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Global protest movements and the realization of cosmopolitan solidarity

Wilhelm, Dagmar



One objection often raised against the feasibility of cosmopolitan solidarity holds that cosmopolitan solidarity is impossible because (a) solidarity depends on or necessarily involves identification and (b) identification of the relevant sort necessarily involves exclusion. We identify as members of a group in opposition to another group. Cosmopolitan solidarity, however, is all-inclusive. Since we cannot form a collective, all-inclusive, identity that could ground this solidarity, cosmopolitan solidarity is impossible.
The objection has been put forward in different ways by various philosophers and political and social theorists. Michael Walzer (1992) and David Miller (1989) formulate it in terms of a “particularism thesis”. They hold that the one universal feature of human societies is that identity formation always takes place against an “other”. Jürgen Habermas (2005) and Max Pensky (2008) make a similar claim, which can be called the “exclusion thesis”. Identity formation, especially on the collective level involves a dialectic of inclusion and exclusion. What defines the identity of a group is partly determined of who is excluded and who is included. Both the particularism thesis and the exclusion thesis can be read as a conceptual or an empirical claim.
The conceptual claim holds that necessarily, we cannot speak of identity of something unless there are things that are different from that thing. The empirical claim is more modest and holds only that it is an empirical fact that individuals and collectives form their identity with reference to difference.
In this paper I will argue that at least some global protest movements can serve as counterexamples to the empirical claim. I will show that some of these movements involve identification either with universal values, which are universal in the sense that they apply to all human beings qua their humanity, or they involve identification with humanity on the basis of features that all human beings share. In this sense the identification involved in these movements contradicts both the particularism and exclusion thesis. Moreover, I will show that, pace Habermas, the kind of identification achieved in the movement is sufficient to ground cosmopolitan solidarity. In fact these movements can be seen to realize cosmopolitan solidarity.
It is important to point out that my argument does not commit me to claim that those involved in protest movements regard themselves as cosmopolitan or are committed to a cosmopolitan world order. My claim is much more modest than that: these protest movements show that identification with universal values or features is possible and this identification is sufficient to ground the kind of mutual trust and goodwill that is characteristic of the kind of social solidarity required to facilitate the distribution of burdens and benefits amongst a group (be it a nation, a village, or humanity).
I also want to address a different challenge to cosmopolitan solidarity, regarding not so much the feasibility as the desirability of cosmopolitan solidarity. Cosmopolitan solidarity, with its commitment to liberal values, so the challenge, is a form of moral imperialism. Moreover, it is as exclusive as other forms of solidarity (but on different grounds). The protest movement I will analyse in this paper will be shown to meet this challenge to some degree, by showing cosmopolitan solidarity to be capable of accommodating other non-liberal values and value frameworks to a degree. However, I will not be able to claim that this accommodation of other values to a degree manages to respond fully to the challenge. Ultimately, in order to assess the desirability of cosmopolitan solidarity, we have to weigh the possible disadvantage of a commitment to cosmopolitan values (to the exclusion of some other values) against the need of cosmopolitan solidarity for global justice.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2015
Deposit Date Sep 8, 2015
Journal Globalizations
Print ISSN 1474-7731
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords global protest, cosmopolitanism, solidarity, national solidarity
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : The article is part of a special edition and will also be reprinted after publication in the journal in Tamar Caraus (ed.) "Cosmopolitanism and Global Protest", Routledge, forthcoming
Contract Date Mar 19, 2016

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