Cosmopolitanism is the philosophy of having people of different ethnic decent and cultures living together as one community without the intercultural divide. In cosmopolitanism, it does not matter what your race or ethnicity is, people live and interact as a distinct society.
In order to gain the imperial power, many governments in the past used the cosmopolitan idea as a way of gaining imperial control. The strong empires used the idea of imperialism and not colonialism to gain control over the weak empires through impacting their ideologies, culture, policies and power on the weak states from a far without settling there.
Cosmopolitan as an imperial strategy puts emphasis on nations to maintain strong relationships in the aspects of morality, politics and economics and the citizens to live as one society despite their ethnicity or culture and gives privilege to world over nation, away over home and others over self. This essay discusses the implications of using cosmopolitan as an imperial strategy drawing specific examples from the Roman Empire and comparing it with the modern society examples.
The idea of cosmopolitan began with the Athens in the 5th century BC when people started moving away from their ancestral and therefore creation of cosmopolitan cities. People would cross rivers, seas and oceans to new places, as Ash put it in her lecture “…bodies of land once separated by water… open to invasion”.
As people migrated from and to Roman and Greek, the empires were torn between the nationalism and cosmopolitan ideology. The Roman Empire was large indeed; it stretched across Mediterranean and Europe. As the Romans moved across the lands, they took their cultures that they practiced back at home to the away land as described by Rushdie in The Ground Beneath her Feet
‘…among the great struggles of man… is… conflict between fantasy of home and the fantasy of Away,… roots… and … journey” (Rushdie, 2000).
The population was growing and the migrants were many. Rome then stopped recognizing the residents of the Rome city as the citizens of the world and not Romans. This is the idea Martha Nussbaum was expressing in her article, Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism when she wrote
“Cosmopolitan among the Greeks saw people as citizens of the world as opposed to citizens of the city or nation” (Nussbaum, 1994).
The Romans used the idea of imposing their cultures and values on others as a way of conquering more territories. They would make the people of other decent to feel like part of Romans. They knew that territories gained through consent rather than conquest was stronger.
In those ancient days, the Roman culture became popular among other people of different ethnicity and the Romans used the culture and traditions fusion to absorb more territories. This was the same tactic the Italians used in the territorial and colonial era to gain more colonies.
The Romans who traveled away from home spread the ‘good news’ about the splendor of the Rome city, something that drew more people to go and witness the diverse, vast and splendid city. The visitors were however given conditional welcome which was indirectly imperial (Edwards & Woolf, 2003). The culture and traditions of the Romans spread across Europe and as more foreigners moved to Rome city and absorbed the culture of the Romans, the vast the territory grew.
The Romans held rituals and festivals in the Rome city which drew many people. This gave the non – Romans the feeling of oneness as participation was open to all as long as the participants’ performances were in the Roman culture.
People felt like one community in such events and it gave the Roman city an identity. In the colonial period, the Nazi Germans used the same strategy of triumphal parades where they gave their colonies the permission to participate and therefore creating the oneness and a feeling of community. In Staging the World p. 7, Ostenberg writes
‘Rituals are seen as reflections and expressions of community; they comment on society and its relations with the outer world… rituals involve spectators as active participants’ (Ostenberg, 2009).
Further in page 14, he says that the onlookers were visitors, migrants and invited guests of high ruling classes who came to view and be viewed (Osternberg, 2009). The aspect of home in away land was felt by the foreigners.
The Romans also used cosmopolitism as an imperial strategy when they used their unique knowledge in building, architecture and construction in the away lands (Edwards & Woolf, 2003). They would construct the unique structures that are only known to them in those lands.
This made those people in those distant lands feel like Romans while inside those buildings. Rulers of other kingdoms would approach the Romans requesting to have Roman constructions which the Romans would gladly incline to but with conditions. This made the Romans gain more control.
That away home feeling that the Romans gave the slaves and migrants who came to Rome city with the hope of getting asylum and starting a new life made these foreigners to stay in Rome. Many never went back to their lands and those who left Rome could not get used to the life away from Rome since they had developed the away identity. In the modern societies, people from third world developing countries are migrating to the developed countries with others seeking political asylum in those countries.
The migrants move to these countries and establish a life there and they are unable to move back to their countries of origins. Countries like the United States and UK receive many migrants who come from Asia and Africa and these migrants do not return back instead, they develop the foreign culture of the country they move to.
The cosmopolitan ideology as an imperial strategy has been critically analyzed by many scholars like Hamblet in article, “The Goodness of Geography”, p. 355 where she describes the idea to “cohabit the homely space and positions of humankind” (Hamblet, 2003). Rome was not home after all to the slaves and foreigners since they were mistreated, overworked, enslaved, imprisoned, their women raped and overtaxed.
Edwards, C. & Woolf, G. (2003). Rome the Cosmopolis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Hamblet, W. (2003). The Geography of Goodness: Proximity’s Dilemma and the Difficulties of Moral Response to the Distant Sufferer. In The Monist. Vol. 86, no.3, pp 355 – 366.
Nussbaum, M. (1994). Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism. Boston: Beacon Press.
Ostenberg, I. (2009). Staging the World: Soils, Captives, and Representations in the Roman Triumphal Procession. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rushdie, S. (2000). The Ground beneath her Feet. New York: Macmillan Publishers.