Cosmopolitan Man and the Political Community: Othello

Allan Bloom, “Cosmopolitan Man and the Political Community: Othello,” in Shakespeare’s Politics, 3574


In the world of today, the existence of a common humanity has been established, negatively at least, by a common fear of a common extinction. Only rational beings fear thermonuclear annihilation; only rational beings can create such means of annihilation. An unprecedented danger supplies a new kind of evidence for the oldest thesis in political philosophy: man s by nature a rational and political animal. The roots of man’s humanity, as of his inhumanity, are in the political community and in the political community’s capacity for making war or peace. As the growth from the roots reaches what were once the heavens, the problem of reconciling the origins with the ends attains an acute proportion. Can the new awareness of the commonness of our common humanity cause the fashioning of institutions and men equal to the problem that very humanity has created? Can the particularity that characterizes individual races, nations, creeds – the particularity that has, from the known origins of political life until the present, provided the substance of political life both in its misery and in its glory – can that particularity transform itself into universality, as the finest and ultimate fruit of human reason? Or may the consummation of rationality, as it is given us to know it, be found in its own self-extinction?

Shakespeare’s explicit treatment of the possibility of an interractial, interfaith society is given its most detailed development in his two Venetian plays, two plays which may well be though the profoundest recorded analysis of the relation of Jew and Christian.

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