O’Brien, Karen — Narratives of Enlightenment

9780521465335Introduction: cosmopolitanism, narrative, history

Cosmopolitan history:

“‘Cosmopolitanism’ is no longer a term much favoured by intellectual historians: as an idea, it seems to lack intellectual content; as a category of political thought, it has no referent. [footnote: “the last investigation of this idea was Thomas J. Schlereth]. The term is occasionally invoked by literary and cultural historians of the eighteenth century in connection with neoclassical notions of taste, the language of bourgeois political aspirations or aristocratic consumer preferences. [footnote: for example Gerald Newman The Rise of English Nationalism 1987; J. Pappas “The Revolt of the Philosophes against Aristocratic Tastes”, Culture and Revolution by Dukes and Dunkley, 1990]. I have revived the term for the purposes of this study because it simultaneously encapsulates an attitude of detachment towards national prejudice (often described as an ‘impartial’ or ‘philosophical’ attitude in other studies of these historians), and an intellectual investment in the idea of a common European civilisation” (O’Brien 1997, 2).

Voltaire understood this civilisation in cultural rather than political terms. Voltaire mounted a cosmopolitan critique of his own national history (siècle de Louis XIV, siècle de Louis XV) which he re-evaluated in his general history of the world Essai sur les moeurs.

“Cosmopolitanism is thus a point of orientation for these historians, and, frequently, an impetus to irony at the expense of the partialities and accidents which lie behind those reassuring stories which nations tell to themselves. It is also, in the work of some eighteenth-century historians, an identity-prescription for their readers: Europe, it is implied, must remain part of the structure of their self-awareness as French, British or American subjects or citizens. (3)

“A national self, it is often held, needs a negative counter-image of the ‘other’ to give it definition and psychological purchase… Yet, as I shall argue, such straightforward antinomies of patriotism and cosmopolitanism appear to dissolve when tested against the work of some of the eighteenth century’s most prestigious and popular national historians” (O’Brien 1997, 4)

18th-century historians wrote in a fundamentally literary way. “The rhetorical model, in particular, helps to explain the nature of the presence of eighteenth-century historians in their own texts both as political persuaders and orchestrators of their readers’ aesthetic responses. History was also understood in this period, in related but non-rhetorical ways, as a form of spectacle designed to awaken the imagination and stimulated the sensibility.” (7)

National contexts:

“The cosmopolitan approach to questions of national history in the writings of Voltaire, Hume, Robertson, Gibbon and Ramsay updated and put a new polemical spin on older, humanist notions of the European inheritance of a common cultural identity from the ancient Roman world (the translatio studii)” (12-13).

“My chapter on Voltaire explores the literary and ideological backgrounds to these innovations, and explains how Voltaire’s rejection of traditional dynastic and public law-based discourses of French nationality opened the way for a new critical and cosmopolitan reading of French and, later, global history according to aesthetic rather than political norms.” (13)

voltaire1Voltaire’s neoclassical poetics of history

“As meta-historical investigations of the cognitive problems of retelling the past, they contribute something to contemporary French philosophical debate… It was the thematic concerns of Voltaire’s histories, which centred upon the evolution and existence of a unique, common European civilisation, that particularly attracted an international readership.” (22)

At the time, history was depreciated by sceptics or Pyrrhonians rejecting Descartes’ rationalist solutions.

“Voltaire’s solution to the poverty of national history and to the philosophical depreciation of history was… to effect a closer rapprochement between history and literature” (26) “By arranging his histories within identifiable literary structures…, Voltaire hoped to annex similar prestige to history. Voltaire also imported from neoclassical theory the notion of ‘vraisemblance’ which encapsulated the moral and aesthetic requirement that literature should treat only of the natural and probable, and never of the fantastic, trivial or debased.” (26) “Voltaire also embraced the ethical function performed by neoclassical literature; like poetry, history must assert civilised standards, and harmonise moral, social and aesthetic values.”

The narrative of Europe

The Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations“explores the contradictory relationship between the arts, the philosophical spirit, and the evolution of civilisation in Europe. Moreover, it attempts to do so in ways which will erode national partialities… Despite its declared ambition to supply an overview of the development of civilisation, the Essai is essentially an agglomeration of a number of national histories held together by a (sometimes fragile) narrative thread… The unity of these national histories, Voltaire explains in the summary ‘Résumé de toute cette histoire’ (1756), is to be found, not at the level of master narrative, but in the pre-cognitive drive to civilisation inherent in all men and women:

Au milieu de ces saccagements et de ces destructions que nous observons dans l’espace de neuf cent années, nous voyons un amour de l’ordre qui anime en secret le genre humain, et qui a prévenu sa ruine totale. C’est un des ressorts de la nature, qui reprend toujours sa force : c’est lui qui a formé le code des nations. (II, 808: 1756, XVI, 149)

Man’s creative love of order, which has affinities with the historian’s own artistic quest for form in variety, fashions and sustains the delicate and slow process of civilisation: ‘Il est aisé de … conclure … avec quelle lenteur la raison humaine se forme’ (II, 87: 1756, XII, 315).” (46)

“Avec quelle lenteur, avec quelle difficulté le genre humain se civilise, et la société se perfectionne !” (II, 724 : 1756, XIV, 231) 46)

« L’empire de la coutume est bien plus vaste que celui de la nature ; il s’étend sur les mœurs, sur tous les usages ; il répand la variété sur la scène de l’univers : la nature y répand l’unité ; elle établit partout un petit nombre de principes invariables : ainsi le fonds est partout le même, et la culture produit des fruits divers. (1756, II, 810) (47)

In Voltaire’s account, an Enlightenment narrrative on the rise of Europe, the Church is playing a role in the civilising process “on sentait qu’elle … était faite pour donner des leçons aux autres”) and an intermediate power in the states where it operates : « un frein qui retienne les souverains » (I, 492, 529 : 1756, XI, 263) (48-49)

A large part is left to non-Western accounts, particularly China, and Japan.

“Nos peuples occidentaux ont fait éclater dans toutes ces découvertes une grande supériorité d’esprit et de courage sur les notions orientales… Mais la nature leur avait donné sur nous un avantage qui balance tous les nôtres : c’est qu’elles n’avaient nul besoin de nous, et que nous avions besoin d’elles. (II, 325 : 1756, XIII, 207)”

The East is essential to the self-understanding of the West.


“As he retouched the Essai, Voltaire became more preoccupied with the ironies of causality in history, and less interested in its (ultimately relatively civilised) outcome. Narrative connectives are traded for a satirical sense of necessity. The rudimentary causal coherence, which Voltaire originally found in the history of the world, starts to look like a Panglossian fantasy. Voltaire now sees only an unpredictable game of consequences (the word he uses to convey this is ‘enchaînement’). François I’s death of the new world disease, syphilis, is presented, in 1761, as an example of this ironically treacherous ‘enchaînement’:

C’est ainsi que les évènements son enchaînés: un pilote génois donne un univers à l’Espagne ; la nature a mis dans les îles de ces climats lointains un poison qui infecte les sources de la vie ; et il faut qu’un roi de France en périsse. (II, 201)

The term ‘enchaînement’ conveys an idea of human helplessness in the face of meaningless fatality : ‘il paraît un enchaînement fatal des causes qui entrainent les hommes comme les vents poussent les sables et les flots’ (II, 784: 1756, XIV, 319). The use of the term ‘enchaînement’ also carries with it an indirect attack on Catholic providential history of the kind most famously exemplified by Bossuet’s Discours sur l’histoire universelle (1681). Bossuet uses the term ‘enchaînement’ to denote the divine order in which God simulates logical cause-effect relationships in order to give man a sense of the moral intelligibility of the world. Or as Bossuet phrases it:

Ce mesme Dieu qui a fait l’enchaisnement de l’Univers … a voulu aussi que le cours des choses humaines eust sa suite et ses proportions.

Voltaire’s use of the word ‘enchainement’ suggests a parodic reworking of theocentric universal history. Bossuet’s God, by acting directly upon human passions, produces a historical order identical to the providential order, whereas Voltaire’s ‘enchaînement’ reveals a moral sequence discontinuous with or in ironic relation to the historical one.” (52-53).

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Hazard, Pierre – Cosmopolite

jean-baptiste_van_mour_006Historiographie du mot “cosmopolite.”

Hazard, Pierre (1930) “Cosmopolite.” In Mélanges d’histoire littéraire générale et comparée offerts à Fernand Baldensperger, 354-364. Paris: Libraire ancienne Honoré Champion.


Apparition au XVIe siècle : 1560 Guillaume Postel De la République des Turcs et, là où l’occasion s’offrera,

des mœurs et des lois de tous muhamedistes, par Guillaume Postel, cosmopolite. L’auteur veut enrichir les

connaissances du roi dauphin sur les turcs :

« Pour autant donc qu’on ne peut, venant à l’effet de la concorde du monde (pour la paix universelle,

duquel je me nomme Cosmopolite, désirant le voir accordé, sous la Couronne de France), aucunement

parler par raison avec l’ennemy, sans congnoistre tout son estat comme luy ; et que la plus grande

puissance soit en religion, soit en armes, qui donc fut, est l’Ismaélique ; et qu’entre les Ismaéliques,

c’est la Turquesque, je vous en donne ici la congnoissance ». (354)

Henri Estienne s’en sert sous la forme cosmopolitain dans ses Deux dialogues du nouveau langage

françois italinizé (1578) : il l’oppose à ceux qui dépassent le cercle tropetriot des gens de cour :

« Vous vous accoutumerez tant à ce jargon de la cour, que quand vous la voudrez quitter,

vous ne pourrez pas quitter pareillement son jargon: mais serez en danger d’estre en risée à

plusieurs cosmopolitains, qui ne vivent nine parlent courtisanesquement ; et toutefois savent

comment il faut vivre et comment il faut parler. »

Au XVIIe siècle le mot apparaît par détours : Lenglet du Fresnoy dans son Histoire de la philosophie

hermétique nous raconte les aventures d’un Anglais, ou Écossais, Alexandre Sethon ou Sidon le Cosmopolite.

Après la mort de Sethon, Michel Sendivogius fit imprimer à Prague le traité du Cosmopolite sur ses papiers :

Traité du cosmopolite, où, après avoir donné une idée d’une société de philosophes, on explique dans plusieurs

lettres de cet auteur la théorie et la pratique des vérités hermétiques.

Il ne s’agit que d’une apparition isolée et le dictionnaire de l’Académie de 1694 n’enregistre pas le mot. Il est

curieux que le mot apparaisse au moment le moins cosmopolite de notre histoire. « Quand on connaîtra mieux

le monde de l’hermétisme, et toute cette vie obscure qui ne cesse de s’agiter dans les profondeurs de la conscience

européenne et française, on découvrira sans doute de nombreux apports, non moins surprenants »

(Hazard 1930, 356).

Sa fortune date du XVIIIe siècle.

Trévoux dans son dictionnaire de 1721 à l’article cosmopolitain, cosmopolitaine :

“Cosmopolita, cosmopolitanus. On dit quelquefois en badinant, pour signifier un home qui n’a pas de

demeure fixe, ou bien un homme qui n’a pas de demeure fixe, ou bien un homme qui nulle part n’est

étranger. Il vient de χάσμας, le monde, et πόλις, ville, et signifie un homme dont tout le monde est la ville

ou la patrie. Un ancien philosophe étant interrogé d’où il était répondit : je suis un cosmopolite, c’est-à-dire

citoyen de l’univers. L’auteur inconnu d’un excellent traité de chimie, intitulé Lumen chymicum, s’est donné

le nom de cosmopolitain.

qu’on dît cosmopolitain » (Hazard 1930, 356).

On dit ordinairement cosmopolite; et comme on dit néapolitain et constantinopolitain, l’analogie demanderait

L’édition de 1771 fait prévaloir l’usage de « cosmopolite » sur « cosmopolitain ». L’allusion au philosophe est Diogène

tel que rapporté par Diogène Laerce.

Si le mot a désormais conquis droit de cité ce n’est pas qu’il apparaisse avec fréquence.

fougeretcosmopolitanIl faut tenir grand compte dans l’histoire du mot et des idées qu’il exprime le livre publié en 1751 par Fougeret de

Montbron Le cosmopolite ou le citoyen du monde. L’ouvrage eut un succès, et Byron l’utilisera plus tard. Voyageur,

il devient cosmopolite par pessimisme et scepticisme. « Un cosmopolite se pourra être un simple dilettante ; mais

aussi un blasé, voire un cynique, qui dédaigne de s’attacher à quelque terre que ce soit, parce qu’il méprise tout

l’univers » (Hazard 1930, 358).

Mais par une interprétation différente, et que l’on voit naître plus tard, un cosmopolite peut être une grande âme,

assez généreuse pour choisir l’humanité toute entière. Ainsi Jean-Jacques Rousseau dans son Discours sur

l’origine de l’inégalité parmi les hommes (1755) :

“Le droit civil étant ainsi devenu la règle commune des citoyens, la loi de nature n’eut plus lieu qu’entre

les diverses sociétés où, sous le nom de droit des gens, elle fut tempérée par quelques conventions tacites

pour rendre le commerce possible et suppléer à la commisération naturelle, qui, perdant de société à société

presque toute la force qu’elle avait d’homme à homme, ne réside plus que dans quelques grandes âmes

cosmopolites qui franchissent les barrières imaginaires qui séparent les peuples et qui, à l’exemple de l’Être

souverain qui les a créées, embrassent tout le genre humain dans leur bienveillance.” (Hazard 1930, 358-359).

« On peut fixer à 1760 et aux années suivantes le temps où les Français se plaisent à répéter le mot, en lui donnant

tantôt un sens péjoratif, tantôt un sens élogieux, et en l’enrichissant de quelques nuances supplémentaires »

(Hazard 1930, 359). Rousseau change d’avis, peut-être parce que le cosmopolite est adopté par les encyclopédistes.

Le mot n’est pas admis dans les 2e (1718), 3e (1740), édition du dictionnaire de l’Academie qui l’accepte dans la

4e (1762) :

“Cosmopolite. S. m. Celui qui n’adopte point de patrie. Un cosmopolite n’est pas un bon citoyen »

(Hazard 1930, 360).

1762 : Lemercier de la Rivière Ordre naturel et essentiel des libertés politiques :

« Ce décroissement sera d’autant plus prompt, que l’industrie est cosmopolite (t. II, p. 518). Ce terme de

cosmopolite ne doit pas être regardé comme une injure ; je parle ici des choses, et non des personnes, de

la profession du commerçant et point du tout de ceux qui l’exercent (p. 563). » (360).

En 1798 elle ajoute à cette même définition la mention « citoyen du monde ».

Les Philosophes, comédie en trois actes 1760 :

« Cydalise :

Monsieur Dortidius, dit-on quelques nouvelles ?

Dortidius :

Je ne m’occupe point des rois, de leurs querelles ;

Que me fait le succès d’un siège ou d’un combat ?

Je laisse à nos oisifs ces affaires d’État.

Je m’embarasse peu du paus que j’habite :

Le véritable sage est un cosmopolite. » (359)

Rousseau dans Émile, I : « Défiez-vous de ces cosmopolites qui vont chercher au loin dans leurs livres des

devoirs qu’ils dédaignent de remplir autour d’eux. »

L’Anglois à Paris. Le Cosmopolisme, publié à Londres…. (1770) par V. D. Musset Pathay : « Ce cosmopolite

n’aspire nullement à nos honneurs littéraires ; son objet est rempli s’il contribue à maintenir l’intelligence entre

des nations moins alliées qu’ennemies, et qui pourroient s’aimer autant qu’elles se craignent et s’estiment ». (361)

La révolution l’utilise et il devient le titre d’un journal, de décembre 1791 à 1792 : Le Cosmopolite, journal

historique, politique, littéraire.

Seul jusqu’ici l’auteur de L’Anglois à Paris avait risqué l’expression « cosmopolisme ». Louis Sébastien Mercier

le reprend dans sa Néologie, ou vocabulaire des mots nouveaux, a renouveler, ou pris dans des acceptions nouvelles. An IX-1801 :

“Cosmopolisme. Il faut aimer un lieu; l’oiseau lui-même, qui a en partage le domaine des airs, affectionne

tel creux d’arbre ou de rocher. Celui qui est atteint de cosmopolisme est privé des plus doux sentiments

qui appartiennent au cœur de l’homme.

Cosmopoliter. Parcourir l’univers.”

Qui croirait que l’on peut exercer à Paris le Cosmopolisme, encore mieux que dans le reste de l’univers ?

Sous sa plume apparait pour la première fois l’expression cosmopolitisme littéraire : lire les grands auteurs étrangers.

Il révèle la Jeanne d’Arc de Schiller.

Mais le mot déplait déjà à l’Empereur. Après 1815, le mot se rencontre partout.

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Avenel’s biography of Anacharsis Cloots

Avenel, Georges (1865), Anacharsis Cloots: L’orateur du genre humain, Paris : Librairie internationale.

cloots01This is one of the very first biography existing on this not so well-known history character of the French Revolution, Anacharsis Cloots. The merit of this book is its weakness: the tone in which it is written. The author is writing in a romantic apologetic tone, which hampers a reflective and critical appraisal of Cloot’s writings and actions. On the other hand, it blows life into a colourful character with an original and synthesising thought. And what a life! Until it was cut short by the revolutionary guillotine, his Prussian origins causing him suspicions of espionage and conspiracy against the Revolution.

Summary abstracts:

Cloots, away from France for some time, came back in 1789 and arrived in Paris 4 August. He saw the national assembly and was taken by enthusiasm. He saw in it the real ecumenical assembly, presided by common sense that will eliminate all the canons of the so-called universal conciliabules (Avenel, 1865: 131).

He claimed that the Assembly should be in Paris, and not in Versailles, “the glory of the eighteenth century is to have created the city” (Avenel, 1865: 137). Other were opposed because the country would not accept Parisian law. He answered “you will all accept it, you, France, and the Universe. Paris is the capital-city of the globe.” (Avenel, 1865: 138)

22 May 1790 a decree by the Assembly gave the nation the right to declare war and peace. Cloots acclaimed this decree because it was signifying the end of the secrecy of alliances in cabinets, of Westphalian treaties and this kind of diplomacy (Avenel, 1865: 175). Paradoxically (for our contemporary eyes) it is the idea of the nation that gave him the idea of the ideal of solidarity of people: if people of the French provinces could unite to form a French nation, calling themselves “brothers,” why not the peoples of the world?

The Parisian commune decreed 5 June 1790 to ask the Assembly for a Parisian federation of France on the Bastille Day 14 July 1790. This event made Cloots dream of a Parisian federation not only of all France but of the whole universe. He wanted to make the same demand but of humankind, including refugees of all countries who had been proscribed from the city (Avenel, 1865: 175-176).

This is what he did, quite famously, on 19 June, Day of the anniversary of the “serment du Jeu de Paume,” “Embassy of humankind,” when he entered the Assembly, or the “ecumenical council of reason”, with a delegation representing humankind, and him being its orator (Avenel, 1865: 177). They were 36 representing “humanity”: Englishmen, Prussians, Sicilians, Dutchmen, Russians, Poles, Germans, Swedes, Italians, Spaniards, peoples from some of the French provinces, Indians, Arabs and Chadians.

He declared that the party on Bastille Day will not only be the one of Frenchmen but also the one of Humankind. The wakening of the French people has been heard away and has awakened other peoples from a long slavery. The wisdom of the decrees voted by the children of France give troubles to despots and hope for nations. Sovereignty resides in the people, but the people is everywhere under the control of despots who consider themselves sovereigns. (Avenel, 1865: 183-184).

Baron Menou answered to him that he proved that all other nations equally own the progress one nation makes in philosophy and the knowledge of human rights. Therefore, the civic national party shall include any free man who wants to join.

From then on is the nickname “Orator of humankind”. Cloots explains that an orator of humankind is “a man penetrated by love for human dignity;  an orator with a scorching love for freedom and who inflame with horror against tyrants; it is a man who, after having received the sanction of his universal apostolate inside the constituting body of the universe, only devotes himself to the free defence of all the million slaves…” He will exile himself from his native land to stay in the capital of independence. His mission will only come to an end when oppressors of the humankind will be overthrown. (Avenel, 1865: 188-189)

He changed his first name Jean-Baptiste because of its Christian origin into Anacharsis, the name of a young Greek philosopher, originally a Scythe who travelled from North to educate himself in Attic and Ionia. He also Frenchifyed his surname as a tribute to France, the country in which freedom was born and from where it should be spread to the world.

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Bélissa, Marc: Les patriotes européens et l’ordre républicain cosmopolitique 1795-1802

9782915596106fsBélissa analyses the conquests made by the new French Republic in Italy (an IV-V), Switzerland (an VI-VII), Holland (an III), and Belgium (an III-IV). These countries are called “sister-Republics.” Patriots in these “sister-Republics” are European militants and support the French Republic, at first, in its fight against monarchical Europe (91).
These patriots have conscious to be part of a “republican order” of free peoples, thought of as the first “truly European political, social and cultural project” (92). This project must realise the cosmopolitan imperative of the revolution: a peaceful order based on the rights of nations against tyranny (92).
In the first days of conquests, numerous voices advise to behave as occupant armies and seize everything possible (93). To justify France’s domination over Belgium and Holland, a brutal vision of law is expressed: the peoples are incapable of revolutionising themselves; they have no autonomy or Enlightenment (93). The Republic offers them rational administration and the end of archaic and feudal institutions; order and progress justifying domination (93). Moreover, France cannot let nations escape her orbit and risk an ingratitude characteristic to all peoples (93). “… the independence of the peoples must always be under control to stay compatible with the prosperity and power of the French Republic” (94).

“Republicanism is thus conceived not as an ethical and cosmopolitan model but as an institutional administrative structure and universalisable under the direction of the French power” (94).

The Directoire is then putting itself in a paradoxical situation of putting these republics in the impossibility to defend the European order by refusing local free and revolutionary republicanism (94).
Still the rhetoric of the liberation of peoples does not disappear under the Directoire and all republicans consider that France must aid to the propagation of the principles of property and liberty (95). But to free the peoples does not necessarily mean to respect the free expression of their sovereignty (95).
France wants to propagate the principles of the revolution, but does not want to have revolutions. It is a republican order that she wants to encourage, a “Republic without revolution” (96). In order to achieve this objective, France treat the republics as “executives” and not “partners”, and does not hesitate to make alliances with princes and kings against the republics to achieve this order (97).
The project for a republican order under the Directoire is thus not a federation as the enlightened philosophers conceived, but an hegemony, dominating without any institutional compensation (97).
Bonaparte’s coup-d’Etat was at first well received by the republics, as putting an end to the instrumentalisation achieved by the Directoire. However, soon it will be obvious that the revolution and France are no longer a universalist reference for humanity (105).


Bélissa, Marc (2005) “Les patriotes européens et l’ordre républicain cosmopolitique 1795-1802.” In Cosmopolitismes, patriotismes: Europe et Amériques 1773-1802, edited by Marc Bélissa and Bernard Cottret, 91-107. Rennes: Les Perséides.

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Dédéyan: le cosmopolitisme européen sous la révolution et l’empire

Dédéyan, Charles (1976) Le cosmopolitisme européen sous la Révolution et l’Empire. 2 vols. Paris: Société d’édition d’enseignement supérieur.

sabine_womenOne of the rare books of intellectual history about cosmopolitanism in Europe. Written in French, it is focusing on the periods immediately after the Enlightenment: the French Revolution and the first Empire under Napoléon Bonaparte. It is interesting and worth reading for students of cosmopolitanism in two respects. First, it acknowledges the apparition of the word ‘cosmopolitanism’ in French in 1863. The date is very interesting because it is probably not coincidental. My contention is that cosmopolitanism appeared as a conscious idea described by a word only because nationalism became socially embedded. Nationalism constructed an opposite — cosmopolitanism — even though nationalism and cosmopolitanism were originally one and the same before and during the revolution. Second, it is a good introduction to several major European authors and their thought in cosmopolitan terms.

However, the books starts with no definition of ‘cosmopolitanism’ and accepts the historically given concept of opposition to nationalism.

Here follows a summary of some of the main elements concerning cosmopolitanism in France.

Guillaume Postel dans sa République des Turcs a employé pour la première fois en 1560 le mot cosmopolite, que Robert Estienne a introduit sous la forme cosmopolitain. Le mot cosmopolitisme n’existe que depuis 1863. Cependant, on n’a pas attendu cette date pour faire acte de cosmopolitisme : ne pas s’enfermer dans son pays, ne pas limiter ses amitiés et inimitiés à ses compatriotes (Erasme, Montaigne, Sir Philip Sidney, au XVIe, Descartes, Grotius, Saint-Evremond ou Pierre Bayle au XVIIe). (3)

C’est au 18eme siècle que ce cosmopolitanisme va devenir plus général et plus littéraire par la vie des salons et les voyages des gens du monde. Mais le mouvement date du XVIIe. (4)

La France aide à l’épanouissement du cosmopolitisme en tournant ses regards vers l’étranger, avec son prestige européen, et grâce à sa langue universellement répandue. Beaucoup d’œuvres étrangères se propagent en Europe grâce à leurs traductions françaises. (4-5) La France et Paris en particulier deviennent le centre de la vie culturelle. (5-13)

Les cosmopolites marquants


Cosmopolite littéraire de l’ancien régime.


rivarol_antoine1Discours sur l’Universalité de la Langue française : « Ce qui n’est pas clair n’est pas français ». Un auteur étranger traduit en français a sa pensée clarifiée et expliquée avec précision. Le français est fait pour le commerce des idées et la conversation. Il a « la probité de son génie ». Par son caractère rationnel, social, sa précision, le français n’est pas seulement national, il a une vocation cosmopolite et humaine. (280)

Il approfondira ses idées dans le Discours préliminaire et le Prospectus.

Il laisse après sa mort un opuscule inédit : Souveraineté du peuple.


Les idées philosophiques et politiques

Les idées philosophiques :

1. Le kantisme

Face à l’ancienne philosophie se dresse le criticisme.

2. L’éclectisme

Les milieux cosmopolites ont une sorte d’éclectisme

3. La pensée maistrienne

Joseph de Maistre veut l’union de la science et de la foi.

« … sous l’influence des occultistes, des illuminés, des théosophes de la fin du XVIIIe siècle, comme sous l’influence de philosophies plus constructives, le cosmopolitisme fait une place importante aux formes irrationnelles de la pensée, sans que les divergences cessent d’être profondes, d’un centre à l’autre, d’un homme à l’autre. » (609).

Les idées politiques

1. Diversité des idées politiques

En littérature deux groupes de cosmopolites se sont distincts : les pro et les anti. On se brouille quand à l’attitude à avoir face à la révolution : restauration ou non.

Portalis dans une lettre du 23 septembre 1799 : « Il ne s’agit pas uniquement de rétablir, il faut régénérer, il faut s’occuper des hommes encore plus que des choses et créer pour ainsi dire un nouveau peuple. » (610)

Montlosier : Vues sommaires sur les moyens de paix pour la France, pour l’Europe, pour les émigrés.

Dédéyan discusses primarily the opposition between monarchists and constituants.

Bertrand de Molleville dans ses Mémoires secrets témoigne de sa méfiance à l’égard des institutions anglaises : « les climats d’Angleterre et de France, les mœurs et le caractère des deux nations sont absolument opposés, et le bon sens indique que les lois doivent, pour être bonnes, s’adapter à ces nuances. » (611)

2. Les idées de Bonald

louis_de_bonaldRéfute Montesquieu et Rousseau en s’inspirant de Leibnitz. 1796 : Théorie du pouvoir.

Contre Montesquieu : C’est du mot constitution qu’il part et pour lui le mot constitution est « ce qui fait la substance d’un corps ». « L’homme ne peut donc pas plus donner une constitution à la société religieuse ou politique qu’il ne peut donner la pesanteur aux corps, ou l’étendue à la matière. » (612-13) Libre à Montesquieu de faire des inventaires et de voir les différences : c’est une conception « végétale ».

3. L’originalité de Mounier

jean-joseph_mounier1795 Adolphe ou principes élémentaires de politique et résultats de la plus cruelle des expériences : combat les fausses maximes du contrat social.

Distinction entre sauvages et civilisés, mais l’état de barbarie peut toujours revenir. (614-615).

Propriété individuelle est préconisé, mais les riches auront un devoir envers les pauvres.

Il limite la souveraineté du peuple dans son origine : « Lorsqu’on affirme que la souveraineté dans son origine émane du consentement du peuple, on exprime une vérité de la plus grande évidence, mais d’une manière qui la rend susceptible d’une fausse interprétation. Au lieu de parler du consentement du peuple, il serait plus exact de parler de celui des premiers facteurs du corps social. Ils ne pouvaient être qu’un petit nombre puisque sans avoir encore des chefs, ils étaient parvenus à s’entendre et à partager la même résolution. » (615)

La souveraineté ainsi limitée ne peut être maintenue que dans ces limites. Il y a des hommes qui sont en dehors du suffrage et il ne faut pas y faire accéder une « multitude aveugle ». De là vient l’idée du suffrage censitaire au XIXe siècle. (615)

L’égalité entre hommes n’existe pas, elle ne peut être entière et parfaite que pour les droits de sécurité et de sûreté.

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On Nussbaum, cosmopolitanism and patriotism (and nationalism)

Martha C. Nussbaum, professor at University of Chicago Law School, published in 1994 an article praising a “cosmopolitan stoic education” over a “national education” that started debates in the English speaking world about cosmopolitanism. The article is a reaction against Richard Rorty and Sheldon Hackney, and is therefore answering an internal Northern American debate. Published in 1994, it set the beginning of contemporary cosmopolitan theory. It opposes cosmopolitanism as an opening towards the world to patriotism as an inward and egoist feeling. Instead, it suggests stoicism as an inspiration in educating America citizens. Since the mid nineties cosmopolitan theory evolved, notably by moving away from stoic references to reason – as interpreted by the Enlightenment – to Habermas’ turn to communication. The reason for doing so is that reason is decided inside a particular discourse – making it a hegemonic discourse –, whereas communication is based on discussing inside the discourse from many other. Moreover, since then, the opposition between cosmopolitanism on the one side, and patriotism and nationalism on the other, has been criticised.

Nussbaum’s line of argument:

“I believe… that this emphasis on patriotic pride is both morally dangerous and, ultimately, subversive of some of the worthy goals patriotism sets out to serve — for example, the goal of national unity in devotion to worthy moral ideals of justice and equality. These goals, I shall argue, would be better served by an ideal that is in any case more adequate to our situation in the contemporary world, namely the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world.”

Some nationalists have engaged in a conversation about nationalism. A commitment to human rights for instance should be part of the education of citizens.

“But is it sufficient? As students here grow up, is it sufficient for them to learn that they are above all citizens of the United States, but that they ought to respect the basic human rights of citizens of India, Bolivia, Nigeria, and Norway? Or should they, as I think — in addition to giving special attention to the history and current situation of their own nation — learn a good deal more than is frequently the case about the rest of the world in which they live, about India and Bolivia and Nigeria and Norway and their histories, problems, and comparative successes?”

alexander_visits_diogenes_at_corinth_by_w_matthews_1914Diogenes cynic “citizen of the world,” defining oneself in more universal terms. Developed by Stoics: we have two communities, the local community of our birth, and the community of human argument and aspiration. One is born by accident in one nation. We should regard all humans as our fellow citizens and neighbours. Therefore we should not erect barriers between one another but recognise humanity everywhere.

Good civic education is education for world citizenship.

Stoics stress that one does not need to give up local identity, rather one should see our affiliations in terms of concentric circles: family, neighbours, countrymen, humanity. We should devote special attention to these close ties, the circle should revolve towards the centre. But we should not exclude the dialogue with the exterior, and devote attention and respect to others.

“I shall now return to the present day and offer four arguments for making world citizenship, rather than democratic/national citizenship, education’s central focus. (The first two are modern versions of my first two Stoic arguments; the third develops one part of my Stoic argument about intrinsic moral value; the fourth is more local, directed at the pro-patriotism arguments I am criticizing.)”:

1. “Through cosmopolitan education, we learn more about ourselves. One of the greatest barriers to rational deliberation in politics is the unexamined feeling that one’s own current preferences and ways are neutral and natural…. By looking at ourselves in the lens of the other, we come to see what in our practices is local and non-necessary, what more broadly or deeply shared.”

2. Our problems are global, such as pollution for instance. Dividing the world into nations is part of the problem in international cooperation.

3. “We recognize moral obligations to the rest of the world that are real, and that otherwise would go unrecognized.” à global justice.

“If we really do believe that all human beings are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, we are morally required to think about what that conception requires us to do with and for the rest of the world. Once again, that does not mean that one may not permissibly give one’s own sphere a special degree of concern.” One has more attention to one’s children.

4. “On the one hand Rorty and Hackney seem to argue well when they insist on the centrality to democratic deliberation of certain values that bind all citizens together. But why should these values, which instruct us to join hands across boundaries of ethnicity and class and gender and race, lose steam when they get to the borders of the nation? By conceding that a morally arbitrary boundary such as the boundary of the nation has a deep and formative role in our deliberations, we seem to be depriving ourselves of any principled way of arguing to citizens that they should in fact join hands across these other barriers.”

Some same groups exist both outside and inside: is a Chinese Chinese in China, and American the minute he crosses the US border?

The defence of national shared values should also transcend borders. Respect should be accorded to humanity and not end at the border to only US citizen.

Being a citizen of the world is a lonely business: like Diogenes, it is going against the comfort of patriotism.

“If one begins life as a child who loves and trusts its parents, it is tempting to want to reconstruct citizenship along the same lines, finding in an idealized image of a nation a surrogate parent who will do one’s thinking for one. Cosmopolitanism offers no such refuge; it offers only reason and the love of humanity, which may seem at times less colorful than other sources of belonging.”

tagore3Rabindranath Tagore is cited as an example with his novel The Home and the World, in which the hero declares: “I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.” Tagore created a cosmopolitan university in India to promote the ideals of the cosmopolitan community of Santiniketan against ethno-centric forces of Hindu nationalism.


First, what kind of stoicism is this? Whose stoicism? Isn’t it a certain period’s interpretation of stoicism? My argument is this: cosmopolitanism as we know it today is the product of nineteenth century nationalism. As such it is a “national-cosmopolitanism.” In this cosmopolitanism, it is opposed to patriotism and nationalism as the local. In this sense, the debate cosmopolitanism vs. patriotism and/or nationalism is a debate inside the paradigm of the nation-state. There is a need to formulate a debate beyond this paradigm, which necessitates a meticulous analysis of “Western” intellectual history, first, and, second, a wide communication with the rest of the world.

Second, and related to the first point, does cosmopolitanism need to be solely the philosophy of those who travel? And does it need to be the philosophy of values “transcending” “negative” ideas of patriotism and nationalism? Other authors – e.g. Kymlicka, Tan – argue that cosmopolitanism and nationalism are not so foreign because they both stem from liberalism.

In my master’s thesis I have shown that indeed during eighteenth century French political thought, the concepts of “patrie” and “nation” were formulated in cosmopolitan terms, from the discourse of natural law, and a questioning of the rational sovereign for free and equal humankind.

However, even if slightly dated, Nussbaum’s article has the merit to have started a whole range of debates and discussion on cosmopolitanism, questioning what it is, what its relation to nationalism is, and how to formulate a genuinely global cosmopolitanism that would not be set in a located discourse.

The debates between cosmopolitans and patriots appears to be the one produced by a forgotten history – a product of nineteenth century’s building of nationalism as rejecting everything foreign on the one side, on an eighteenth conception of the “cosmopolitan” as a perpetual globe-trotter. This is precisely why a history of cosmopolitanism in political thought is needed: to delineate clearly the battles between discourses or inside discourses, the Ursprung of concepts, objects and theories such as “nation,” “patrie,” and “cosmopolitan.” This is my research project.


Works cited:

Habermas, Jürgen (1979 [1976]) Communication and the Evolution of Society. Beacon Press.

(1984, 1987) The Theory of Communicative Action. 2 vols. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Cambridge: Polity.

Kymlicka, Will (2001) “From Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism to Liberal Nationalism.” In Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Citizenship, by Will Kymlicka, 203-221(19). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (1994) “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism.” Boston Review 19(5).

Rorty, Richard (1994) “The Unpatriotic Academy.” The New York Times, 13 February 1994.

Tagore, Rabindranath (2005 [1915]) The Home and the World. London: Penguin Classics.

Tan, Kok-Chor (2005) “The Demands of Justice and National Allegiances.” In The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism, edited by Gillian Brock and Harry Brighouse, 164-179. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Cosmopolitan Policy in the Interests of the U.S.A.

obamasupermanCandidate Obama signed an article in the well-known scholarly journal of international relations Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007, entitled “Common Security for our Common Humanity.” There are a few reasons why Obama can be called a cosmopolitan politician as well as his policy agenda a program for cosmopolitics. One thing that is immediately striking is that there is no reference to American security or the American people in the title of the next president of the United States of America’s foreign policy program. A second thought, is the recognition already in the title of post-modern critiques made to security studies and the way we build our perceptions of security: a country’s security is ultimately a matter of building a global security, and a country’s security is not defined in protecting a state’s interest but humans’. However, the basic spheres of action of the U.S.A. are definitely standard neo-realist ones when it comes to nuclear threats and terrorism.

America and the world: a common shared humanity ergo common shared security.

Obama’s vision of foreign policy is that we’re in it together: “America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, and the world cannot meet them without America.” There is a certain will to engage the USA to more multilateral actions, and especially not to withdraw into a certain form of protectionism and inward focused political energy. The ambition is to continue not only on propagating values of freedom and democracy, but also on being a beacon to the world for these values – the two traditional schools of thought for American foreign policy (Kissinger 1994, 18). However, after the Bush administration these two must be renewed. A direct critique to the Bush administration’s choice of policy in Iraq is made in falsely believing that there only existed a military option when other policies lead to greater security – mainly, as will be shown, improving the international institutions, and financial assistance to alleviate poverty, disease and construct solid democracies. Obama’s novelty is to apply both schools of thought together, and to add a new dimension, which is to create a certain cosmopolis based on the idea of common humanity:

“The mission of the United States is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity.”

Unilateral vs. Multilateral.

This vision of the U.S.A. in the world is led by the belief that it still is the most powerful state – according to neo-realist theory of power (military, economic, political) – and is still, and must be, the leader:

“The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. To see American power in terminal decline is to ignore America’s great promise and historic purpose in the world.”

Here there is nothing really new in the messianic dimension that the U.S.A. has itself in the world. Moreover, the U.S.A. will still act unilaterally in case “vital interests” are at stake:

“I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened.”

The whole question is thus how Obama defines these interests. Are these solely military or terrorist attacks? In other cases, Obama committed to a multilateralist approach:

“But when we do use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others…”

Obama cites Georges Bush’s action in Iraq as an example – not W. that is but H. W. – in 1991 when the coalition led by the United States had the “clear support and participation of others.”

Number One Priority: “Halting the spread of nuclear weapons.”

In which key sectors should then the U.S.A. act following these general guidelines? The first priority is nuclear proliferation and security from nuclear threats, especially terrorist acquisitions of nuclear devices. In order to do so, the U.S.A. must act in “active cooperation” with Russia, and principally in reaching a “consensus” on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This is very classical neo-realist international relations.

Number Two Priority: “Combating global terrorism.”

9/11 is still the reference in foreign policy. In order to do so it is the front in Afghanistan and Pakistan that must be reinforced with American troops redeployed. That means also that troops in Iraq are to be progressively withdrawn. The military budget will however be increased in order to face these challenges. However the way to tackle it is less unilateral than the preceding administrations. Not only does the U.S.A. need to build a global partnership, but Obama acknowledges the existence of a debate within Islam between fundamentalists and reformers, and wants to support reformers. Moreover, assessing previous failures, intelligence must be reinforced, and also must be strongly connected with other countries’ in a network and comprehensive strategy.

Number Three Priority: “Rebuilding our partnership.”

“To renew American leadership in the world, I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security.”

The novelty in American foreign policy is here: a greater commitment to building the institutions to create a world community bonded by common security threats.

NATO, comes first and is identified as the organization for common security. More troops must ensure collective security and more must be invested in this organization. However, nothing is said as to the notoriously American led government of the organization.

The United Nations nonetheless is identified as the organization in which the recognition of rising new powers in the world must be met with reforms:

“In addition, we need effective collaboration on pressing global issues among all the major powers — including such newly emerging ones as Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa.” “We need to give all of them a stake in upholding the international order. To that end, the United Nations requires far-reaching reform.”

Is this a reform of the Security Council? Nothing is clearly stated, but it is already a giant leap that the word reform is accepted as well as the recognition of emerging powers such as precisely the countries named to enter the Security Council with a seat: Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa,

As to climate change, it’s a sea-change. The much awaited commitment from the U.S.A. to reduce carbon emissions is clearly stated. No reference as to the Kyoto protocol and other international instruments to reduce pollution, though, but a clear statement to work with Europe and Asia. A note on national interest: engagement to put an end to dependence on foreign oil, but no prosaic explanation as to how: off-shore drilling or reducing the consumption?

Number four priority: “Building just, secure, democratic societies.”

“Finally, to renew American leadership in the world, I will strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity.”

“To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people.”

Restore America’s role as a beacon, one of the two pillars of traditional American Foreign Policy. “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”

Improve US foreign assistance funding, and couple with “insistent call for reform”.

“We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.

“As president, I will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed toward worthwhile goals. For the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance funding has done little more than keep pace with inflation. It is in our national security interest to do better.”

“There are compelling moral reasons and compelling security reasons for renewed American leadership that recognizes the inherent equality and worth of all people.”


The new generation of leaders is telling a new story, a kind of new telos or “grand narrative” (Lyotard 1984) which in fact is this cosmopolitan narrative of a common humanity:

“… it is time for a new generation to tell the next great American story. If we act with boldness and foresight, we will be able to tell our grandchildren that this was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East. This was the time we confronted climate change and secured the weapons that could destroy the human race. This was the time we defeated global terrorists and brought opportunity to forgotten corners of the world. And this was the time when we renewed the America that has led generations of weary travelers from all over the world to find opportunity and liberty and hope on our doorstep.”

The novelty in Obama’s foreign policy is perhaps less the content, although it is a drastic return to a prior Bush administration – and Clinton administration –, than the form. The role of the U.S.A. in the world, the leadership for democracy and freedom is not new, but a traditional role. The role of the U.S.A. as a beacon isn’t either. But Obama wants both, and he wants to be a global leader in building a strong partnership toward a common goal which is humankind. In order to achieve such a goal, the American people but also the people of the world must participate by understanding and agreeing to policies taken:

“This is our moment to renew the trust and faith of our people — and all people — in an America that battles immediate evils, promotes an ultimate good, and leads the world once more.”



Kissinger, Henry (1994) Diplomacy. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Lyotard, Jean-François (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, reprint 1997. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi.

Obama, Barack (2007) “Common Security for Our Common Humanity”, Foreign Affairs 86(4) July/August 2007.

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Obama and McCain: Barack the cosmopolitan and John the local

Many things oppose Obama and McCain. Of course, on the paper–on which their programme is printed that is–not much is separating them. On many issues they agree and especially in foreign policy one would be a fool to believe that Obama would be more multilateralist than McCain. The “America interest” will always prime. However, the devil is in the details of their style. I believe after all in this old French saying according to which “the form is the substance that goes back to the surface.” Their forms are very different.

John is 72, he made most of his career already in the second half of the twentieth century. I do not mean to diminish him, it is just a fact. As the coronation of a long life–and many lives–the job of supreme commander seems appropriate for a man with so many experiences. He surely knows what tough is. One thing he does not know, however, is what the future is and how to shape it. He only knows how to shape the present from past experiences.

Barack is young, way too young. I do not mean to diminish him, it is just a fact. He does not have any experience, even in politics. He does not know what tough is–certainly not the way John knows. One thing he does know however, is how to shape the future and precisely because of his lack of experiences that pushes him to be creative.

Because of this lack of experience, Barack felt he had to prove himself. He went abroad to make campaign–a unique event in the history of presidential campaigns. He gained a wide support and could come back home with the image of a national leader that the whole world regards as the next president because he showed he listened and understood the global responsability that the USA has to bear.

John made his campaign in America. Day after day he strode along the country, the countryside, from pancake houses to gas stations. He met this population of rural WASPs, his fellowmen, the white America. When Barack made his key speech in Berlin in front of a huge crowd, John chose derision: a little improvised dialogue with the few journalists gathered on the front porch of a German restaurant lost in the middle of nowhere USA.

Because John’s campaign is resolutely addressed to America, this America that thinks it is the only America. And when he chose Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, it was also to stick even more to this America of self-proclaimed “patriots”, of self-proclaimed “values”, “traditions”, which must still be defended against an frightful “outside” world, which is conveniently confused with “terrorism,” “winning the war in Iraq,” and “Bin Laden is still out there.”

Barack’s campaign is turned to a different America, a plural America which is a whole continent with immigrants from the so-called “minorities” who came to live a better life. An America, which is part of the world and sees issues but does not demonise or confuse its population between a war in Iraq started for the wrong reasons and the necessity to finish a poorly done job. An America that listens to the world in how to cope with “threats.” If his international credentials were not solid enough, he chose an older and experienced diplomatic figure in the person of Joe Biden.

Barack’s campaign is focusing on huge stadiums, crowds, the Internet. John’s is old fashioned with many local meetings, less stadiums, less big crowds, less journalist crews following him. His internet campaign site does not provide any tool for Internet campaigning. The old fashioned styled America is his focus group, which he reaches with his tour bus “Straight talk express.”

Photo by Howie Luvzus

Photo by Howie Luvzus

Of course John also has a campaign jet, but it is not the image he wants to give; whereas Barack does not hesitate to give pictures of him thoughtfully contemplating the sky from the window of his jet as if already flying Air Force One.

In the end, which America will massively go voting is the big question of this campaign. Is it this multiethnic America, or Joe the plumber? The suburban immigrants who identify with Obama, the son of a Kenyan farmer raised in Asia? Or the rural WASP who still thinks that America must finish the job in Iraq where Bin Laden is hidden because America does not loose any more war since Vietnam?

The issue of this campaign has a significant meaning for realist cosmopolitan politics. If Obama gets elected, it means that a cosmopolitan profile can gather sufficiently an electorate to elect such politicians. If McCain wins, it means on the contrary that there still is some work to be done for cosmopolitanism to get closer to this “local” so that there is not such a divide between this local cut from the rest of the world, so aloof that events and politics of this world do not concern them and tend to confuse them. In my sense it is the biggest challenge of any cosmopolitan politician to gather sufficiently a whole part of society stuck in the twentieth century and take it to the twenty-first without a clash–of generation that is.

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Schlereth: The Cosmopolitan Ideal in Enlightenment Thought

Schlereth, Thomas (1977) The Cosmopolitan Ideal in Enlightenment Thought: Its Form and Function in the Ideas of Franklin, Hume, and Voltaire, 1694-1790. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Thomas J. Schlereth studied how the cosmopolitan ideal had a “noticeable impact on Enlightenment intellectual life throughout the trans-Atlantic community”.[1] But Schlereth does not advance that cosmopolitanism was responsible for most of the movements of the eighteenth century. However, one can only but assume that, given the limit of his essay (based only on the works of Franklin, Hume, and Voltaire), he could not go further in affirming the impact of cosmopolitanism on a larger scale. (Schlereth 1977)

According to him, the concept of eighteenth century cosmopolitanism could be delimitated as possessing the following characteristics: “an attitude of mind that attempted to transcend chauvinistic national loyalties or parochial prejudices in its intellectual interests and pursuits”[2]; “… an aspiration of the elite intellectual class that Voltaire called the world’s petite [sic: petit] troupeau des philosophes[3]; “… more symbolic and theoretical than actual and practical”[4]; “… a psychological construct that prompted many philosophes to replace or to modify their attachment to their geographical region or sphere of activity with a more expansive, albeit abstract, attitude toward the whole world.”[5]

I think that starting a study with a definition of the subject to investigate is an analytic error to avoid. The term cosmopolitanism should not be delimitated in advance when looking at the Enlightenment period, because, otherwise, one runs the risk to look with present glasses on the past and interpret it anachronistically. But it has to be given to his credit that Schlereth writes that he tried to be critical of the cosmopolitanism he found in Voltaire, Hume and Franklin. And he evaluates where he found their account inconsistent, compromised or uncosmopolitan. Schlereth’s history, therefore, must be taken as a personal essay about intellectual history, a bit in the line of Todorov’s Nous et les autres.

“In the essay that follows, I argue that certain intellectual premises (for example, the Newtonian cosmology or the natural-rights philosophy), certain psychological dispositions (perhaps a self-conscious individualism or a strong cultural awareness), and certain historical realities (for instance, the development of world commerce or the exploration of the Western Hemisphere) combined in conditioning the Enlightenment philosophe in the direction of the cosmopolitan ideal. At the same time, the ideal also had since antiquity a historical life of its own which enabled the philosophe, who was aware of the classics and the intellectual climate of the eighteenth century, to confront social, economic, and political realities of that period in cosmopolitan terms.”[6]

Schlereth’s thesis of the blooming of cosmopolitanism is combining material and ideational elements, a certain discourse related to Newton and natural-right, social and economic structures with the development of world commerce and new explorations, and individual methodology with the idea of thinkers being responsible of changes.

Schlereth identifies the cosmopolites of the Enlightenment as the third generation of cosmopolites, the first being the Ancients (Greeks and Romans), and the second being the moderns of the Renaissance (Bacon, Locke, Newton, Bayle, and Leibnitz).[7] This third generation was influenced by the two first generations. “But the Enlightenment cosmopolites developed an even wider definition of the ideal and extended its appeal to a broader, although still elite, membership. Antiquity’s cosmopolites made their greatest contributions to the ideal in formulating its political and philosophical tenets; the Renaissance and early modern cosmopolites pursued its additional religious and social ramifications—especially when they confronted religious pluralism or became conscious of themselves as an emerging intellectual class. Enlightenment cosmopolites assimilated these earlier characteristics of the ideal while grappling with its further implications in science and economics. Employing this legacy of past expressions of cosmopolitanism as points of reference, inspiration, and departure, the Enlightenment philosophes formulated a distinctive mental attitude that can be viewed as one of the common denominators underlying the variety of eighteenth-century thought.”[8]

The sociology of an International class:

“The typical eighteenth-century philosophe aspired to be a cosmopolite, and in turn, the cosmopolite was, by the Enlightenment’s own presumptuous definition, pictured as a typical eighteenth-century philosophe.”[9]


The philosophes were all, to a certain degree, educated with classical Greek and Roman lettres. Schlereth suggests that the reason why they turned to the classics is that they were looking for non religious thinking about contemporary issues.

Paris as the capital of the Enlightenment and cosmopolitanism.

Many philosophes of the Enlighenment regarded Paris as the capital of cosmopolitanism and of Enlightenment.[10]

The diffusion of ideas:

Salons were the place where trans-class intellectual exchanges were possible.

Diners organised by aristocrats were the more virile equivalent of the salons organised mostly by erudite women.

Journals and publications were the means to diffuse the philosophes’ ideas. Nouvelles de la république des lettres was founded by Pierre Bayle in 1684, Nouvelles de la république des lettres et des arts was founded by Pahin de Champlain de la Blancherie, and Journal étranger, edited by Prévost, Fréron and Suard, had as its editorial policy to combine “the genius of each nation with those of all the others”.[11]


Philosophes were some kind of a “band of brothers”. They were extensively exchanging ideas between each others through correspondence. The ideal of the world citizen was realised by the unique class formed by the philosophes, or what the contemporary word “intellectual” could translate in our present discourse. They were neither from the nobility nor the bourgeoisie. They considered themselves as forming a class of their own.[12]

Economic and political theory of World order:

However, Hume and Voltaire considered the merchants to be cosmopolites.[13] The idea of a commercial society and economic interdependence is linked with the idea of a more civilized world and widening tolerance.

“The idealization of the cosmopolitan merchants can be traced to the middle-class origins of many philosophes. For while they appealed to economic principles and programs that they considered universal in scope, they did so quite naturally in terms of the specific interests of the social group that they considered to be the most progressive class of their time, that is, the emerging bourgeoisie or haute bourgeoisie from which so many of them originated.”[14]

Hume and Voltaire equated economic individualism with the development of political liberty. Probably, they are at the origin of the dogma in many international organisations and political thinking, that, in order to encourage democracy and political liberty in developing countries, neo-liberalist economics should be implemented. But they professed an absolute laissez-faire and laissez-passer, i.e. no only goods and capitals are free to travel, but also labour. Migration was seen as a right of Man.

“The notion of international commerce as a promoter of world civilization and peace became a consistent, if at times naïve, premise of Enlightenment cosmopolitan thought.”[15]

“The philosophes’ international outlook in economics influenced their attitude toward political theory, since they viewed both disciplines as interrelated branches of moral philosophy.”[16] The philosophes were not anti-national, but they had a clear idea of what constituted an appropriate and legitimate allegiance to one’s nation-state.

According to Schlereth, the majority of Enlightenment philosophes “made the usual Lockean distinction between society and government in that they considered society as a natural social unit and government as only a man-made social arrangement.” All political philosophies start with the individual.


Schlereth’s eighteenth-century cosmopolitanism is delineated as possessing the following characteristics: ‘an attitude of mind that attempted to transcend chauvinistic national loyalties or parochial prejudices in its intellectual interests and pursuits’ (1977, xi); ‘… an aspiration of the elite intellectual class that Voltaire called the world’s petite [sic: petit] troupeau des philosophes. This definition assumes and defines cosmopolitanism as elitist, beyond the national, and abstract. The problem is that the historian must then look for the national at a period when it did not yet exist, and oppose normatively a supposedly ‘abstract’ and ‘elitist’ cosmopolitanism to what seems to be a ‘concrete’ and ‘popular’ nationalism. What is wrong in this picture is that, not only did the ‘national’ not yet exist, but that, in eighteenth-century political thought, what is today identified as ‘national’ was just as abstract and elitist as cosmopolitanism is imagined to be. Not only that, it also referred to a unifying political community — beyond the local under the natural law conception of freedom and equality among men. This sounds almost identical to the very same working definition provided of cosmopolitanism. However, based on this contemporary conception of cosmopolitanism as opposed to nationalism, one must assume that the latter was different from the former. Why is that so? Moreover, important actors of the French revolution actually argued and acted in very cosmopolitan terms; and chiefly the 1789 Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen represents an important piece of practical cosmopolitics in recognising the freedom and equality of the whole humankind. This is far from a ‘more symbolic and theoretical than actual and practical’ conception.

Behind all this lies a need for a re-conceptualisation of the relationship between cosmopolitanism and nationalism, especially in regard to the French revolution. This method of ontological definition is problematic for both the historian and the philosopher. For the historian, there is a risk of applying an anachronistic vision of cosmopolitanism, based on a contemporary approach of what it is a vision biased by nationalism as argued supra and ignoring what it has been. For the philosopher, it is ruining future ontological constructions by reproducing again and again the same ‘knowledge’ of what cosmopolitanism is and has been.

A possible way out of this ontology/epistemology conundrum is to make a Foucaultian ‘history of the present’ by means of a genealogy of this battle between discourses.

[1] Schlereth, 1977: xi.

[2] Ibid.: xi.

[3] Ibid.: xii.

[4] Ibid.: xii.

[5] Ibid.: xiii.

[6] Ibid.: xiv.

[7] Ibid.: xxiv-xxv.

[8] Ibid.: xxv.

[9] Ibid.: 1.

[10] Ibid.: 6

[11] Ibid.: 15-16

[12] Ibid.: 13.

[13] Ibid.: 101.

[14] Ibid.: 102.

[15] Ibid.: 103.

[16] Ibidem.

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French cuisine and national identity

I read in this week’s French equivalent to Time magazine Le Point an interview of gourmet critique Christian Millau, creator of the famous restaurant guide of the best restaurants, that ‘French cuisine does not exist.’

Actually, it is a point of view I came up with long ago after a few thoughts based on my travels, on numerous requests from friends abroad that I cook ‘something French.’ Inevitably I would think about a regional dish to illustrate something ‘French’: a ‘tartiflette’ from Savoie, pancakes from Bretagne, ‘Boeuf bourguignon’ from Bourgogne, ‘ratatouille’ from Provence, and so on.

I have always been wondering about this paradox that the French revolution and the national unification that ensued under the name ‘jacobinism’ did not manage to create such sense of national identity in culinary creations. I guess all in all some tastes cannot be reconciled. Butter cuisine from Bretagne and Normandy in North-West France would never meet olive oil based dishes from the Mediterranean region. Perhaps, after all, regional cultures and identity managed to survive this jacobinism despite the republican discourse presenting ‘regional particularism’ as archaic expressions of separatism while national unity represented ‘modernity’–this old fear of ‘communautarism’ in the French discourse about identity–thanks to regional cuisine and the impossibility to develop a national one.

It is very interesting to think about identity questions in terms of culinary traditions, of taste and food. Some fusions are always possible and new creations endless from a vast variety of products. However, they always need a solid basis in traditional and regional products, unchanged. At some point nevertheless, this fusion encounters limits. Everyone is free to accommodate ‘traditional’ recipes or products with one another, endlessly and without rules. As long as it tastes good.

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Back in France: diversity and integration

I am back in France and have been staying for a month now. I left about 7-8 years ago and only came back a few days twice a year for season holidays to visit my parents. My contact with French politics was limited to following the news sporadically in the dailies, and I only kept ties with French culture by exploring eighteenth century literature and philosophy. I left partly because I felt ill-treated in France, partly because I felt I would not be able to achieve what I wanted to in a society I perceived as highly hierarchical, responding to authority, but yet constantly acting — in an immature way — against authority.

Coming back was a big shock. Things are even worse and more pronounced, I think than when I left. Or is it just because being in France I am also following the news through the radio and television? What I perceive is a society in crisis. Not only the recession and the economic crisis, which is now even worsened by the global financial crash, but also the whole society and its identity.

I read in the serious and trustworthy Le Monde about how the French police is perusing at a European conference about its solid techniques of repression and anti-riot tactics for the suburbs. The European neighbours applauded politely but off the records wondered about the necessity and efficiency of this kind of violence. Two days later a video was shown in the French media of policemen beating a young inhabitant of these suburbs who appears defenceless, and allegedly was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. A few days later, during a friendly football match between France and Tunisia, the French national anthem La Marseillaise was booed and whistled by supporters. Great demonstration of paternal protest ensued from the powers-that-be about these “imbeciles” who should “show respect to the national anthem and the players”; huge political tempest in a football glass.

The issue is that so many of these Frenchmen feel at odds with the French identity as displayed in mainstream media and by the authorities.

An excellent documentary “9-3 mémoire d’un territoire” (“9-3 memory of a territory”) investigates one of these “suburban area” that has so often been shown in the media as violence zone, one of these areas where two years ago rampage and riots occurred. The immigration from all the countries have accumulated there over a century. From the first Spanish and Italian workers brought to die in these poisonous and polluted death-factories established around Paris, to the North African and African ones brought to reconstruct France after World War II, parked in the sixties and seventies in the cheapest possible buildings, to the more recent Africans and inhabitants from former colonies lured into employment. Today this zone is disaffected by public authority, no school or any public infrastructure can be built on a polluted and poisonous ground, the youth is unemployed and rejected from the French education system, which only reproduce the same elite trained to pass special exams in the grandes écoles.

Rachida Dati by Benjamin Lemaire

Rachida Dati by Benjamin Lemaire

Rama Yade, by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Rama Yade, by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Le Monde was also presenting a series of investigations about integration in politics entitled “when a French Obama?”: in the French Parliament only 1MP out of 577 is black! 4 out of 343 senators are of Maghreb descent. 2000 out of 520,000 town-hall counsellors are representing diversity. In the government though, Rachida Dati, Rama Yade and Fadela Amara represent diversity. However, they seem to miss the point. Barack Obama is not a candidate for a minority. He is bot a black candidate to represent the African-American. In my view, he would not even be able to run for the presidency if he was. He is so successful because he has always held a speech about unity. He is a cosmopolitan candidate with multiple identities, in which everyone can recognise one’s own. This candidate was only possible in a country were, firstly, minorities could be recognise and gain access to higher education, social positions and political representations, and, secondly, multiethnicity and multiculturalism was so widespread that a new model of commonality and unity had to be imagined.

So is it really so hard to understand why some football supporters boo the Marseillaise? Is it really the appropriate response to display a paternalistic faked anger and indignation at the reality of a failed model of French integration? To show this withdrawal to nationalist symbols, which do not mean anything to anyone any more? These statesmen are hanging to symbols from the nineteenth century, as if our society was still living the glorious days of the coming industrial age, and necessitated a social cohesion based on a strong and rigorously monolithic national mass culture. On the other hand, people reject these symbols for this very same reason.

As if the “nation” ever meant a uni-dimensional view of culture. As if the Marseillaise was the anthem of a nationalistic and patriotic emotion that only the far-right and the conservatives had the courage to display publicly.

It seems to me that it is the whole French conception of the nation-state that needs to be dramatically re-investigated and thought anew. The nation is a common denominator for diversity, originally. In the early days of the French revolution it was the common concept to gather all free men as opposed to tyrants. By the same token, the patrie was this territory on which men were free and participating to public decisions. Seen this way, there is nothing “wrong” in being a nationalist or a patriot. It also allows a more open conception of society and identity. And after all it is only later that the concept of nation and patrie became “French”, or for that matter “British” or “German” etc: in the late eighteenth century in the history of ideas, and in the late nineteenth century for the deep roots in society.

This change of paradigm may sound aloof from realities. It is not. It matters because we enter progressively a change to a creative economy, in which growth is produced by the “creative industries”. And according to some social and economic theories, they can only thrive in towns and regions were tolerance, talent, and technology are encouraged. This means that a lot of money must be invested in the development of research and higher education, and that different education models than the one of the industrial age must be fostered. The goal is not to produce communicative elements in the society that must perform repetitive and des-individualised tasks such as writing “to whom it may concern” letters, but to produce individuals capable of functioning in opened and diverse societies, creative and talented, able to think for themselves rather than repeat what a rigid society needs them to repeat.

France is not on this path. Of course, some grandes écoles are breaching the taboo of “affirmative action” by recruiting young from these ethnically diverse suburbs. But it is a drop in the ocean. There are less PhD dissertations completed in France than in the UK and Germany. Worse, the rates are dropping while they are soaring in these countries. Budgets for research are not up to the levels they should be. France is not investing in the future. On top of this, elected officials are still functioning in the rhetoric of a Third Republic France with grandiose ideas of the French identity, values and symbols.

There is a need for a cosmopolitan state. This cosmopolitan state would reinterpret these national values and symbols, back to their pre-industrial liberal roots, in order to foster the creative economy. At the same time, there is a need to change the mentality that everyone should expect the state or public authorities to do everything. There is a need for more individualistic energy and initiatives. It is also the role of education to teach people not to wait for authority to regulate problems. This does not mean a minimalistic state, it means a responsible and mature population that does not just strike for any problem but efficiently communicate. It means a society based on more egalitarian principles. It means an education that values what people can accomplish according to their capacities. It means a society that respect human beings for what they can do and give the opportunity to accomplish their potential, instead of solely looking at what grande école one studied at and what hierarchical rank one occupies. Only a tolerant and flat based social model with an opened identity can flourish. This means that France must reinvent herself, and this path is best traced through re-investing in her revolutionary roots.

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Obama the first cosmopolitan politician

Will Obama be the first cosmopolitan elected official? Everything points to an affirmative answer — on both counts. Surely, he is the first ever to be so multicultural with a Kenyan father, a US citizen mother, born in Hawaii, raised in Jakarta. He is also the first to make campaign abroad, the first who understands that we live in a globalised but unequal world, where one country’s decisions affect millions of other lives in other countries. He is the first to address other audiences than the American one, and to proclaim solemnly being a ‘citizen of the world’.

Of course, America’s power is in decline. Its economy is in recession and triggered a financial crisis that is affecting the whole world, except countries too poor to be part of the financial market, but which will suffer more harshly than the riches nonetheless.Bush and his administration did much harm to one of America’s most fundamental pillar of foreign policy: being a beacon for democracy and liberty in the world. The jails of  Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are the most representative examples. Consequently, America’s ‘soft power’ — to take Joseph Nye’s expression — is in decline as well. Everything points to a decline of its military power also, not only because of financial constraints in the budget, but also because of severe limitations within the inside and the outside to America’s future involvements in military actions — at least unilateral ones.

On the other side, we can see growing forces that tend to signify the beginning of a new era in world politics, which experts are calling ‘a-polarity’. A-polarity because several countries or entities will be in a position of power, without having the possibility to impose its power. There will thus not be multipolarity — in which there is some stability — but a-polarity — where instability prevails. Russia and China — and to a lesser extent India — are developing worrying patterns of neo-nineteenth-century-nationalism. The sneaky planned intervention in Georgia and South Ossetia, and the relaxed nationalist diatribes to reinstall a great Russia by military means are worrying for a secure world order. Similarly and on the politics of symbolism and in political economy, China’s nationalist ambitions to restore a great China for the sole sake of nationalist pride is equally worrying.

Therefore, in these troubled times to come, knowing that a man shows so clear understanding of the need to co-operate, the need to take multilateral actions, the need to take into considerations other citizens in the world who will be affected by USA’s actions, is a hope that is not negligible. Never has the need for hope and change from the United States of America been so great. Never a man has gathered so vastly opinions in the world for a local election. Never have I, and everyone else in the world, expressed so much interest in a local election. Never a man has made it almost the first global democratic election. And this is because we, citizens of this world, need change. And all together — not the USA alone, not Europe alone, not anyone else in this world by themselves — all together, ‘yes, we can’, change the world for the better.

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Rousseau et le paradoxe d’une pensée cosmopolitique anti-cosmopolite

Dans la pensée de Rousseau, il y a un paradoxe sur lequel on se penche de plus en plus. Une certaine acrimonie face aux cosmopolites, alors que Rousseau exprime une pensée cosmopolitique en reprenant le grand projet de Saint-Pierre d’une paix universelle et perpétuelle. Projet raillé par un truculent Voltaire il est vrai, dans son Rescrit de l’Empereur de Chine, parce qu’il semble ne concerner que l’Europe. Ce paradoxe a été longtemps occulté par une lecture nationaliste de la pensée de Rousseau. En ce sens Rousseau apparaît comme le penseur de l’Etat-nation au sens contemporain du terme. Cependant, il faudrait apporter une lecture qui remettrait Rousseau dans le vocabulaire et la pensée de l’époque et arrêter cette vision d’un Rousseau précurseur du romantisme, anti-chambre du dix-neuvième siècle. Cette vision est celle d’une relecture de cette période, selon un vocabulaire différent. Mais revenons-en à ce paradoxe qui découle de cette relecture de Rousseau dans son époque.

En ce qui concerne l’acrimonie de Rousseau, je suis en train de travailler sur un article — histoire de me faire une publication — à ce sujet. Ma perception est qu’il faut séparer le concept du cosmopolite et celui de cosmopolitisme. Il y a une philosophie que l’on peut appeler « cosmopolitique » à l’époque, même si le mot « cosmopolitisme » n’apparaît que plus tard, fin 19e siècle. Et puis en parallèle, il y a des « cosmopolites », et un certain rejet de plus en plus général de ces « cosmopolites ». Ces cosmopolites sont des voyageurs. La raison pour laquelle j’avance cette affirmation est l’existence dans les dictionnaires de deux acceptations du terme, une grammaticale et une philosophique. C’est pour cela que je pense que le rejet de l’acceptation grammaticale du cosmopolite — le voyageur sans attaches fixes — conduit lentement à un rejet par sémantique du cosmopolite philosophique — perception stoïcienne politique.

Rousseau est, je pense un cosmopolite dans le sens philosophique du terme comme en témoignent beaucoup d’écrits, notamment sa révérence faite à une des grandes références en philosophie politique du siècle : l’abbé de Saint-Pierre et son projet de paix universelle et perpétuelle. Rousseau pense comme tant d’autres – on l’oublie trop souvent — qu’il faut œuvrer à la création d’une société commune de l’humanité. Cependant, il cherche à se démarquer des grands penseurs (qui sont à l’époque Grotius, Locke que l’on accepte et Hobbes que l’on rejette). Ainsi, il avance la thèse selon laquelle il faut d’abord construire des sociétés particulières avant la grande société des sociétés. Il avance aussi les hypothèses selon lesquelles une telle société doit être fondée sur l’amour des lois et de la « patrie », comme Montesquieu.

Le cosmopolite, au sens grammatical, devient l’anti-patriote, car comment peut-on savoir qu’il va aimer les lois et la patrie puisqu’il change de pays comme de chemise ? Ce cosmopolite là est aussi identifié avec les philosophes qui voyagent et promeuvent l’idée de l’existence d’une société naturelle que la société sociale doit respecter. Cette pensée est issue de la théorie du droit naturel, qui pose problème politiquement parlant : le souverain est Dieu qui a décidé des lois naturelles ; or comment politiquement transcrire un souverain métaphysique, et comment et qui peut décider de définir ces lois ? Face à ce discours métaphysique existe un discours physique, comme par exemple Holbach qui lui aussi s’insurge contre l’inexistence de toute société dite naturelle avant une société humaine :
“L’homme, fruit d’une Société contractée entre un mâle et une femelle de son espèce, fut toujours en Société” (La politique naturelle).

Rousseau est un penseur si important, à mon sens, parce qu’il apporte une réponse concrète au problème philosophique du souverain légitime. La réponse selon laquelle le souverain légitime serait le peuple ne va pas de soi, si l’on considère le paradigme philosophique selon lequel l’homme est né libre et égal en droit. En effet, un penseur méconnu de la révolution française, Anacharsis Cloots, souligne tout à fait cette contradiction : pourquoi tel peuple déciderait de fractionner le pouvoir politique ? Et où cette fraction peut-elle s’arrêter ? Pourquoi tel village ne déciderait-il pas de devenir souverain ? Des questions éminemment actuelles à l’heure des séparatismes nationalistes de toute sorte. Sa solution n’en est pas moins une source de nombreux autres problèmes : le souverain est le genre humain qui doit être réuni dans une république universelle.

Rousseau est aussi important pour la pensée cosmopolitique parce qu’il est celui qui, avant Kant et qui l’inspira, fait entrer le cosmopolitisme dans la pensée politique. Malheureusement, il fustige les « cosmopolites », associés aux philosophes, et je pense que c’est de là que vient notre lecture de Rousseau comme à « contre-temps » de son époque et déjà dans le dix-neuvième nationaliste. C’est une erreur. Je pense que Rousseau fustige simplement ces voyageurs qui sont apatrides par choix, parce qu’il pense que tout système politique pour être bien ordonné et pacifique doit reposer sur un ensemble de sociétés républicaines, qui ne peuvent être stable et fonctionner que si les citoyens sont respectueux des lois et du droit. La patrie dans le vocabulaire du dix-huitième siècle n’est pas celle du dix-neuvième que nous semblons toujours avoir aujourd’hui. La patrie est le lieu ou se rencontre les hommes libres et égaux en droit et le souverain. C’est ainsi qu’il n’y a pas de patrie selon l’Encyclopédie Diderot et d’Alembert là où il y a un tyran comme souverain. Un patriote est donc celui qui défend la liberté et l’égalité, les droits de l’homme, en opposition aux absolutistes monarchistes ou tyrans. C’est en ce sens que les guerres révolutionnaires ont éclaté, c’est en ce sens qu’il faut comprendre la « Marseillaise » comme chant de guerre aux tyrans et à l’oppression et non comme chant de guerre tout court. La nation est aussi définie comme peuple d’Hommes libres et égaux, détenant chacun et chacune une part de la souveraineté.

Rousseau est donc un penseur cosmopolitique mais anti cosmopolites dans le sens des apatrides par rejet à participer à tout projet politique. Comme penseur cosmopolitique il a apporté des solutions, mais ces solutions posent problèmes au projet cosmopolitique : le souverain populaire où s’arrête-t-il ? Qui décide du fractionnement de la souveraineté et comment ? Mais d’un autre côté, l’idée selon laquelle il n’existerait qu’un seul souverain, le genre humain, qu’avancent Cloots et aussi Robespierre pose encore plus de problèmes et n’est toujours pas résolu philosophiquement et bien sûr encore moins politiquement parlant.

Il faudrait d’abord réussir ce tour de force de concilier Rousseau et Cloots, avant de pouvoir imaginer des solutions politiques à l’instauration d’un projet cosmopolitique d’un monde ou tous les êtres humains pourraient vivre libres et égaux en droits, dans le respect de la dignité, et avec les mêmes chances à vivre une vie selon leurs capacités.

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Cosmopolite, cosmopolitain, cosmopolitisme: définitions et problèmes

Que faut-il comprendre aujourd’hui des mots cosmopolite, cosmopolitisme ? D’abord si l’on reprend ‘histoire de l’apparition de ces mots, il faut bien se rendre à l’évidence que notre conception actuelle est liée au paradigme dominant du nationalisme qui nous pousse à y voir une opposition entre cosmopolitisme et nationalisme. J’avance la thèse, en fait, que cela ne va pas de soi, et même plus, que le concept de cosmopolitisme a créé, avant même l’apparition du mot, le concept de nation (je dis bien nation et pas nationalisme). Il faut séparer les notions de nation et nationalisme, ainsi que cosmopolite et cosmopolitisme. En effet, si le mot cosmopolite apparaît à la fin du seizième siècle, celui de cosmopolitisme ne fait son apparition qu’à la fin du dix-neuvième, au moment ou le nationalisme prend son essor dans les sociétés européennes, selon Gellner.

Le mot cosmopolite apparaît en 1560 dans la langue française 1560 dans De la République des Turcs et, là où l’occasion s’offrera, des mœurs et des lois de tous muhamedistes, par Guillaume Postel, cosmopolite. Il s’agit alors d’expliquer une culture au roi de France ; Guillaume Postel étudie et explique la culture de ce pays pour mieux faire valoir que la compréhension de l’autre doit conduire à la paix universelle. C’est un usage du « cosmopolite » qui est en accord avec sa racine grecque, telle que développée par Socrate et Diogène de Synope, et à la suite des cyniques, les stoïciens romains. « Kosmos », l’univers et l’ordre, « polis », la cité ou se prennent les décisions publiques.

Antoine Watteau, "L'Embarkation de Cythère", 1717

Antoine Watteau,

Mais au dix-huitième siècle se développe une culture aristocratique et bourgeoise du voyage. Tout le monde se doit de faire son « tour d’Europe. » Pour une raison qui m’est inconnue encore, le mot cosmopolite se met à désigner ces gens à l’habitat non fixe. Trévoux dans son dictionnaire de 1721 définit à l’article « cosmopolitain, cosmopolitaine »:

« On dit quelquefois en badinant, pour signifier un homme qui n’a pas de demeure fixe, ou bien un homme qui nulle part n’est étranger. » Il ajoute par ailleurs que “On dit ordinairement cosmopolite; et comme on dit néapolitain et constantinopolitain, l’analogie demanderait qu’on dît cosmopolitain. »

Ainsi on est cosmopolitain comme on est napolitain ou romain, ou cosmopolite comme on serait troglodyte. Evidemment, l’Etat-nation moderne n’existait pas encore, la possibilité d’une création identitaire individuelle est encore possible, tout comme n’existent pas, les protections qu’entraîne la citoyenneté-nationalité. Au dix-huitième se développe donc le mot « cosmopolite » indépendamment du concept stoïcien et cynique. Il devient synonyme de ce que l’on désigne aujourd’hui par « transnational. » Par exemple dans Lemercier de la Rivière Ordre naturel et essentiel des libertés politiques (1762): « Ce décroissement sera d’autant plus prompt, que l’industrie est cosmopolite » (t. II, p. 518).

Ainsi, des auteurs, célèbres à l’époque, peuvent écrire des romans traitant de « cosmopolites » voyageurs au milieu du 18e siècle, mêlant le genre du journal de voyage à celui de roman et de critique sociale. Je pense à Fougeret de Monbron et son Le cosmopolite ou le citoyen du monde ou, pour l’Angleterre, Oliver Goldsmith et The Citizen of the World.

C’est vers la fin de ce siècle qu’apparaît une nouvelle expression formée sur le cosmopolite, le « cosmopolisme » avec L’Anglois à Paris. Le Cosmopolisme, publié à Londres… (1770) par V. D. Musset Pathay. Mais c’est surtout Louis-Sébastein Mercier, Victor Hugo du 18e siècle, qui en donne la définition dans Néologie, ou vocabulaire des mots nouveaux, a renouveler, ou pris dans des acceptions nouvelles, an IX (1801):

« Cosmopolisme. Il faut aimer un lieu; l’oiseau lui-même, qui a en partage le domaine des airs, affectionne tel creux d’arbre ou de rocher. Celui qui est atteint de cosmopolisme est privé des plus doux sentiments qui appartiennent au cœur de l’homme.
Qui croirait que l’on peut exercer à Paris le Cosmopolisme, encore mieux que dans le reste de l’univers ? »

Et une nouvelle expression encore, « Cosmopoliter. Parcourir l’univers ». Expression désuète, et c’est bien dommage car elle est bien mignonette : cosmopoliter, le cosmopolitage. Pourtant, dans l’esprit de la fin du siècle il s’agit d’une perte potentielle de repères et d’identité. On dirait presque une maladie dont souffriraient les globe-trotters, le « cosmopolisme ». On peut être « atteint de cosmopolisme » comme on est atteint de paludisme.

Ce que je pense, c’est qu’une certaine notion d’identité nationale a commencé à se former à la période de la révolution, fondée sur l’amour de la patrie et des lois. Certes, il ne s’agit pas de la « nation » telle que la formation de masse que connait la seconde moitié du 19e. Mais le concept de « nation » a lui aussi changé à ce moment, notamment du fait de la nécessité qu’imposait l’influence de la doctrine du droit naturel à trouver un souverain légitime, autre que le tyran, de plus en plus identifié en la personne du roi monarque absolu. Ce glissement ferait l’objet d’une autre étude, mais je pense qu’il est important et lié à la perception que l’on se fait alors du « cosmopolite ». En effet, la pensée politique cherche ce juste souverain, et la république devient un élément important face à la tyrannie. Or, comme le montre si bien Montesquieu, la république entraîne nécessairement le respect de valeurs et morales nécessaires à son bon fonctionnement démocratique. C’est ainsi qu’apparaissent les notions de patriotisme, de patriote, qui ne sont pas nécessairement opposés au cosmopolitisme, mais qui le deviennent au fur et à mesure que se développe la révolution et les ennemis, c’est-à-dire les tyrans et leurs alliés, qui viennent de l’extérieur. L’amour de la patrie et des lois sont les vertus cardinales pour Montesquieu et tous les philosophes du siècle pour que fonctionne une république. Il faut bien comprendre, cela dit en passant, que la patrie désigne l’espace ou le citoyen est libre et non pas le pays où l’on est né.
Evidemment, un cosmopolite changeant de patrie selon son bon vouloir apparaît immanquablement comme un élément perturbateur de cette république : quelle patrie aime-t-il/elle ? quelles lois ? Y en a-t-il seulement une ? C’est je pense, la raison pour laquelle Rousseau apparaît contradictoire dans ces écrits sur les cosmopolites. D’une part il loue ces « grandes âmes » cosmopolites qui se chargent de penser au respect des lois pour le bien commun de l’humanité (Discours sur l’origine et le fondement de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, 1754, Discours sur l’économie politique, 1755), d’autre part il fustige ces cosmopolites qui prétendent aimer tout le monde « pour avoir droit de n’aimer personne » et ne comprennent pas que l’on est d’abord homme en tant que citoyen dans une république avant de l’être dans la grande république de l’humanité (première version du Contrat social, 1887).

En résumé, je pense qu’il faut se méfier du concept qui nous est donné de « cosmopolitisme » et de son lien au « cosmopolite ». Les deux mots n’ont pas existé au même moment car le mot cosmopolitisme n’apparaît que dans la seconde moitié du 19e siècle, curieusement — et je ne pense pas que cela soit fortuit — au même moment que celui de nationalisme. L’acception selon laquelle le cosmopolite est un voyageur est aussi une conception moderne issue du siècle des Lumières. L’idée de cosmopolitisme, si l’on veut penser qu’il s’agit de la doctrine politique incluant toute l’humanité dans une même unité politique afin de favoriser la paix universelle, n’est pas très éloignée du concept de patrie et de nation qui se sont développé, du moins en France, sur ces mêmes prémisses issues du droit naturel. L’essentiel dans le cosmopolitisme est de maintenir l’esprit d’une fondamentale liberté individuelle sur tout, et la nécessaire cohabitation de cette liberté individuelle avec tous, y compris et surtout par rapport aux structures étatiques nationales — qui, je le pense, même si elles permettent le développement de cette liberté par une protection juridique, économique et sociale, sont aussi très structurantes dans l’imposition d’une identité supposée « nationale » sur l’individu. Il y a là, entre cette liberté individuelle fondamentale et cette structure d’organisation pacifique universelle, tout un champ immense d’exploration.

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Scandinavian literary weekend

This weekend was under the sign of cosmopolitan literature.

First of all, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio received the Nobel Prize in literature: ‘author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.’ This was the occasion for me to deepen my acquaintance with Le Clézio’s works. I started reading his first novel, Le Procès-Verbal, for which he obtained at the age of 23 the Renaudot Prize — a prestigious French literary prize, awarded by journalists and critiques.

In Paris, where I currently resides, is organised yearly a literary event called ‘Lire en fête’ or ‘Party for reading’. This was the occasion to attend to two events with a Danish and a Swedish writer, very different the one from the other.

Jan Sonnergård, born 1963, became famous in Denmark with the publication of a short novels collection entitled Radiator published in 1997, to which succeded Sidste Søndag i Oktober (last Sunday in October) in 2000, and Jeg er stadig bange for Caspar Michael Petersen (I am still afraid of Caspar Michael Petersen), 2003. The name ‘Radiator’ was chosen because one of his literature professor declared that it was not possible to imagine ever using this word in a novel. This trilogy describes three classes of people in their meaningless existence in Denmark during the nineties. The language is extremely provoking, as the title ‘Radiator’ was meant to be. The first short novel Jan read, from Radiator, is written in a language close to a techno beat, and was uttered just as fast by a reader wearing an agressive blue and red Spiderman shirt. A group of young underprivileged have decided it was ‘payback time’ as they are going to loot a discount supermarket of its best products, and walk a rampage tour in an aggressive and nihilist cynicism, attacking anyone on the way. Another one told the story of a middle-class couple, leaving the most hypocritical life in their knowledge of the wife’s affairs with other men. The last one, told the story of a young drug addict from the upper class. These short-novels represent for me exactly the Copenhagen I experienced during my years 2001-2006, as I read his short-novels at this time, and as I was experiencing a different kind of life in Copenhagen.

Jan read three short novels, cut with jazz music interpreted by a trio tenor sax, bass, guitar led by the Danish saxophonist Martin Jacobsen. They were soothing the harsh tone of Jan’s stories, perhaps to remind of the higher value, the ideal of perfection that humankind is also capable of aspiring to in its unquenchable thirst for eternity.

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, born 1978 in Sweden, is a writer of Tunisian descent who explores the relation of language and power, and questions identity through language-plays in his two novels. He was in Paris to present and talk about his last novel recently translated into French. French was for him a ‘family language’, to which he declares having a vocabulary related to those things. Still, he displayed a good command of the language and was able to introduce to the audience a very vivid understanding of his world views in the novel Montecore-En unik tiger (Montecore: a unique Tiger), which won the Swedish P O Enquist literary Prize in 2006. It is not possible to translate such a book, and especially in French, since French is part of the book in Swedish. In the French translation, Lucile Clauss and Max Stadler decided to imagine a different character than the Swedish one, more accessible to French readers, by transforming him into a Tunisian man whose use of French is transformed into a reverence to what is perceived as high culture, and hence using formal language.

It is possible to read an interesting Chat in Le Monde with Jonas, in which he explains his relation to language and identity.

I have thought a lot on identity, language, globalisation and cosmopolitanism this weekend, from a literary perspective. Every language is tightly related to a country, or a society more specifically, and at the same time, it is completely autonomous of it. Jan used today’s street language to describe in the same violent and aggressive way some of today’s capitalist conditions. The focus is very tight, and the limits set to today’s Copenhagen. How to translate such conditions and languages? In French the academy is still impregnating minds with an idea of extreme reverence to French. To the point that in such a way, French is a dead language. French writers are also respecting the language very much. Jonas is inventing expressions creating verbs from words, imagining a new language to stick to a character who is a writer born in Sweden, but from a Tunisian father speaking French, and of course globe trotter in the world where English is the new lingua franca.

Language seems to be the country for Le Clézio, in all his travels, and also for Jonas, who is extending the limits of language beyond the borders. Jan, in a different way, limits even more the language to fake internal limits, in order to better denounce them in a violent super-realism. Still, it is very difficult to find proper ways to communicate such new ways, since translations work inside the nationalist paradigm, and intend to interpret for a supposed “national” audience, pieces of work which are transnational, supranationa, or infranational. The solution would be the creation of a succesful literary theory to transcend these problems. A cosmopolitan literary theory?

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Thesis graded

My thesis has been graded and I received the best grade possible in the Danish system: 12. That makes it an A in the ECTS system. Plus an excellent assessment of my work by my supervisor and my ‘censor’. I am very happy and very proud. Still, it does not give me a relevant job in London.

Now I sincerely hope to be able to continue the research project in a PhD dissertation. The natural place that comes to my mind for such a multi-disciplinary and transcultural research project is the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

My MA thesis is an original contribution to answer an important contemporary question: ‘What is cosmopolitanism?’ It focuses on answering ‘how the discourse of cosmopolitanism entered Western political thought?’ The prefered area and time of study in the thesis is the French Enlightenment.

In my PdD research project I would like to expand the research to England and Scotland, and (what is now) Germany. I wish to investigate more the relation of natural law theory, and the metaphysics behind theories of human rights that are at play in cosmopolitanism. Another alternative would be to expand to nineteenth century political thought. In the best of all possible worlds I would do both, but I am afraid that some focus must be put in this study on either a diachronic or synchronic analysis.

I see the project as an important bridge between the history of ideas and political theory. I hope to be able to make a contribution to put forth some solutions to issues that globalisation entails, by clearing up this obscure concept we call cosmopolitanism.

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Looking for a job in London

Yes, it's me.

I am currently unable to find some time to post more on cosmopolitanism. I am dividing my time between my current part-time job, and my job search as I am moving to London on 1 October. I am also looking for an accommodation. As soon as my situation is stabilised, I shall be able to post again. For the moment being, all my energy is drained by this constant invisible competition that I face each time I am writing a new job application and re-tuning my CV. Tough to join the workforce.

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The state of the Iranian state

Ghostvillage in Kurdistan/Iran 2006

Ghostvillage in Kurdistan/Iran 2006

My Armenian Iranian friends tell me a lot about the state of the Iranian state — or the lack thereof. I was surprised to hear that there are no taxes in Iran, neither direct or indirect. Sounds like paradise for neo-liberals — besides the absence of liberal rights. And in return for the 0% tax rate, citizens are entitled to zero service. No social security, no social benefit, no retirement fund, no health care, nothing. All is dealt with a little hustling and help from the friends.

So where does the state gets its money from if not from tax revenues one may ask? Well, the state gets the money from state-owned companies in the industrial sector extracting oil, minerals — especially uranium — or in the primary sector. Basically the state does not care a monkey’s about the economy and how people are doing with business. What the government is interested in is what is in people’s minds and how to control it. The economy is left entirely to the private sector.

Before 1979, the situation was not so bad for Armenians and other minorities. It is only since the revolution that the new authority installed a one way type of thought and educated the people into believing in these types of dichotomies: faithful/unfaithful Muslim/non-Muslim, friend/enemy, us/them. Of course the average Joe (or in that case the average Hossein) just follows the movement and gets full of hatred without understanding much why. It is a shame I am told, since Iranians are naturally very hospitable and polite people. Not anymore since the 1979 revolution. Only educated and intelligent people are able to distance themselves from the social pressure imposed. Of course they all fly from the country as soon as possible, unfortunately. There is thus an amazing brain-drain from the country. In the long run, it will only be a piece of land inhabited by uneducated peasants, led by self-‘educated’ theologian fanatics.

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Master’s thesis submited

Today I submitted my master’s thesis; three copies by snail mail — I had to choose airmail for the shortest possible delay. I guess that makes it the less environmental-friendly thesis of all. Now I am crossing my fingers for the best mark, so that I can proudly send it as a writing sample to Ph.D. applications. It was a difficult moment to let it go. The past month I just spent my time re-reading and re-reading, re-editing and re-editing my thesis in order to make sure everything was just perfect. Of course, Microsoft Office was there to screw perfection up. I had to correct plenty of small details, compatibility issues, and sloppy automated functions. After printing I still noticed a little mistake. It’s nothing really but enough to annoy the hell out of me, because it is a mistake done by a software that is clearly not as perfectionist as I am. Of course it is my own fault that I chose Ms Word to write my thesis with. I should have known better. At the beginning of the writing process I considered giving LaTeX a try, but then I figured that it would take too long to learn how to properly use it. Now, I have plenty of time, and I am definitely investing this time into digging all sorts of productivity softwares: LyX, LaTeX, BibTeX, time management tools, Linux OS, wiki, blog, web 2.0, etc.

Letting it go was a painful moment. Now I have a huge void in my daily routine. I don’t have the pleasure to sit at my computer and work on this piece of intellectual achievement. My only wish now is that this coming year passes as swiftly as possible and that I get accepted for a Ph.D. at a great university (my two best choices right now are Cambridge and the European University Institute) to continue this thesis into a dissertation. My primary concern now is to build up a convincing and competitive CV for my Ph.D. application. It is a little bit frightening because I don’t really know what truly matters for Ph.D. and grants applications. I have to get a good job in London for one year, possibly related to research for experience. I wonder if I should send some parts of my thesis as article to peer-reviewed journals. If anyone has any words of advice to give me, they will be very much appreciated.

Posted in MA thesis, NICTs for academics | 7 Comments

Link to RSF’s advice for foreign journalists covering human rights situation during Beijing Games

\'La censure.\'

Georges Lafosse: 'La censure.'

So it seems that the next Olympic games will be a tremendous communication-information-sign-warfare. In this communication battle that history showed totalitarian regimes always win — although they do not win the war — democratic countries are most probably going to lose. Simple: most of the Western wishful-thinking amateur human rights organisations are more interested in protesting for the sake of good conscience than to actually change the situation in China and improve their lives; anyway they are powerless in this respect and all they can do is to prevent from giving the Chinese authorities any levy to control their communication about the ‘imperial West’ and boost Chinese nationalistic pride by showing e.g. images of extremists desperately trying to jump on a woman in a wheelchair to turn off the Olympic torch. On the other end, governments have decided to participate and be present, and they are very unlikely to make any action that would have a communication impact directed towards the people, which could breach the carefully planned Chinese communication. The Chinese authorities can easily cut any uncomfortable speech, as long as they have images of world leaders assisting the ceremony to show to the Chinese masses. What would be difficult to censor would be any visible sign that world leaders would wear, a bit like a big T-shirt or something protesting against human rights abuses. But this is unlikely to happen. The battle for communication with the Chinese people is lost in advance, but at least ‘we’ should have the right to know and not be the victims of censorship of ‘our’ journalists in China.

Here is a link to advices for journalists in Beijing for bypassing Chinese control of information and possible censorship to ‘our’ right of information:


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Ulrich Beck: A New Cosmopolitanism is in the Air

Here is a link to an article by German sociologist Ulrich Beck published in November 2007, which is a translation of the original into English:


It is quite summing up the arguments developed in his three last books on cosmopolitanism — Power in the Global Age: A New Political Economy (2002/2006); Cosmopolitan Vision (2004/2006); ; Cosmopolitan Europe (2007) — from a sociological perspective — i.e. replacing ‘methodological nationalism’ with ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’ in order to study the ‘cosmopolitanisation’ of societies and the global relations of power at stake. This theoretical approach is based on the meta-theory of ‘reflexive modernisation’ or ‘second modernisation’ in which we live in, developed in Risk society and extended in World Risk Society: On the Search for Lost Security (1999): we have moved from industrial society and nation-states thought in the paradigm of modern rationality, to a service-based society and undefined political entities in a paradigm of reflexiv identities, socially constructed.

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Todorov: La conquête de l’Amérique, La question de l’autre

La conquête de l'Amérique

Todorov: La conquête de l'Amérique

Todorov, Tzvetan. La conquête de l’Amérique : la question de l’autre. Paris: Seuil, 1982.

In this book, Tzvetan Todorov, renowned Franco-Bulgarian writer and director of research at the Centre National de Recherches (CNRS) in Paris, investigates the Spanish conquest of Central America (the Caribbean and Mexico) during the sixteenth century. His research topic is the perception of the ‘Indians’ by the Spaniards. What Todorov wants to investigate is ‘how to behave towards the other?’ The Spanish conquest, which is responsible of the death of 40-70 million people, is a good example of behaviour in front of otherness, since 1492 marks the date ‘our’ medieval minds enter modernity through the discovery of a new world. How did Europeans behave towards people who may have seemed to be from a different planet? Todorov sketches different types of behaviour, based on historical actors of the conquest.

Todorov sums up his study of various historical writings with his own ‘Typologies of relationships with others’, which constitutes an axis of research of the different levels on which behaviours towards otherness is based:
1. Axiologic plan: value judgement (good/bad, love/hate).
2. Praxeologic plan: closeness or foreignness (identification/ignorance, assimilation/rejection)
3. Epistemic plan: acknowledgement or indifference.

On these levels, Todorov studied the following historical figures:

Cristobal Colon

Cristobal Colón

Colombus: no identification, no knowledge, negative attitude. Christopher Colombus was primarily moved by his fanatic religious faith. He did not want to discover a new route to the Indies for his own glory, for gold, nor for the Queen of Spain. What motivated him was the celebration of God’s glory. Indians were just as the lands newly discovered, a blank sheet ready to be written upon by the Spaniards for their own benefit. He painted an idyllic portrait of the Indians upon his arrival, based on his own fantasies more than reality: beautiful people in the inside on the outside, good-hearted and kind, generous and indifferent to money, but cowards and fragile — easy to conquer. He wants Indians to be like him, and in that he is a naive assimilationist. His project is to Christianise the Indians, and in that he sees things the way he pleases by observing that the Indians already bare Christian characteristics. In doing so, Colombus becomes a pro-slaver and from the principle of Christian equality he unconsciously considers Indians to be inferior in order to be exploited materially and colonised spiritually. The propagation of faith and the submission to slavery are two sides of the same coin for Colombus. Even outside this project, Indians are considered as innate objects for his own ‘ethnological’ studies: he denies them to possess individual will. For Todorov thus, ‘Colombus discovered America, not the Americans’ (p. 54).

Bartolome de las Casas

Bartolome de las Casas

Las Casas: no knowledge, love for ‘Indians.’ Las Casas was touched by the massacres committed towards the ‘Indians’ and decided to attempt at protecting them. He did not however developed a great knowledge of them nor did he learn their language. He even attempted to justify the human sacrifices they were committing through arguing about ‘natural reason’ and that it is their way to adore God, by giving the greatest sacrifice of all: human life. According to Las Casas, thus there is a universal love of God, but all religious expressions of this love are culturally specific, and as such relative. As a consequence, Christianity is not the only nor the best way to God. Barbarism is a relative notion as well. One is always a barbarian to others, and vice versa as long as one does not recognise the language being spoken. Whereas for some the Christian principle of the equality of men ensues the assimilation of ‘Indians’ because they are similar to us, Las Casas deduces the perspectivism of it. Las Casas’ political solution to the ‘Indians’ is to maintain previous states with their Kings and governors, with catholic preaches but without the military, and if the Kings express this wish, to establish a sort of federation presided by the King of Spain. They must be given their original freedom back and be reinstated in their sovereignty.

Vasco de Quiroga

Vasco de Quiroga

Vasco de Quirioga: no knowledge of ‘Indians’ and no identification, but a positive attitude. For him, Spaniards are a declining culture, whereas Indians constitute a rising civilisation in history. However, they are not perfect and must be worked upon. Instead of asking kings, Vasco de Quirioga acts directly upon Indians, and is inspired in this by Thomas Moore’s Utopia. He organised two utopian villages around Mexico.  He is an assimilationist.

Gonzalo Guerrero

Gonzalo Guerrero

Gonzalo Guerrero: After a shipwreck, he was the one of the survivors who reached the Mexican shores in 1511. He was taken by the Indians and sold as a slave. He learned the language and managed to acquire a high social status by teaching war, and winning quite a few of them. He married a woman from the nobility and painted himself in the manner of the Indians, let his hair grow and pierced his ears. Having established his life with the Indians, he transformed himself into a complete identification. He even fought against the Spaniards during which battle he lost his life.


Hernán Cortés

Cortés: great knowledge, negative attitude. Cortés wants primarily to understand, and in that he differs from other conquistadores in that he has a historical and political consciousness of his actions. In that, his first difficulty is to find an interpreter. During one conquest, a woman is given to the Spaniards, named Malintzin — the frequent name given being La Malinche. Her talent for languages places her as interpreter to Cortés, and also her lover from whom he will have a kid, one of the first mixed child. He will use all the information gathered to his advantage in conquering the Indians. He will have a deep understanding of the Indians’ use of signs and exploit them to his advantage in order to inspire fear and appear as a hero. The Indians would even ask Cortés to act on their favour to fight their own enemies. Cortés’ principal preoccupation is what the Indians will interpret from his actions and speeches. The message he wants to give is strategically planned — it is an information warfare, one could say. He wants to control all details of communication, and even regarding the image of his army. Indian tells confirms the success of Cortés’ communication warfare: the Aztec King, Moctezuma, believed that Cortés was the return of Quetzalcoatl to take his empire. This communication warfare will extend beyond Cortés in the imposition by the Spaniards of Nahuatl as the official Mexican language at first, and then the Hispanic of the country through the study of local languages, and the teaching of Spanish. The first Grammar book of a European language would be produce at that time: Spanish grammar by Antonio de Nebrija who wrote in his introduction: ‘… siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio…’

La Malinche

La Malinche

La Malinche: complete identification with the Spaniards and assimilation to their culture. Worked as a translator to Cortés and a bridge between the two cultures. As such she acquired a high status in the Indian collective mind. She exemplifies mixture, melting rather than purity. She studies Spanish culture in order to also better understand her own — even if it is to destroy it. She became essential to Cortés’ business, and also acquired a particular place in Indians’ myths, which is testified by all the cartoons drawn of her in a central place in between Indians and Spaniards.

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca

Cabeza de Vaca: This conquistador was forced to live with the Indians after a shipwreck. In order to survive he practised two professions: trade, and shaman or doctor. In doing so he imitates the local healers, and adds some catholic prayers. He adopts their trades, customs, clothing, but never forgets his identity. As soon as he found his way, he took the first ship back to Spain, and ‘civilisation.’ He helds the Indians with great esteem and does not want to do them harm. The evangelisation must be conducted without violence. He acquires a precise knowledge of their way of life, in order to act upon them for their conversion, and also to pass this knowledge to other conquistadors who will use it to sumbit them. His identification is thus deep but without implication. He wrote Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan a great historical monument on Mayas’ past, but he also decided the autodafe of all Mayan books. There is however no contradiction as he was an assimilationist in Yucatan and burned books, and wrote this historical book in Spain as a scholar in order to defend himself of his acts in a court of law.

Durán Codex

Durán Codex

Durán: Also known as the ‘Durán Codex,’ The History of the Indies of New Spain was published c. 1581. Durán also wrote Book of the Gods and Rites (1574-1576), and Ancient Calendar, (c. 1579). He gathered a great and deep knowledge of the Indians for the purpose of imposing Catholic religion and erase all traces of pagan rites. ‘Know thy enemy’ seems to be his motto. In this quest he is radical in the elimination of all idolatry: confession of the dreams, prevention of religious syncretism, destruction of all related monuments. All ancient customs must disappear. However, Durán tries to explain the Mexican realities to the Europeans through analogies and comparisons. Some Mexican religious customs are compared to the Christian ones. In Durán’s mind this comparison serves to argue that the Indians are indeed Christians. The Aztec are thus a lost tribe of Israel. So this religious syncretism that he tries so hard to eradicate, he practices it with his gaze upon the Indians. He shares the Indian way of life in order to understand them, he understands both cultures, and as such, his work is enlightening. Throughout his books he clearly separates the Aztec point of view from his own, but at some point he is losing this separation and claims the point of view of the historian telling the tale of heroes and the glory of Mexico. In other words, he loses these two identities (Spanish and Aztec) and creates the very first new Mexican identity. With La Malinche he is one of the first Mexicans.



Sahagun: Franciscan ‘linguist’, not part of the aristocracy or high ranked religious — who dispised having to lower themselves to learning Indian culture and language, so he learned the language — Nahuatl — and learned to live together with the ‘indians.’ He was professor of Latin grammar in the Franciscan college of Tlatelolco dedicated to forming the Mexican elite from the former nobility. In order to propagate better Christianism he projected to write the history of the ancient Mexican religion. His Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España would occupy him for forty years. However, his project was also dedicated to develop knowledge of and preserve the Nahuatl culture. In order to do so, he chose to report faithfully the testimonies he collected with a translation, instead of replacing them by it.This translation constitutes more an interpretation
from the original text. His interventions in the text are not only rare, but clearly separated from the rest. They are characterised by an intention to avoid moral judgements and attempt to explain from other known civilisations such as Ancient Rome. Obviously, however, the knowledge is organised in a European way through answers to a European-made questionnaire. Sahagun saw the terrible consequences of the replacement of the Aztec civilisation by the Spaniards. He dreamt of the creation of an ideal state that would be Mexican and Christian — a city of God.

From Historia General de las cosas de Nueva España

Todorov categorises Sahagun in his ‘typology of relationships to otherness’ as a believer of the Christian doctrine of equality between men. However, even if he learns the language and the culture of the ‘Indians,’ he maintains his identity, and even idealise the ‘Indians.’ What is interesting in his work for Todorov, is the massive knowledge that he accumulated without perpetrating any qualitative judgement. His work can be qualified as ‘ethnography’ as he is just collecting information without interpretation, and making only a timid comparison with Ancient Rome, but without being comparative. For him, cultures cannot be hybrid nor should they be; cultures stay in their own rights untouched. Nonetheless, Todorov sees there the embryo to any future dialogue between civilisations that we today experience.

Todorov’s book is highly recommandable for an introduction to reflexion on our behaviour towards other people in early modernity. In our world of reflexiv modernity, these have changed very much. The question of identity is not fixed but flexible, the question of hybridisation is not an impossible thought but a daily reality. This is the heart of all problems for cosmopolitan theory: how to form universal standards if all standards are by definition locally situated? Even if one is fluent in two or three or more cultures, it cannot possibly encompass all of them to grasp some commonality or acceptable form of universality for all. The debate is currently set on human rights as the smallest common denominator, but even they are Western-based. Of course, human rights are a good thing, but they mean a Western imposition nonetheless, even if for the greater good.’ Are ‘we’ ready to accept other forms of imposition on ‘our’ mentality if they are potentially ‘good’ for humankind? After all, one should reflect upon the fact that in all our exchanges with ‘foreigners’ we are acting in a historical manner, even if playing a tiny part as a tourist.

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Armenian Iranian refugees in Vienna

In Vienna I have been living in a student hall of residence for two years. Not all rooms are rented to students. Some are also rented to Iranian refugees of Armenian decent — the most important Christian minority in Iran. The manager of the house is Armenian himself. But apparently there is no philanthropy there, these refugees even have to pay a higher price than we do. They are a non-Muslim minority in Iran, they speak Armenian, and it is for them incredibly difficult to live there because of social and economical discriminations, not to mention the very strict Shi’a-Muslim way of life that they must follow. They all go to the USA, and have been doing so for decades now, with the blessing of the Iranian authorities of course.

Until now I have been caught up in my studies and my work and have not gotten time to exchange much with any of them. I have seen them coming and going, some rather swiftly, others waiting longer. However I am on holidays now and all the students are gone, being replaced by tourists. I am living in one room only with a couple of other floor mates, and two rooms occupied by four Armenians, two girls and two guys. They are very kind and open people and as we are often in the kitchen together we are talking, although their English is not always too good yet (but mine is not that perfect either). We form a little community by our immediate proximity and common use of the kitchen. I began to think then in terms of international relations, and wondered about the application of different frames of thinking. The kitchen is then the geopolitical zone of interaction, we have a common interest in keeping it clean and functional for the benefit of all. It is also the place where we exchange by using it: communicating, cooking, observing each others.

I am thus learning something about a group of peoples I did not even know existed. I am interrogating them a lot about Iran, life conditions there, the refugee process etc. I hope they do not see me as a policeman of some kind. Armenian Iranians mostly live in Tehran. But then again most Iranians do: 15 million people inhabit this over-polluted city! Forget everything about Beijing. The smog of pollution is so dense there you need to decrease your speed by half when you are walking and use a GPS.  I find it very worrying this automatic granting of asylum to them. Of course it is much better for them, they are off to a country that will allow them to reach their capabilities fully, and where they will not suffer from discriminations and be imposed certain restricting rules in their daily life. But the country is also slowly emptying itself of this age-old minority. It is a kind of asylum ethnic cleansing. Dreadful. And there is no hope for change. Even if the Muslim youth is despising the regime and aspire to more liberal rules and relaxed social , they too are quitting the sinking boat to live a more fulfilling life abroad. So only people without resource, members of the establishment, or sympathetic elite stay in the country.

One of the guys I am discussing with the most, Arbi (who with his shaved head looks like Agassi, another American of Armenian Iranian descent), tells me that they all go to the USA rather than Europe because they already have a community and relatives there, and that they can. It is really a slow massive population displacement in a way — a community is being displaced from one location to another. I cannot help but think about the sadness of this process. Obviously it is a great gesture on the part of the USA to accept all these refugees.

They all go to California, mainly because of the weather and the already established community. They have nothing to do here in Vienna all day but to wait for the process to be processed. At some point they are simply bored — no money, no job, all the sightseeing done, nothing left to do. Apparently the process takes about two years, and I am told that the real difficulties first arrive in the USA as they have to run for about a month from one bureaucracy to the other to get all their papers and permits in order. Arbi, has a degree in bio-chemistry that he will have to pass again. But he says it does not matter, nothing of all the troubles he is going through by moving to a new country, filling tons of applications, red tapes, passing the same exams again, nothing is worse than the troubles they suffer by staying in Iran.

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Idea for a wiki project site on cosmopolitanism

Andrew Weldon

Illustration: Andrew Weldon

I am fairly new to the blogosphere, and I found a cool blog for academics, especially in the humanities, advising on the latest NICTs for educational purpose–academhack, which is listed in my blog links on the right navigation bar. There’s a post about some interesting research tools. Among them, a link to “the state of wikis in education” an interview of Stewart Mader who wrote two books and is dedicating this same blog to the use of wiki in education.

This way of teaching and interacting with students and researchers seems very promising. I have decided to build one of these for cosmopolitanism instead of just this blog, since it truly allows for interactivity and exchange. I have first to build a network and if I get a job as teaching assistant or something similar I will definitely put something together. I imagine that people could have separate projects to work on, assignments on themes, post some links, add to some articles and researches, etc. First, I have to learn about wikis.

This is an exciting way to approach knowledge and research. Organising a web site also allows me to think in terms of structures and framework to place how all the elements of research fit and connect to each other. I think that such a web site is much more appropriate to the teaching of knowledge, and in particular with such interconnected discourses as in the history of ideas. Why was I not taught with the use of these tools at university? Definitely worth developing and researching.

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Obama in Berlin: ich bin ein Weltbürger?

Senator Barack Obama was Thursday 24 July 2008 in Berlin where he delivered his much anticipated speech in front of a massive crowd. Of course the reference to “ich bin ein Berliner” was obvious and too easy to mention. He opened his speech toning down expectations, stating he was there as a simple US citizen, and a “citizen of the world.” Rhetorically he is leaving it up to the media coverage to make the link: “ich bin ein Weltbürger.”

To my knowledge, this must be one of the very first time a politician declares so openly a cosmopolitan ideal to be his. There is certainly much to celebrate for a cosmopolitan in this speech, but I would like to present a few remarks as to the alleged cosmopolitan nature of his commitment.

Barack Obama is strongly emphasising history. His narrative is mixing his own individual history with History, and the former influences the latter. For the first time, a politician takes it as a positive and self-promoting way to underline a transnational and transcontinental heritage: European, African, and North American. However, his own individual narrative is American, and hence his historical narrative is also emphasising an American view of the world. Obama thus retold Berlin’s past in the cold war. “People of the world – look at Berlin!” he asks. In fact, he asks them to look at how the USA has helped and fought the 20th century enemy – communism. For the 21st century the enemy is terrorism, and then other foes such as undemocratic regimes, nuclear threats, and global environmental challenges. For these reasons Europe and America must pass their differences and work together because “… the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.” Only through partnership and cooperation between Americans and Europeans is it possible “to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.”

I cannot but be enthusiastic about such a speech. Clearly a cosmopolitan agenda is on the making. However, I recall Dunn’s words about the role of intellectual history in politics: “Where the history of political theory remains of decisive significance … is in the clarification and assessment of political goals and in the appraisal of political action.” Since I am studying cosmopolitanism as a political doctrine, both epistemologically and ontologically, I feel compelled to a few remarks to America’s potential next president.

Perhaps it was just Lacanian to connect in the same sentence the idea of “common security” and “common humanity.” Whose humanity is that anyway? Clearly it is a Western security connected to a Western conception of “our humanity.” We know since Anderson’s book on nation, that these are imagined communities. As Robbins states it “worlds too are ‘imagined.'” Or as Pollock et al. argues, there are many versions of cosmopolitanism, many cosmopolitanisms and not just one. This means that when we reflect upon our common humanity we do so necessarily in our own rooted local discourse. For Obama, it is the American discourse, and more widely the Western discourse.

In the Western discourse of cosmopolitanism, the vision of a common humanity sharing a common world emerged as a dominant discourse during the Enlightenment. Inherited from the humanist reactions against the atrocities committed in the name of religion against the “Indians” in America and between protestants and catholics in Europe, enlightened philosophes started to state political and moral theories based on a vision of a common humankind. Doing so, they opened the possibility to place oneself as a subject speaking for humankind. This was rhetorically done through the concept of universal reason. Since reason is what defines humankind, one using reason is necessarily speaking for humankind. Thus, laws of morality could be induced from using reason and observing man: moral and political “sciences” were born.

Obviously the danger of this modern positivist account of cosmopolitanism is the absence of consideration that by speaking for humankind on the behalf of humankind, one is in fact speaking for the humankind one would like to see, and from one’s own local perception of it. Of course, fighting terrorism, promoting human rights, and cooperating to fight global warming are policies everyone should endorse because they are for the benefit of humankind. What I want to underline is that “we” (“Westerners”) should do so by understanding that “others” have a saying and should be included in discussing how and why to do so. Otherwise, it is pure imperialism or universalism, and not cosmopolitanism.

Of course I feel enthusiastic to be included as a potential political force of the 21st century: “It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world.” However, I would like to warn presidential candidate Obama and “our generation” about making “our mark on the world”: we must learn to include others, listen and engage dialogues with the world, because “worlds too are imagined.” It is during the eighteenth century that the expression “citizen of the word” became fashionable; until some abused the word to pretend to philosophical truths and objectivity they did not possibly mean; until the French revolution attempted to export real kosmopolitik to Europe by claiming to fight for human rights; until the word “cosmopolitan” became associated with a uniform imperialism.

Works cited:

Anderson, Benedict.  Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991 rev. ed. [1983] .

Dunn, John. “The History of Political Theory.” In The History of Political Theory and Other Essays, by John Dunn, 11-38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Pollock, Sheldon, Homi K. Bhabha, Carol A. Breckenridge, and Dipesh Chakrabarty. “Cosmopolitanisms.” In Cosmopolitanism, edited by Carol A. Breckenridge, Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha and Dipesh Chakrabarty, 1-14. Durham, NC & London: A Millennial Quartet Book, 2002.

Robbins, Bruce. “Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism.” In Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, edited by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, 1-19. Minneapolis, MN & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

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Foucault and the academe

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Personally I do not understand at all where most of the people who write about Foucault or use Foucault in their studies (particularly in the fields of sociology and philosophy) get their interpretation of Foucault from.

When I started to get interested in Foucault I had an odd reflex of getting my hand on secondary literature introducing Foucault to the dilettante that I wish I had not. The reason I did so was that I heard so much about how difficult his ideas were and how difficult he was to read. Actually the difficulty had perhaps more to do with the fact that I heard this in the Anglo-American literature, which has a tradition for concise prose and clearly structured books. Not only did I waste vastly my time trying to understand what they meant, but I also almost got a completely spoiled understanding of his work. Luckily, I decided to try to read him on my own. Looking back I realise that most of what people write about Foucault or using Foucault is really a lot of nonsense. I do not claim to be the only one who understands Foucault on this planet, but it seems to me that there is a big hype about his work, which is totally unjustified. I read Foucault in French, and I guess that it probably helps to understand better, since one is less conditioned by conventional political literature written in English (this concise and structured thing).

I think that the best way to introduce Foucault to students is to dedramatise the Foucault hype completely. One has to convince them that Foucault is not a difficult author, mysterious and impenetrable to the infidel. One must have a punk attitude and dare to confront one’s mind to any other one’s. However, it does take a while to read him, and one must be patient with his writing. But it does pay off in the end if one has taken careful notes on the readings of The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Discourse.

A great companion to read alongside Foucault is Using Foucault’s Methods by Gavin Kendal and Gary M. Wickham. The first two chapters at least can be very useful, especially the passages explaining the differences between archaeology and genealogy and the idea about “suspending second order judgements” in applying the method.

However, there is absolutely no better way to understand Foucault, and particularly his archaeological method (from which the rest is based on, especially genealogy, which merely adds power as an element of explanation), than applying his method concretely to the analysis of a discourse in history. I am strongly sceptical towards any other applications of Foucault’s “tools” to other fields than the history of ideas.

In order to do so, the students should first read the methods as described in The Archaeology of Knowledge, The Order of Discourse, and the short text “What is an Author?”. Bullet points, and definitions of Foucault’s key concepts are very important. Then attempting to apply them to historical “facts” or “monuments” is the most effective way to actually understand what Foucault meant by “discours”, “fonction énonciative”, “objet”, “concept”, “stratégie”, etc.

I would really love to teach Foucault my own way, since nobody taught me Foucault. I truly believe also that it is in Foucault’s spirit of approaching any research, like Kant’s enlightened vision of a lamp in the dark, to approach Foucault completely without judgements, with the brain as blank as an empty sheet of paper.

Posted in Foucault, Method in the history of ideas | 2 Comments

MA thesis abstract

I have now finished writing my thesis, which only needs a very last light-editing touch. As a teaser, I publish here the abstract:

Cosmopolitanism is not a well-known entity in political theory. Therefore, a history of this political doctrine is needed. However, such epistemological enquiry faces an ontological conundrum. Not only is it difficult to identify cosmopolitanism, but doing so might prove to be an ‘uncosmopolitan thing to do.’ This thesis employs a contextualist archaeology — marrying Foucault with the ‘Cambridge school’ — in order to conciliate an epistemological approach with a fairly ontologically neutral status. Cosmopolitanism is thus envisaged as a located discourse in the West, problematising the local and the general, and squeezed in between (inter)nationalism and universalism. How did cosmopolitanism enter political thought alongside these two other doctrines? To contemporary cosmopolitanism, eighteenth-century French political thought constitutes a ‘return’ to the humanist foundations on which our modern political vocabulary got formed. Its study reveals that a hitherto-considered nationalist vocabulary — the nation, the patrie — was indeed formulated in cosmopolitan terms. It also reveals that the conception of humanity structured communautarian contractualist theories despite the universality of human rights. This thesis shows the common archive of these three discourses around a rediscovered and yet unanswered question in political thought: the proper sovereign authority to govern ‘universally free and equal’ humankind.

Everyone is very welcome to provide a feedback regarding the quality of the abstract in itself and/or the content.

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I have a deadline to keep. I should be finished by the end of the month, i.e. Monday 30 June 2008. All I have left to do is some final round of editing, cutting 47,000 words to 35,000, proofreading, and printing three copies. But I still have my part-time job that is draining half of my energy out everyday.


Apparently the office is closed during June and July, so I will submit in August. When I am done with all that, I will have more time to post on my research themes and areas of interest on this blog.

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Encouraging words

I received on 9 June some very encouraging words from my academic supervisor,  who commented on the draft of my MA thesis I sent him, congratulating me for my “nice piece of work”, and also stating that he was “impressed by the standard of scholarship.”

My efforts are now all directed towards reducing my draft from 50,000 words to the required limit of 35,000 set by the University of Copenhagen regulations on MA theses. I am learning about editing the hard way, but I guess the only way.

I hope to be able to recycle the “rushes” in a future PhD dissertation, and that this experience will help me to write more focused on a first draft in order to limit such subsequently painful editing work overload.

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Setting up a new blog on my research activities

"Research" by Olin Warner, 1896

"Research" by Olin Warner, 1896

I have decided to set up a new weblog in order to publicise my research activities and personal research themes and projects. I hope to create a network of interest around my activities, make myself known, and get acquainted with other academic research activities on the same field or topic. This blog is also egoistically intended for personal use as a track keeper of my achievements or procrastinations.

I am currently giving the last hand on my Master’s thesis entitled ‘Element of an Archaeology of Cosmopolitanism in Western Political Thought’. I am waiting for some final comments from my academic supervisor. My MA thesis is combining Foucault’s archaeological “tool” of research with the ‘Cambridge school’ of contextualist history. I felt that the two branches of method in the history of ideas–roughly sketched as the Americans on the one side with e.g. Lovejoy and Strauss, and the ‘Cambridge school’ on the other, with e.g. Skinner, Dunn and Pocock–had weaknesses and strengths that Foucault could overcome and combine respectively.

The general topic of the thesis is cosmopolitanism as a political theory, primarily in Western political thought. It is as much a work of ontology–philosophy–as it is a work of epistemology–history. Since cosmopolitanism is not exactly a very well defined ontology, it is difficult to make its history. On the other had, it is difficult to make its ontology since we do not have a clear history. In my view, Foucault’s archaeology was a good tool to ‘deconstruct’ the doctrine into ‘unit ideas’, as a discourse composed of ‘objects’, ‘concepts’, ‘strategies’ and all glued together by ‘énoncés’ (or ‘announcements’). In this sense, it is providing the strength of Lovejoy’s and the US school of method in giving a constant to work with through time. However, one must take into account the critiques that the ‘Cambridge school’ provided to such an endeavour; i.e. the risk to run an anachronistic account on ‘perennial issues’ mainly set in contemporary terms. Foucault’s archaeology integrates such account for the context in which the objects, concepts, and strategies evolved inside a discourse, while the announcements are maintaining its stability through time for a historical analysis.

The research is then made easier. Instead of attempting to provide a definition of what cosmopolitanism is–and by that risking to compromise the ontology of cosmopolitanism–the thesis defines the contemporary discourse of Western cosmopolitanism. It then describes the archive of this discourse, choosing to focus on our early modern political vocabulary. I chose the Enlightenment period for the great influence it has on our poltical thought, and particularly France because of the influence it had in Europe.

My ambition is to pursue a PhD on this project where I would expand my theoretical method into something even more idiosyncratic and original, and also expand the research area to either include the nineteenth century or include other countries such as England and Germany, or both.

My final goal is to be able to publish a book in the next ten years on the history of modern Western cosmopolitanism. In the later run I would like to edit a more general opus on the complete history of cosmopolitanism since the Greek antiquity. There are very few historiographies on this political doctrine.

Posted in Cosmopolitanism, MA thesis, Method in the history of ideas, Research projects, Research themes | 2 Comments