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Critique of Cosmopolitan Reason

Timing and Spacing the Concept of World Citizenship


Edited By Rebecka Lettevall and Kristian Petrov

Since the Enlightenment, the definition of terms such as humanity, citizenship and rights has fluctuated and these ideas continue to have relevance for contemporary discussions of globalization from a «cosmopolitan» perspective. This volume goes back to the conception of cosmopolitanism in Greek antiquity in order to trace it through history, resulting in an unmasking of its many myths. The concept is reconstructed with reference not only to well-known (and some lesser known) historical thinkers of cosmopolitanism, but also to noted «anti-cosmopolitans».
The first aim of the book is to display historical perspectives on a discourse which has been dominated by ahistorical presumptions. The second is to critically explore alternative paths beyond the Western imagination, redefining the Enlightenment legacy and the centre-periphery dichotomy. Most notably, Eastern Europe and the Arab world are integrated within the analysis of cosmopolitanism. Within a framework of conceptual history ( Begriffsgeschichte), cosmopolitan reason is criticized from the viewpoints of comparative literature, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, postcolonialism and moral philosophy.
The book’s critical approach is an attempt to come to terms with the anachronism, essentialism, ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism that sometimes underlie contemporary theoretical and methodological uses of the term «cosmopolitanism». By adding historical and contextual depth to the problem of cosmopolitanism, a reflexive corrective is presented to enhance ongoing discussions of this topic within as well as outside academia.
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Toward a Critique of Cosmopolitan Reason



Being a cosmopolitan literally means being a citizen of the world, implying an expansion of one’s identity from the polis to the cosmos. This self-transformation occurs continuously through processes of mediation and interplay, having existential, hermeneutic, as well as political implications. As a cosmopolitan, developing sympathy toward humanity at large does not necessarily require detachment from particular affiliations, rather, in the words of Amanda Andersen (1998, 267), that one is creating a reflective distance from oneself, which enables a broader understanding that takes into account the culture and customs of the other. The cosmopolitan is thus inscribed in an increasingly inclusive global network of overlapping solidarities, in which individuals rather than collectives emerge as moral agents, inhabiting a new world community fostered by unprecedented universal challenges and conditioned by the declining authority of the nation-state. These are common imageries of cosmopolitanism.

However, one may ask, whose model of the polis fits the cosmopolitan vision that one ultimately has drawn upon? And, is a cosmopolis, that is, a universal “city-state” of equal citizens governed by reason, conceivable anyway for those who have traditionally lacked any particular polis to apply their “civic” ethos to in the first place?1 To reverse the first question, which cosmos (if there is only a cosmos in the singular, that is) is implied in “cosmopolitanism” and how big is it? Is this cosmos, or indeed its delimited yet absolute approximation as the “globe” (cf. Jordheim and Sandmo...

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