The New World Order: Cosmopolitan Liberals and Local Non-Liberals

I’m obsessive about globalization and cosmopolitanism. So I couldn’t help but read and re-read these last few paragraphs from Richard Shewder’s essay in Culture Matters (review forthcoming on this blog).

Such an emergent "new world order" might look like a post-modern Ottoman "millet system" on a global scale. I imagine this system would be two tiered and operating at two levels, global and local. I imagine its personnel will belong to two "castes." There will be the cosmopolitan liberals, who are trained to appreciate value neutrality and cultural diversity and who run the global institutions of the world system. And there will be the local non-liberals, who are dedicated to one form or another of thick ethnicity and are inclined to separate themselves from "others," thereby guaranteeing that there is another diversity in the world for cosmopolitan liberals to appreciate.

Right — if everyone is a cosmopolitan, there’s no local diversity to throw in the pot.

The global elite (those who are cosmopolitan and liberal) will, of course, come from all nationalities. In the new universal cosmopolitan culture of the global tier of the world system, your ancestry and skin color will be far less important than your education, your values, and your travel plans. It is already the case in the postmodern cosmopolitan world that you don’t have to grow up in the West to be Western any more than you have to grow up in the southern world to adopt an indigenous Third World point of view. Finally, I imagine that it would be possible in this "new world order" for individuals to switch tiers and castes in both directions, moving from global liberalism to local non-liberalism and back, within the course of a single life.

With regard to globalization, westernization, and economic growth, I would hazard this guess. If it should turn out as an empirical generalization that economic growth can be pulled off relying only on the shallow or thin aspects of Western society (e.g., weapons, information technology, Visa cards) then cultures won’t converge, even as they get rich. If economic growth is contingent on accepting the deep or thick aspects of Western culture (e.g. individualism, ideals of femininity, egalitarianism, the Bill of Rights), then cultures will not converge and will not develop economically because their sense of identity will supercede their desire for material wealth.

Which caste will you be part of?


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