So far, the dominant theme of societal development in the late 20th and early 21st century is the emergence, acceleration and consolidation of globalisation. With societies, economies and political systems becoming closer and closer and partly even merging, naturally we began to fundamentally rethink our perception of the world and our roles we play within it. One trend, that coincides with globalisation, is the rise of cosmopolitanism. This term depicts a view of a person, who rejects the idea of territorial borders and views mankind as one undivided society. Often, people, holding this view, are called or call themselves world citizens. However, this is in contrast with the ideas of people, who do believe in the necessity of nation states, as they claim that nation states provide the structures necessary for effective policymaking and societal conduct. In this article, both sides are looked at from their most radical perspective, respectively. Further, their arguments are going to be strengthened to their fullest. At the end, the issue is examined from a technical perspective, addressing how we should approach this matter.

Who is a World Citizen?

The idea of cosmopolitanism is grounded in the assumption that the existence of nation states is leading to wars with and oppression of other nations and societies. It can be viewed as a reactionary stance towards politics of the nation state. In its most radical form, all territorial borders would be abolished and the whole world population would be unified under a central government. Some voices would even question the necessity of a government altogether, but these anarchic views are rare, compared to the more common view that encompasses some sort of political system. A world citizen seeks peace and prosperity for all. Accordingly, fairness, safety and diversity are core values of a world citizen. As such, phenomena like racism, wars, exploitation and oppression are no longer within the unified world community; at least, they are the main problems that need to be overcome. Further, cooperation is something a world citizen welcomes and tries to incorporate into her life, but also into politics and every other aspect of societal life. Due to missing geographical and mental barriers, trade and cultural exchange can flourish, as there are no longer divisions between people. For such a situation to develop, all races would need to view each other as equals, which is also the core assumption world citizens have. All in all, this view can be described as a very humanistic one, because the value of each individual is emphasised. The goal is to enable a life worth living for all people on earth. Another aspect, that plays into this, is the stance towards nature. Since the world citizens hold a holistic view on the planet, the environment is also included as an integral part, since it is the living space of all. It preservation is key to the achievement of sustainable and enjoyable life.

Who is a Nationalist?

A nationalist is someone, who has a comprehensive awareness of her identity as a citizen of a certain nation. However, this is not merely limited to the material structures of the nation, such as the national anthem, flag, territory or other symbolic aspects, that shape the face of the nation in the international sphere. It includes knowledge, awareness of and appreciation for the nation’s historic development, including scientific, artistic and societal achievements. Nationalists take great pride in the works of fellow countrymen, who added to the progress of our species. It can be an author, scientist, politician, painter, musician or anyone else, who achieved remarkable things, that helped the nation or even the whole world to progress. Further, nationalists are driven by an intrinsic motivation to achieve great things in the name of their nation, which gives them an significant advantage over others in their respective field of expertise, since they are willing to put in increased efforts. Moreover, nationalists believe that all of the above play important roles in shaping their own identity and, hence, their character. The closeness felt to the own culture is not only a matter of safety, but of behavioural guidance as well, because it helps nationalists in their lives when they are unsure or seek feeling of belonging. This is also the very same reason why nationalists are keen on preserving the fundamental structures of their culture and, with it, their nation. Finally, this view helps them to concentrate on the strengths of that nation. In their view, every nation has certain tendencies at the aggregate level. Therefore, from a nationalist perspective, every nation is best of concentrating on what they are best at, while exchange and cooperation with other nations help to flatten out deficiencies among multiple nations.

The Technical Reality

Turning to the technical perspective, we need to first understand why people hold certain views on the structure of our societies. Basically, it is a primitive attempt of the layman to formulate answers to overarching developments, trends, events and phenomena. Let us take the example of wars. Due to the far-reaching consequences of wars, people naturally start to deal with this subject matter, as they are directly affected by it. Because the effects of wars are so glaringly negative, it is perceived as a problem by the ordinary citizen, who is then trying to make sense of this phenomenon. Naturally, because it is perceived as a problem, it follows from that logic that a solution needs to be found, in order to prevent future wars and their far-reaching negative implications. However, the layman has neither the necessary understanding about the emergence of wars, warfare itself or the political structure of wars, nor has she sufficient data, theories or any other tools, that would enable her to formulate a proper policy response – let alone make a sound assessment on the issue in the first place. What follows is that very simple logical chains are built, in order to have some sort of structured thoughts on the issue. A world citizen would observe a war and ask herself who the actors are. The actors are nations. Her conclusion is that if there are no nations there will not be any wars. On the other side, the nationalist asks the question about who can stop wars. While individuals cannot stop wars, nations can. She, in turn, will conclude that nations are necessary to prevent wars. The same logic holds true for all other aspects as well: poverty, economic crises, oppression, exploitation and other phenomena.

However, if we want to properly form policy responses to problems, we cannot expect that such primitive approaches would suffice. Moreover, the notions of cosmopolitanism and nationalism are so broadly structured that they do not account for negative dynamics arising from those views. For example, nationalism is known to pave the way for racism and developmental stagnation, as change is then often perceived as detrimental to the core structures of the respective culture. World citizens, in turn, miss the point that their view is often stems from a situation of material and cultural comfort. When we look at the nation, where cosmopolitanism is most popular, we find that it is within those nations that are politically and economically stable, which is the western world. However, it is the very western world, that achieved those levels of development by heavily building on nationalism and using it to exploit other nations, which, at that time, defined themselves lesser on the basis of nationalism.

Further, it is necessary to understand that the prominence of cosmopolitan thought within the western world means that if a shift towards such a global order is made, they will inherently be dominant in the design of such a societal order. Because societies are inherently different, incompatibilities will unavoidably arise. It is unlikely that powerful nations will be willing to reach compromises with smaller nations with different cultural properties. A prime example is the European Union, in which smaller nations’ cultural and societal needs remain sidelined next to the dominance of the stronger nations. While they have a dominant say in how to structure politics, smaller populations face discomfort, as their way of living cannot be honoured. All this happens within a political system with highly similar societies. Translating this onto the global level, the disagreements between societies are too great to be leading to the establishment of a feasible system. Cosmopolitanism, at this point of evolution, is not possible, since the cultural discrepancies between the societies are too great to ensure a balanced global political system. Those nations with great prosperity will ultimately push other nations into their desired policy direction, causing more rifts, than cohesion.

On the other hand, if nationalism is not positively oriented in terms of societal progress, but rather based of preservation, status quo politics and a reactionary stance towards change, those societies will lose efficiency in their policymaking, as the system becomes passive and not proactive. It will lead to emotion-based policymaking, as factors of fear and antagonism can be used to form cohesion through othering. Racism, as mentioned before, becomes a comfort zone for nationalists, as it helps to roll off societal and political incapabilities onto other societies. Also, it creates a tense domestic climate and hinders progress, as reliance on past achievements increases. More materially seen, nationalism creates inefficiencies through increasing barriers to trade, high military and defence budgets and alienating social policies.

The Answer

Both views’ radical form is detrimental to our understanding of politics. However, nationalism is closer to a realistic approach to policymaking and achieving lasting progress, than cosmopolitanism – if approached correctly. While cosmopolitanism will favour stronger nations, nationalism respects cultural differences and, thus, enables societies to achieve progress on the basis of their core identity. It needs to be said that true nationalism creates an inherently positive atmosphere. From the philosophy of individual success, we know that self-love enables us to love others, while radical self-love (ego), is harming our social capabilities. The same holds true for the identity of nations and societies. People should be knowledgeable parts of the societies they live in, but must not arrogate themselves to reduce the value of other societies. A healthy relationship with the own national identity helps us to stay motivated to also achieve great things by taking former great minds as role models, who shared the same cultural characteristics. Having respect and awareness of the own identity is the prerequisite for respecting other societies and nations. It fosters cultural exchange and progress, while preserving the diversity that is so vital to the global progress of our species. Therefore, a positive nationalism will help not only to preserve cultural diversity, but fosters growth for all. Maybe, we will evolve in a way that increases the cultural proximity of nations and cosmopolitanism becomes a more beneficial approach to organising international conduct, but until then, we should learn to love our identity and use it to do good, while appreciating the differences of other nations.