Martha Nussbaum on Patriotism

“Asked where he came from, the ancient Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” He meant by this, it appears, that he refused to be defined by his local origins and local group memberships, so central to the self-image of a conventional Greek male; he insisted on defining himself in terms of more universal aspirations and concerns. The Stoics who followed his lead developed his image of the kosmou politês or world citizen more fully, arguing that each of us dwells, in effect, in two communities—the local community of our birth, and the community of human argument and aspiration that “is truly great and truly common, in which we look neither to this corner nor to that, but measure the boundaries of our nation by the sun” (Seneca, De Otio). It is this community that is, most fundamentally, the source of our moral obligations. With respect to the most basic moral values such as justice, “we should regard all human beings as our fellow citizens and neighbors” (Plutarch, On the Fortunes of Alexander). We should regard our deliberations as, first and foremost, deliberations about human problems of people in particular concrete situations, not problems growing out of a national identity that is altogether unlike that of others. Diogenes knew that the invitation to think as a world citizen was, in a sense, an invitation to be an exile from the comfort of patriotism and its easy sentiments, to see our own ways of life from the point of view of justice and the good. The accident of where one is born is just that, an accident; any human being might have been born in any nation. Recognizing this, his Stoic successors held, we should not allow differences of nationality or class or ethnic membership or even gender to erect barriers between us and our fellow human beings. We should recognize humanity wherever it occurs, and give its fundamental ingredients, reason and moral capacity, our first allegiance and respect.” – Martha Nussbaum

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