of nationalisms, hard border politics, xenophobia, and discrimination of ethnical and religious minorities. But which cosmopolitanism? One that flies across capitals and cities, in a quotidian of airports and passport in hand? Or rather one lived in our cities, in the everyday of our streets? With our neighbours - be they immigrants, refugees, of whichever minority, including passing tourists - in short, all people who arrive at our doorstep, in ever more museum-like European cities, and in all the great cities around the world?

My starting argument is that a cosmopolitanism which can serve a global time (in particular, a European continent under myriad crises, including the co-existence of its peoples, and the different cultures and communities among their societies) is that which brings to the fore the distant which is proximate; as opposed to a cosmopolitanism of the proximate which is distant.

From this argument logically stems another, at the core of the matter and possibly its resolution: that the idea of the nation-state must shift to accommodate another way of experiencing nationality.

In the context of alter-globalisation, an idea of a global civil society is already being established. However, despite retaining the designation "civil society", it is no longer a classically understood liberal civil society, opposing the autonomy of the market to the state. Instead, this global civil society emerges from communities formed under a principle of immanent self-regulation, given not by the market, but increasingly by an idea of autonomy, sustainable balance, ecological homeostasis in the context of a political ecology.

The relation between civil society and state has indeed not always been one of counterparts. As Michael Biziou noted (2004), throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages they overlapped to the greatest extent. Not even Modernity brought about a split of spheres. For modern contractualists, civil society continues to essentially align with what is understood as the political community. While the latter is no longer seen as an extension of nature into human social life, instead newly understood as convention, a product of human judgement, the former also comes to be defined in terms of a social contract. Only in the 18th century, with the consolidation of economic liberalism, did the distinction between civil society and state begin to take root in what we now call classical terms – a civil society based on self-regulation of interests through the interplay of market relations and state planning for the common interest, the two competing and at times conflicting. The market complains of state intervention, the state complains of market hegemony.

This polarisation between civil society and state, especially in recent decades, has corresponded to the polarisation between an ever growingly depoliticised global market, on the one hand (therefore further from democratic will); and, on the other, popular sovereignties which attempt, at times in the guise of nationalism, to resist the suppression of collective choice, grasped in well-known buzzwords like “TINA”, “the end of history”, “post-democracy”, etc.


In other words, a state ever less capable or merely reactive to a global order moulded as a civil society of established interests. Here I must note that there are important exceptions to this description, such as the capitalism of China. Nevertheless, exceptions noted, the afore stated would in itself suffice to make problematic the shift from civil society to the global civil society emerging from alter-globalisation movements, such as the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre (Southern Brazil), and transnational activisms. Such a shift may at first appear contradictory, or at least counterintuitive. As we have seen, civil society is a pillar of market hegemony, whereas the global civil society aims precisely to counter such hegemony, all the more as it has become global. Despite these difficulties, continuity is patent – the privileging by both of a systemic logic of self-regulation; in the case of civil society the idea of market, and in the case of the global civil society (in explicit opposition to the abstract and reductive nature thereof) a complex self-regulation, conjuring all dimensions in any way vulnerable to human action. In fact, the two can reasonably be contrasted as an integral civil society (global civil society) and a reductive or unidimensional civil society (civil society), to use Herbert Marcuse’s known terms. But underlying that important opposition persists a similar trait of shared opposition to statism that justifies a terminological continuity.



Since the alter-globalist model aims to establish grounds for a global civil society departing from a civil society understood as a counterpart to the state, could the same be attempted for the latter, that rather concrete collective reality whose demise has long, all too prematurely been forecast: the nation-state, with its more or less intensely statist logic, more or less zealous of its sovereignty monopolies and of its borders? Such it is found across Europe and neither has it become too different around the rest of the world.

In other words, instead of advancing an adversarial global civil society which would abolish the state counterpart, or would limit it to symbolic aspects of the communities and their identities, would it not be more reasonable and fruitful to foster a new understanding of the state, much as it has come about with civil society?

All the more as we now witness the resurfacing of nationalisms and teeth-grinding patriotism, sovereign state democracies becoming decreasingly liberal, and the economies increasingly liberal? It is precisely this sequence of interrogations which leads to my reflection over more accommodating states, in a logic of complementarity and not of competition, as the global civil society flourishes.

 Patriotism has widely been argued as incompatible with cosmopolitanism, and cosmopolitanism understood as intertwined with unregulated capitalism. Indeed, so it must be acknowledged as regards a cosmopolitanism travelling across the globalised world, that renders uniform (much like economic liberalism) a global way of civil life. A cosmopolitanism flying over peoples, and their respective democratic legitimations, as if it were in itself a sort of “people” of the global village, zealous of its “identity” and its interests, hyperaware of its power of influence, which it aptly exerts. Such is, in fact, a minority cosmopolitanism, yet another minority, standing out from others in that it makes itself represented. It recognises itself as a minority of global citizens, and for that reason claims a right to economical privileges as politically decisive.

This minority brandishing the banner of cosmopolitanism is problematic in its claim that it does not know borders; it being implicit that capital knows no borders, rather than genuine inclusivity. On the other side on the fence, where we find the logical apparatus of the state, the question we should pose is: is it not possible to instead formulate and nurture an idea of inclusive border? To prevail beyond the perhaps all too immediate oxymoron between border and inclusion?

The same would apply to the value of patriotism, which like the idea of border can without flagrant contradiction be animated by a genuine, cosmopolitan will for inclusion. Kwame Anthony Appiah identified in this impetus those he called “cosmopolitan patriots” (1997). For Appiah, “Cosmopolitanism and patriotism, unlike nationalism, are both sentiments more than ideologies”. This means, firstly, that different political ideologies, even mutually incompatible, may nurture these sentiments; and, secondly, that one same political ideology may nurture both sentiments. It is the latter case which most matters for this discussion. One may love one’s country for many reasons which are not political; but for one to love it for a cosmopolitan reason, it must be that of a non-nationalistic, inclusive choice allowing for differences to coexist.

My position here is that this will, however, not be possible without a transformation in the understanding of what a State is, what we commonly call “our country”, echoing the warmth of the underlying, expression “our home”. “Our country” as our private home is off-limits to the public, it shuns the street; it is a home where no one is obliged to remain, but where only homeowners and invited guests can enter. This is the general frame of international law. The transformation that can be brought forward is the understanding of “our country” primarily as a counterpart to “our home” – foremost as an extension of the experience of “our street”, a public space pertaining to none so as to pertain to all, and which is appreciated, promoted, and defended as such. And thereby can patriotism find a vehicle, not in a sense of ownership or property (which by definition exclude), but instead as recognition and sense of belonging. In short, “this is my land” takes on a cosmopolitan meaning of “this is my street”, rather than “this is my house”.

At a time when nationalisms and irreducible monoculturalisms reemerge inciting conflict, segregation and discrimination, closed borders, and once again barbed-wire fences, walls, children separated from their parents, it is important that wisdom prevails to opt for a cosmopolitanism of proximity where a substantial tradition of “public space” and socioeconomic privilege is found. And to opt for that cosmopolitanism, worthy of the political sentiment of patriotism, without nationalism, to begin with means to choose laws that regulate the right of nationality in such a way that rights acquired at birth and through personal and work bonds in one country are not trampled by disproportionate rights of blood and of inheritance which make nationality an exclusiveness grounded on exclusion, an advantage based on the other’s disadvantage.

At the same time, there urges a reflection on cosmopolitanism worldwide. But also I refer to the urgency of pondering a global community in terms of proximity, made of ever more critical interdependencies. Whether for the depletion of non-renewable natural resources, or for growingly concrete global threats, it is the survival of the human species, not to mention others, which calls for a sense of global community. Ulrich Beck called it a “cosmopolitanism of reality”, to underscore that i tis reality itself, more than philosophical-moral ideals, that poses to us as a condition for survival, the need to set cosmopolitanism into practice.

This “for-the-whole-world” variety of cosmopolitanism of proximity is additionally related to the problem of global justice. Social interdependency within a global productive system poses questions that cannot go unanswered in a frame of justice fit for our time. Very young children working in open-sky cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo to ensure elements for the smartphones we acquire in Apple, Samsung, Huawei stores. But also the exploitation of child labour in the shoe and textile industry in so many countries of Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh. Even if it can be morally acceptable to take advantage of cheaper labour on the other side of the world, it is not acceptable to cross a red line to the abusive exploitation of poverty, as when millions of very young children are recruited for that workforce. All debate stirred up around Nike must go forward with an attentive public opinion, that at its multiple centres, on a global scale, shows solidarity in the identification and reporting of unacceptable situations. It is indispensable that the forming of a global public opinion in not hindered, whether through forced political compartmentalization, or through alienation ill-excused with distances. In particular, consumers in the more affluent societies cannot pretend not to benefit from an exploitation, even if they are themselves exploited in their own countries.

Two restrictions are in order in a global justice cosmopolitanism. On the one hand, it cannot be accepted that producers circumvent basic social rights frameworks, from the minimum age at which a minor can legally work, to all other social rights whose universalisation must, much more pressingly and consequentially, parallel the claim for a universalisation of the upholding of fundamental liberties and guarantees. On the other hand, to demand from producers that they abide by transparent labour and salary policies affecting distant labourers, but not least from the near consumers, that they pledge to minimum salary policies, enabling negotiations with the relevant institutional interlocutors.



The urgency of a cosmopolitanism of proximity amounts also to an urgency to do away with a cosmopolitanism of distances, which is no more than a form of elitism, as exclusive as any closed-border policy. Indeed, it is reserved only to a few – its global spread would quite simply be unsustainable for the planet. And especially since our global citizens in fact think and act as members of a hegemonic minority, or a “tribe”,  as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat pointed out in the article “The Myth of Cosmopolitanism,” in the aftermath of Brexit.

Zealous of its habits and privileges, this dilettante cosmopolitanism cherry-picks and indulges in the more appealing aspects of other cultures, in a sort of high-end, expanded market where cultures are packaged as merchandise, and even worse, of a particularly pernicious kind: disposable consummables.

In this kind of approach, cosmopolitanism tends to be intolerant towards that which threatens it. Except cosmopolitanism in earnest cannot be merely a source of experiences, as enriching as they may be, to be sought in the distance; it must be a social reality that we are willing to experience in shared community with others.

Thus, returning to the West, to the northern shores of the Atlantic, the obscene ultra-chauvinism to which we bear witness to nowadays on the part of the U.S. administration, which shocks and frightens so many, would demand an effective response from the European Union. However, it happens that with the deepening of the European crisis (of which austerity is or was but a moment), the debate over Europe has grown increasingly polarized into two equally disastrous camps.

On the one side, the rising nationalism that knows only the language of hard exclusions, such as xenophobia, racism, religious and also lay intolerance, and walls. Walls not just made bricks anymore, but now topped with barbed wire, which is even more dehumanising, as they do not fall under the category of durable construction, even further removed of the classification of “inhabitable”. Within walls, prisoners are shut in. Within fences, problems are shut out, with no status yet, perhaps forever so.

And on the other side, excusing itself with national egoisms, a European politics, which contemplates to exert with utmost institutional cynicism, under the veneer of civility and delicate manners, exclusions so indelicate they warrant comparison, in the case of refugees, with Trump’s abhorrent agenda. And this hypocritical facet is lethal to public Europeism. The former European Comissary Emma Bonino denounced it one year ago in an interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa: the EU pays Libya to be a makeshift wall preventing migrants and refugees from entering the European space and has previously done the same with Turkey. Slave-trading in Libya originating in the traffic of refugees is nowadays a known fact, having sparked an Amnisty legal initiative against the political powers of the EU. This confirms merely that the greatest European weakness is the bloc having long ceased to be, as far as the aims it pursues, truly opposed to nationalisms. The betrayal to the principles we would wish to believe foundational and has already attained shameful dimensions, is however, ashamed of itself. European politics, which not coincidentally uses the same language of the cosmopolitanism of distance(s), easily discernible in Eurocratic functionalism, needs to find its justification in the capacity of proximity without which no social inclusion programme will amount to anything but falsehood.



If we ask “what cosmopolitanism”, we must also ask “which Europeism”? in the urgency to rescue them and to underscore that the latter has been, in essence, a project of cosmopolitanism. The idea of a borderless Europe pulsating at the formation of the European Union mobilised European citizens over decades, and much less from a desire for a common market than from a will of belonging to a common entity, which turned the border not into an obstacle, but an enriching experience of passage.

Finally, it is a mystification, a misunderstanding in the least, to persist with the legitimating naturalisation of the privatist paradigm, which is ultimately the liberal one; the one which has always preferred to consider public law in light of and similar to private law, without ever exceeding it and much less confronting it. Which is, after all, the paradigm of a liberal civil society based on the autonomy of the market. Equally fallacious is insist of that naturalisation based on the argument that if borders were abolished, all social order would collapse, invaded by refugees, economic migrants, even tourists. That would not be so, as the problem of sustainability is explained independently of borders devised as limits to a private property. The very idea of border may be rehabilitated, departing from ecological limits of a widened ecology. What, on the contrary, may not be allowed to happen is that challenges of sustainability serve as alibi to condone practices of exclusion.


Escrito por André Barata na Terça Junho 1, 2021
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