UNESCO and the (One) World of Julian Huxley
18 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 2, 2009
In that curiously utopian moment bracketed by the end of the Second World War and the onset of the Cold War, cosmopolitanism made its debut on the new international stage of the United Nations in its literal translation as ‘World Citizenship’ (from the Greek cosmos or world, and polites, or citizen). At the UN special agency, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization or Unesco, world citizenship was celebrated as the adjunct of an anti-chauvinist raison d’etre and as a cultural manifestation of the Enlightenment premise that humanity was evolving socially, politically, technologically, and even psychologically, towards a ‘World Community’. Although the international legitimacy of the language of world citizenship, like the idealism invested in the United Nations itself, was short-lived, from at least 1945 to 1950 a cosmopolitan view of the future of internationalism dominated intellectual and political visions of an anticipated new world order circulating around the creation of Unesco. This essay examines the almost forgotten and historically-specific features of the cosmopolitan language of internationalism spoken from the organization. I argue that for all Unesco’s weakness as an international institution, its short-lived venture with the language of cosmopolitanism offers an important entrée into the intellectual history of that idea and its changing political and social significance. From an historical perspective, the Unesco experience of cosmopolitan internationalism suggests the political relevance for the twentieth century of the longue durée history of cosmopolitanism, that is as both a form of cultural identification and as a utopian world-scale political ideal. As importantly, it is indicative of the ways in which late nineteenth-century conceptions of race and empire remained uneasily at the heart of cosmopolitanism and internationalism.
Keywords: UNESCO, Cosmopolitanism, Internationalism, Imperialism, Huxley, Haiti
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