Thursday, January 31, 2019

Bill Mitchell — The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 2

In the blog post earlier this week – The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 1 (January 29, 2019) – I juxtaposed two concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ which appeared to be part of the early moves to achieve European integration. On the one hand, there was a Kantian-style desire to create, through cooperation between previously warring states, a peaceful and prosperous future for a ‘one’ Europe. This construct would be welcoming to outsiders, progressive, and celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity. It was a rights-based conception of citizenship and democracy, which closely aligned with the growing popularity of the social democratic polity.
On the other hand, the early moves to overcome the resistance to creating a supranational entity that would increasingly compromise national sovereignty – the so-called “functionalist” approach of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, created a pragmatic, free market-based cosmopolitanism, which set the Member States against each other as competitors. As I demonstrated, over time, the economic cosmopolitanism channeled the burgeoning neoliberalism of the 1980s and compromised the rights-based, political cosmopolitanism, to the end that we now talk about democratic deficits as the European Commission and its unelected allies such as the IMF trample over the rights of citizens across the geographic spread of Europe.
Europhile progressives hanker for the first conception of European cosmopolitanism and proffer various reform proposals, which they claim will tame the economic dimensions and restore the ‘European Project’ as a progressive force in the world. In this second part of the series I will argue that from the outset the cosmopolitanism embedded in the ‘Project’ was deeply flawed and it is no surprise that democracy is now compromised in the European Union. I argue that reform is not possible such is the extent of the failures.
I have written previously of the paradoxes of liberalism, and Bill's observation is an example of it. Liberalism as a political theory generated by a thought-collective (German Denkkollektiv*) is idealistic in the sense of constructing a possible world based on principles as stipulated assumptions and wishing for its existence. It is a philosophical (principles-based) and ideological (normative) framework for a project that began in the West in earnest in the 18th century, although it is built on the Western intellectual tradition that begins with ancient Greek thought.

Being chiefly normative, universal and static rather than empirically derived and context-dependent, liberalism as a theory doesn't fit real conditions that are historical and dynamic very well, especially in cases of any considerable scale like states and, a fortiori, international affairs.

Thus, the paradoxes of liberalism arise as "internal contradictions." Capitalism is an economic expression of liberalism as democracy is a political expression of it. Significantly, neither has existed in "pure form" at a large scale historically. The devil is in the details — impurities or adulterations. The liberal project often involves attempts to purify the system of "imperfections," which then proves impractical in context owing to paradoxes that arise involving tradeoffs that undercut the enterprise.

The Left's version of liberalism based on rights is noble but out of touch, while the neoliberal view is the attempt to impose economic liberalism on liberalism as a whole. Neither are practical, owing to the dissonance of the model with reality. For a variety of reasons, liberty, egality and fraternity (community, solidarity) don't mesh automatically owing to natural order arising spontaneously given the "right" conditions.

In addition, liberalism is at odds with traditionalism, and traditionalism remains a powerful force to be reckoned with. Moreover, traditionalism as it manifests in a context is often based on local tribalisms.

While this certainly affects the European dynamic, it is not peculiar to Europe. In fact, the 21st century can be viewed as a dialectic between liberalism and traditionalism. Liberalism itself has elements of tribalism built into it since it is chiefly a Western construction.

Bill Mitchell – billy blog
The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 2
Bill Mitchell | Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

* See Ludwig Fleck.

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