René Cuperus on 'the populist revolt against cosmopolitanism'

In 2011, the Dutch writer René Cuperus wrote a chapter on 'the populist revolt against cosmopolitanism' for a Policy Network pamphlet ‘Exploring the cultural challenges to social democracy’. I think most readers will agree that the class divide he identifies appears starkly for us now with our EU referendum just a few days away*.

Cuperus says:

“One could argue, and thinkers like Manuel Castells made this point long before, that globalisation implies two contradicting things at the same time:

1. The world grows more together, becomes more ‘familiar’, interdependent, connected, better-known, better reported and visited and travelled, because of revolutionary changes in transportation, media (the world wide web) and the economy. The world is becoming flat.

2. But, ‘at home’, within nation states, globalisation implies that through global migration or by mergers and acquisitions, national societies become more global, more diverse, more ‘strange’, more fragmented and heterogeneous.

So we see a dialectics of more ‘familiarity’ and more ‘strangeness’ at the same time, caused by the same factors. And if we relate this simply defined dialectics of globalisation to the populist revolt analysed above, we can observe that globalisation in the first meaning, that of more familiarity, is predominantly an experience for those people who are internationally connected, who act on a transnational or global level, i.e. the international business, academic, political (including NGOs) and cultural elites.

The impact of globalisation at the nation state level, however, is predominantly directed towards low-skilled and semi-skilled workers, who are the first to experience job and wage competition as a result of labour migration – towards people living in worn out inner city or banlieue-neighbourhoods where non-expat migrants settle first, and so on. To put it in one badly formulated English phrase: “The world is becoming flat, but national democracies and welfare states are becoming less flat.”

The impact of a globalised world in flux has, in other words, a strong pro-elite bias....

...The ideology of global, cosmopolitan citizenship threatens to downgrade those who cannot connect internationally. So, cosmopolitanism, as a matter of fact, produces second-class citizens. This puts democracy at stake in the long run. Society is threatening to split into globalisation winners versus losers of globalisation among countries and within countries, a fault line running right through the European and American middle class society.

In the context of the contemporary globalisation process, cosmopolitism threatens to become the neoliberal and cultural ideology of international business and expatriate interests, instead of the philosophy of cultural universalism, the global open mind, of, say, Erasmus or Stefan Zweig. Instead of paying homage to cultural openness and curiosity, it tends to become the accompanying song of cultural standardisation and commercialisation. Philosophical cosmopolitism threatens to become replaced by the pseudo-cosmopolitism of the world market and the world consumer.”

* (For an example of this, check out John Harris' excellent article for the Guardian on how 'Britain is in the midst of a working class revolt') 


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