The Limits of Cosmopolis

Ethics and Provinciality in the Dialogue of Cultures

by Kathleen Glenister Roberts (Author)
©2014 Textbook X, 187 Pages


This book is concerned with cosmopolitanism – a privileged notion of «world citizenship» – and whether or not a cosmopolitan position is conducive to human flourishing when its preoccupation is aesthetic.
The Limits of Cosmopolis addresses the question of how human life is organized: Is it possible to be a «citizen of the world»? Is there a difference between avowing that identity for oneself and morally and ethically making a commitment to others? What are the implications for communication – for a real dialogue of cultures?
Because the identity claim to cosmopolitanism brings particular challenges to intercultural dialogue, the author argues that alternative routes to transnational human rights – to moral and ethical commitment and communication – are crucial. This book is interested in those alternative routes, in a more just organization of human life. It considers the ways in which a «cosmopolitan identity» may exacerbate intercultural conflicts rather than alleviating them as well as exploring its implications for intercultural interactions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Cosmopolitanism,” “Dialogue,” and Culture’s Ongoing Dilemma
  • Chapter 1: Cosmopolitanism and Its Counterfeits
  • Ancient Greece: Diogenes Defaces the Currency; Stoic Rationality
  • Early Christianity through the Middle Ages
  • Early Modern Period
  • Postcoloniality and Postmodernity
  • Today: Cosmopolitanism as a Theory about Politics
  • Today: Cosmopolitanism as a Theory about Identity
  • Nussbaum’s Cosmopolitan Education
  • Chapter 2: Globalization, Not Cosmopolitanism
  • Globalization and Its Implications for Cosmopolitanism
  • Cosmopolitan Identity Claims in a Globalizing World: Hybridity
  • The Call to Alternatives to Cosmopolitanism
  • Chapter 3: Cosmopolitanism and Cultural Bias
  • Causes of Cosmopolitanism: Affluence, Privilege, and Power
  • A Uniquely Western Identity Claim?
  • Cosmopolitanism’s Denial of the Subaltern
  • Modernity
  • Chapter 4: Cosmopolitanism’s Threats to Dialogue
  • Dialogue and Communication Ethics
  • Trust and “Thinking Together”
  • Dialogue as Event
  • Tensionality
  • Ground
  • Distance
  • Moral action
  • Cosmopolitanism: Issues for Intercultural Dialogue
  • Conceptualizing a Dialogue of Cultures
  • Chapter 5: The Finite and the Infinite
  • Phenomenology as a Method
  • Themes in Levinas
  • The Other
  • Infinity vs. Totality
  • Disinterested Goodness
  • “I Don’t Feel Like an American…”: The Cosmopolitan Identity Claim Revisited
  • Phenomenology of the Event
  • Universalism and Metanoia of the Event
  • Encounter
  • Natality
  • Openings to Infinity
  • Chapter 6: Against Cosmopolitanism: A Case Study in Solidarity Through Difference
  • The Historical Context of Catholic Social Thought, and Gaudium et Spes
  • Gaudium et Spes
  • The “Anthropology” of CST
  • Culture, Universalism, and the Worldwide Community
  • The Common Good and the Practice of Freedom in CST
  • Inculturation
  • Accompaniment
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion: The Limits of Cosmopolis
  • Testing CST against the Challenges of Cosmopolitanism
  • Modernity and Globalization
  • Dialogue and Infinity
  • Coda
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix → Acknowledgments

This is a work that could have been completed at other universities, but it seems made for Duquesne. Christopher Duncan, dean of the Liberal Arts from 2009-2011, was the first to point me to Gaudium et spes. President Charles Dougherty’s creation of the Fr. Henry V. Paluse grant for research and scholarship in Catholic social thought provided resources and time to write. The Center for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, especially Director Darlene Weaver, continued to offer resources and encouragement. Alexandra Gregory, AAVP, was steadfast in her belief that in taking on directorship of the Honors College I should be more productive in scholarship, not less, and she granted the moral and staff support every administrator needs to get writing done. Juliet Amedu-Nwagwe has provided the very best of that staff support.

I am also very appreciative of Fr. Ray French, C.S.Sp.; Fr. Jim McCloskey, C.S.Sp., and other colleagues across campus who encouraged my grappling with cosmopolitanism and other concepts regarding culture in the United States. I benefited from excellent research- and teaching assistants who helped me get these ideas across to undergraduates. Joel Ward, Doug Marshall, and Kelly Wang were especially helpful. Moving these ideas out of the classroom and into a book was surprisingly easy, thanks to everyone at Peter Lang—particularly Series Editor Tom Nakayama and Mary Savigar. The manuscript is infinitely better thanks to an encouraging yet rigorous reviewer.

I am likely not alone in thinking that a third book, written post-tenure, requires more motivation than the first two combined; and I am deeply fortunate to be surrounded by family who encouraged me whenever that motivation stalled even the least bit. Topping this list, as always, are Cannon, Cooper, and Kieran. My parents and brothers continue to inspire me to commit to excellence, and I am very grateful. Thanks also to Casper for many long walks in the snow to sort out these ideas, to Molly for critically responding, and to Matthew for his consistent warmth.← ix | x →


“Cosmopolitanism,” “Dialogue,” and Culture’s Ongoing Dilemma

It is not simply that we are going into the past; we are going into a past that is at the same time somehow new, a grotesque caricature of the past where the propositions of Western Modernity, now catastrophically universalized, are being reenacted. We are headed toward a League of Nations with 10,000 fractious and anxious expansion teams. This is not a good way to organize human life. (Pollock et al., 2002, p. 3)

In 1963, the breakout novel of a great satirist and science-fiction writer hit the bestseller lists. It was Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and it remains both an icon of its generation and a timeless classic. The book is rife with commentary on a variety of subjects, as are all Vonnegut’s novels: from war, to love, to science, to sex. But perhaps more than any of his other works, Cat’s Cradle lampoons the foolish attempts of individuals (especially Americans) to connect to people that they barely know or perhaps will never meet.

It is a satire on the organization of human life, and one narrative moment in particular seems especially prophetic. About halfway through the book, Vonnegut stages a compelling conversation between three of his characters: the narrator, Jonah; together with seasoned diplomat Horlick Minton, and Minton’s wife Claire. Randomly cast together on a plane flying to the fictional banana republic called San Lorenzo, Claire has just told the narrator that she and her husband were blacklisted during the McCarthy era for something she wrote: “Americans are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be.” Her husband expounds in this way, Vonnegut tells us:

''The highest possible form of treason,'' said [Horlick] Minton, ''is to say that Americans arenʹt loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love.''

[The narrator responded,] ''I guess Americans are hated a lot of places.''

''People are hated a lot of places. Claire pointed out in her letter that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being people, and that they were foolish to think they should somehow be exempted from that penalty”. (Vonnegut, 1963, p. 145)

← 1 | 2 → The exchange is a small one, and not crucial to the plot of Vonnegut’s tale. But it is worth noting that Cat’s Cradle—instead of the thesis work he completed in 1947—earned the author a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. This was not an honorary degree, but a diploma given by the faculty committee who recognized the “anthropological basis” of the book (Katz, 2007).

Nearly fifty years later, Vonnegut’s keen observations on American culture are still uncannily accurate. There is an ongoing effort among some Americans to “exempt themselves” from hatred in the world, and to foist their love on an unwitting and murky world of strangers. To borrow from Vonnegut, who mocks the “granfalloons” of persons accidentally and over-sentimentally attached through meaningless affiliations; and to borrow as well from the epigraph that begins this chapter: This is not a good way to organize human life.


X, 187
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Cosmopolitanism Ethnologie Ethnic Studies human life identity communication
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 187 pp.

Biographical notes

Kathleen Glenister Roberts (Author)

Kathleen Glenister Roberts (PhD, Indiana University-Bloomington) is Director of the Honors College at Duquesne University and was Director of the Communication Ethics Institute from 2004 to 2006. She is the author of Alterity & Narrative (2007), which won the International/Intercultural Communication Book of the Year Award from the National Communication Association, and co-editor of Communication Ethics: Between Cosmopolitanism and Provinciality (2008).


Title: The Limits of Cosmopolis