|Volume LV||May 2008||Number 2|
"Strangers Nowhere in the world"
The Rise of Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern Europe
By Margaret C. Jacob Reviewed by Glenys A. Waldman, Ph.D., Librarian
From barter to international export and import, business and commerce require networking. This sort of networking soon takes one outside one's own village, tribe or ethnic group. In this little tome, Professor Jacob describes how people in early modern Europe (about 1650-1800) learned that they had to leave their own groups and get along with others - to become cosmopolitan, or be "cosmopolites." As in the workplace in general, they learned it was not necessary to like those who are different, it was only necessary to work with and respect them. As Prof. Jacob defines it in a more cheerful tone in the first sentence of the Introduction: "Being cosmopolitan in Europe during the early modern age meant - then as now - the ability to experience people of different nations, creeds and colors with pleasure, curiosity and interest, and not with suspicion, disdain, or simply a disinterest..." Then, as now, it means flying in the face of the nationalism; it means running afoul of the ruling classes, because rulers dread cosmopolitanism: it threatens their power. Rulers cannot do without their allies - provincialism and ignorance. Whether these rulers are of states or religious groups, they do not hesitate to fight their enemy - cosmopolitanism. This was not new in early modern Europe: there have always been cosmopolites, many of whom paid dearly for their avant-garde philosophy. Some of the earliest histories of such people are in volumes of sacred law.
Cities were, and are, the natural habitat of cosmopolitanism, because they are, and ever have been, the destinations of pilgrims and people seeking to improve their lot. Without cosmopolitanism, the currency and stock exchanges, the commerce that developed in those cities, could never have done so. The fraternizing that naturally occurred "after hours," led to the foundation of societies not based on commerce, but on common interests. Thus cosmopolitanism was the agar-filled Petri dish where the Enlightenment and one of its many children, Freemasonry, first grew and flourished. Without cosmopolitanism, neither the Enlightenment nor Freemasonry would have been possible. Nor would the scientific societies which, like the lodges, were where the best minds met and encouraged each other in their striving for the perfection of man. Even though secrecy would, and still does, continue to play a role, science could emerge from its secret "closets" and be practiced, its data shared openly, leading to the accumulation of knowledge that has, and continues to fuel invention and the ever hoped-for possibility of better lives. Ideas could be openly exchanged, leading to the blossoming of the philosophy and the fine arts.
Freemasonry, as one society founded for the betterment of mankind, which Dr. Jacob casts in a very positive light, has always been concerned that its members put aside their provincialism and become cosmopolites, accepting visitors with respect and hospitality. However, like humankind in general, Freemasons do not always live up to these philosophical principles, and Prof. Jacob does not hesitate to point this out.
Dr. Jacob's meticulous research must have been a great voyage of exploration: she has used sources as varied as Inquisition records, scientific society minutes and the writings of revolutionaries of different stripes. This book is well worth the time that must be put into reading, better, studying it. May you study "Strangers Nowhere in the World" as this reviewer did, "with pleasure, curiosity and interest!"
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