The Hidden History of the Cosmopolitan Concept

Heavenly Citizenship and the Aporia of World Community

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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Despite the ubiquity of contemporary debate in learned and popular cultures concerning the place of the cosmopolitan and cosmopolitanism, the historical background to this peculiarly Western vision of world unity remains understudied and virtually unknown. This is particularly the case, rather surprisingly, for the early modern period, when the term “cosmopolite” reappeared in European vocabularies for the first time since antiquity. It is during this period, however, that the most significant, enduring and problematic features of the cosmopolitan concept are articulated, particularly in those conceptions of world community which drew on Pauline notions of heavenly citizenship. Employing a modified Begriffsgeschichtliche approach, this article utilizes several case studies of cosmopolitan thought from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – including Erasmus, Guillaume Postel, Johann Valentin Andreae and others – in order to critique the history of the concept of the cosmopolitan. This essay argues, on the basis of this evidence, that there is an aporia which is constitutive of cosmopolitan concept, and which impacts on all attempts to understand, analyse and apply the category from antiquity to the present. Namely, although the cosmopolitan ideal is a peculiarly Western mythology which has always possessed a patina of benevolent inclusivity, it is contingent on establishing boundaries and establishing exclusivity.

The Hidden History of the Cosmopolitan Concept

Heavenly Citizenship and the Aporia of World Community

in Journal of the Philosophy of History




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M. JacobStrangers Nowhere in the World: the Rise of Cosmopolitanism in early modern Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press2006) 5.


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Koselleck“Einleitung,” in Geschichtlichen Grundbegriffe (see above note 10) xv. Later Koselleck moved away from the strictures of the Sattelzeit particularly with regard to the assumption of the “stasis” of concepts after 1850.


Huyvel“Cosmopolite” 35.


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For example van den Huyvel“Cosmopolite” 35.


Erasmus to Zwingli 3[?] September 1522in Collected Works of Erasmus Volume 9: The Correspondence [...] 1522 to 1523 trans. R. A. B. Mynors annotations J. M. Estes (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1989) 184.


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W. ShermanJohn Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press1995) 144.


ShermanJohn Dee143–145. Sherman here engaged in a critique of G. Yewbry “John Dee and the ‘Sidney Group’: Cosmopolitics and Protestant ‘Activism’ in the 1570s” PhD dissertation University of Hull 1981 esp. 3–4 14–15 17 etc.


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See W. Hubicki“The Mystery of Alexander Seton – Cosmopolite,” in Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of the History of Science (Tokyo-Kyoto 1974) (Tokyo: Science Council of Japan1974) 379–400.


For a bibliography see DülmenUtopie279–295.




AndreaeTheca16–17; On Hess see M. Brecht “Chiliasmus in Württemberg im 17. Jahrhundert” Pietismus und Neuzeit 14 (1988) 25–49; and Gilly Cimelia Rhodostaurotica s.v.


See DülmenUtopie135–136; and Neeb Christlicher Hass passim.


H. SchneiderJoachim Morsius und sein Kreis. Zur Geistesgeschichte des 17. Jahrhunderts (Lübeck: Quitzlow1929).


L. T. I. Penman“Omnium exposita rapinae: The Afterlives of the Papers of Samuel Hartlib,” Book History 18 (2015) in press.


Latour“Whose Cosmos?” 453.


Daniele Archibugi (ed.)Debating Cosmopolitics (London: Verso2003).

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