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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

2 - Contemporary cosmopolitanism and social theory


The idea of cosmopolitanism is most recognizable as a term of political governance and with a history that extends to the Enlightenment and to classical antiquity. Although the origins of cosmopolitanism lie in an essentially moral view of the individual as having allegiances to the wider world, it was to acquire a political significance once it was linked to peoplehood. As argued in Chapter 1, the main tradition in modern cosmopolitan thought, which derives from Immanuel Kant, sought to extend republican political philosophy into a wider and essentially legal framework beyond the relatively limited modern republic. With this came the vision of a world political community extending beyond the community into which one is born or lives. Cosmopolitanism thus became linked with the universalism of modern Western thought and with political designs based on recognition of the rights of the individual as opposed to the state. Yet, from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century the national imagination for the greater part prevailed over the cosmopolitan imagination. After the Second World War cosmopolitanism gained a new significance. The foundation of the United Nations and the affirmation of international law as in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and in the new legal category of crimes against humanity were among the events that gave cosmopolitanism a significance and reality that it previously lacked. As a result of the tremendous transformation of the world in the post-1989 period, there has been renewed interest in cosmopolitanism.

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