Stoic Cosmopolitanism

Do not cut yourself short. A leading cause of feelings of alienation and despair is a temporary inability to recognize something wonderful about your life.

Henry David Thorough said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. […] A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.”

From its beginning, the Stoic School realized that this is the unfortunate truth for most men, but the good news is that you do not have to be among those who live in desperation. This is because a leading cause of despair and feelings of alienation from your own community the temporary inability to recognize something wonderful about your connection to something so much greater than yourself.

Stoics invented the concept that all humanity is related as one extended family.

More than that, the Stoic School long ago recognized that all races are united in a very real sense by a common royal blood beating through their veins. As leaders of the Stoic School such as Epictetus explained, Stoic Cosmopolitanism means more than that all races are biologically related in an extended human family; it means that every human is physically related in a royal family. Do not cut yourself short as simply a commoner among the animal kingdom.

Similar to members of the royal family in Great Britain, members of the human family have great opportunities not available to other members of the animal kingdom. These privileges come with responsibility to be benevolent toward less fortunate humans and animals (noblesse oblige). In humans, one of the responsibilities is to choose agape, discussed in this article.

Similar to recent events in England, members of the noble human family can choose to abdicate their royal station. Most social problems stem from humans choosing to abdicate agape toward their fellow man.

This dramatic realization, that humanity is related in one royal family, has had a dramatic influence on Stoics through history. For example, to consider the areas the human family can inherit, the Stoic named Crates of Mallus constructed the first known globe of Earth – around 152 BC!

An earlier Stoic, named Aratus lived during the time of Zeno, the Founder of the Stoic School. Aratus was born approximately 310 BC – 10 years before the School was founded. He wrote a poem that was later quoted even by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:28. The poem is called “Phaenomena” or “Appearances,” in other words, it was a Stoic view of something every person can observe for themselves. The point the Apostle Paul made while preaching to the Stoics in Acts was how Stoics have always recognized that all humans are related. Paul quoted the poem’s famous line where Aratus claimed it was obvious, “For we are also his offspring.”

Stoics have always taught that every human springs from God, even though they did not know what to name Him and their concept of God is explained very differently from any religion today. The point is Stoics from the earliest years of the School developed the teaching that feelings of alienation from society stem firstly from feelings of alienation from the most wonderful fact about yourself – that you are fundamentally different from any other animal. This fact, to the Stoic mind, makes human history the story of a uniquely human search to satisfy some elusive need. It is not the search for meaning as Victor Frankl claimed in his 1946 book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” To the Stoics it has always been more profound and more objective than that.

For example, Phaenomena opens with, “From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus.” Aratus makes the point that mortals come up with all kinds of names to describe from where they came. But the critical point he makes is that, “we all have need,” of something more than life, health, existence, or even happiness. His point is that mankind needs not merely a subjective meaning that he can give to himself, but that mankind needs a connection to something greater than himself that only the Other can give him and that the Other is communicating this through observable science such as astronomy.

Aratus claims it is unmistakably obvious that we all have this need, because, “We are also his offspring; and He in his kindness to men gives favorable signs and wakens the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labor of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favorable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For He it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly.” The Stoic point here is that there is Reason in the universe that communicates only to humans like you.

Aratus describes the wonderful reality of a type of cosmic communication that only humans like you can receive. Phaenomena is not a call to assign yourself a meaning in life; it is to do something particular. In other words the poem does not read like a vacation day when you can wake up whenever you feel like it and do whatever you want on that day; it reads more like your private cell phone’s unmistakable ringing, which “gives favorable sings and wakens” you to get to work in the family business, “For, we are also his [the boss’s] offspring,” and the company is calling because the boss wants to know why you are not at work yet and to remind you that the boss says if you do not show up immediately, then you do not get paid even though you are related to the boss – in fact, especially since you are related to the boss.

Since Aratus wrote about what “gives favorable signs and wakens” us to reality, we must credit Stoicism as beginning the whole “woke” movement. From the Stoic viewpoint any modern “woke” movement that does not recognize that all human lives are noble and must waken to the communication from where we all spring is really just trying to pull the covers over your eyes. And it is precisely Aratus’s favorable signs and awakenings that point to the only foundation for social harmony.

Aratus’s poem claims the primary communication between the Cosmos and man has to do with agriculture. The fact is Western civilization grew out of the bedrock of agriculture; and agriculture requires personal ownership of property. On a national scale, the feeding and livelihood of a people require enforceable and internationally respected boundaries so those who plant and water may reap what they have sown.

Agriculture, more so than domestication, has shaped the development of Western civilization. This is because societies based on domestic animals or only on helping to harvest crops have evolved into nomadic or migrant peoples. An entire worldview can revolve around the yearly seasons as the society physically moves to the best locations for their flocks to pasture or to the several climates as they become ripe. Greco-Roman societies, on the other hand began with the concept of permanent boundaries for the purpose of agriculture and livelihood.

Therefore, the Stoic worldview is based upon the obvious reality that all Homo Sapiens are part of one human family and must respect property owned by others, precisely because they are biologically related. This means you can avoid living in quiet despair by recognizing your royal inheritance. Contrary to Mr. Nietzsche, no god needs to die for you to inherit the Earth. Key to Stoic race relations is each indelible group respecting what the other group considers sacred, whether a field, a hero, a livelihood, a way of life, a worldview, or a god. So, do not cut yourself short this payday. Get woke and get to work on Virtue.