Imperfect Cosmopolis

Imperfect Cosmopolis: Studies in the history of international legal theory and cosmopolitan ideas

Georg Cavallar
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
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  • Book Info
    Imperfect Cosmopolis
    Book Description:

    In current debates, the term “cosmopolitanism” often remains quite vague and leads to sweeping generalizations. Unlike many recent publications, this book looks at the notion from a decidedly historical perspective, trying to give depth and texture to the concept. It does not offer a comprehensive history of cosmopolitanism, but focuses on often neglected aspects and issues, such as its impact on international legal theory or the rights of strangers. There is an emphasis on the eighteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2368-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    It seems that ‘cosmopolitanism’ is the new buzzword of a new century. Several factors are usually mentioned which might have contributed to the reactivating of the concept: the end of the Cold War, a growing awareness of global risks such as climate change which cannot be dealt with at a national level, economic and cultural globalization, the new global terrorism, and the US ‘war on terror’ during the presidency of George W. Bush Jr. (2001–9). Others have stressed cultural or intellectual factors such as the rise of ethnocentric nationalism and liberal and/or leftist attempts to counter it, or a...

  5. 2 Vitoria, Grotius, Pufendorf, Wolff and Vattel: Accomplices of European Colonialism and Exploitation, or True Cosmopolitans?
    (pp. 17-38)

    Traditionally, authors like Vitoria, Grotius, Pufendorf, Wolff or Vattel have casually been assigned to the camp of the cosmopolitans. Quoting Patrick Henry and Sir James Mackintosh, Henry Wheaton, for instance, called them ‘illustrious authors’, ‘friends of human nature’, ‘kind instructors of human errors and frailties’, ‘impartial witnesses’ who developed the principles of international morality, writers ‘with enlarged views of the welfare of nations’.¹

    Many recent interpreters have seen, and usually condemned, these writers as accomplices of European colonialism and exploitation. In one way or another, the theory runs, they provided the ideological basis of conquest, and were thus implicated in...

  6. 3 British Enlightenment: the Triumph of Commercial Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 39-63)

    The eighteenth century has usually been seen as a cosmopolitan age before the advent of nationalism in the wake of the French Revolution. In a recent publication, for instance, we find the claim that ‘the Enlightenment . . . was cosmopolitan in style and content’, and the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau are cited as examples.¹ This standard interpretation has to be qualified. I illustrate this claim with a few examples: Hume is often regarded as a cosmopolitan thinker, an assessment which is primarily based on his famous statement that ‘not only as a man, but as a BRITISH subject,...

  7. 4 Kant and the ‘Miserable Comforters’: Contractual Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 64-84)

    Comparisons of authors with their predecessors are always fraught with a problem: we tend to exaggerate the differences at the expense of similarities. If we realize this tendency in our thinking, we might fall into the opposite extreme: we see parallels and similarities and ignore the differences. So we often settle for a middle course, a third way (and critics see this as a feeble compromise). Walter Mignolo follows the ‘similar rather than different’ approach. He compares Vitoria with Kant and concludes:

    I have the impression that if one stripped Vitoria of his religious principles, replaced theology with philosophy, and...

  8. 5 Late Eighteenth-century International Legal Theory: from Cosmopolis to the Idea of Europe
    (pp. 85-108)

    I have tried to show in the previous chapter how Kant takes social contract theory and normative individualism to their logical, cosmopolitan conclusions. In this chapter, I want to take a closer look at some natural lawyers in the late eighteenth century. Kant apparently referred to lawyers and writers of his age with the cryptic remark that ‘they’ rejected the idea of international right and were happy with its ‘surrogate’, ‘in accordance with their concept of the right of nations.’¹

    I start with a brief overview of the main trends of international legal theory at the end of the eighteenth...

  9. 6 Immigration, Rights and the Global Community: Pufendorf, Vattel, Bluntschli and Verdross
    (pp. 109-127)

    It is often taken for granted that international law and legal theory have endorsed the right of states to exclude all aliens if they prefer to do so. A 1972 opinion of the US Supreme Court referred to ‘ancient principles’ in this respect.¹ It turns out that this was a gross distortion of historical data. Francisco de Vitoria (1486–1546), who is sometimes praised as the ‘father of international law’, argued for a very sweeping right to travel and to trade, the freedom of the seas and the right to immigration. He claimed that there is a right ‘of natural...

  10. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 128-140)

    In this conclusion, I want to relate issues raised in previous chapters to present-day cosmopolitan discourses, and point to continuities. Past answers may not help us find solutions to contemporary problems, but they may encourage us to clarify our own thinking about problems, contexts and possible answers.

    Chapter 2 argued for a nuanced assessment of several international lawyers. We may want to know why we do not get a coherent, uniform Western legal discourse, but a variety of positions and perspectives. Martine van Ittersum has offered a geographical argument, claiming that, in contrast to authors who belonged to maritime powers...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 141-192)
  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 193-204)
  13. Index
    (pp. 205-216)