History of Cosmopolitanism in Western Political Thought

title-pageMy master’s thesis “Element of an Archaeology of Cosmopolitanism in Western Political Thought: A Return to the French Enlightenment” is now available for download on the Danish website of the Department of Political Science, Centre for European Politics, University of Copenhagen.

Using Foucault’s archaeology and problematisation, coupled with the Cambridge school’s contextualism, I investigate the archive of the discourse of cosmopolitanism in Western political thought, focusing on the French Enlightenment (1713-1795).

I start with a non-essentialist description of the contemporary discourse of cosmopolitanism in Western political thought, rather than a definition of cosmopolitanism. This description identifies a primary core of the discourse, composed of a “holy trinity”: humanity, the individual, and God. A second core is composed of a certain conception of community and identity; however identity is downplayed in the present study.

The historical part then analyses the primary core in French enlightened philosophy. It shows the metaphysical origins of humanity, outlining a certain conception of the individual as a creature of God. The physical conception challenges this view and replaces God with nature, and God’s laws ruling natural society with nature’s law governing an ever present human society.

Both conceptions fall short in determining the appropriate sovereign power to govern a humanity of free and equal individuals. Conceptions of community in the eighteenth century developed a vocabulary based on the “nation” and “patrie” replacing the King and the kingdom, but based on natural law theories. This leads to an abstract and boundaryless conception of moral community: the nation in the patrie.

Not surprisingly then, revolutionaries like Robespierre and especially Cloots argued for a unique sovereign — humankind — gathered in a unique nation, thus forming a universal republic of humankind, the common “patrie.”

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6 thoughts on “History of Cosmopolitanism in Western Political Thought

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  1. Hi Nikos,

    Foucault’s popularity in Scandinavia is not new I think. Already in the nineties it was a big hype, and many PhD dissertations were written in relation to Foucault. I wrote my thoughts on the “Foucault hype” a while ago in this post.

    As to why, well, I have no clue.

    Personally, I find that he had many interesting things to say about method in the history of ideas, and his view on power is also original and opening new fields of study. I think that someone wrote about him once, that he managed to synthesise at his time all the ongoing debates that were happening in intellectual history, and came up with a solution. I hold this to be true, and — although I do not have as much expertise as I would want to yet — I find that his views are still offering valuable approaches to methodological issues in intellectual history. I certainly did find the archaeology and the problematisation useful for my own research project on cosmopolitanism.


  2. Foucault combines the post-modern attitude, that dominated the intellectual debate for some time in Scandinavia, with actually having something meaningfull to say! I think that’s a main reason for his popularity. Even modernists can accept many of his excellent analyses without accepting his meta-theoretical stance.


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