Saturday, March 29, 2003

The Cosmopolitan Illusion

The Cosmopolitan Illusion is a great essay by Lee Harris, in Policy Review, that looks at the "we are all citizens of the world" Leftist viewpoint and finds it wanting. Here's an excerpt:
What if human beings could be made to act rationally, so as to avoid all possible thought of violent conflict? Can rationality conquer the various forms of structural antagonism that have always plagued the human race and which have made the cause of peace so precarious?

It is in answering this question that we come across the true origins of Nussbaum’s educational ideal. It is a variation of the Enlightenment belief in the power of education to transform and improve mankind’s natural state — a staple theme of the Scottish, English, American, French, and German forms of Enlightenment as well as a personal faith shared equally by Kant, Adam Smith, Rousseau, Bentham, Diderot, and every philosophe down to the last.

Education would be for all mankind what it had been for these individual men — a liberation from the fetters of custom and the narrowness of provincial life. Education would open the world and would make men become more and more alike. Each would develop, as prescribed by Adam Smith in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), a disinterested spectator to observe his every emotional move, for the purpose of assuring impartial fairness in his interaction with his fellows.

The enlightened rationality that would result from the widespread dissemination of such moral education would be the vehicle by which men and women would learn to avoid precisely those conflicts that had so long haunted the human race. Their enlightened rationality would permit them to see that, at bottom, they all had precisely the same objective interests and that any quarrel between them could arise only due to a failure on the part of one or both parties to grasp their enlightened self-interest. The purpose of education, in this view, was to teach human beings to internalize a code of rational conduct by which they could automatically make whatever mutual adjustments to each other that might be required in order to keep transient differences of opinion or interests from evolving into open conflict, with the possibility of violence and social instability inherent in such conflicts.

But if education was a necessary means to achieve a state in which people could amiably settle their differences, then clearly the educational process itself would have to be designed with this end in view. It could not be just any kind of education, but one that aimed at producing men and women who would behave like rational cosmopolitans, to use the term employed by Kant in this connection.
It's not light reading, but it's clearly written and easy to follow along. He devastates the Left's philosophy of education.

Thanks to Instapundit for mentioning this article.

No comments: