Liberal Cosmopolitanism and a Dearth of Allies

Knowing Friend From Foe can be Challenging in the Modern World

With the rise of what has been either self-consciously or by others labeled “Christian Nationalism”, many modernist assumptions of what governance, spirituality, and citizenship are have been called into question. For the modern, the liberal (be it either in classical or neo flavors), these questions have been largely settled. Governance is by the rules-based order, enforced by the global community which is ruled chiefly by the American hegemon, which is itself ruled by a liberal elite. Spirituality and religion are tolerated but only if exercised away from the public square, especially in areas of morality, duty, and ethics. Citizenship is of the world, and only administered by local governments in obeisance to the afore-mentioned cabal of unaccountable Rule. For those with Christian Nationalist convictions, these modernist assumptions are at the very least unsatisfying if not offensive to how life has been lived for thousands of years.

Liberalism, as a philosophical and political doctrine, emerged from the Enlightenment, a significant 17th and 18th-century intellectual movement that prioritized reason, critical inquiry, and individualism. This movement, challenging traditional doctrines and advocating empirical and scientific understanding, led to a shift towards secularism, liberal political theory, and a critical stance on absolute monarchies. This profoundly influenced the evolution of modern democratic, scientific, and philosophical frameworks. Building on these Enlightenment ideals, liberalism emphasizes individual liberty, equality, and rationalism. It upholds the protection of individual rights, adherence to the rule of law, and the establishment of representative government, reflecting the Enlightenment’s rationalist and humanist principles that highlight the individual’s inherent value and capacity for reason as central to creating a just and equitable society.

What person doesn’t want a just and equitable society? Who doesn’t want individual liberty? Who doesn’t want to be treated as having certain rights, seen as fundamental to human existence? The answer is that for the most part — save the occasional psychopath — is that everyone wants these things. The question is this: Can liberalism deliver on these goals? What are the means and costs of doing so? The answers are summed up by “it depends, but mostly, no”.

Liberalism has produced two of the most powerful Empires in world history, with an earlier liberalism empowering the British Empire as its increasingly powerful monarchy was contemporaneously castrated, and also the United States Empire, a fully monolithic hegemon for 30 years and the dominant Western force for 45 before that. But liberalism promises are founded upon benefits for the individual, and the power of both the British and now American Empires has been in its aggregate measures of wealth and influence. Individually, the median citizen, while certainly not starving, isn’t participating in the liberal paradise of untold wealth and “citizenship of the world”. The individual has contrastingly seen his saved wealth and way of life either transferred away or destroyed.

In order to achieve these goals of GDP-maxing and freedom from whatever it is one seeks freedom from, certain things must be sacrificed. Firstly, common religious assumptions built upon millennia-developed theology, with their culture-propping buttresses, have been swept away. Now, science, previously a handmaiden of theology, is now left to roam the earth devouring whatever it sees, and the dignity of man is at the top of the menu. Science sees man not as a reflection of the Creator’s glory, but as an accidental collection of cells. Science, ignoring its own dictats of entropy in the face of increasing order, makes no distinction for the top of the food chain and tends towards mechanistic utilitarianism. It is all omelet and no eggs. 

So much for championing the individual.

Religion is seen as nothing more than organized superstition. Since it disagrees with a divorced science, rationalism at the marginal limit, it must be subdued if allowed at all. God isn’t dead, in liberalism’s view He never existed. The new Pantheon are the elite who make their own laws, as experienced in ultimate liberty, a freedom from all unchosen bonds, often ignoring even the “science” that enabled their unholy rise.

Liberation, in this guise, is ultimately from even national bonds, and citizenship becomes a world-encompassing reality. If you can afford it, of course. Nations exist not for the purpose of people and place, of common belief and experience, but only for the Byzantine administration of an ever-more-complex codex of laws and procedures, a secular Talmud of incomprehensible regulations which enslaves all and guarantees perpetual guilt. “Oh, how can I, a lowly (yet free?) sinner draw near to the holiness of these small gods?”

This is the cosmopolitan dream, the telos of this new reality. 

Cosmopolitanism, as a philosophical and ethical standpoint, represents a natural evolution of liberal and Enlightenment thought, extending its principles to this global context. Rooted in the hype of reason, individualism, and a universal conception of human dignity, cosmopolitanism posits that all human beings, irrespective of national, cultural, or religious affiliations, belong to a single moral community. This perspective is grounded in the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the inherent worth and rational agency of every individual, which naturally extends beyond local and national boundaries to embrace a global human community.

The problem is plain to see for anyone, as these values, ripped from their religious mooring, have no concrete grounds. Jesus’ commands are to the neighbor. Perhaps, the Messiah was presenting a mere innovation, borne of the Samaritan and Roman issues of the day? By no means! For the Scripture says “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” Locality matters, for common experience and belief are religious – they bind us together. Do individuals have inherent worth? Of course, for they are created by and bear the image of God. Are individuals protected and blessed by disembodied ideals of far-away universalism? The answer is a disastrous and resounding “no!”

The argument, made by liberal cosmopolitanism, that humans all have rational agency, while hopeful, is not borne of fact. Thirty-five percent of human males smoke cigarettes regularly. Six percent of women do. Forty-nine percent of adults play the lottery in the US at least once a year. Personally, and somewhat arcanely, I know that the prices paid for stock and index options vastly exceed their realized values, year over year. The people trading in these instruments would be considered some of the brightest and most rational agents in the world. Yet the cognitive dissonance remains, fueling a rich arbitrage for those who can execute. I am a fund manager who has built his career on this fact. It never goes away, and has persisted across asset classes. 

Why are all these things true? Could it be that people, taken as a whole, but more often than not individually as well, do not exhibit rational agency?

Continuing, the aforementioned cosmopolitan ethos promises to align with key liberal principles such as individual rights, equality, and the pursuit of justice and amplifies these within a wider, more inclusive framework. But this is a fool’s errand, as individual rights and the pursuit of justice can only be administered locally; although admittedly (and quite corruptly) the FBI is seeking to change this – but even it is a national organization. It is impossible to think of rights and justice being administered globally, at least, until our Lord’s 2nd Advent. But we see the efforts towards these ends in the liberal “rules-based order”, which has “rights” as its stated goal and the utter destruction of entire cultures as the actual results of its actions. Liberal cosmopolitanism, the desire for a McDonald’s on every street corner of the world, was the impetus of what could only be called war crimes in Iraq as the large Christian minority was either killed or driven from the land.

I have left out “equality” here. The Bible speaks of “equal scales”, which symbolizes the command that everyone is to be treated equally. The equality sought in the pursuit of a cosmopolitan reality, however, is one of the outcomes. Experience teaches us that giftedness and traits, both positive and negative, have been distributed unequally. This is a gracious act of God, seemingly paradoxically. If everyone were exactly the same, there would be no natural attraction, organization, and functional hierarchy of roles, but only chaos as sorting would have no ordinary means, but rather would only be possible by direct imposition, in theory by a king who was lucky rather than worthy.

Yet, every establishment of success is driven by a hierarchy of decision, a division of roles, and of accountable function. Our bodies are the manifest example of this, as the Apostle Paul wrote of the distinction of eyes, feet, heart and hands.

Furthermore, by advocating for a world in which individuals are primarily viewed as citizens of a global community, cosmopolitanism challenges the traditional nation-state focus of liberalism, pushing towards a more interconnected and interdependent understanding of global society. See the efforts of George Soros. See the global invasiveness of the intelligence communities. See the transnational banking system which seeks to promote mass migration of corporate capital but hinders the desire for the protection of personal capital in times of political crisis. George W. Bush destroyed the traditional Swiss banking system in a thinly-veiled, yet successful attack to seal US financial rule via an inescapable SWIFT and IRS system, seeing all.

Yet the Torah said that justice could only be administered via the testimony of two or three witnesses, ensuring the base-level ministry of the people amongst themselves locally. Today, those who champion cosmopolitanism see a world of cameras, drones, and AI, world-encompassing and crushing.

These shifts reflect the Enlightenment’s commitment to flawed rationality and what we haven’t mentioned yet, an assumption of “progress”, applying these ideals to address complex global challenges and advocating for a world order based on “universal moral values” and the “collective good” of humanity. Yet, what progress? 

Leo Strauss famously said,

“Progress or decay in history, philosophy, and politics depends not on the accumulation of empirical knowledge, but on the quality of reflection. The assumption of progress is not the result of a comprehensive study of past human thought and a dispassionate comparison of that thought with ours. It is a pious wish.” 

I would also question: what “universal moral” values? Where is this observed? What morality? The current “morality” is that of destroying the bonds of family and of communities, and of promoting that which is clearly “unnatural” when declaring that human rights have been protected.

Consequently, Cosmopolitanism can be seen as an expansion of liberal thought, informed by these Enlightenment ideals, into a more comprehensive and invasive vision of global ethical responsibility, but defined by those who have no transcending value to fall back on, only their wholly flawed human irrationality and an ever-growing lust to control those with no covenantal bond.

As Protestants, we have many non-protestant allies in battling these assumptions of global liberalism and a cosmopolitan ideal. Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), during his papacy, expressed concerns about unbridled globalization & cosmopolitanism and its potential to erode national identities and local cultures. He advocated for a “healthy” form of globalization that respects cultural and religious identities, suggesting a cautious approach to this cosmopolitanism. Of course, many have suggested that Benedict was a crypto-protestant driven from the Papal Seat because of this thinking.

Charles J. Chaput, the former Archbishop of Philadelphia, has spoken about the importance of national identity and the dangers of global secularization. He emphasizes the need for strong moral and cultural foundations, which he believes can be undermined by certain forms of cosmopolitanism. Alasdair MacIntyre has critiqued modern moral philosophy by expressing skepticism towards liberal cosmopolitanism by emphasizing virtue ethics, and by drawing heavily from Thomistic tradition. He supports the idea of moral reasoning within specific community contexts rather than through a global lens.

R.R. Reno, the editor of “First Things,” has expressed views critical of unchecked globalization and its impact on local communities and traditions. His writings suggest a preference for maintaining strong national and cultural identities in the face of global homogenization. Yet Rusty, as he is known, also says that “liberalism is our dominant tradition.” He ultimately calls on liberalism to be modified, moderated, but not abandoned.

This seems to be the core belief of most Catholic thinkers. Pope Francis has clearly championed a liberal bias. He seeks more of an equality-of-outcomes approach economically, an open approach to mass migration borne of refugee status, a science-based approach to climate matters, and so on.

Other modern Catholic thinkers have aligned with or support aspects of cosmopolitanism. Hans Küng, a Swiss Catholic priest and theologian, has been a proponent of global ethics and interreligious dialogue. His work often emphasizes the need for a shared ethical framework across cultures and religions, a principle that aligns with cosmopolitan ideals. David Hollenbach, S.J. is an American Jesuit priest and scholar, whose work in political and social ethics often touches on themes of human rights, refugees, and global responsibility. Perhaps most infamously, Gustavo Gutiérrez, the father of Liberation Theology, focuses on the preferential option for the poor and the fight against social injustice which extends beyond national borders, embodying a form of cosmopolitan solidarity and universal concern for all marginalized people. There are many others, but these are the highlights.

The question is naturally raised, in a framework of seemingly extreme tradition and devotion to a God who was revealed first as a national God, how has liberalism and cosmopolitanism taken over the majority report? Clearly, social and political pressures play a huge role. But is there another factor?

I suggest that the universal magisterial role of the Pope as the infallible seat of authority is the ultimate driver of a cosmopolitan impulse. For the Roman Catholic, the magisterium is extra-national. It transcends all borders, to the point that historically the Kings were subject to the Pope. This is a proto-cosmopolitan impulse baked into the Roman Catholic cake.

For the Protestant, authority is local. The denominations are often tied to either national churches or their extensions. The unity of the church is bound in the Bible and trinitarian baptism and confession, but its discipline is local and witness-bound.

Interestingly, in Jerusalem, Mount Moriah is the mount of the Temple, destroyed in 70AD — but the mount is still a glorious sight to behold. Yet Mount Zion, seen as the mountain of the King’s throne, is higher. In Old Testament/Jewish history, it was King David who reformed the priesthood, not the High Priest or Nathan the Prophet. This did not mean that God Himself was subject to the King, quite the contrary. It did mean that the King was not subject to the priesthood simply as priests, but only via the sacrificial cultus. Protestantism has traditionally honored this national primacy of authority, raising up a prophetic voice to the King when he wandered spiritually. This is the antithesis of cosmopolitanism, as each locality will have its own facet of beauty in the whole of the diamond, reflecting and refracting the light of God in Christ uniquely but part of the whole.

A major emphasis of the Protestant Reformation, consequently perhaps the most important emphasis, was this magisterial aspect. It was fine for Rome to have a bishop. He was not to be the Bishop of the whole of Christendom or the Churches of God. The Bishops of each town, city, and region shepherded in their locales. If doctrine became aberrant, then the aberrancy was localized and not made cancerous to the entire body of Christ. Traditional Protestantism is Federal, not Cosmopolitan.

Interestingly, Orthodoxy operates with a conciliar system of governance, where bishops collectively make decisions in councils. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople holds a position of honor but does not have the same authority as the Pope in Catholicism. Orthodoxy consists of several autocephalous (self-governing) national churches, each maintaining its own administration while sharing the same faith and sacraments. This structure reflects a balance between unity in faith and diversity in cultural expression. This has a similar anti-cosmopolitan effect as Protestantism, allowing for national identities and unique cultures to thrive while still being united worshipers of Christ. 

As with the occasional ally in Roman Catholicism with regards to anti-cosmopolitan thought, we see within Judaism those who see the flaws. Yoram Hazony’s contemplations, speeches and written ideas, particularly in his advocacy for national states and cultural particularism, distinguish him as a modern exponent of Jewish particularism, albeit in the political rather than religious realm. His seminal work, “The Virtue of Nationalism,” delineates a framework favoring national sovereignty and distinct cultural identities over a cosmopolitan or globalist ethos. 

In a parallel vein, Hazony’s critique of cosmopolitan universalism resonates with the particularist viewpoints of other influential Jewish thinkers, but is rigorously applied not just to modern Israel but to all national identities. His political theorizing on national identity and sovereignty reflects a contemporary engagement with the challenges posed by globalization, distinguishing his work from the more religiously centered discourse on Jewish law and ethics.

Moreover, Hazony’s advocacy for the Jewish state as a protector of cultural and national particularism aligns him with the Zionist visions of figures like Rabbi Kook. However, Hazony’s argument for the nation-state as the optimal guardian of cultural uniqueness situates his work within the broader context of modern political philosophy and the debate on global order, and is distinctly anti-cosmopolitan. This orientation towards the nation-state as a fundamental unit in the international system, defending cultural diversity and autonomy, marks Hazony as a significant contemporary voice in the conversation about national identity, state sovereignty, and the role of cultural particularism in an increasingly interconnected world.

However, often Hazony seems like a voice crying out in the wilderness on these matters from a Jewish perspective. Why is it that a modern nation defined by its religious and self-conscious ethno-nationalism is so incapable of producing thinkers who share Hazony’s remarkable insight as to the value of the localized state?

After 70 AD, the Jews primarily became a diasporic yet non-assimilating people, dependent upon the liberal and cosmopolitan views for it to have purchase among the nations. This philosophical sorting over centuries has led to a naturally favorable view of cosmopolitanism, especially among the less orthodox Jews.

The Jewish diaspora’s success is exemplified in cosmopolitan locales, with the prime example being New York City. Known for its cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity, New York has provided an environment conducive to the flourishing of its Jewish community. The city’s pluralistic and inclusive nature has allowed for the preservation and expression of Jewish traditions and customs, contributing to a robust sense of community and cultural identity. This environment of relative tolerance and openness that consequently diminishes religious unity has been a significant factor in providing a safe and vibrant space for Jewish religious and cultural practices. There are currently around 1.5 million Jews living in the greater New York metro area.

Economically, New York City’s role as a major global financial and business center has offered numerous opportunities for the Jewish community. Historically, Jews in New York have been involved in a wide range of economic activities, contributing to both their community’s prosperity and the broader economic landscape of the city. International banking is by nature cosmopolitan, and Goldman Sachs reigns supreme in this space. Additionally, the city’s intellectual and cultural environment has been a conducive space for Jewish intellectual and creative endeavors. New York’s diverse cultural scene, academic institutions, and intellectual forums have facilitated Jewish contributions in areas such as the arts, academia, science, and literature. This interaction illustrates the relationship between the cosmopolitan nature of New York City and its Jewish community.

This cosmopolitanism, necessary for a people unwilling to assimilate, then underlies the Jewish assumptions of how the global cultural economy should work. Nationalistic at home, cosmopolitan abroad. One should have respect for the Israeli nationalistic impulse at home, in Israel. We should have the same privileges here and as should the citizens of all the nations around the globe.

A look at cosmopolitanism would be incomplete without seeing what Carl Schmitt, its most ardent critic, had to say. Schmitt argued against the idea of a universal world order or universal values, which are central to cosmopolitanism. He argued that such universalism ignored the reality of distinct political communities and the inherent differences between them. For Schmitt, the notion of a homogeneous world state was an unrealistic and potentially dangerous idea. Furthermore, cosmopolitanism, with its emphasis on global citizenship and the dissolution of national boundaries, threatened the fundamental political distinction in Schmitt’s view, that of being able to identify the “other” whose desire was to destroy your unique way of life. He ultimately saw this cosmopolitan ideal as a means to destroy state sovereignty. We see this everywhere, and it was the impetus for Brexit. Why should London submit to Brussels?

Concluding, it must be admitted that sometimes national identities can be tribal. However, the focus of a national ideal is the protection and well-being of the citizens of each respective nation, with leaders who answer to that covenantal pledge of loyalty and shared blessing. The United States was borne out of the idea that a far-off sovereign had neglected his covenant to protect the citizens of the Colonies against the ravages of Parliament. Protestantism was borne of the idea that a far-off bishop, unaccountable, was of illegitimate authority and the local bishop should rule. 

This submission to distant, unaccountable authority, or the idea that citizenship without assimilation could be valid, is antithetical to both historic Americanism and historic Protestantism. And these two impulses are why certain groups yield few allies.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Ronald Dodson

Ronald Dodson is CEO and Portfolio Manager of Dallas North Capital Partners, a private fund management firm. He also frequently writes on geopolitical developments and global risk. He has worked with the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. His interests include the Noahic Covenant gentile believers in the ancient world, continental theology and coaching soccer. He is a deacon in the PCA.

2 thoughts on “Liberal Cosmopolitanism and a Dearth of Allies

  1. There are things to appreciate about Dodson’s article. The critical referencing of the British and American empires and the hegemonies that came with them is certainly needed. However, by claiming that those were products of liberalism runs counter to the historian Chalmers Johnson’s perspective. For Johnson looked at 3 empires consisting of the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the American Empire. Johnson then concluded that a nation must eventually choose between staying a republic or maintaining its empire. Johnson stated that Rome decided to keep its empire and as a result lost its republic. Great Britain, on the other hand gave up its empire and, for a significant part, remained a republic. America must now choose between the two.

    However, I wouldn’t take the all-or-nothing approach toward the global community. For either we have that global community, which would be the UN and the ICC, deciding disputes or declaring international crimes have taken place, or we continue to rely on the rule of force. And in a world where the spread of WMDs is inevitable because of access to technology, continued reliance on the rule of force, or war as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto called it, is a sure recipe for the suicide of mankind. Unfortunately, the UN was structured to that any one of a small elite group of nations, including China and Russia, could make the UN impotent. Thus, in a world full of democracies, the UN itself cannot effectively function as a democracy.

    In addition, I wouldn’t say that justice can only be administered locally. World history doesn’t support that claim. In addition, the local community can become powerless when a larger group, such as a large corporation, acts against it.

    It is inconsistent to complain about what “liberalism” has brought without first noting the problems that came with monarchies–especially religiously based ones. Wars, including religious ones, religious persecution, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, ethnic cleansing, inquisitions, and such belong to the monarchies of the past. And perhaps because of a role-over effect caused by Christendom’s spanning parts of both time periods, some of those tragically horrific results also occurred when liberalism became predominant.

    Of course some will protest by saying that the abuses of the times of monarchies are not necessarily reflections of true religion, of Christianity. And that is a fair statement. But why can’t the same be said about the problems experienced during liberalism?

    And so liberalism may not be getting a fair treatment in the above article. After all, isn’t part of what Jefferson said in his 1801 Inaugural Address a reflection of liberalism? He said the following:

    –‘All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression’–

    Perhaps Jefferson’s words are a good definition of democracy, which comes with individual rights and equality. That when the equal rights of the minority are not protected, not only is there oppression, neither is there democracy. If we took those words seriously enough, our nation has yet to have become a democracy. And what is preventing us from becoming a democracy, a nation where liberalism reigns? One of those things preventing us from reaching “liberalism” is the penchant of some for authoritarianism with its inherent hierarchy of groups. Another factor that is preventing us from reaching liberalism is when a large enough group of people put a higher priority on different kinds of wealth than on people. That is according to Martin Luther King Jr when he spoke against the Vietnam War.

    Now if we include with the benefits of liberalism equality and individual rights, liberalism comes its own checks and balances. For within the scope of liberalism, individual rights – equality = individual privileges. But we need to add something to the equation when evaluating our economic system, which is Capitalism. That is, because as Martin Luther King Jr. noted in his book ‘Stride Toward Freedom,’ that 19th century Capitalism, and I would argue that it still does in our current shareholder-based economic system, ‘forgets that life is social’ while Marxism ‘forgets that life is individual.’

    Now the question is whether a liberalism, as imperfect and as corruptible as it has been or may be, has the greatest potential to provide justice and an equitable society than a monarchy. Is it the system that balances its respect for individual rights with insisting on equality, or is it a hierarchal system where some groups have more ranking and power than other groups especially when the ranking and power is due to privilege based on religion? Here we should consider whether when we see problems with liberalism, just perhaps they are sometimes reflective of outside influences on liberalism.

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