The call for global solutions to global problems has become a familiar refrain: If only we could see past our petty national interests, we could come together to solve everything from climate change to poverty to terrorism. Schools like mine are increasingly being called upon to educate “global citizens” who belong to the world rather than to their nation of birth or state of choice — and who seek challenges to address rather than enemies to defeat.
But the global citizen is like the Himalayan Yeti: a figment of the imaginations of a few, not a living member of the political fauna of the world. And it isn’t something we should try to create.
According to a global-citizenship education guide issued by Oxfam, it is important to teach students that the world is unfair and unequal, and that they can and need to change it. Those terms are, by and large, empty vessels to be filled by the holder of power or the ideological flavor du jour, but most often they refer to a version of the argument that the North is richer than the South and this social injustice (another common term) must be addressed. This formulation does have a modicum of substance, albeit of a tired ideological variety reminiscent of post-colonial grievances. It also carries a set of preferred actions. The global citizen knows to drink only fair trade skim lattes.
Many policy schools appear to have embraced the global-citizen concept with particular zeal. Granted, sometimes they aren’t doing much more than repackaging existing courses and sprinkling in buzzwords: A global citizen is “globally competent,” capable of working in different cultural settings, of communicating across ethnic boundaries, of understanding a variety of cultures and histories. When that’s all global citizenship means, it doesn’t fundamentally change what most policy schools have been doing over the past decades. A well-traveled polyglot with solid regional knowledge and analytical skills is the ideal outcome. George Kennan and Paul Nitze would find themselves at home.
I worry, however, that we are giving up on the goal of incubating policymakers with a clear sense of national identity and a powerful belief in the necessity and right to protect national interests.
Schools no longer aspire to be the next École Nationale d’Administration, which has long cultivated the French classe dirigeante, or like the original incarnation of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. They have a tendency to portray the world as a collection of problems that only a worldwide cooperative process can address, rather than as a strategic landscape within which each country — with its particular history, intellectual foundations and cultural underpinnings — has to assess trade-offs and act to protect its citizens.
The task of forming reasoning patriots seems to be increasingly ceded to military academies and war colleges, while civilian universities seek to churn out global citizens.
The most immediate risk is that we will face a homogenous and bland educational landscape. Students will have a hard time learning the French or the American perspective on the world, as these will be swapped for whatever the global vision is. So much for intellectual diversity… MORE
Jakub Grygiel is an associate professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.