Imagine There’s No Countries . . .

Considering the Possibility and Practice of Global Citizenship

The Geothe and Caneti Connection

Posted by rfrankl on February 18, 2009


In dearth of any ideas for a blog I searched “Cosmopolitism” and what popped up was a gem: an article published way back in ‘81 on a German Jewish writer who exercises a different sort of cosmopolitism than what we have discussed in class. But it is such a gem because it reminded me that cosmopolitanism has a certain charm to it, and in particular an intellectual charm. The intellect starts to bud when it has an unchained curiosity, an interest in what all humans have to say but this only reaches fruition and only has meaning if that curiosity can be exercised, if you can actually talk or read with every human, not the ones you know by chance.

The article was on Elias Caneti, a brilliant Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize in ’81, who was acutely aware of how patriotism can be deformed into unalloyed brutality. He saw the rise of Hitler and he saw what the people did, not in the name of Hitler but of Germany, and with a belief that it was just and necessary. But this man does not turn from all that is Tuetonic, rather he looks back to the man who formed the German character, Goethe: writing everything from poetry, fiction, memoirs, and travel. It is not the place that Canetti emphasized but rather the importance of words. The idea of world literature, that everyone has a unique and beautiful story to tell and we are bound by our interest in those tales is what Canetti took from Geothe. This has a much warmer feeling to it than that bland and Stoic belief of world citizenship, after all that is the assertion that we should care for all human beings. That is not enough, everyone already agrees to this but the tough question is how to accomplish this. The proposition offered by Nusbaum seems slightly propagandistic and Orwellian. She wants a curriculum change in public education that shoves down the throats of children the vague and ambiguous slogan of world citizenship. This does not solve the problem, we need to be teaching some kind of good not as a final answer but as starting point, a way of insuring that those children will grow up and become not as Orwell said, “a sack to be filled with food” but a human with a head that uses that head to think about the most important things in life: the good, bad, just, and unjust. A way to do this is to make children and future citizens have a profound curiosity channeled through, as Geothe and Caneti feel so strongly, the word and the story. I won’t just go through the Sunday paper and blithely glance at the death statistics from a flood, civil war, or simple poverty but I will cry, get angry, and then do something not because I have been to that country on my luxury jet, not because I have been forced to believe in a cold abstract slogan, but because I have read or heard a story from that far off land and I like them, and I want to continue liking them.


2 Responses to “The Geothe and Caneti Connection”

  1. Forex news said

    Nice post! Keep it real.I have looked over your blog a few times and I love it.

  2. bklunk said

    Note how much you anticipated Appiah here.

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