Identities—What Are They Good For?   /   Summer 2018   /    Identities—What Are They Good For?

The Man without Identities

We all contain multitudes.

S.D. Chrostowska

Rambling Man by Peter Campbell;; courtesy of the artist.

Being identified as a global citizen makes me uneasy; its message is hard to place, like an accent that does not clearly indicate where the speaker comes from.

History speaks of two Anacharses, living twenty-three centuries apart.

The first was a barbarian, scion of a Scythian prince and, in a late ancient retelling of his life, born of a Greek woman. He owes his legendary fame to his wisdom and to his travels in quest of paideia (education), their high point being an extended stay in Athens. Having arrived there about 589 BCE, he was eventually granted local citizenship—a rare honor for a foreigner. Owing to a combination of candor, critical acumen, eccentricity, and austere lifestyle (despite his noble birth), he is considered a forerunner to antiquity’s most famous Cynic philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, whose citizenship there was revoked upon his exile and who, like Anacharsis before him, came to Athens as a metic, a resident alien. Anacharsis’s enthusiasm for all things Greek (although he was appreciated as a bit of a gadfly) cost him his life upon his return to his native Scythia.

The second Anacharsis (1755–94), who adopted the name in homage to the first, was born into privilege as Johann Baptist Hermann Maria, Baron de Cloots. Lapsed in his Prussian nobility, he styled himself the “Orator of Humankind” and “Citizen of Humanity,” advocating the worldwide abolition of borders and the constitution of a family of all nations, a universal republic. Seeing an opportunity to advance his cause, he took an active part in the Revolution in France nearly from the beginning, becoming one of two foreign deputies in the National Convention. His honorary French citizenship did not preserve him from the Terror: Branded an étranger—along with Thomas Paine, who likewise pinned his heart to his sleeve by claiming the world as his country—he was accused of antipatriotic activity by Robespierre, and guillotined. His militant idealism, borne upon the great revolutionary surge, the declarations of the rights of man and citizen, and the human flow across Europe and the Atlantic, was thus cut short.

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