Bruce Robbins, "Perpetual War"

Bruce Robbins

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.


"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