Cosmopolitanism in a World Without Borders

By Ian Howarth

The UN Charter is the central document of international law, its basic principles are that states should be ‘good citizens of international society; recognise that states have equal rights…and legitimate interests which deserve respect even if they may conflict with the interests of your own state; act in good faith; observe international law; punish aggressors; observe the laws of war; [and] be magnanimous in victory…’  (Booth & Smith 1995: 116)  The lack of moral prescriptions on the legitimate actions of states within their own borders means that gross violations of human rights conducted within states do not violate international law.  Political cosmopolitanism argues that these violations should be deemed illegal by international law, with international structures responsible for their enforcement.un_gen_assembly

The view taken in this essay is best described as cosmopolitan utilitarian realism.  This is based on the principles of moral cosmopolitanism with a utilitarian attitude to the costs of action or inaction in the current international system.  There is no argument for a world government, or United Nations Army both of which are unrealistic and undesirable.  The argument is based on moral principles enshrined within a reformed United Nations, that are enforced through the Security Council by nations who themselves embody these principles.  The view is realist due to its recognition of the state system, and the primacy of the state as the sole actor capable of enforcing, and upholding cosmopolitan values.


Cosmopolitanism is not a single coherent doctrine addressing the injustices of the current systems of global governance; it can be divided into two branches the first moral cosmopolitanism and the second political cosmopolitanism.  Despite the substantive differences between each approach, they share three central principles.  That all human beings have a common moral identity, that there are universal standards of normative judgment derived from this common morality, and that a cosmopolitan political order needs to be established to enforce and protect these principles.

Moral cosmopolitanism is concerned with the first two principles, common human morality, and universal normative judgments made on the basis of this morality.  Moral cosmopolitans largely accept the current state system and attempt to import moral cosmopolitan certainties in to this existing order.  The acceptance of the overall structure of the state system is not in question here; the argument facing moral prescriptive war is by what standards states should be held accountable.  Currently the standards are based on bi-lateral relations and strategic interests that maintain state borders as representing a separation between international and domestic politics.

A World without Borders:

Political cosmopolitanism places the rights of the individual above the rights of the state, whereas international law places rights in the hands of states.  In order to bring about a cosmopolitan political order it is therefore necessary for this current dispensation to be reversed or at least significantly re-distributed.  However, practically states are not about to relinquish their monopoly on legitimacy in international relations; besides the state is the only and best guarantor of human rights and democracy.  This is not always the case.  In many parts of the world states abuse or neglect their role as guarantors of individual rights, or have disintegrated so no central sovereignty is in control of the state apparatus.

The validity of borders in the modern world is questioned by Robert Kaplan in his book ‘The Coming Anarchy’ where he points to state structures in West Africa.  Arguing that ‘Disease, over-population, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations [are causing] the increasing erosion of nation states and international borders.’  (Kaplan 2000: 7)  The reality of the political structure of West Africa as in many other parts of the world, like South East Asia, and the Caucasus’s, is far removed from the confident defined depictions of states found on maps.  The neo-realist approach taken by Kaplan argues for the American domination of international institutions to bring order to the international system.  He sees the world’s problems being remedied by strong government and free market economics, with the failures of the later lying in the lack of stable strong governments.  Kaplan does not question the nature of government, believing that its purpose is to secure its territory and provide a stable environment for economic activity.

The need for the reform of institutions like the UN is not disputed here, but the nature of the reform is.  The argument here is for placing moral cosmopolitan norms at the centre of international law, with particular emphasis on human rights, and does not accept the pretence that globalisation alone can bring about an end to international terrorism, disease and poverty.  Cosmopolitanism argues that solutions to these problems are as much political as economic, and that the preservation of individual rights should come before economic considerations.

Kaplan’s argues for American economic hegemony.  However, the current structure of the international political economy is unjust, creating many of the problems that Kaplan highlights.  Poverty and corruption in West Africa is as much the result of unfair trading practices, through the exploitation of the developing world by the developed west.  Johan Galtung argues in ‘A Structural Theory of Imperialism’ (1971), that developed, and developing world elites (centres) share common interests in their economic relationships, while the relative poor (periphery) of each society share few common interests.  This prevents the common distillation of global opposition from this majority against the injustices of elite relations.  ‘It is a sophisticated type of dominance relation which cuts across nations, basing itself on a bridgehead which the centre in the Centre nation establishes in the centre of the periphery nation, for the joint benefit of both.’  (Galtung, 1971: 81)  This neo-Marxist argument highlights the effects of first world economic practices on political stability in the developing world.  They undermine the bedrock on which stable political institutions can be built, which, as Kaplan admits, is the creation of a middle class, a process inhibited by these practices.

The issue of economics and political stability are bound together in a ruthless cycle.  World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on intellectual property and agriculture, disproportionately favour the developed west.  Regional policies like the European Unions (EU) common agricultural policy (CAP) provide vast subsidies for farmers to grow more food than is needed, which floods international markets and drives prices down.  If one thing could be done economically to readdress the problems facing the developing world, that contribute to the ‘anarchy’ that Kaplan points to, it is the removal of these unfair trade subsidies, and the establishment of genuine free trade in agricultural goods.  It is only in these areas of economic activity that the largely pre-industrial economies of the developing world can achieve significant growth, to the benefit of western taxpayers, and the wealth of the developing world.

Kaplan’s postmodernist view that the international system, with its reliance on operating entirely through state vs. state relations, is not capable of adapting to the ‘coming anarchy’ is convincing.  Kaplan’s portrayal of a disintegrating third world causing mass population movements across borders, and fuelling the development of Victorian like urban zones on the coastal edges of war torn and disease infested interiors, highlights the scope and urgency of the problems facing the developing world.  His judgment that they will only breed greater resentment towards the developed world, creating new opportunities for radical doctrines, and terrorist groups, is also credible in the light of the war on terror.  It is the economic prescription he provides as a solution, which fails to understand the role of western economic policies in creating instability in the developing world that is less so.

The solution to Kaplan’s anarchy were ‘a minority of the population will be, as Francis Fukuyama would put it, sufficiently sheltered so as to enter a “post-historical” realm, living in cities and suburbs in which the environment has been mastered and ethnic animosities have been quelled by bourgeois prosperity, [while] an increasingly large number of people will be stuck in history, living in shanty towns where attempts to rise above poverty, cultural dysfunction, and ethnic strife will be doomed by lack of water to drink, soil to till and space to survive in.’ (Kaplan 2000: 22) Is the establishment of a new system of state relations that goes beyond the realms of state interests and economics, and recognises our common intrinsic humanity.

This recognition of our common humanity would require Kantian principles on human rights to be established in the actions of statesmen, and the recognition of the cosmopolitan argument that statesmen are in the best position to effect change in international relations.  Kantianism argues that statesmen should ‘…always remember that people in other countries are human beings just like yourself; observe common morality; respect human rights; assist those who are in need of material aid which you can supply at no sacrifice to yourself; in waging war spare non-combatants…. these normative considerations are characteristic of a world society in which responsibility is defined by ones membership in the human race, and thus by common morality’ (Booth & Smith 1995: 117) Kantian arguments on statesmen as members of the international community focus on changing behaviour within current systems to meet the demands of human rights, and highlights the influencing role states can play in promoting this agenda.

Kaplan’s view of the coming anarchy is widely dismissed by cosmopolitans due to its neo-realist economic prescriptions, however valid the underlying symptoms of instability he points to are.  The collapse of states in Africa is at a developed stage, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Somalia and Angola are figments of western imaginations; where state structures exist they are largely weak and ineffective.  In reality, these states are divided by civil conflict and/or ruled by warlords.  In the coming decades the effects of HIV/Aids on the productivity of these states will only reinforce, and accelerate the process.  The true political map of Africa, as in parts of South East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines) and South America (Colombia, Peru, Venezuela) is increasingly fragmented, with territory under the control of powers not recognised by the international community, but in every meaningful way to the people who live there as potent as any state.

The coming anarchy is no longer theory; it is a reality that can be seen in international terrorism (New York, Bali, Madrid, London, Iraq, Boston), failed states (Sierra Leone, DR. Congo, Afghanistan), nuclear, biological and chemical weapons proliferation (Iran, North Korea) and the growing consequences of our civilisation on the environment (Global Warming).  The failure of cosmopolitan theory to recognise these realities limits the effectiveness of its prescriptions.  Cosmopolitan approaches to the international system like all other liberal arguments must adapt to present threats, this means acting pragmatically and recognising that many of the solutions to these problems lie in coercion (economic/diplomatic), and the use of force against dangerous regimes, and ideologies.

Liberal Internationalism:

Liberal Internationalism argues for the establishment of strong international institutions that can ‘…transform…international relations from a ‘jungle’ of chaotic power politics to a zoo of peaceful intercourse.’  (Jackson & Sorensen 1999: 119)  Liberal internationalism aims to create global regimes that regulate the behaviour of states within specific areas.  The regimes would operate at three levels in the international system; intergovernmental, transnational and supranational, all three types can exist at either international or regional levels of state interaction.  The system relies on the cooperation of states, with the system itself promoting cooperation by ‘…[alleviating] the lack of trust between states and the states’ fear of each other which are considered to be the traditional problems associated with international anarchy.’  (Jackson & Sorensen 1999: 122)

Liberal internationalism is a classical political cosmopolitan approach, with a Wilsonian vision of international relations.  The aim of liberal internationalist theory is a ‘world of self-determining peoples whose relations with each other are regulated, on a consensual basis, through international institutions.’  (Hutchings 1999: 157)  This institutionalised system was envisaged in the foundation of the League of Nations and the United Nations.  The consensual nature of liberal institutionalism presents a bar on the valid use of force in the international system on moral grounds.  It is unlikely that institutions built on consensus would have the ability to take action against transgressors of moral cosmopolitan values in a system that credited all states with equal legitimacy.

Contemporary liberal internationalism is represented in the works of theorists such as Francis Fukuyama who in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ argues ‘that liberal democracy and free market capitalism satisfy between them the human desires which form the motor of historical development…’  (Cited in Hutchings 1999: 158)  Fukuyama’s view of the future sees the world divided in a way similar to Robert Kaplan, with a post historical western minority insulated in a technological bubble removed from the majority whose existence continues to deteriorate.  However, Fukuyama unlike Kaplan believes that this post historical world will see the triumph of liberal democracy over other political structures for the reasons stressed above, and that the problems of the developing world will be solved through this evolution from anarchy to democracy.  However, the argument of gradual progress through cooperation or isolation does not offer a solution to genocide, or rogue states acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons (NBCW).  The entrusting of human rights into international institutions that treat states equally by liberal internationalism fails to create a system in which the enforcement of cosmopolitan norms can be achieved.

Cosmopolitan Democracy:

Cosmopolitan Democracy and liberal internationalism argue that the ‘fundamental principle of democracy is a principle of autonomy…a principle of individual self-determination under constitutional law which protects the encroachment on those fundamental human rights which are a condition of individual self-determination in the first place.’  (Hutchings 1999: 158,160)  However, cosmopolitan democracy doesn’t seek state consensus, arguing that this principle of autonomy can be achieved through the global development of democracy.

Daniele Archibugi argues that ‘Cosmopolitan democracy is based on the assumption that important objectives – control of the use of force, respect for human rights, self-determination – will be obtained only through the extension and development of democracy…[and]…. attempts to apply the principles of democracy internationally.’  (Archibugi 2003: 7)  Cosmopolitan democracies approach to bringing universal recognition of human rights is based on the establishment of global democracy.  This does not necessarily mean the creation of a world government, Archibugi argues that to democratise the world needs ‘…institutions, which enable the voice of individuals to be heard in global affairs, irrespective of their resonance at home.’  (Archibugi 2003: 8)

Cosmopolitan Democratic arguments for cosmopolitan norms within the international system unlike those for international liberalism fail to provide practical structures through which to meet their objectives.  In contrast international liberalism operates inside the state system, proposing a structure which arguably exists in part today through the web of international and regional regimes that operate in the international system.  Cosmopolitan democrats like Daniele Archibugi, seek to establish a system of global democracy through nothing more than a powerful argument.  This view is unrealistic, however laudable the attempts of cosmopolitan democrats to create organisations that encourage the free exchange of ideas and views across borders, interaction between intellectuals will never lead to global democracy.

Governments might no longer be in a position to control information and prevent interaction between people across the globe, but communication alone will not bring about a democratic revolution.  The aversion to what cosmopolitan democrats regard as liberal fundamentalism, as argued by Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilisations), in the enforcement of a position in a coercive or robust manner is self-defeating.  Beginning a big conversation is fine, but to expect that the nattering of intellectuals will lead to utopia is ridiculous.

Mary Kaldor’s cosmopolitan democratic approach in ‘New and Old Wars’ to the failure of humanitarian interventions argues that, ’[a]…political response…a strategy of capturing ‘hearts and minds’ needs to be counterposed to the strategy of sowing ‘fear and hate’.  A politics of inclusion needs to be counterposed against a politics of exclusion; respect for international principles and legal norms needs to be counterposed against the criminality of the warlords.  In short, what is needed is a new form of cosmopolitan political mobilization, which embraces both…. the international community and local populations, and which is capable of countering the submission of various forms of particularism.’  (Kaldor 2001: 114)  This argument for an inclusive strategy of political mobilisation that focuses on the individual, and does not resort to the coercion of states or groups into compliance with cosmopolitan norms is an argument for inaction.

Cosmopolitan political mobilization requires a politically literate and responsive population; conditions that do not exist in the developing world outside universities or political elites.  The political mobilisation that occurs in the wider population is based on ignorance and indoctrination, demonstrable in the spread of extreme Islamic nationalism.  The average citizen of an autocracy is illiterate, hungry and scared; the proposition that they would have the time yet alone the inclination and understanding to absorb cosmopolitan critique of their situation is unlikely.  The positive work done through organisations such as the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and other academic and humanitarian organisations in attempting to create a global cosmopolitan discourse is undoubted; to educate and promulgate the concept of universal human rights, and promote democracy can only help to further the goals of cosmopolitanism.  However, it does not deal with the need for an immediate solution to human rights abuses, terrorism and state disintegration.

Other cosmopolitan democrats like David Held have provided a more realistic argument for achieving political cosmopolitan goals in the international system.  Held convincingly argues that the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ‘…mark(s) …[a]…significant step away from the classic regime of state sovereignty – sovereignty, that is, as effective power – toward the firm entrenchment of the ‘liberal regime of international sovereignty’…sovereignty shaped and delimited by new broader frameworks of governance and law.’  (Held, 2003: 187)  He goes on to argue that ‘…the containment of armed aggression can only be achieved through both the control of warfare and the prevention of the abuse of human rights.’  (Held 2003: 187)  Held’s cosmopolitan democratic arguments for a regime of ‘liberal international sovereignty’ go far in reaching the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism.

Held argues that this regime would ‘entrench powers and constraints, and rights and duties in international law which – albeit ultimately formulated by states – go beyond the traditional conception of the proper scope and boundaries of states, and can come into conflict, and sometimes contradiction, with national laws.  Within this framework, states may forfeit claims to sovereignty, and individuals to sovereign protection, if they violate the standards and vales embedded in the international liberal order… violations…[would] no longer be a matter of morality alone…but breaches of…legal code…that may call forth the means to prosecute and rectify it.’  (Held, 2003: 189)  This liberal regime represents a robust implementation of cosmopolitan norms at an international level, overturning sovereignty when violations occur and enforcing its legal codes.  However, Held, like Archibugi, is attempting to democratise the international system, and the earlier criticism of this approach with regard to destabilising countries with no middle classes, or traditions to support this process apply.

Held provides a structure that would place human rights and self-determination at the heart of the international system, but in a state based structure; failed states without true political cohesion and suffering from internal conflict would not fit any better into this liberal international order than they do today, this requires a doctrine allowing intervention and nation building.  Held also ignores the wider problems of NBCW proliferation, terrorism, and political radicalisation (Islamic fundamentalism, nationalism, and neo-fascism) these involve issues that are not directly human rights based, requiring intervention by the developed west for international peace and security and based on political and strategic determinations.

Although Held’s construct is convincing and wholly acceptable in the round, its failure to meet issues of international peace and stability based on the actions of states or terrorist groups, would leave the world more just, but not more stable.  Furthermore, his determination to make democracy as integral a part of his prescription as human rights means that it lacks pragmatic realism; in the sense that to enforce a liberal democracy on the international system would require such overwhelming coercion that it would effectively be the declaration of a world war by liberal democracy.

This goal of democratisation is laudable, but unrealistic, the aim of cosmopolitanism should be the international acceptance of a relationship of respect between citizens and states, based on the recognition of human rights.  The acceptance of human rights first and foremost would have the effect of promoting liberal democracy without destabilising the international system through a perpetual conflict against un-democratic regimes, a significant proportion of which are largely benign, e.g. Pakistan, Cuba, & Iran.  It is the requirement for global democracy, with Archibugi’s refusal to accept the need for coercion on one hand, and Held’s coercion in defence self-determination on the other, that makes cosmopolitan democracy an idealistic approach, and incapable of establishing legitimate prescriptions for war in the pursuit of human rights and international stability.  The argument below for military action in the defence of human rights, the control of NBCW proliferation, and against terrorism is premised on a proportionate response, and not a declaration of war against autocracy; its prime concern being the achievement of a humane strategic stability in the international system.

Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism; An Argument for Action:

Utilitarianism in the context of military force in international relations is a reference to the ‘greater good argument’, this is to say that ‘since all individuals seek pleasure and the avoidance of pain, a universal franchise [is] the only way of promoting ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ (Heywood 1997: 71).  Jeremy Bentham conceived the universal franchise to be suffrage.  However, this applied universally as discussed within cosmopolitan democracy is impractical.  The universal franchise that is argued for here is human rights, a universal recognition of basic rights of humanity enforced through a credible deterrent.  The greatest good, for the greatest number of people could be most effectively achieved through the following mechanism.  Cosmopolitan utilitarianism is a pragmatic application of moral utilitarianism within the political ambitions of cosmopolitanism that recognises the current structure of the international system.

Utilitarianism is applied to this argument because the ‘greater good argument’ lies at the heart of the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism, the greater good of providing recognition of human rights for the widest number of people through the maximization of the resources available to international society.  This requires the limitation of military action to the support of human rights or the preservation of peace to the most extreme cases; an absence of democracy would not be a sufficient premise for intervention.  The utility of this approach is in its acceptance of consequentiality.  The final consequences of action or inaction in a specific circumstance would be the central question when taking military action that will undoubtedly result in the death of innocents.

Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, this choice is based on the risk to individuals from gross human rights violations, or the threat to international peace and security from unstable or unscrupulous states attempting to acquire NBCW.  ‘If a trade-off is to be made, it should favour whatever is more important to the living of a satisfactory human life, and since the protection of vital interests is plausibly taken to be a necessary condition for such a life, such protection takes priority.’  (Jones 1999: 41)  Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, the vital interests are basic principles of human rights and the maintenance of peace and stability in the international system.  The legitimacy of state sovereignty would be judged against cosmopolitan criteria with the aim of introducing credible justice in to the international system.  These criteria would not require states to be free from all human rights abuses, but would prohibit genocide, the forced moving of populations, and the use of military or para-military forces against civilian populations, the sponsorship of international terrorism, and the proliferation of NBCW’s.

The criteria would not be enforced through a consensual institutionalised system of equal states, but through the advancement of liberal democratic norms in the international system.  It would require the core democratic states (e.g. France, Britain, USA, Germany, India) to cooperate in enforcing these criteria upon the rest of the international community through a reformed United Nations and Security Council given this moral purpose.  This system would not de-legitimise autocratic regimes, on the contrary, states that are stable internally and externally, at peace with the international system and not committing gross violations of the criteria stated above would be accepted within the system as members of the Rim of states.  Outside the Core due to their lack of democracy but associated with the Core through the global economy, as full members of the international community as long as they continue to operate within the norms of the system.

States outside this sphere of international stability (the Core and the Rim) will be classed as part of the Periphery which can be characterised as unstable or failed states such as Somalia and Liberia or states which are responsible for gross violations of human rights (Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge), or that threaten peace and stability through the sponsorship of terrorism (Libya), or the development of NBCW (North Korea).  States that are classed as peripheral will be in clear breach of the utilitarian cosmopolitan criteria stated above.  The international community will class states that violate these criteria as illegitimate authorities, their claims to the protections of sovereignty will be void, and they will face legitimate intervention by the Core to bring them back into compliance with the norms of the system.

This argument could be associated with Mark Duffield’s ‘Liberal Peace Theory’, which ‘combines and conflates ‘liberal’ (as in contemporary liberal economic and political tenets) with ‘peace’ (the present policy predilection towards conflict resolution and societal reconstruction).  It reflects the existing consensus that conflict in the South is best approached through a number of connected, ameliorative, harmonising, and, especially, transformational measures.  While this can include the provision of immediate relief and rehabilitation assistance, liberal peace embodies a new or political humanitarianism that lays emphasis on such things as conflict resolution and prevention, reconstructing social networks, strengthening civil and representative institutions, promoting the rule of law, and security sector reform in the context of a functioning market economy’ (Duffield, 2002: 11)

The pursuit of international peace and stability that both Duffield’s ‘Liberal Peace’ and Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism seeks is a shared objective.  However, the means of reaching this goal are very different.  Duffield’s neo-Liberal argument is more concerned with securing stability on the borders between liberal developed society, and the developing world, with the aim of stabilising unstable regions of the developing world to protect the Liberal world from violence emanating from these regions, while also allowing for their participation in the global economy, providing growth opportunities for western economies.  Duffield rejects the utilitarian cosmopolitan argument for extending human rights universally as a step towards the creation of greater freedoms and stability in the developing world.  Duffield seeks stability in the global south for the benefit of the developed west, and not the extension of the Liberal zone of stability through the effective use of military force, and economic structural change.  Duffield effectively argues for the construction of walls around liberal societies, with channels of economic activity extending beyond the walls to the developing world, channels maintained by liberal peacekeeping missions ensuring the stability required for economic activity.

Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism is not a neo-Liberal argument concerned only with the protection of western interests, although it rejects the extension of democracy, on pragmatic grounds, as a goal, it stills argues for the cosmopolitan principles of universal human rights, and the creation of civil societies to support these rights.  It differs from traditional cosmopolitan approaches (cosmopolitan democrats, liberal internationalism) in that it prescribes the use of military force against violators of these principles, and in the defence of the liberal democratic world from tyrannical regimes threatening international peace through developing NBCW.  This approach argues that before stable and lasting civil societies can be constructed military force may need to be used against the dominant tendencies toward extremism, violence and corruption that currently prevail in these societies and cause instability, the repression of human rights, and continued poverty.

This could be mistaken for moral imperialism.  However, the distinction between imperialism and cosmopolitanism is clear; the latter is an economic imperative that seeks domination over other states, with their assimilation and subordination to the colonial power.  Cosmopolitan prescriptions do not tolerate this, excepting diverse cultures as essential in the development of vibrant and just societies.  Moves towards moral imperialism would be unlikely to gain popular support amongst the core democracies as it would represent a retrograde step, inevitably leading to international instability and great power rivalry, both contrary to the aims of utilitarian cosmopolitanism.

An example of this kind of action can be found in the UN mission to Somalia in which due to the lack of a host government from which to gain prior approval the UN Security Council under resolution 794 ‘….  [Explicitly authorized] the establishment of a force on humanitarian grounds…’  (Brown 2002: 147)  The Unified Task Force (UNITAF) spearheaded by the United States effectively invaded Somalia and established a humanitarian government over the territory.  The initial premise, and the action taken by UNITAF, is entirely within the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism in relation to failed states.  However, the short-term commitment of UNITAF, and the failure to continue its robust intervention through to a concerted disarmament of the militia groups, led to the failure of the intervention.  Despite this, it does provide evidence that interventions of this kind are practical, but that they require the binding of the Core nations to a legal structure.  The lack of this in the international system meant that the UN withdrawal was able to go ahead despite the obvious failure of its mission and the chaos that would follow in its wake.

This approach to implementing moral cosmopolitan norms into the international system represents a utilitarian view on how to achieve the greatest impact within the current system, and bring about the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people.  It both respects notions of sovereignty and removes them as the prime concern of international relations.  The implementation of this conditional sovereignty would lead to the self-regulation of autocratic regimes who would balance their policies so as not to violate the conditions of their legitimacy, therefore lessening the negative impacts of their rule to limited human rights violations and political restrictions.  Although this is unsavoury, benign autocracies such as Pakistan, and China, provide stability to regions that forced into democracy without an educated population base to support it, would probably descend into chaos and civil conflict.  The pragmatism of the greater good argument means that this is a necessary evil of peace in the international system.

Arguments against Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism:

Ethical relativism as presented by Michael Waltzer argues that liberal democracies cannot use universal judgments about the nature of humanity to judge other societies who do not subscribe to these judgements.  Walzer argues that universal judgments cannot be made using the criteria of one culture against another, that only within cultures can norms be established.  For example, Walzer argues ‘…that a commitment to universal human rights constitutes a central feature of the shared understanding of a contemporary Western society like the United States, then it follows that, from a Walzerian particularist perspective, we have reason to accept that commitment to universal human rights [within western society].’  (Jones 1999: 183)  We can accept this within western society, but are prohibited from holding human rights as a bar to other cultures, unless they arrive at the same consensus on the universality of human rights independently.

This position makes the practices of different cultures morally equivalent; this is to say that the autocratic practices of Saudi Arabia are morally equivalent with those of the plural democracies of the European Union, due to the fact that each position was attained through community consensus.  This is a dangerous means of justifying norms as acceptable, as it could sanction almost anything as long as it attained consensus within its political sphere.  As Charles Jones argues ‘It is no moral refutation of a moral claim to say that there is no consensus in its favour in every culture in the world, nor is a moral claim plausibly defended by citing only its widespread appeal…Moral views are properly judged not by determining how many people (or cultures) subscribe to them, but the plausibility of the reasons adduced in their favour’ (Jones 1999: 184) The reasons adduced in the favour of the universality of human rights are that humans are a common species and that one person’s determination that torture, or genocide is immoral, is a plausible view to associate with humanity as a whole.

Neo-Hegelian arguments attempt to preserve the ethical value of the state while maintaining the moral importance of the individual.  This view appears to be close to utilitarian cosmopolitanism, however neo-Hegelians and cosmopolitans disagree ‘…on the question of the necessity of separate sovereign states for the living of individual worthwhile lives.’  (Jones 1999: 207)  Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, sovereignty is only respected as long as the sovereign state protects human rights, and respects non-proliferation of NBCW; failing this sovereignty ceases to be recognised and is open to intervention to restore international law.  The neo-Hegelian respect for the abstract notion of state sovereignty in conditions that would violate cosmopolitan norms, and wouldn’t sanction military action to rectify the situation, means that although neo-Hegelian theory raises the hope of mediating the differences between communitarians and cosmopolitans in encompassing the demands of the community with those of the individual, it fails by placing the requirements of the community of states over the rights of the individual.


This essay has examined political cosmopolitan approaches to the implementation of moral cosmopolitan norms, and shown that practically they fail to offer a basis from which action can be taken in the defence of these norms.  The requirement for democracy held by democratic cosmopolitans and the equality of states within liberal internationalism, present idealistic and unrealistic conditions respectively.  Liberal internationalism holds the sovereignty of states as the basis of its argument, at a time, when in parts of the world the integrity of states is being undermined.  Cosmopolitan democrats wish to export democracy to an illiterate and unresponsive world, which could lead to greater instability and war.

Democracy cannot be transplanted anywhere, it requires certain conditions to flourish.  Critical of these is the existence of two circumstances that do not prevail in the developing regions of the world, ‘both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate…[while]…under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people…Russia may be failing because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not…’  (Kaplan 2000: 64)  The argument that Kaplan is presenting here is not that authoritarianism is good and democracy bad, but that ‘…democracy emerges successfully only as the capstone to other social and economic achievements.’  (Kaplan 2000: 66)

Utilitarian cosmopolitanism is a rational, pragmatic approach to the central issues in the international system today, which counteracts neo-conservative and realist agendas that dismiss universal concepts of human rights, and continue to argue that states and their interests are the only basis for action within the international system.  These realist perspectives resist the establishment of international norms on the basis that it limits a state’s ability to protect itself in an anarchic international environment.  Utilitarian cosmopolitanism refutes this argument, presenting a system that seeks international and personal security but within the context of international norms; arguing that this is necessary due to the destabilising effect of human rights violations, and the threat of NBCW in the hands of extremist regimes and terrorist groups, on the international system.


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Jackson, Robert & Sorensen, Georg (1999) Introduction to International Relations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.119, pp.122

Jones, Charles (1999) Global Justice; Defending Cosmopolitanism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.41, pp.183, pp.184, pp.207

Kaldor, Mary (2001) New & Old Wars; Organized Violence in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.114

Kaplan, Robert D. (2000) The Coming Anarchy; Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War, Vintage Books, New York, pp.7, pp.22


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