Appiah_Lecture - Is Cosmopolitanism Cultural Imperialism...

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Is Cosmopolitanism Cultural Imperialism? Good Morning. In today’s lecture, “Is Cosmopolitanism Cultural Imperialism,” I will examine three objections to cosmopolitanism Appiah addresses in his book. The first objection is that cosmopolitanism, far from being universalistic, is a parochial form of European condescension toward non-European cultures, a condescension ultimately rooted in the history of European colonialism, in the unquestioned sense of European cultural supremacy that was used to both exercise and justify colonial power. The second objection is that, far from being tolerant and welcoming to difference, cosmopolitanism poses a threat to the integrity and autonomy of non-European cultures. Cosmopolitanism is no more than a disguised form of Europeanization or Americanization via the spread of global capitalism and Western technology. The third objection is that cosmopolitanism is in the long-run self-defeating, since it necessarily provokes anti- cosmopolitan backlashes. The cosmopolitan imperative ultimately runs up against the bedrock fact that human beings prefer their own ways, their own traditions, their own identities to some insipid Americanized, simulacrum of culture. People want roots and they see cosmopolitanism as rootless and inauthentic. The first two objections tend to be made by those who are unsympathetic to cosmopolitanism. They are objections to cosmopolitanism from an anti-cosmopolitan standpoint. The first objection calls into question the sincerity of the cosmopolitan ideal. It suggests that the apparently tolerant and open-minded cosmopolitan is like the tourist who finds the customs of the natives charming but hopelessly backward. People may tolerate tourists for the money they bring, but they inwardly resent the fact that tourists view their way of life as no more than a snapshot in a photo album. [Anyone who has ever traveled in a poorer country, whose income depends heavily on tourism, and is not simply obtuse, quickly becomes aware of this undercurrent of resentment.] The second objection calls into question the goodness of the cosmopolitan ideal. In views cosmopolitanism as a destructive rather than a constructive force insofar as it obliterates all important differences between cultures and threatens to undermine any sense of a distinctive cultural identity. The third objection is made by both proponents and opponents of the cosmopolitan ideal. Whether one admires or despises cosmopolitanism, this objection calls into question its effectiveness. Far from obliterating differences, as some fear, cosmopolitanism tends to exacerbate them, leading to reactionary backlashes against the threat of uniformity. From this perspective, the
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cosmopolitan is the innocent abroad, who expects people to be grateful for the gifts of democracy and tolerance he brings them, and is surprised when instead they spit in his face. Before turning to a closer examination of these three objections, however, I want first to put
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This note was uploaded on 05/18/2008 for the course MC 201 taught by Professor Lynnscott during the Fall '08 term at Michigan State University.

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Appiah_Lecture - Is Cosmopolitanism Cultural Imperialism...

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