...countries, communities, allegiances, affinities, and roots bump uncomfortably up against one another—where cosmopolitanism is not so much an identity as the normal condition of life.
He locates himself at the Edge: he's a London-born Jew of Eastern European provenance who studies European politics and now lives in New York. However, in defining himself he resists "rootless cosmopolitansism", which
...seems to me too imprecise, too deliberately universal in its ambitions. Far from being rootless, I am all too well rooted in a variety of contrasting heritages.But the celebration is intermingled with the elegiac and, ultimately, the pessimistic: he sees the Edges narrowing, disappearing:
Such places once abounded. Well into the twentieth century there were many cities comprising multiple communities and languages—often mutually antagonistic, occasionally clashing, but somehow coexisting. Sarajevo was one, Alexandria another. Tangiers, Salonica, Odessa, Beirut, and Istanbul all qualified—as did smaller towns like Chernovitz and Uzhhorod. By the standards of American conformism, New York resembles aspects of these lost cosmopolitan cities: that is why I live here.
I think any liberal-minded person familiar with these places understands the gravity of this loss. Such cities disappeared along with the multi-ethnic empires that harboured them: the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian. The Holocaust finished off what remained.
But I struggle to agree we live in a world without 'cities comprising multiple communities and languages'. It's just their locus has changed: a tolerance - which is actually more settled and thoroughgoing than that of the old empires - is now to be found in the cities of the West, that is places ruled by a pluralistic, civically-inclined nationalism. Judt's New York certainly doesn't stand alone as an exemplar: Auckland, Sydney, Singapore, Paris, Berlin, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, to name just a few, abound in an Edgy diversity.
Judt's post culminates in a pessimistic prediction:
We are entering, I suspect, upon a time of troubles. It is not just the terrorists, the bankers, and the climate that are going to wreak havoc with our sense of security and stability. Globalization itself—the “flat” earth of so many irenic fantasies—will be a source of fear and uncertainty to billions of people who will turn to their leaders for protection. “Identities” will grow mean and tight, as the indigent and the uprooted beat upon the ever-rising walls of gated communities from Delhi to Dallas.
Being “Danish” or “Italian,” “American” or “European” won’t just be an identity; it will be a rebuff and a reproof to those whom it excludes. The state, far from disappearing, may be about to come into its own: the privileges of citizenship, the protections of card-holding residency rights, will be wielded as political trumps. Intolerant demagogues in established democracies will demand “tests”—of knowledge, of language, of attitude—to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch or French “identity.” They are already doing so. In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals: the edge people. My people.
Firstly, I don't believe there's any evidence that globalisation will culminate in a reactionary spasm, quite the contrary. Secondly, the strengthening of barriers in a world of increasingly fluid populations is surely something of a necessity if we are to retain the tolerance and solidarity that we prize so much.
Why should this be so? The liberal nations of the West - the home of the new multi-ethnic metropolis - exist in a state of constant and usually fruitful tension: they welcome, absorb and tolerate a steady flow of newcomers, but at the same time they're bound together by political, cultural and historical ties that generate sufficient solidarity to support welfare states.
London is as full of immigrants - some recent, some established for generations - as it is of native Londoners. Yet they all share in an abundance of GP surgeries, local health centres and hospitals, all covered by the rubric the National Health Service. This potential contradiction could become a source of conflict - but we keep it at bay for the most part by holding the balance between what we might term 'welcoming' on the one hand, and 'belonging' on the other. Limiting and controlling immigration is crucial in this, and is as important for the achievement of the goals of a man of the left such as Tony Judt as it is for someone more nationalistically inclined.
Earlier in the post Judt warns:
We know enough of ideological and political movements to be wary of exclusive solidarity in all its forms. One should keep one’s distance not only from the obviously unappealing “-isms”—fascism, jingoism, chauvinism—but also from the more seductive variety: communism, to be sure, but nationalism and Zionism too. And then there is national pride: more than two centuries after Samuel Johnson first made the point, patriotism—as anyone who passed the last decade in America can testify—is still the last refuge of the scoundrel.
It seems more complicated to me: whilst avoiding Judt's 'exclusive solidarity' we must take care not to sacrifice our own delimited but inclusive solidarities.
L’exil, West Berlin, 1977; photograph by Dominique Nabokov (from the NYR blog post).