Perpetual War

Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence

Perpetual War

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: May 2012

Author: Bruce Robbins

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Sociology > Social Theory

For two decades Bruce Robbins has been a theorist of and participant in the movement for a "new cosmopolitanism," an appreciation of the varieties of multiple belonging that emerge as peoples and cultures interact. In Perpetual War he takes stock of this movement, rethinking his own commitment and reflecting on the responsibilities of American intellectuals today. In this era of seemingly endless U.S. warfare, Robbins contends that the declining economic and political hegemony of the United States will tempt it into blaming other nations for its problems and lashing out against them.

Under these conditions, cosmopolitanism in the traditional sense—primary loyalty to the good of humanity as a whole, even if it conflicts with loyalty to the interests of one's own nation—becomes a necessary resource in the struggle against military aggression. To what extent does the "new" cosmopolitanism also include or support this "old" cosmopolitanism? In an attempt to answer this question, Robbins engages with such thinkers as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Anthony Appiah, Immanuel Wallerstein, Louis Menand, W. G. Sebald, and Slavoj Zizek. The paradoxes of detachment and belonging they embody, he argues, can help define the tasks of American intellectuals in an era when the first duty of the cosmopolitan is to resist the military aggression perpetrated by his or her own country.


“Robbins writes in the first person, displays a flare for personal anecdotes, and is not at all bashful about expressing his perplexities and uncertainties, all of which should make Perpetual War accessible to those who are challenged by the wealth of detail and insider talk Robbins brings to the case studies.” — David White, Left Eye on Books

“Accessibly written yet decidedly ambitious and provocative in its theoretical reach…. Robbins’s text is a timely intervention in debates on the political role of the intellectual in national and transnational contexts.” — Justin Izzo, College Literature

“At the root of the intellectual exercise… lies a profound disenchantment with the ‘old’ elitist formulations of cosmopolitan thought, informed by existential detachment from the core practices of national belonging and normative impulses ingrained with patriotic fervour, and an embrace of a more immediate ‘everyday’, and, therefore, more censorious ‘new’ modes of being in a world rife with economic injustices and exploitation, pathologies of global inequality, cultural and religious intolerance, militarism, and asymmetries of power, and the unredeemable ghosts of imperial zeal… Robbins dissects the vicissitudes of political action in the world of profound socio-cultural complexities and ever-shifting allegiances.” — Joanna Rozpedowski, Political Studies Review

“…Robbins’ erudition and interpretive finesse in Perpetual War are nothing short of mind-boggling…”  — Robin Truth Goodman, symploke

“Bruce Robbins is an earnest and sensitive contributor to the increasingly robust debate on global justice. . . . Robbins parlays culture-centered cosmopolitanism into a wise protopolitics while delivering the most discerning commentaries I have yet to read on the theorists whose work he does engage (including my own).” — David A. Hollinger, Common Knowledge

"Apart from the significant contribution that Perpetual War will make to the literature on cosmopolitanism, it is a richly elaborated work of intellectual and cultural history in its own right. Bruce Robbins is a superb writer and critic, and his analyses are incisive, deeply informed, and refreshingly blunt. Perhaps because he has for so many years been thinking about the vicissitudes of political thought and feeling, and in particular about cosmopolitanism, Robbins has a quite unusual ability to zero in not only on the analytic but also the emotional or psychological core of his object of study. His deep and wide-ranging treatment of cosmopolitanism will advance debate on the topic immeasurably." — Amanda Anderson, author of The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment

"Over the past twenty years, no one has done more than Bruce Robbins to elaborate an ideal of cosmopolitanism that grapples productively with local attachments (including those of nationalism and patriotism) while aspiring toward a critical internationalism. In these rigorously scrupulous, relentlessly challenging essays, Robbins shows why that project is so important, and why intellectuals on the left need to defend the provisions of the social welfare state while promoting a supranational standard of international justice—a project that entails the difficult recognition that the domestic welfare state is also the international warfare state. Perpetual War is an exemplary attempt to come to terms with that recognition, and pursue its implications wherever they lead." — Michael Bérubé, author of The Left at War


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bruce Robbins is the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He is the author of Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State and Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, and a coeditor of Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation and Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Cosmopolitanism, New and Newer: Anthony Appiah 31

2. Noam Chomsky's Golden Rule 47

3. Blaming the System: Immanuel Wallerstein 67

4. The Sweatshop Sublime 93

5. Edward Said and Effort 115

6. Intellectuals in Public, or Elsewhere 137

7. War Without Belief: Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club 157

8. Comparative National Blaming: W. G. Sebald and the Bombing of Germany 173

Notes 191

Bibliography 221

Index 231
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5209-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5198-6
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