Consider this article in connection with the one on cultural relativism above. How would you explain the dichotomy between cosmopolitan or universal understandings of human rights and relativist ideas? Think about these different understandings about the concept of rights in relation to the International Bill of Rights in 1.1. Are there some rights there you would consider to be universal, and others you think might be relative? What differentiates them? Who has the right to decide which is which?

Cosmopolitanism is the idea that all of humanity belongs to a single global community. The word derives from Greek cosmos ("Κόσμος," the Universe) and polis ("Πόλις," city), meaning "citizen of the world." Cynics was said to have first presented this idea. Stoics developed it with Alexander the Great's expeditions and the formation of Roman Empire as its background.

Every human being was seen as a citizen of the world in his capacity of "reason" regardless of blood lineage and racial origins. The thinkers of the Enlightenment, such as Immanuel Kant, in the eighteenth century, embraced this idea. With the rise of Imperialism and Nationalism in the nineteenth century, however, cosmopolitanism was criticized as an unrealistic, utopian vision. In the twenty-first century, building a peaceful global community is becoming an important issue and cosmopolitanism is discussed in diverse social, political, economic, cultural, and ethical contexts.

Cosmopolitanism may entail some sort of world government or it may simply refer to more inclusive moral, economic, and/or political relationships between nations or individuals of different nations. A person who adheres to the idea of cosmopolitanism in any of its forms is called a "cosmopolite."

Philosophical Cosmopolitanism

Philosophical Background

Cosmopolitanism can be traced back to the founding father of the Cynic movement in Ancient Greece, Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 B.C.E.). Of Diogenes, it is said: “Asked where he came from, he answered: 'I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês).'" Although it has a negative aura in the sense of the well to do inhabitant of a large city where different cultures meet, the original formulation of the word had no such connotation. The Stoics, who later took Diogenes' idea and developed it, typically stressed that each human being “dwells […] in two communities – the local community of our birth, and the community of human argument and aspiration."

A common way to understand Stoic cosmopolitanism is through Hierocles' circle model of identity that states that all should regard themselves as concentric circles, the first one around the self, next immediate family, extended family, local group, citizens, countrymen, humanity. The task of world citizens becomes then to “draw the circles somehow towards the centre, making all human beings more like our fellow city dwellers, and so forth.” Kant seems to have adopted the Stoic ideas. In his 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace,” he stages a ius cosmopoliticum (cosmopolitan law/right) as a guiding principle to protect people from war, and morally grounds this cosmopolitan right by the principle of universal hospitality.

After the conception of the concept and its revival by Kant, a third cosmopolitan moment occurred after the Second Wold War. As a reaction to the Holocaust and the other massacres, the concept of crimes against humanity becomes a general accepted category in international law. This clearly shows the appearance and acceptance of a notion of individual responsibility that is considered to be existing vis-à-vis all of humankind.

Modern Cosmopolitan Thinkers

Philosophical cosmopolitans are moral universalists: They believe that all humans, and not merely compatriots or fellow-citizens, come under the same moral standards. The boundaries between nations, states, cultures, or societies are therefore morally irrelevant. A widely cited example of a contemporary cosmopolitan is Kwame Anthony Appiah.

The cosmopolitan writer Demetrius Klitou argues, in The Friends and Foes of Human Rights, that cosmopolitanism is a major friend and a necessary element of the human rights movement. Furthermore, Klitou argues that a cosmopolitan "Human identity" is as necessary for the triumph of human rights, as a European identity is for a political European Union. He controversially argues that "This is a major dilemma for the European project. We have a European Union, but no Europeans or a European identity. The same is equally true for human rights. We have human rights, but no Humans or a human identity."

Some philosophers and scholars argue that the objective and subjective conditions arising in today's unique historical moment, an emerging planetary phase of civilization, creates a latent potential for the emergence of a cosmopolitan identity as global citizens and possible formation of a global citizens movement.

These emerging objective and subjective conditions in the planetary phase include everything from improved communications technology such as cell phones, television, internet, satellites; space travel and the first images of the fragile planet floating in the vastness of space; global warming and other ecological threats to humanity's collective existence; new global institutions such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, or International Criminal Court; the rise of transnational corporations and integration of markets, often termed economic globalization; the emergence of global NGOs and transnational social movements, such as the World Social Forum; and so on.

Political and Sociological Cosmopolitanism

Ulrich Beck (b. May 15, 1944) is a sociologist who has posed the new concept of cosmopolitan critical theory in direct opposition to traditional nation-state politics. Nation-state theory sees power relations only between different state actors, and excludes a global economy, or subjugates it to the nation-state model. Cosmopolitanism sees global capital as a possible threat to the nation state and places it within a meta-power game in which global capital, states, and civil society are its players.

It is important to mark a distinction between Beck's cosmopolitanism and the idea of a world state. For Beck, imposing a single world order is considered hegemonic at best and ethnocentric at worst. Rather, political and sociological cosmopolitanism rests upon these fundamental foundations:

  • Acknowledging the otherness of those who are culturally different
  • Acknowledging the otherness of the future
  • Acknowledging the otherness of nature
  • Acknowledging the otherness of the object
  • Acknowledging the otherness of other rationalities

Cosmopolitanism shares some aspects of universalism – namely the globally acceptable notion of human dignity that must be protected and enshrined in international law. However, the theory deviates in recognizing the differences between world cultures. Thus, a "cosmopolitan declaration of human rights" would be defined in terms of negatives that no one could disagree upon. In addition, cosmopolitanism calls for equal protection of the environment and against the negative side effects of technological development.

According to those who follow Beck's reasoning, a cosmopolitan world would consist of a plurality of states, which would use global and regional consensus to gain greater bargaining power against opponents. States would also utilize the power of civil society actors such as Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and consumers to strengthen their legitimacy and enlist the help of investors to pursue a cosmopolitan agenda. Some examples:

  • States hand over the global monitoring of human rights and environmental issues to NGOs, like Amnesty International and Greenpeace, who have a high level of legitimacy in the public sphere.
  • States support NGOs to persuade consumers to "divest" from products that break cosmopolitan human and environmental codes.

Other authors imagine a cosmopolitan world moving beyond today's conception of nation-states. These scholars argue that a truly cosmopolitan identity of Global Citizen will take hold, diminishing the importance of national identities. The formation of a global citizens movement would lead to the establishment of democratic global institutions, creating the space for global political discourse and decisions, would in turn reinforce the notion of citizenship at a global level. Nested structures of governance that balance the principles of irreducibility (that is, the notion that certain problems can only be addressed at the global level, such as Global Warming) and subsidiarity (such as, the notion that decisions should be made at as local a level possible) would thus form the basis for a cosmopolitan political order.

Institutional cosmopolitanism advocates some reforms in global governance to allow world citizens to take a more direct role in politics. A number of proposals have been made in order to make this possible. Cosmopolitan democracy, for example, suggests that we should strengthen the United Nations and other international organizations by creating a World Parliamentary Assembly.

Source: New World Encyclopedia,
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Last modified: Wednesday, September 8, 2021, 11:10 AM