By Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
Poulos's remarks ignore the historically expanding notion of community, from clan to village to city to nation. And the nation is by no means natural; it's a metaphorical extension of kinship ties to an imagined community. Americans, to take one example, already feel these ties to millions of people that they have never met, never will meet, and many of whom are quite different from them. Perhaps adding another zero to the population in our community is too much, and perhaps the differences between the various populations in the world are too great, but it seems pretty historically myopic to discard the idea of world citizenship outright.
Pace Poulos, no individual can have more than a very small number of friends. Time is too limited, and each individual's ability to reach across language and cultural barriers is modest.
But individuals can consider that their political decisions and behavior affect not only themselves and their community and their own nation, but also people in other nations. And draw from that obligations and concerns that are broader than purely national interest. That is citizenship, not friendship. When Jefferson wrote of the constraint imposed by "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," he was not writing about friendship. He was writing as someone does who understands what it means to be a citizen of the world.