Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
Still, what is cosmopolis?
Like every other object of human intelligence, it is in the first
instance an X, what is to be known when one understands.
Like every other X, it possesses some known properties and aspects that
lead to its fuller determination.
For the present, we must be content to indicate a few of these aspects
and to leave until later the task of reaching conclusions.
First, cosmopolis is not a police force. Before such a force can be
organized, equipped, and applied, there is needed a notable measure of
agreement among a preponderant group of men.
In other words, ideas have to come first and, at best, force is
instrumental. In the practical order of the economy and polity, it is
possible, often enough, to perform the juggling act of using some ideas to
ground the use of force in favour of others and, then, using the other
ideas to ground the use of force in favour of the first.
The trouble with this procedure is that there is always another juggler
that believes himself expert enough to play the same game the other way by
using the malcontents, held down by the first use of force, to upset the
second set of ideas and, as well, using malcontents, held down by the
second use of force, to upset the first set of ideas.
Accordingly, if ideas are not to be merely a façade, if the reality is
not to be merely a balance of power, then the use of force can be no more
than residual and incidental.
But cosmopolis is not concerned with the residual and incidental. It
is concerned with the fundamental issue of the historical process. Its
business is to prevent practicality from being short-sightedly practical
and so destroying itself. The notion that cosmopolis employs a police
force is just an instance of the short-sighted practicality that
cosmopolis has to correct.
However, I am not saying that there should not be a United Nations or a
World Government; I am not saying that such political entities should not
have a police force; I am saying that such political entities are not what
is meant by cosmopolis.
Cosmopolis is above all politics. So far from being rendered
superfluous by a successful World Government, it would be all the more
obviously needed to offset the tendencies of that and any other government
to be short-sightedly practical.
Secondly, cosmopolis is concerned to make operative the timely and
fruitful ideas that otherwise are inoperative.
So far from employing power or pressure or force, it has to witness to
the possibility of ideas being operative without such backing. Unless it
can provide that witness, then it is useless.
For at the root of the general bias of common sense and at the
permanent source of the longer cycle of decline, there stands the notion
that only ideas backed by some sort of force can be operative.
The business of cosmopolis is to make operative the ideas that, in the
light of the general bias of common sense, are inoperative.
In other words, its business is to break the vicious circle of an
illusion: men will not venture on ideas that they grant to be correct,
because they hold that such ideas will not work unless sustained by
desires or fears; and, inversely, men hold that such ideas will not work,
because they will not venture on them and so have no empirical evidence
that such ideas can work and would work.
Thirdly, cosmopolis is not a busybody.
It is supremely practical by ignoring what is thought to be really
It does not waste its time and energy condemning the individual egoism
that is in revolt against society and already condemned by society.
It is not excited by group egoism which, in the short run, generates
the principles that involve its reversal.
But it is very determined to prevent dominant groups from deluding
mankind by the rationalization of their sins; if the sins of dominant
groups are bad enough, still the erection of their sinning into universal
principles is indefinitely worse; it is the universalization of the sin by
rationalization that contributes to the longer cycle of decline; it is the
rationalization that cosmopolis has to ridicule, explode, destroy.
Again, cosmopolis is little interested in the shifts of power between
classes and nations; it is quite aware that the dialectic sooner or later
upsets the short-sighted calculations of dominant groups; and it is quite
free from the nonsense that the rising star of another class or nation is
going to put a different human nature in the saddle. However, while
shifts of power in themselves are incidental, they commonly are
accompanied by another phenomenon of quite a different character. There
is the creation of myths.
The old regime is depicted as monstrous; the new envisages itself as
the immaculate embodiment of ideal of human aspiration. Catchwords that
carried the new group to power assume the status of unquestionable
verities. On the band-wagon of the new vision of truth there ride the
adventurers in ideas that otherwise could not attain a hearing.
Inversely, ideas that merit attention are ignored unless they put on
the trappings of the current fashion, unless they pretend to result from
alien but commonly acceptable premises, unless they disclaim implications
that are true but unwanted.
It is the business of cosmopolis to prevent the formation of the
screening memories by which an ascent to power hides its nastiness; it is
its business to prevent the falsification of history with which the new
group overstates its case; it is its business to satirize the catchwords
and the claptrap and thereby to prevent the notions they express from
coalescing with passions and resentments to engender obsessive nonsense
for future generations; it is its business to encourage and support those
that would speak the simple truth though simple truth has gone out of
Unless cosmopolis undertakes this essential task, it fails in its
mission. One shift of power is followed by another, and if the myths of
the first survive, the myths of the second will take their stand on
earlier nonsense to bring forth worse nonsense still.
Fourthly, as cosmopolis has to protect the future against the
rationalization of abuses and the creation of myths, so it itself must be
purged of the rationalizations and myths that became part of the human
heritage before it came on the scene.
If the analyst suffers from a scotoma, he will communicate it to the
analysand; similarly, if cosmopolis itself suffers from the general bias
of common sense in any of its manifestations, then the blind will be
leading the blind and both will head for a ditch.
There is needed, then, a critique of history before there can be any
intelligent direction of history.
There is needed an exploration of the movements, the changes, the
epochs of a civilization’s genesis, development, and vicissitudes. The
opinions and attitudes of the present have to be traced to their origins,
and the origins have to be criticized in the light of dialectic. The
liberal believer in automatic progress could praise all that survives; the
Marxist could denounce all that was and praise all that would be; but
anyone that recognizes the existence both of intelligence and of bias,
both of progress and of decline, has to be critical and his criticism will
rest on the dialectic that simply affirms the presuppositions of possible
Perhaps enough has been said on the properties and aspects of our X,
named cosmopolis, for a synthetic view to be attempted. It is not a group
denouncing other groups; it is not a super-state ruling states; it is not
an organization that enrols members, nor an academy that endorses
opinions, nor a court that administers a legal code.
It is a withdrawal from practicality to save practicality.
It is a dimension of consciousness, a heightened grasp of historical
origins, a discovery of historical responsibilities.
It is not something altogether new, for the Marxist has been busy
activating the class-consciousness of the masses and, before him, the
liberal had succeeded in indoctrinating men with the notion of progress.
Still, it possesses its novelty, for it is not simpliste.
It does not leap from a fact of development to a belief in automatic
progress nor from a fact of abuse to an expectation of an apocalyptic
utopia reached through an accelerated decline.
It is the higher synthesis of the liberal thesis and the Marxist
It comes to minds prepared for it by these earlier views, for they have
taught man to think historically.
It comes at a time when the totalitarian fact and threat have refuted
the liberals and discredited the Marxists.
It stands on a basic analysis of the compound-in-tension that is man;
it confronts problems of which men are aware; it invites the vast
potentialities and pent-up energies of our time to contribute to their
solution by developing an art and a literature, a theatre and a
broadcasting, a journalism and a history, a school and a university, a
personal depth and a public opinion, that through appreciation and
criticism give men of common sense the opportunity and help they need and
desire to correct the general bias of their common sense.
Finally, it would
be unfair not to stress the chief characteristic of cosmopolis. It is not
easy. It is not a dissemination of sweetness and light, where sweetness
means sweet to me, and light means light to me. Were that so, cosmopolis
would be superfluous.
puts forth a plausible, ingenious, adaptive, untiring resistance. The
general bias of common sense is no exception. It is by moving with that
bias rather then against it, by differing from it slightly rather than
opposing it thoroughly, that one has the best prospect of selling books
and newspapers, entertainment and education.
Moreover, this is
only the superficial difficulty. Beneath it lies the almost insoluble
problem of settling clearly and exactly what the general bias is.
It is not a
culture but only a compromise that results from taking the highest common
factor of an aggregate of cultures.
It is not a
compromise that will check and reverse the longer cycle of decline. Nor
is it unbiased intelligence that yields a welter of conflicting opinions.
This is the
problem. So far from solving it in this chapter, we do not hope to reach
a full solution in this volume. But, at least, two allies can be
On the one hand,
there is common sense and in its judgments, which as yet have not been
treated, common sense tends to be profoundly sane.
On the other
hand, there is dialectical analysis; the refusal of insight betrays
itself; the Babel of our day is the cumulative product of a series of
refusals to understand; and dialectical analysis can discover and expose
both the series of past refusals and the tactics of contemporary
resistance to enlightenment.
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