Michael Jackson

Rootless Cosmopolitans, Rooted Cosmopolitans, and Tribalists    

I have written a blog post on Rooted Cosmopolitans (TOI:    ) and two on Tribalism (TOI:   ) and (TOI:   ).

This post is an attempt to bring these perspectives together and to compare them both to the pejorative term used by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s against many Jews, i.e. “rootless cosmopolitans”.

Let’s start with “rootless cosmopolitans”.  These were people allegedly with no roots in a specific nation or ethnicity but saw themselves as cosmopolitan or “citizens of the world” in the words of Tom Paine and in the ideas of other Enlightenment thinkers.  In times of nationalistic fervor, rootless cosmopolitans are despised by all sides.  Who are rootless cosmopolitans today?  Perhaps some Marxists believe in a worldwide workers republic, perhaps some expansionist EU bureaucrats and politicians, perhaps some UN, World Bank, and IMF bureaucrats, perhaps utilitarians such as Pete Singer, an advocate of universal contributions to help the hundreds of millions of malnourished poor, and perhaps a writer like the New York Times correspondent, Nick Kristof, who writes movingly of peoples’  suffering across the globe.  I think these folk comprise a minuscule percentage of humanity.

Now, moving on to “rooted cosmopolitanism” as defined in my TOI article.  I will quote from that article “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).”  As I stated in that TOI post, in times of war a rooted cosmopolitan is torn between rooted tribal loyalties and a humanitarian concern for all of humanity.

I think rooted cosmopolitans are rare, but not as rare as the rootless variety.  Most of us are tribalists.  We are concerned, talk about, and work for our own tribe.  Some of the tribalists, at the more cosmopolitan end of the spectrum, may pay a casual genuflection towards other suffering tribes, for example, saying “my heart goes out to those poor people” and then immediately turn their focus on their own tribes’ sufferings and problems.

In times of war, the rootless cosmopolitan does not have a tribal stake.  He may support one side believing that the major injustice was perpetrated by the other side.  Usually, the tribalist looks almost exclusively at his side’s sufferings and losses.  The blame for the conflict and the injustices performed in it are entirely owned by the enemy.

The rooted cosmopolitan has more of a problem in times of war.  He supports his side but may have many qualms about the way that his side is fighting.  He may equivocate – “their tribe did these wrongs; my tribe did these wrongs”.  He may move into the tribalist camp and mainly support his own tribe.  He may bend over backwards to describe and condemn the wrongs inflicted by his tribe.  I think all these approaches have an air of hypocrisy about them that the attitudes of the rootless cosmopolitan and the tribalist lack.  The rooted cosmopolitans’ position (and the rootless cosmopolitans) is directly addressed by President G. W . Bush’s statement after 9/11 – “you are either with us or with the terrorists”.  The hypocrisy of the rooted cosmopolitan position is that he rejects the Bush dichotomy, but oscillates in between in his evaluation of wartime events.  The rooted cosmopolitan’s lot is an unhappy one.

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.
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