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Critique of Cosmopolitan Reason

Timing and Spacing the Concept of World Citizenship


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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Reflections of a Reluctant Cosmopolitan



There is often a sense of implicit moral or legal rightness attached to the idea of cosmopolitanism in current discussions which is intellectually troubling. The critical intuition I am uneasily wending my way around in this concluding essay is that it is now usually de rigueur to be cosmopolitan, almost equivalent to being humanitarian, tolerant or right-minded. Alternatives to cosmopolitanism can thus be too horrible to contemplate. However, no less troubling are the wide-ranging criticisms of cosmopolitan argument, deriving from an assorted group of nationalists, statists, cultural commentators, postcolonial and identity theorists. A rough and ready collective noun for the latter arguments could be particularism; all such particularist arguments strike me as equally or even more problematic in substance than those of conventional cosmopolitans.

The structure of this essay is to briefly recapitulate the genealogy of cosmopolitanism and to comment on some of the provenance to the idea. I then consider some of the traditional core arguments for cosmopolitanism which in my interpretation coalesce—in much of the contemporary literature—around moral, institutional and legal argumentation. In critically assessing these various accounts I both outline and then raise further difficulties with many of the more standard particularist objections to cosmopolitanism. Finally, I conclude on a more neglected component of argument in cosmopolitanism, namely its political character and rendition. This latter view best encapsulates the sense of a more fragile, reluctant or hesitant understanding of cosmopolitanism. ← 293 | 294 →

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