Maybe, though, the term can be rescued [from the negative connotations]. It has certainly proved a survivor. Cosmopolitanism dates at least to the Cynics of the fourth century BC, who first coined the expression cosmopolitan, “citizen of the cosmos.” The formulation was meant to be paradoxical, and reflected the general Cynic skepticism toward custom and tradition. A citizen—a polite–s—belonged to a particular polis, a city to which he or she owed loyalty. The cosmos referred to the world, not in the sense of the earth, but in the sense of the universe. Talk of cosmopolitanism originally signaled, then, a rejection of the conventional view that every civilized person belonged to a community among communities.
I posted about this a couple years back. Short version: ‘kosmos’ is a matter of order – military order, cosmetics, ‘getting it together’ – more than vastness, sublimity (‘to boldly go!’) So maybe Diogenes was saying, in effect: I’m a citizen of wherever they’ve actually got good government. Or even: I’m a Utopian. Or: I’m a citizen of nature. Or: I’m a citizen of the natural order, the true order of things.
I got mild pushback in comments. (You don’t want to rehash old comments threads? Fine! Go read something else.)
nick t. wrote: “And the idea of forcing “kosmos” to mean “well-ordered” is alarming. “Eukosmos” would be the right root for this.” I responded that ‘kosmos’ sort of slides into ‘eukosmos’. (‘Pull yourself together!’ doesn’t mean any which way.) To which the response was: “The problem in all of this is that you are more or less arguing from intuition, rather than looking at actual usage, which would be decisive.” It was suggested I should read read A. A. Long, “The concept of the cosmopolitan in Greek & Roman thought,” which I only just got around to doing. And I think it actually supports my suggestions for odd-ball translations.
We are probably warranted in crediting Diogenes with the idea that human nature in its rational capacities transcends all civic and ethnic boundaries. Diogenes’s cosmopolitanism was normative rather than descriptive, though. His worldwide city should be regarded as the community of the wise, an ideal of enlightened persons united not by local or relational ties but by the common values they share – a group that understands what human nature needs in order to perfect itself.
That’s not all the way to ‘I’m a citizen of Utopia,’ but it ain’t far. (Certainly I wouldn’t say ‘you can’t get there from here’.) Here’s something else Long says:
Citizenship of the world presupposes the existence of cities in the ordinary sense of the word: settled communities with precise territorial boundaries, cultural traditions, laws, political institutions, and social identities. In Homer’s epic poetry, our principal written source for earliest Greece, full-fledged cities are not part of the main narrative, which looks back to less formally structured communities governed by hereditary chieftains. There are fortified palatial settlements, centralized farmsteads, such as the home of Odysseus on Ithaca, and the great citadel of Troy, but nothing that we can call a polis in the sense of a Greek city-state.
This gets complicated, but the implication seems to be that cosmopolitanism wasn’t originally a positive, stand-alone doctrine – we need a world-state! – so much as a conceptual counterweight to inevitable parochialism. But parochialism of a particular, civilized sort. Diogenes’ line wouldn’t have been heard right by Homer, let alone in the world Homer described. (But maybe you could have made a parallel joke: ‘I’m a member of the world-tribe’?) When we move on to large-scale kingdoms and empires, ‘I’m a citizen of the world’ would risk sounding too conventional. ‘Yes, that’s right, you are a citizen of the Roman empire and its world-spanning laws. What’s your point?’
‘I am a citizen of the world,’ far from calling for a world-state, makes sense in a context in which an actual world-state doesn’t readily spring to mind as a (conventional) possibility. In the world of the Greek city-states – a civilized world, but a small world – you need cosmopolitanism as a stretching exercise for the mind, to keep it from going artificial and stiff. For us today, it’s sort of the same. We (most of us) take for granted that the world naturally consists of nation-states and that it’s a small world. Hence cosmopolitanism is necessary, not as a positive, stand-alone doctrine, but as a counterweight to various bad tendencies.
Which brings me to another point – another oft-quoted bit. Aristotle: man is by nature a political animal. This is almost always quoted, approvingly, as an expression of an obvious truth that is good to keep in mind: we humans are social animals. But Aristotle actually seems to mean it more narrowly: humans, by nature, are born to live in a Greek-style polis. The polis is, of course, a highly particular social-political form. (And, far from basing his judgment on some sensible anthropological inductions, Aristotle is arguing from what is best. Like one might argue that humans are all natural-born Californians. It’s sort of true. But only sort of.)
I don’t have a huge point to draw out of this, and I’m not proposing this as a shocking bombshell of Aristotle interpretation. (I really don’t know a thing about the secondary literature about the Politics. Not my thing. Feel free to tell me all about it.) It’s interesting the way these sayings – ‘I am a citizen of the world,’‘Man is a political animal’ – that seem to travel so well, are such stay-at-home sentiments, in a way. Maybe.