Michael Jackson

Rooted Cosmopolitans

The media of the Soviet Union used the term “rootless cosmopolitans”’ to describe Jewish intellectuals. The term was prevalent, especially during the Stalinist purges during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Jewish intellectuals were seen as believing in “humanity” and having a cosmopolitan vision but lacking the roots of homeland and patriotism.

The idea of a person being a cosmopolitan was propounded in the early days of the Enlightenment (1600s to early 1700s) by several continental thinkers. This cosmopolitan idea was most famously expounded by Immanuel Kant in his “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” essay of 1795 in which he envisioned a future cooperative unity of Europe. This union or federation would eventually be extended globally.

These ideas were expressed in the late 18th century by thinkers such as Thomas Paine: “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion”. Also, Friedrich Schiller in his “Ode to Joy” (1785) wrote “Alle Menschen werden Bruder” (All people become brothers). These words incorporated into Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony comprise the anthem of the European Union. However, these thinkers did not totally submerge local identity and rootedness in this universalist principle. A person may be attached to his homeland, people, culture, and nation and yet still be a cosmopolitan or a citizen of the world.

This idea is encapsulated in the term “rooted cosmopolitan”. A person may be rooted or strongly attached to his homeland, locality, and religion and yet have a feeling, a care, and a commitment to the welfare of all humanity. Rootedness and cosmopolitanism are not mutually exclusive. I am rooted as an American, a Brit, an Israeli, and a Jew (listed alphabetically since my priorities of identification change depending on external events, my mood, and current interests and involvement).

I think the “rooted cosmopolitanism” concept is especially important in times of war. The patriotic, even tribalistic, nature of warfare tends to dehumanize the other side. The derogatory term “gooks” for Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and the term “towel-heads” for Arabs during the more recent Iraq War are American examples of this dehumanization of the enemy. We certainly can and should support our side in times of war. We also have to remember that the majority of the “enemy” are not combatants. They are mainly women and children and are innocent of whatever crimes the enemy perpetrates.  

Ultimately, we are human beings before being American, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist.

About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
Related Topics
Related Posts