This lecture explores cosmopolitanism, from late medieval/early modern patterns as reflected in global trade to the form in which this commercially-driven model evolved in the ‘Levantine cosmopolitanism’ of cities like Alexandria and Smyrna, the limits of which were all too obvious. This, as Philip Mansel has argued, was catastrophically destroyed by the upsurge of nationalism in the 1910s and early 1920s. Meanwhile, the sense of a new kind of cosmopolitanism was emerging in Marx’s work, in the violent rejection of the ‘civilising mission’ that lurks in the poetry of Rimbaud or in Paul Nizan’s youthful meditation Aden-Arabie (1932) and, finally, in one (today scarcely perceptible) strand of left-radical politics that came to the fore briefly in Tom Nairn’s left-wing defence of Europe in the early 1970s. Professor Banaji will argue the only consistent cosmopolitanism is one that rejects the absolutist claims of the national state over its own citizens. Given the sheer scale on which human rights abuses are being perpetrated the world over behind the screen of ‘national sovereignty’, it is imperative for this idea to become central to our notions of democracy and of what it means to live in a modern world.
Jairus Banaji studied Classics and Ancient History at Oxford, where he also wrote his DPhil thesis. He has published on a wide range of subjects. He has been a Professorial Research Associate with the Department of Development Studies, SOAS, for several years now, and is currently writing a book called A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism, scheduled to be published by Haymarket late in 2019.