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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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Kant and the Right of World Citizens: An Historical Interpretation



To carry back to distant centuries the ideas of the century in which one lives is of all sources of error the most fertile.

— MONTESQUIEU (Spirit of the Laws)

Discourses on cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitan theories have reached unprecedented levels of intensity in recent years: conferences, special issues in journals and monographs abound (among many other publications, see Brock and Brighouse 2005; Brown and Held 2010; Lutz-Bachmann et al. 2010; Vertovec and Cohen 2002). Opinions are divided on what the crucial reasons are for this renewed interest in an old concept going back to ancient Greek philosophy. Among other factors, economic and cultural globalization, the rise of ethnocentric nationalism and a growing awareness of global risks are mentioned. In these discourses, Kant is often regarded as the most prominent founding father of contemporary cosmopolitan philosophies (cf. Brown 2009; Cheneval 2002; Häntsch 2008). I suppose that part of this reputation can be traced back to Kant’s essays Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim (1784a) and Perpetual Peace (1795) as well as to one element of Kant’s philosophy of peace which he termed cosmopolitan right. This cosmopolitan right, a translation of Weltbürgerrecht, literally the right of world citizens, has acquired a kind of cult status in recent literature. Daniele Archibugi and David Held made a start in the 1990s, ← 141 | 142 → taking Kant’s cosmopolitan right as a point of departure to propose the normative model of a cosmopolitan democracy, a...

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