Martha C. Nussbaum Interviewed on Cosmopolitanism and Contemporary Global Politics

Martha Nussbaum Thinks the So-Called Retreat of Liberalism Is an Academic Fad

For Nussbaum, the crux of the problem with cosmopolitanism is to be found here: It imposes no duties of material aid, since a dignified life can be achieved without goods or fortune. This also suggests that the pursuit of justice doesn’t require material expenditure, which Nussbaum views as clearly false. Hence the tradition’s major flaw: It holds that material possessions make no difference to the exercise of our capacities for choice and other aspects of our dignity.

Nussbaum offers instead her “capabilities approach”—“a template for constitution-making” that secures citizens the freedoms and opportunities necessary for human flourishing—as a way of providing political solutions to these problems. She thus sees the nation-state as offering the most feasible means for ending the bifurcation between dignity and material aid by guaranteeing some reasonable level of economic and social rights. But what does that mean for cosmopolitanism? What obligations do nation-states have to one another, according to her perspective, for enforcing agreements on shared standards of justice? And might not such enforced standards all too easily be used as a “weapon to dragoon recalcitrant nations into obedience,” as Nussbaum puts it?

Nussbaum spoke with The Nation about these questions, how her thinking about the cosmopolitan tradition has evolved over the years, and how the capabilities approach should be understood in the light of a younger generation’s interest in socialism as well as the political right’s growing hostility to cosmopolitanism.

Read more at The Nation