Cosmopolitanism and sovereignty: what next for Europe?

Sunday 23 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Cinema 1 Keynote Controversies
Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

When European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently declared that, ‘borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians,’ he expressed a widespread, fashionable belief: transnational institutions such as the EU are the champions of cosmopolitanism and internationalism. Indeed, many have argued that the recent vote for Brexit in the UK and the rise of anti-Brussels populist movements throughout Europe are an expression of parochialism. To reject the EU is to pull up the drawbridge against the world, to turn inwards. Indeed the New Yorker has characterised this period as a worldwide revolt against cosmopolitan modernity. For his part, Junker went on to argue, ‘We have to fight against nationalism.. [and] block the avenue of populists’.

Is there necessarily a contradiction between national sovereignty (and therefore democracy) and an internationalist outlook? After all historically, internationalism and the cosmopolitan ideal (as first conceptualised by Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant) emerged alongside the nation state. It was less about diluting national sovereignty than identifying common interests between people firmly rooted in particular national cultures, traditions and institutions. In contrast, contemporary cosmopolitanism is broadly hostile to the idea of the nation state. It sometimes appears that those most involved in globalised institutions are uniting across borders against their own nation’s populace: national elites evading accountability by forging allegiances among themselves. Arguably, then, while its rhetoric is universalist, the new, rootless cosmopolitanism is narrow, bureaucratic and shallow. To critics, all the virtue signalling about how we must all stand up for open borders, visa free travel – and, er, abolishing mobile roaming charges – amount to a thin, ‘lifestyle cosmopolitanism’, a parody of the richness of Enlightenment universalism or the revolutionary cry: ‘Citizens of the world, unite’.
Looking to the future of Europe, in a special final lecture, sociologist Frank Furedi will explore the changing meaning of cosmopolitanism, what European identity means today and how we might find a way to be European, open-minded and outward-looking far beyond the EU.