Book Review - Institutional Cosmopolitanism

By Tim Woeffen - 09 November 2018
Book Review - Institutional Cosmopolitanism

Institutional Cosmopolitanism edited by Luis Cabrera. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 304 pp., £47.99 hardcover 978-0190905651, £45.59 Kindle edition


Institutional Cosmopolitanism is an insightful and illuminating compilation by Luis Cabrera and eleven other contributors. The definition of ‘institutional cosmopolitanism’ for the purpose of the book is very wide and includes assessments on different levels: the first part ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Sovereign State’ includes statist cosmopolitan approaches that remain sympathetic to state sovereignty, provided that states internalize cosmopolitan principles to be ‘cosmopolitan states’. The second part on ‘Global Governance’ focuses on international organizations, including different criteria for the assessments and reforms needed to bring organizations in line with cosmopolitan principles. The third part on ‘Cosmopolitan Institutions’ encompass investigations on a municipal government (Medellín), a supranational organization (European Union), and a defense of the World State, and a new understanding of planetary Earth as a demarcated political space.


Inst CosmoFirst Part: Cosmopolitanism and the Sovereign State

In the first part, three authors present rather optimistic views on the potential of the sovereign state: Leif Wenar’s contribution ‘Popular Resource Sovereignty’ is a reminder that the promise of popular sovereignty is still unfulfilled in many parts of the world: in particular, in the ‘resource-cursed’ countries, rich elites often rule with a steep divide between them and ordinary citizens. Projects for more global institutional integration seem premature as long as a popular sovereignty is not more stringently realized on the nation state level. The following two contributions both rest on the idea of an ‘internalization of cosmopolitan principles into states’. In ‘Reflections on Institutional Cosmopolitanism: State Responsibility in a Globalized Age’, Richard Beardsworth holds that a world faced with urgent existential threats, should not prioritize global institutional reform by decrying national interest. Rather, one should politically align national interests – in every nation’s own self-interest – with the interests of humanity to achieve cosmopolitan outcomes. In ‘The Responsible Cosmopolitan State’, Richard Shapcott similarly holds that cosmopolitanism requires a constitutional transformation of nation states that must include the interests of outsiders to a certain extent, in particular with a universally observed ‘cosmopolitan harm principle’.


Second part: Global Governance Institutions: Cosmopolitan Assessments and Reform


Simon Caney, in his contribution ‘Global Governance: Procedures, Outcomes, and Justice’ introduces criteria to assess institutions. A major distinction, which also reappears in various other contributions in the volume, is between a procedural perspective of input legitimacy and an instrumental perspective, judging institutions based on their outcomes. However, instead of contrasting the two ideals as being irreconcilable, he shows the flexibility and indeterminacy of both ideals so that one must not be faced with an ‘either/or’ choice but can rather aim for both fair and practicable approximations of both ideals. Caney, with his clear language, is able to provide a bird’s eye view relevant to many of the positions held in the book.


The editor Luis Cabrera’s contribution ‘Reform, Resist, Create: Institutional Cosmopolitanism and Duties Toward Suprastate Institutions’ picks up the theme of ‘individual cosmopolitanism’ that he also developed in The Practice of Global Citizenship (2010). Individuals, in Cabrera’s view, are called upon to judge the legitimacy of global governance institutions on whether they advance a schedule of individual human rights. Institutions that work towards those ends call for the support of cosmopolitans, and suprastate institutions that are unfavorable for the realization of individual rights call for continued critique and civil resistance. In addition, cosmopolitans also have a duty to support the reform of old and the creation of new institutions, such as in the form of the campaign for a U.N. Parliamentary Assembly.  Zooming in on individuals to internalize cosmopolitanism on the smallest scale is profound: ‘What does it mean for individuals to be a cosmopolitan politically?’. And, as Cabrera shows, it does not only mean to call for the fulfillment of human rights, but may also entail individual political obligations towards institutions. As this position adds meaning to the role of individuals and individual agency, Cabrera’s approach fits into the Enlightenment-tradition of self-emancipation and individual autonomy. ‘Individual cosmopolitanism’ may prove to be just as powerful an idea for cosmopolitan institutions as the idea of nationality was to the creation of nation states. It also bears certain parallels to the 1997 "Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities" that encouraged people to embrace responsibilities and to uphold a ‘global ethic’ favorable to the realization of human rights.


Mathias Koenig-Archibugi’s contribution titled ‘International Organizations and Democracy: An Assessment’ chooses ‘democracy’ as the end-point to assess institutions as the ‘rule of the people’. When assessing institutions, cosmopolitans should ask themselves ‘How are the people defined therein?’ and ‘Do the people actually rule?’ More detailed criteria are provided in a very helpful matrix both for the demos-category (composition, performance), the input category (elections, participation, deliberation), as well as the outcome category (types, range). It gives cosmopolitan democrats the tools to dissect different institutions. Exemplary investigations of the IMF, the WTO and other IOs round up this impressive article.


Third Part: Cosmopolitan Institutions, from City to World State


As cities are both drivers and miniatures of the globalized world, it is very fitting to include a case study of a municipal administration. In ‘Global Justice at the Municipal Scale: The Case of Medellín, Colombia’ Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz describe the transformation of Medellín and how cities can internalize cosmopolitan principles to fight inequality. Medellín, a valley city with 2 million inhabitants, was once known as the most dangerous city of the planet. Several measures transformed it, especially the once marginalized neighborhoods in the surrounding mountainsides. Of core importance, according to the authors, are not only the infrastructure investments to increase connectivity, but especially the active and egalitarian participation of communities, the reclaiming of public spaces, and a reform of administrative institutions to enable open feedback between the periphery and the center.


In Philippe Van Parijs’s article ‘Demos-cracy for the European Union: Why and How’, the author explains how he favors a more demos-centered advance of the EU (e.g. with the European Parliament), as opposed to the more fragmented ‘demoi’-centered way (e.g. by increasing the role of national parliaments). He inter alia discusses the Swiss ‘magic formula’ as a practical example to enable the EU to take more action without risking representativeness. This nicely fits into the point made in Caney’s article on practicable approximation of ideals. Very interestingly, Van Parijs also addresses a central question of the use of language in multilingual communities and institutions, a problem which he has addressed in more detail in his treatise Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World (2011).


With Catherine Lu’s ‘Cosmopolitan Justice, Democracy, and the World State’, there is finally an author in the collection who clearly and unapologetically expresses a classic cosmopolitan position towards ‘institutional cosmopolitanism’ that must ultimately entail a form of world state with a world government. Daniel H. Deudney in his contribution ’All Together Now: Geography, the Three Cosmopolitanisms, and Planetary Earth’ also advances such an integrative position. He distinguishes three ‘cosmopolitan waves’ with the Stoics, the Enlightenment, and the modern wave of ‘hyphenated cosmopolitanism’. He recognizes the centrality of a defined locality, and sees ‘Planetary Earth’ as this new place and identifier of human political locality. He also visualizes this political process in form of a graph which is very informative.


Concluding remarks


The wide perspective of this volume enables readers to position themselves in more differentiated ways on the legitimacy of existing institutions on various levels, to recognize responsibilities of cosmopolitan agency, and to identify a variety of reform proposals and actionable ideas. Moreover, Luis Cabrera and the other contributors have again proven how a combination of theoretical analysis combined with detailed empirical investigations ‘on the ground’ lead to exciting new insights. Luis Cabrera, together with James Thompson, is also co-convener of the ‘World Government Research Network (WGRN)’, where numerous top scholars and practitioners alike present views in the ‘World Order Forum’. His next work, ‘The Humble Cosmopolitan’ will address the topic of diversity and cosmopolitanism, a field so central to the current wave of cosmopolitanism.




Tim Woeffen is PhD Student at the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT).

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