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Encyclopedia of Global Studies


Contributors: Andreas Önnerfors

Editors: Helmut K. Anheier & Mark Juergensmeyer
Book Title: Encyclopedia of Global Studies
Chapter Title: "Cosmopolitanism"
Pub. Date: 2012
Access Date: September 24, 2014
Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc.
City: Thousand Oaks
Print ISBN: 9781412964296
Online ISBN: 9781452218557
Print pages: 303-307
©2012 SAGE Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This PDF has been generated from SAGE knowledge. Please note that the pagination
of the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.
©2012 SAGE Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. SAGE knowledge
Cosmopolitanism is, on the one hand, a collective term used to denote various forms
of global thought developed in the history of philosophy since Greek antiquity and, on
the other hand, a concept that has emerged in recent debates on moral responses to
(economic) globalization. Both notions are nondoctrinal, as there is no specific school or
center of cosmopolitanism. The term sometimes represents notions of a sophisticated
globalized privileged consumerist lifestyle. In a more pejorative sense, cosmopolitanism
also refers to selfish moral indifference, a lack of affection for a specific place or culture,
and a compassionless attitude of belonging nowhere. Hence, cosmopolitanism can both
refer to ideas of extreme individualism and to collective and global consciousness.

The peak of the discourse on cosmopolitanism as a philosophical concept, a moral

value, and a societal value was the late 18th century. Largely fallen into oblivion and
stigmatized during subsequent centuries, it resurfaced after the Cold War, when the
dissolution of the bipolar power structure and the process of globalization called for
intellectual and political responses. Since then, the term has been intensively debated
in global studies and political philosophy and new research into its origin, and different
representations has been carried out.

Classical Origins of the Concept

The theory of cosmopolitanism was developed during the pre-Hellenistic period (before
323 BCE). Materialist philosopher Demokritos (ca. 460 BCE to ca. 370 BCE) expressed
the idea [p. 303 ↓ ] that the globe lies open to the sage and that the universe is the
haven of good souls. Most significantly, the historical roots of cosmopolitanism lie in
a much-quoted reply by Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (ca. 412 BCE),
who allegedly answered the question of where he came from with kosmopolit#s, a city
embracing the world or as it has been interpreted, a citizen of the world. True citizenship
was realized in cosmos, totality. There is an inbuilt tension in this reply insofar as the
term combines the universality and harmony of natural order as represented by the
kósmos with the particular and contested man-made order of society, the Greek city-
state pólis. It remains uncertain whether the term in its original context referred to the
cosmos of Greek civilization only or if it denoted an idea of universal humanity, also
integrating the so-called barbarian, non-Greek cultures. The question relating to the

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potential universal applicability of norms and concepts developed within Europe remains
heavily debated in the contemporary discourse (mainly in postcolonialism and critique of

Cosmopolitanism seems, however, to imply to cross narrowly defined territorial borders

and to embrace universal space positively, uniting the individual rational being with a
citizenship in the whole, a global consciousness. With the expansion of Hellenistic rule
under Alexander (peaking in the period 323–146 BCE), followed later by the Roman
Empire (27 BCE–476 CE), an all-embracing perception of humanity across space
gained new significance. Roman emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius (120–181 CE)
viewed logos and reason as universally perceivable categories of thought and deduced
that there existed a shared human morality. In his eyes, this morality was the basis for a
common law and hence all human beings were to be regarded as citizens in a common
state, the world as a whole constituted one entity. For Marcus, the basis of philosophical
reasoning was Stoicism, a philosophy embracing all humankind regardless of origin
and societal rank, with strong features of recognition of a divine order and destiny, the
control of passions with the ultimate goal of a balanced and virtuous lifestyle. Within
stoic cosmopolitanism, the idea emerged that a human being has a dual identity, a
personal and at the same time a universal, relating him to humankind with an ethical
ideal of universal benefit to humanity. The proximity between Stoicism and Christianity
in the Roman Empire might help explain why Christianity perceived itself as an all-
embracing and universal religion, the original meaning of the word catholic. Christianity
in its ideological essence refuses particularity; all humans are equal in Christ. Internal
differentiation between nations was an invention of the organization of medieval
church hierarchy. It fueled perceptions of territorial particularity that were taken into
the ideological struggles of reformation. The Westphalian (post-1648) state order
manifested these ideas of particularity, strengthened by discourses on natural law in
which the autonomous position of the individual and its liberty and in extension the
autonomy of the individual state are constitutive. Theories of climate were drawn on to
explain differentiations between nations and political systems, which was developed
into an entire doctrine by Montesquieu in his The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Climate
theories in combination with humoral pathology cemented collective stereotyping, which
remains a powerful figure of thought in contemporary discourse. As a consequence
of the strengthening of individual states, 17th-century jurists like Hugo Grotius and

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Samuel Pufendorf identified the need for international law, regulating mutual relations
between single states. But this tiny common bond between states was based only on
the similarity of autonomy and its reciprocal recognition, not on a shared joint system of

The Enlightenment and Cosmopolitanism

The political discourse of the 17th century was dominated by an aggressive dichotomy
between the two branches of western European Christian belief, Catholicism and
Protestantism. During the negotiations that led to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,
however, theories of natural law had an important impact on the concepts of European
space that were predominant at least until the Vienna Congress in 1815. One basic
element of political theory was the European territorial state, with its right of self-
determination and independence. Along with that line of ideas, it had to be explained
intellectually how and why European states could differ from each other. Self-
determination becomes explanatory only when it is based on difference, and difference
(to make any [p. 304 ↓ ] distinction between the qualities of the One and the significant
Other) is a key element of identity and identification.

Unlike such concepts and ideas, counterconcepts evolved during the age of
Enlightenment, all containing the basic ingredient similarity, or egalité. In particular,
Freemasonry, which spread from 1717 to Europe and the world, embraced ideas of
similarity and global community without initially referring to the term cosmopolitanism.
In 1736, Fellow of the Royal Society André Michel de Ramsay (1686–1743) outlined
these ideas in a famous lodge oration in Paris where he claimed that the entire world
was a great republic, every nation a family, and each individual a child, a definition
very close to the one offered in the later French Encyclopédie (1751–1772). Adding to
ideas of mutual affinity and harmony, Ramsay outlined an encyclopedic vision where
knowledge was shared universally. Invoking the idea that Freemasons were dispersed
across the surface of the globe, cultural practices emerged within the craft that allowed
members of Masonic lodges to live out cosmopolitan ideas. Although Freemasonry
in essence was not an international organization, passports for the purpose of travel
were issued, and printed directories of lodges worldwide facilitated global contacts with
local nodes. The idea of global brotherhood was constantly hailed in Masonic poems,

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songs, and orations throughout the century and later reiterated in romantic concepts of
fraternal cosmopolitanism. In 1785, an article appeared in a Masonic journal in Vienna,
arguing for the adoption of cosmopolitanism as a moral duty for every Freemason.
Apart from universal love and benevolence, the article called for eclecticism in the quest
for truth and attacked sectionalism and sectarianism alike. Three years later, German
author Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813) published a lengthy article in which he
claimed that cosmopolitanism was a universal and inherent value, potentially to be
discovered within every human being. All humans, all rational beings, were members of
the same family. Everybody had a part in the rights of natural law. Based on individual
precondition, everybody was obliged to work on the perfection of the whole, which
implied the obligation to diminish evil and to augment good. For Wieland, no secret
doctrine was attached to the concept; on the contrary, cosmopolitanism was accessible
to all and constrained only by ignorance. Patriotism and cosmopolitanism were opposed
to each other and irreconcilable. Although Wieland calls for political neutrality and
acceptance of the respective form of government, implicitly he at the same time argues
that cosmopolitanism has to be integrated within good governance.

Only a year after Wieland's article, the French Revolution erupted and profoundly
changed the political landscape of Europe. Even moderate Enlightenment writers
like Wieland would ardently oppose the use of violence during the revolution, but the
change of cosmopolitanism from an apolitical to a political position was reflected in
different ways during the period. Not only was the French Declaration of the Rights of
Man extended to all men, but the French concept of citoyen was potentially universal in
its scope.

Fougeret de Monbron (1706–1760) described himself in an autobiographical travelogue,

The Cosmopolitan (1750), as a self-centered stranger traveling in the world, detached
from every particular culture, observing it from his very own perspective. Although he
has an appetite to cross the borders of his native land, a lively interest in the world, his
judgments are based on personal prejudice rather than on all-embracing and eclectic
tolerance. Against such a view, for Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), cosmopolitanism
implied a universal hospitality that surrounds humankind, sharing the surface of the
world. In his quest to define the parameters of a perpetual peace as the foundation
of a world republic, the idea of cosmopolitanism is connected with universal political
and international rights, especially related to the right of visitors and the right of the

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host. Every individual is entitled to rights and to live in a community ruled by law. Kant
introduced the category of world citizen (Weltbürger) in his philosophy, relating back
to the Stoic concept of a dual identity, particular and universal. In personal reason,
the world citizen is placed above the world, whereas in the perspective of external
reason, individuals are situated within the world as fellow citizens, where legal norms
are mutually agreed. Kant's ideas on cosmopolitanism have three elements. The
difference of the foreign Other has to be [p. 305 ↓ ] recognized without any conditions.
The freedom of the individual has to be guaranteed by cosmopolitan law that regulates
the relationship between individuals and states on a global scale. This legal order has
to be protected by institutions such as a league of nations. Finally, cosmopolitanism will
encourage a positive aesthetic experience of difference.

The Contemporary Discourse

Since the end of the Cold War, the term cosmopolitanism has developed from its
historical basis to embrace ideas relating to concerns about contemporary global
political order, neo-imperialist agendas, or ethical positions in a globalized society,
dominated by the needs of omnipresent markets. Cosmopolitanism in this sense is
pointing to the future of humankind. The end of the polarized world of the Cold War era
called for a renegotiation of past concepts. German sociologist Ulrich Beck (b. 1944)
argues that cosmopolitanism can be considered a reply to economic globalization, the
attempt to balance liberal market forces with a globally shared ethos. Beck's ideas are
built on Kant's call for tolerance of otherness. Another dimension of the term is the
discussion of natural and universal human rights; cosmopolitanism can function as
the normative basis of an international system of law and order. In a globalized world
order, the nation-state and its previously well-defined geospatial entity are exposed to
considerable tension, challenged by both neo-imperialist agendas and international
networks. Searching for a transgression of the formerly constitutive position of states
and relations between them, cosmopolitanism replaces a traditional international
approach. Migration, forced and voluntary, has grown on an unprecedented scale.
Both the question of global responses to national or local warfare and conflicts and
the handling of displaced persons and environmental challenges have called for the
adaptation of universal standards of conflict/disaster prevention and solution. In an

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increasingly entangled world culture, the relationship between the universal and the
particular is gaining new relevance. Cosmopolitanism, in the terminology of Manuel
Castells, might imply a homogenizing centripetal force of globalization (e.g., in calls
for standardization). At the same time, it can be understood as facilitating diversity,
bringing postmodern eclecticism and tolerance to a new global and centrifugal level
balancing any potentially homogenizing world order. The discussion of multiculturalism
or a pluralistic society is related to the cosmopolitan ideal of mutual respect for
cultural differences, intercultural coexistence. When observing early 20th-century
immigrant communities in Chicago, Jane Addams branded a moral attitude based
on the acceptance of difference in unity as cosmic patriotism. This impression
has been intensified by ongoing developments of information and communication
technology (ICT), reinforcing the idea of instant and global dissemination of culture.
World citizenship can thus be understood from a communications perspective, with
participation in the global information society as its foundation. ICT also facilitates
global cyber-activism of nongovernmental organizations and other transnational
advocacy networks, bundling activities ahead of and during events such as G-8
meetings or UN summits. This activism derives its sense of legitimacy from ideas
resembling cosmopolitanism, a well-developed global consciousness demanding
responsibility and sustainability for the planet (its climate and environment) and for
humanity as a united and interrelated whole. From such a sense of membership in
a global civil society and moral universalism generally follows support of global or
transnational institutions in a cosmopolitan democracy. In contrast, transnational terror
is organized similarly, representing violent global activism directed against democracy
and the open society (in its Western fashion), based on shared values and particular
belief systems. Furthermore, the vision of cyber-activism in a global cosmopolitan
democracy has been impaired by state regulation and censorship of ICT as well as by
a digital divide between online and offline communities based on access to resources.
In the discussion of cosmopolitanism as a viable philosophy to balance economic
globalization, it has also been queried whether ethical universalism is possible at all.
David Östlund has recently argued that Eurocentric positions became entangled with
colonialist and imperialist agendas. Hence, following the critique of modernity, it is
possible to question the viability of a concept of cosmopolitanism that is rooted so
heavily in European values and perceptions of humankind.

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[p. 306 ↓ ]

Within postmodern philosophy, the discussion of cosmopolitanism has been revitalized

by Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995) and Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), especially
in encountering and interacting with the foreign Other. Like Kant, Levinas identifies
cosmopolitanism as a position that enables full recognition of and infinite responsibility
for the Other. The formation of identity, language, and culture is related to these
encounters and is the basis for the acceptance of otherness. Derrida also draws on
Kant's concept of hospitality and discusses how the foreign Other, especially the
refugee, has an unconditional right to share resources and how, at the same time, the
right of residence has to be limited.

Taxonomy of Cosmopolitanism
Pauline Kleingeld has introduced a conclusive categorization of different forms of
cosmopolitanism. Originally researching varieties of late German Enlightenment
discourse, she distinguishes among six forms of cosmopolitanism that also are recurring
in the contemporary debate:

• 1. Moral cosmopolitanism represents the view that all human beings form
a single moral community and that there exist moral obligations to all other
human beings regardless of differentiations between them.
• 2. International confederative cosmopolitanism adds to this idea a political
theory advocating forms of world governance, for instance as represented by
a strong federation of states with coercive powers.
• 3. Cosmopolitan law represents the ideas formulated by Kant on the
necessity of a legal framework regulating the relationship between states and
individuals of foreign states, such as migration or business across borders in
the spirit of general hospitality.
• 4. Cultural cosmopolitanism embraces the (anthropological) idea of
mutual recognition of cultural differences, rejecting relativism as much as

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• 5. Market cosmopolitanism is built on the belief that free trade, unrestrained

economic relations between people, will make state intervention and
oppressive governance obsolete, contributing to a peaceful world order.
• 6. Romantic cosmopolitanism is in a sense a further emotional development
of moral cosmopolitanism, stressing the global interconnectedness of people,
shared fate, and values.

See also:

• Activism, Transnational
• Cosmopolitan Identity
• Enlightenment, The
• Ethics, Global
• Freemasons
• Globalization, Phenomenon of
• Identities in Global Societies
• Otherness
• Universalism

Further Readings

Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers . New York:


Beck, U. (1997). Was ist globalisierung? [What is globalization?] . Frankfurt am Main,

Germany: Suhrkamp.

Beck, U. (2006). The cosmopolitan vision . Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Derrida, J. (2001). On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness . London: Routledge.

Jacob, M. C. (2005). Strangers nowhere in the world: The rise of cosmopolitanism in

early modern Europe . Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Kemp, P. (2010). Citizen of the world: Cosmopolitan ideals for the 21st century . New
York: Humanity Books.

Kleingeld, P. Six varieties of cosmopolitanism in late eighteenth-century Germany .

Journal of the History of Ideas , (1999). 60, 505–524.

Lettevall, R., ed. , & Linder Klockar, M. (Eds.), ed. . (2008). The idea of kosmopolis.
History, philosophy and politics of world citizenship . Stockholm: Södertörn Academic

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