Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance day

A year ago, at a meeting in New York, I was slightly surprised to see my friend John, arriving from London, with a cotton-made orange poppy in his lapel. In my lifetime it has never been remembered here in the United States with anywhere near the same care as in Britain; in this time of war, one better recalls. But it is one of those holidays that cuts across various lines - it can be a symbol of the madness of war, the nobility of war, or both together. The poppy in John's lapel was just that - a symbol of remembrance, not of a political statement as such.

And so I'd prefer to leave it here, today. Any reader of this blog will have a sense of where I stand on war, war on terror, war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'd rather register my remembrance of those who died who died in defense of freedom in these and earlier wars, to whom I and the rest of us owe gratitude. They are first; and then to the memory of those who died on all sides in all conflicts; God grant them peace.

Well, almost leave it here. For this must seem, to those for whom patriotism and nationalism are by definition the same thing, both sentimental and atavistic. John is an intellectual and a cosmopolitan, but he is also among the last of the generation who could be counted with Orwell as the English left-patriots. The ranks diminish apace. The intellectual worlds which I mostly inhabit have long since departed any concept of place, anything as parochial as nation and home, for versions of cosmopolitanism which, on the one hand, seem to demand everything in the way of commitment - for people one does not know and whom one has no particular idea even exist, save in the abstract - and nothing in particular, except some donations of cash over the internet. The idea of country is deliberately alien to them; likewise alien, however, are the particulars of the cosmopolitan jet-stream which they imagine themselves to inhabit; the invisible college of international law; the only-too visible college of the global new class. Which makes me think of this passage, perhaps the most honest and morally most compelling thing from Michael Ignatieff:

It is only too apparent that cosmopolitanism is the privilege of those who can take a secure nation-state for granted. Though we have passed into the post-imperial age, we have not moved to a post-nationalist age, and I cannot see how we ever will. The cosmopolitan order of the great cities - London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris - depends critically on the rule-enforcing capacities of the nation-state ... In this sense, therefore, cosmopolitans like myself are not beyond the nation; and a cosmopolitan, post-nationalist spirit will always depend, in the end, on the capacity of nation-states to provide security and civility for their citizens. In that sense alone, I am a civic nationalist, someone who believes in the necessity of nations and in the duty of citizens to defend the capacity of nations to provide the security and the rights we all need in order to live cosmopolitan lives.

It is in this capacity, my dearest, careless, effortless, innocent, obligation-free cosmopolitan-children, the middle-aged, thickened, contented, sleep-walking academic flower-children of globalization, that Lt. Michael P. Murphy died for your lifestyle and its infinitely insouciant claims to be beyond the values he fought for, but which - collaterally - sustain you in the safe and secure embrace of the thing you disdain and mock, the passe democratic nation-state. Je tenais a ces etres par mille fils confiants dont pas un ne devait se rompre. J'ai aime fourchement mes semblables mette journee-la, bien au-dela du sacrifice. (Char). Even Ignatieff is wiser and more honest than you - and he is a politician and an intellectual. You would, I reckon, have sooner awarded Lt. Murphy your pity, not the Medal of Honor, and been well-pleased to think him the rich beneficiary of that, so highly do you regard your jet-stream lives above those who live merely on planet earth, and in particular and beloved and thereby parochial places upon the earth. But Murphy and those like him look not for your pity, which is based upon ignorance and condescension, but your respect and, dare one say it, honor. In Flanders fields, that is.

1 comment:

claudio said...

Great post !
I think we can, poobably must, say honor when refering to those who give their lifes so as we can go on with ours in such a, yes, cosmopolitan way. Thank you for remembering.
By the way, where is the Ignatieff citation from ?