Cosmopolitanism can work
Paul Collier rejects the premise of my book that cosmopolitanism is compatible with rebuilding community in western countries where it has been eroded (“Getting somewhere,” Aug/Sept).
In doing so, he attributes to me the view that “the income distribution is all we need to understand the backlash against globalisation.” But I am at pains to survey the many dimensions of polarisation beyond individual income and wealth, including the “gross spatial inequality” which Collier rightly denounces, and the divergence these inequalities cause in lifestyles, in workplace security, in health and in values. In a nutshell, my claim is that while the object of people’s anger may be cultural, the cause is economic. That implies that rewriting the economic social contract carries the promise of diminishing cultural tensions.
There may be the rub of a visceral reaction against a liberal taking on “belonging.” Collier’s fear may not be that when cosmopolitans take community seriously they should fail to address its problems, but rather that they should succeed—preserving economic openness by making it work for everyone. For a certain kind of communitarian, that may not be revolutionary—or, perhaps, reactionary?—enough.
Martin Sandbu, FT. A longer version of this response appears here
What’s past is passed
I enjoyed Ivan Krastev and Leonard Benardo’s piece on coming to terms with the distant past in a time of vicious memory wars and polarising propaganda (“The politics of atonement,” Aug/Sept). It’s something I’ve been exploring recently in Ukraine, where my team at the LSE conducted, among other things, focus groups with diverging opinions on the Second World War and the Soviet Union. These historical topics are the focus of much propaganda, especially Russian, that tries to divide the country.
But we quickly found that the official historical identity markers weren’t really what contributors were emotional about. What was vital were more recent traumas from their own lifetimes, such as the sudden loss of social status and economic security in the 1990s.
While western countries have not faced such a drastic collapse of certainties and social identities as Soviet countries did then, they have seen a gradual erosion of old social roles and economic stability. It’s this loss of people’s sense of their place in the world that propagandists can play on, and history can…