Ágnes Heller/ Cosmopolitanism as philosophy, as refuge , and as destiny (II)

 

 

Agnes Heller is one of the leading thinkers to come out of the tradition of critical theory. Her awesome intellectual range and output includes ethics, philosophical anthropology, political philosophy and a theory of modernity and its culture. Born in Budapest in 1929, she was one of the best known dissidents in central Europe in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Since her forced immigration she has held visiting lectureships all over the world and has been the Hannah Arendt Professor of Philosophy at the New School in New York for many years. Her perspective is both sceptical and utopian, upholding a critical humanist perspective just as it critiques contemporary democratic culture. In July, a few days after we published the first part of this text, she died at the age of 90, having experienced a life under different successive tyrannies and the present return of authoritarianism in her country, directing against all of them the sharpest edges of her political thinking.

(continued from the previous issue)

 

Where are we at home?

Who is still living in the small village of her birth in her family, childhood friend? Where everyone buried into the village cemetery is her  ancestor ,family member or parent or some of her friends and mates? What sociologists call ”mobility” shows that we all are en route, from one place to another, from one environment to another, from one country to another, from one continent to another. Or at least from a village to a city from a city to another city. News which could reach us faster than human speed  on foot, on horse, in a carriage, by train not so long time ago, became independent of human carrier, reaching us by telegram, telephone, television, internet:-we arrived at simultaneity. Cosmopolitanism as reality means: we are at home at all the places where we stay for a while ,even there what we see or hear. Thus we are nowhere at home, we are everywhere strangers.

Where we are at home we share stories with our family members, friends ,and we share the historical narrative with our people, nation. We have a shared past, better to say, it is through shared stories that we share memories and by sharing memories we share past.

The past we share is usually termed cultural memory. All cultures have their own cultural memory, some shared some unshared by others..European people, for example, have both shared and unshared memories. Shared memories are normally texts and institutions plus all the interpretations and understanding of those texts and institutions. European people share two master narratives : the Bible on the one hand, and Greek-Roman philosophy and institutions of the other hand. One does not need to use footnotes if one mentions the garden of Eden, the arc of Noah, Jesus on the Cross on the one hand, democracy, republic or the senate on the other hand. Different cultures have different cultural ,memories.The present is  fed by memories, cultural, collective or personal, and the past is the fourth dimension in the life of any group of people, any religion or nation. All  nationalist can tell their versions of past stories,, all believers can tell theirs, all cities, all families, all villages have their own.

Yet, what about cosmopolitanism? What kind of stories can we tell about “humankind as such”?  After Auschwitz and the Gulag we cannot believe anymore in the once cherished history of the human race in progress towards a happy end. There is no other shared  history of the globe, than the history of cosmopolitans.

Our age is the age of practicing cosmopolitanism that abolished the idea of cosmopolitanism. Since we can move from place to place and can get information about people who live far away. since , we know something of their beliefs, customs just by switching on the tv set or looking into the internet, we practice cosmopolitanism . Yet, since information has very little to do with ways of life, we are not  cosmopolitans.. Cosmopolitans in Hellenism or the Roman empire shared culture, and so did up to a degree cosmopolitans of the 19 century, whereas the practicing cosmopolitans share none.

The idea of universalism replaces cosmopolitanism as the idea of human rights. “Human rights” is the transcendental idea of cosmopolitanism. It is a transcendental idea that is shared as such by all culltures we share the globe Earth with. Indeed, the idea of universalism became accepted and acknowledged  as the declaration of human rights by the United Nations  and signed by the majority of states on our globe.

Yet, Rousseau’s dictum is once again confirmed, this time on the world stage:” all men are born free and they are everywhere in chains.” The nations, countries, cultures, political institutions of  the empirical humankind are different together as also their  cultural  memory and political practice. The transcendental idea of human rights  and the empirical reality of cultures especially political cultures are more often than not in collusion course.

Let me repeat: most people on our globe are practicing cosmopolitans without cosmopolitanism. Where are those people at home? In two places or two worlds,. : In the world of their  personal experiences and in the world of  ideas.

We are now living in a world where people of different traditions, different languages, different religions and customs may share the same habitat. The New World is used to accommodate all of them. This co-existence is termed wrongly  “multiculturalism”, for the term suggests a shared collective identity. although it is not. . The European nations states and not only they,- stand  before a trial. The trial of practicing cosmopolitanism. People of different tradition, customs, religion, stories, ideas enter European territory en mass. To embrace whole humankind in poetry  or to understand the imperative of humankind in us is easier than to accommodate empirically different people in our habitat. Europeans face this challenge  now.

I said that the idea of human right declared by the United Nations and signed by all governments on Earth, works as the a transcendental idea, accepted yet nor practices in most countries on Earth. It can get closer to empirical reality, even not quite empirically validated, only in states where citizens rights are practiced and not just formally acknowledged”’ ,that is only in liberal democracies.  Yet even if acknowledged how can they be empirically practiced? One of the major conflicts of contemporary Europe is the collision between human rights and citizen’s rights ,a collision between a transcendental idea and an empirical idea. Collisions between a transcendental and an empirical idea cannot be solved, but can be handled, kept in balance. We do not yet know how Europe will cope with this challenge

, Until this point I spoke of  so-called collective identities, narratives ,ideas and institutions, be they  religious, national, universal or local Yet little  about personal identity in relation to the story of cosmopolitanism..

There are two kinds of personal identity: subjective and objective one.

Subjective identity is but the memory of a person, the narratives she tells herself as well as to others, about her own life, knotting together several memory flashes in one or another way, never twice in exactly the same ways. We have all privileged access to our own memory, to our subjective identity. We reveal something about our lived history to people we want to, in occasion, circumstances we desire to.

There is no universalism that would replace singular experiences.. For example commitment to cosmopolitan ideas could  to “human rights” will not change our early memory flashes, although it generally changes ,their interpretation. This subjective home, our memory ,is  deeply influenced by collective shared beliefs and by cultural narratives.  ,Yet, even so, it remains unique, for each subject his or her own. If someone lives in a world that accommodates different cultures in the same habitat,  the subjective lived experience of a child will inhale this difference as “natural”, as it happened at the end of the 19 century in the Hungarian village where my father lived.

Contrary to subjective identity a person’s objective identity is constituted by the regard of others. At first the way they see your face and understand your name, then through the experience they make with you. In a very traditional world, the two identities can fit together. You see yourself , roughly,  if not entirely, as others see you. Strangers with a strong assimilation drive try to hide their subjective identity in order to leave up to the image the gaze of others accepts as being proper.

In the situation of practicing “cosmopolitanism” a person can choose (-if all other conditions are met) -a world, where his subjective identity best fits to the objective one,, when it is easy for him or her to look good in the eyes of others. This has already nowadays only  in professional and sometimes in ideological communities

At one point of  one’s life a modern individual chooses oneself as a person involved in one idea  or another, in one profession or another: to become a painter, a scientist, a philosophers, a singer, a judge, or a tradesman ,a farmer or else , a socialist a liberal, a conservative or else. . They understand one another on the ground of their shared professions, shared interest and shared language.

If one gives a philosophical talk in Tokyo, Tehran, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem, Melbourne at the same time, students will ask exactly the same questions all around the world. If one visits the Biennale in Venice, one could hardly guess, unless looking for signature,, whether the canvass was painted in Argentina, Columbia, South Africa, USA or Berlin. Scientists in  microbiology.  will be interested in very similar problems ,again, at the same time all around the globe. Very similar things can be said about entertainment. The same pop music is popular in very different cultures, where they are permitted to be played, (if not, they play them illegally)

If the question “where are we at home” can be replaced by another  “where, in which circle do we understand each other without  footnotes,? Where do we share a language with others even if we cannot understand the everyday language of the others ,where mutual understanding is possible without knowing  the other’s backgrounds, where no one is a strangers? The answer is ready: the artist in the community of  artists and  some art historians, the  philosopher in the community of some philosophers, the scientists in the community of  their particular science, the musician in the community of music experts ,the the technicians of all sorts with technicians their sorts. And let me go further the football fans with football fans, the cricket fans with cricket fans, the and do forth   What are you? I scientist, a philosopher, a cricket player,  a family father, a feminist, a painter, and so on and so forth.

The  cosmopolitan universe of high culture ,religions,  ,entertainment , including shared television programs, internet, smart phones, who are they reminding us? .On the first cosmopolitans, who visited the same theaters ,watched the same tragedies, could discuss philosophy in Greek, shared baths naked, and visited similar temples. They were at home everywhere in the world, but could not effect, influence the empirical world anywhere.

Yet, worlds are always run by the particular social/political identifications,  religious, national, cultural ,political, “natural” ,as the conditions of  our first experiences with people, with  the distinction  between right and wrong .With, the sight of rivers, mountains, and the sea we were used to as kids. Including the memories of lullabies, songs, the first love and the fist depair. Later, the interpretation of those memories can change, together with our feelings, but they are stuck there all the same.

The feeling of being a “stranger ”  in the world, in all  worlds ,a feeling that Freud termed “Unbehagen in der Kultur”, is, maybe less painful in a cosmopolitan universe, than in the world that excludes others, yet it can be also stronger. All singular members of humankind have unique fingerprints and also a unique memories. This was, is, and will be the case , that much at least can be said also about the future. But humankind  has  no fingerprints, neither collective  memory. , and this is  good.  Yet, nothing can be known and said about its future.

Agnes Heller

Where are we at home?

Who is still living in the small village of her birth in her family, childhood friend? Where everyone buried into the village cemetery is her  ancestor ,family member or parent or some of her friends and mates? What sociologists call ”mobility” shows that we all are en route, from one place to another, from one environment to another, from one country to another, from one continent to another. Or at least from a village to a city from a city to another city. News which could reach us faster than human speed  on foot, on horse, in a carriage, by train not so long time ago, became independent of human carrier, reaching us by telegram, telephone, television, internet:-we arrived at simultaneity. Cosmopolitanism as reality means: we are at home at all the places where we stay for a while ,even there what we see or hear. Thus we are nowhere at home, we are everywhere strangers.

Where we are at home we share stories with our family members, friends ,and we share the historical narrative with our people, nation. We have a shared past, better to say, it is through shared stories that we share memories and by sharing memories we share past.

The past we share is usually termed cultural memory. All cultures have their own cultural memory, some shared some unshared by others..European people, for example, have both shared and unshared memories. Shared memories are normally texts and institutions plus all the interpretations and understanding of those texts and institutions. European people share two master narratives : the Bible on the one hand, and Greek-Roman philosophy and institutions of the other hand. One does not need to use footnotes if one mentions the garden of Eden, the arc of Noah, Jesus on the Cross on the one hand, democracy, republic or the senate on the other hand. Different cultures have different cultural ,memories.The present is  fed by memories, cultural, collective or personal, and the past is the fourth dimension in the life of any group of people, any religion or nation. All  nationalist can tell their versions of past stories,, all believers can tell theirs, all cities, all families, all villages have their own.

Yet, what about cosmopolitanism? What kind of stories can we tell about “humankind as such”?  After Auschwitz and the Gulag we cannot believe anymore in the once cherished history of the human race in progress towards a happy end. There is no other shared  history of the globe, than the history of cosmopolitans.

Our age is the age of practicing cosmopolitanism that abolished the idea of cosmopolitanism. Since we can move from place to place and can get information about people who live far away. since , we know something of their beliefs, customs just by switching on the tv set or looking into the internet, we practice cosmopolitanism . Yet, since information has very little to do with ways of life, we are not  cosmopolitans.. Cosmopolitans in Hellenism or the Roman empire shared culture, and so did up to a degree cosmopolitans of the 19 century, whereas the practicing cosmopolitans share none.

The idea of universalism replaces cosmopolitanism as the idea of human rights. “Human rights” is the transcendental idea of cosmopolitanism. It is a transcendental idea that is shared as such by all culltures we share the globe Earth with. Indeed, the idea of universalism became accepted and acknowledged  as the declaration of human rights by the United Nations  and signed by the majority of states on our globe.

Yet, Rousseau’s dictum is once again confirmed, this time on the world stage:” all men are born free and they are everywhere in chains.” The nations, countries, cultures, political institutions of  the empirical humankind are different together as also their  cultural  memory and political practice. The transcendental idea of human rights  and the empirical reality of cultures especially political cultures are more often than not in collusion course.

Let me repeat: most people on our globe are practicing cosmopolitans without cosmopolitanism. Where are those people at home? In two places or two worlds,. : In the world of their  personal experiences and in the world of  ideas.

We are now living in a world where people of different traditions, different languages, different religions and customs may share the same habitat. The New World is used to accommodate all of them. This co-existence is termed wrongly  “multiculturalism”, for the term suggests a shared collective identity. although it is not. . The European nations states and not only they,- stand  before a trial. The trial of practicing cosmopolitanism. People of different tradition, customs, religion, stories, ideas enter European territory en mass. To embrace whole humankind in poetry  or to understand the imperative of humankind in us is easier than to accommodate empirically different people in our habitat. Europeans face this challenge  now.

I said that the idea of human right declared by the United Nations and signed by all governments on Earth, works as the a transcendental idea, accepted yet nor practices in most countries on Earth. It can get closer to empirical reality, even not quite empirically validated, only in states where citizens rights are practiced and not just formally acknowledged”’ ,that is only in liberal democracies.  Yet even if acknowledged how can they be empirically practiced? One of the major conflicts of contemporary Europe is the collision between human rights and citizen’s rights ,a collision between a transcendental idea and an empirical idea. Collisions between a transcendental and an empirical idea cannot be solved, but can be handled, kept in balance. We do not yet know how Europe will cope with this challenge

, Until this point I spoke of  so-called collective identities, narratives ,ideas and institutions, be they  religious, national, universal or local Yet little  about personal identity in relation to the story of cosmopolitanism..

There are two kinds of personal identity: subjective and objective one.

Subjective identity is but the memory of a person, the narratives she tells herself as well as to others, about her own life, knotting together several memory flashes in one or another way, never twice in exactly the same ways. We have all privileged access to our own memory, to our subjective identity. We reveal something about our lived history to people we want to, in occasion, circumstances we desire to.

There is no universalism that would replace singular experiences.. For example commitment to cosmopolitan ideas could  to “human rights” will not change our early memory flashes, although it generally changes ,their interpretation. This subjective home, our memory ,is  deeply influenced by collective shared beliefs and by cultural narratives.  ,Yet, even so, it remains unique, for each subject his or her own. If someone lives in a world that accommodates different cultures in the same habitat,  the subjective lived experience of a child will inhale this difference as “natural”, as it happened at the end of the 19 century in the Hungarian village where my father lived.

Contrary to subjective identity a person’s objective identity is constituted by the regard of others. At first the way they see your face and understand your name, then through the experience they make with you. In a very traditional world, the two identities can fit together. You see yourself , roughly,  if not entirely, as others see you. Strangers with a strong assimilation drive try to hide their subjective identity in order to leave up to the image the gaze of others accepts as being proper.

In the situation of practicing “cosmopolitanism” a person can choose (-if all other conditions are met) -a world, where his subjective identity best fits to the objective one,, when it is easy for him or her to look good in the eyes of others. This has already nowadays only  in professional and sometimes in ideological communities

At one point of  one’s life a modern individual chooses oneself as a person involved in one idea  or another, in one profession or another: to become a painter, a scientist, a philosophers, a singer, a judge, or a tradesman ,a farmer or else , a socialist a liberal, a conservative or else. . They understand one another on the ground of their shared professions, shared interest and shared language.

If one gives a philosophical talk in Tokyo, Tehran, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem, Melbourne at the same time, students will ask exactly the same questions all around the world. If one visits the Biennale in Venice, one could hardly guess, unless looking for signature,, whether the canvass was painted in Argentina, Columbia, South Africa, USA or Berlin. Scientists in  microbiology.  will be interested in very similar problems ,again, at the same time all around the globe. Very similar things can be said about entertainment. The same pop music is popular in very different cultures, where they are permitted to be played, (if not, they play them illegally)

If the question “where are we at home” can be replaced by another  “where, in which circle do we understand each other without  footnotes,? Where do we share a language with others even if we cannot understand the everyday language of the others ,where mutual understanding is possible without knowing  the other’s backgrounds, where no one is a strangers? The answer is ready: the artist in the community of  artists and  some art historians, the  philosopher in the community of some philosophers, the scientists in the community of  their particular science, the musician in the community of music experts ,the the technicians of all sorts with technicians their sorts. And let me go further the football fans with football fans, the cricket fans with cricket fans, the and do forth   What are you? I scientist, a philosopher, a cricket player,  a family father, a feminist, a painter, and so on and so forth.

The  cosmopolitan universe of high culture ,religions,  ,entertainment , including shared television programs, internet, smart phones, who are they reminding us? .On the first cosmopolitans, who visited the same theaters ,watched the same tragedies, could discuss philosophy in Greek, shared baths naked, and visited similar temples. They were at home everywhere in the world, but could not effect, influence the empirical world anywhere.

Yet, worlds are always run by the particular social/political identifications,  religious, national, cultural ,political, “natural” ,as the conditions of  our first experiences with people, with  the distinction  between right and wrong .With, the sight of rivers, mountains, and the sea we were used to as kids. Including the memories of lullabies, songs, the first love and the fist depair. Later, the interpretation of those memories can change, together with our feelings, but they are stuck there all the same.

The feeling of being a “stranger ”  in the world, in all  worlds ,a feeling that Freud termed “Unbehagen in der Kultur”, is, maybe less painful in a cosmopolitan universe, than in the world that excludes others, yet it can be also stronger. All singular members of humankind have unique fingerprints and also a unique memories. This was, is, and will be the case , that much at least can be said also about the future. But humankind  has  no fingerprints, neither collective  memory. , and this is  good.  Yet, nothing can be known and said about its future.

Agnes Heller