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A few years later, when the Berlin Wall fell, it was glorious to be coming of age as one. The promise of cosmopolitanism as a way to a better life might have been at its zenith, but it seemed only dawn. Big cities all over the world were swelling up with first-generation cosmopolitans like me, fleeing provincial worldviews.

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We flocked to places that promised not to put us in our place. Born out of the rubble of nationalism, it was primarily a humanistic project—not an economic one. It emphasized commonality of experience and tolerance of differences. It should make us realize people unlike us were humans just like us, and replace superstition and suspicion—the pillars of tribalism—with curiosity and compassion. If we would study, dine, and make out with peers from other countries, we would be less likely to bomb each other in the future. When the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize in , I felt that my mum and dad should get a piece of it—and keep it next to the chip of Berlin Wall I had brought home two decades before.

By then, I was married to a woman born 15 miles from that first English town I lived in. Our parents did not share a language but had similar values. We taught in an academic institution that helps people live working lives across borders. And we had become alert to the skepticism about, and hostility towards, our way of life.


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Over the past few years, those have only grown. Having spent my life trying to become an educated cosmopolitan, I now fear that my generation has failed at cosmopolitanism, or worse, that we have failed cosmopolitanism. The animosity between locals and cosmopolitans is nothing new. It has shaped Western civilization since Ancient Greece. Now, it seems, they have split up, amplifying their differences and becoming locals in different tribes— a nationalist and a globalist one. Cosmopolitans have built their own tribe. A tribe of people unfit for tribalism, I once wrote. An inclusive, dispersed tribe—if such a thing exists—connected by unlimited international data plans and cheap airfare.

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But a tribe nonetheless. We commandeered big cities and settled tolerant enclaves like coffee shops, universities, and most of all, multinational corporations that let us make a living as we moved around. While its origin was political, cosmopolitanism made us unfit for national government.

Our lives were too mobile, our allegiances too unclear, our relationship to the state too ambivalent for us to be its trustworthy standard bearers. A cosmopolitan attitude comes with suspicion of people and politicians too tied to nation states, and makes us look suspicious to them in turn. But if politics could not pin us down, business set us up.

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When globalization took off, we were ready. We had the mindset and skills needed to deal with and, let us face it, profit from the opening up of global markets. Cosmopolitan enthusiasm was redirected from a humanistic project to an economic one. We stopped taking marching orders from John Lennon and started taking them from Jack Welch. If most political leaders found imagining no countries very hard to do, it seemed almost too easy for corporate leaders to do so. Thus we became foot soldiers of globalization, setting out to turn the world into one of our cities.

In hindsight, that was not just overreach. It was a betrayal of the very essence of cosmopolitanism: being a citizen of a varied world. The wave of nationalism sweeping through the globe has been framed as a rejection of and a reaction to globalization. How would this impact society?

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The book begins and ends with the author's theory of how the "politics of envy" have turned the term "elitist" into a pejorative. Do you agree that the basis for populist wrath is not money, but scorn for intellectual distinction-making that says one idea, contribution, or attainment is better than another? Henry offers examples of presidential candidates playing to the "regular guy" image--Bush boasting his presumed taste for pork rinds and country music, Clinton jamming on MTV--rather than pointing to their accomplishments in first-rate academies.

Henry believes that this false chumminess, this playing down of individual achievement accomplished by intellectual rigor, makes it next to impossible for a leader to inspire citizens to better themselves. Defend or attack his position. If Henry is right, does this mean anti-intellectual America is entering a new Dark Age as Margaret Mead predicted, or is it simply a democratic nation responding sensitively to a growing underclass?

In the end Henry says Americans need not feel ashamed of the racism, sexism, and homophobia in their country's past: Human beings are an evolving species, morally as well as biologically. To get to where we are, we had to come from somewhere less humane. An imperfect world is not the same thing as a worthless one.

Do you feel this is a balm to ease a guilty conscience, or common sense? Compare our history to those of other nations. What skills, knowledge, or edge does Henry feel students lose when multicultural offerings aresubstituted? See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly.

About the Author William A. Henry III was a culture critic for Time magazine whose writing earned two Pulizer Prizes: one in for criticism and one he shared in for coverage of school desegregation in Boston. Henry passed away in June Reading Group Guide 1. Show More. Foreword 1. Average Review.

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