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Walking corpses: Arendt on the limits and the possibilities of cosmopolitan politics

posted on 2023-06-07, 17:41 authored by Patricia Owens
The goal of this short chapter is to briefly set out and analyse Hannah Arendt's writing on the limits and possibilities of cosmopolitan politics. Apparently incompatible readings of Arendt are above all a product of her own deep ambivalence toward all forms of political universalism and an abiding fear of the dangers of imperial expansion when the problem of political founding, its relativity and historical contingency, is circumvented, as it is in much contemporary cosmopolitan thought. In a preface to her first major book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt argued that 'human dignity needs a new guarantee which can be found only in a new political principle, in a new law on earth, whose validity this time must comprehend the whole of humanity while its power must remain strictly limited, rooted in and controlled by newly defined territorial entities'. In later work she began to articulate a vision for post-national politics and forms of political founding that are potentially world-wide in scope; namely a democratic-republican model of interlinked polities. It is not 'cosmopolitan nationalism' that best captures Arendt's position (c.f. Sznaider, 2007), but cosmopolitan humanity in diversity. This cosmopolitan politics, if that is what we may call it, is anti-universalist and is without naivety regarding the propensity of all 'isms', including cosmopolitanism, to generate its own violence. She was well aware that the shrinkage of the globe had occurred to such an extent that 'each man is as much an inhabitant of the earth as he is an inhabitant of his country'. But Arendt also believed that the reality of this new order, the historical-sociological conditions that make possible the resurgence of cosmopolitan political thought, 'is far from being the consolation or recompense for all past history as Kant hoped it to be'.


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International Relations Theory and Philosophy: Interpretive Dialogues



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  • International Relations Publications

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C Moore, C Farrands

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