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New Left Review 7, January-February 2001

Cosmopolitan ideals have a pedigree that needs to be traced by culturaltheory as well as political science. Can worldgovernment shake off its imperialist heritage, or does international solidarity still require the nation-state?



Daniele Archibugi opens his eloquent case for a ‘cosmopoliticaldemocracy’ with an important concession. The world’s major depositories of power, he observes, remain national states that have ‘only increased in the scale and scope of their dominion’, within an inter-state system. He is right. [1] See Daniele Archibugi, ‘Cosmopolitical Democracy’, NLR 4, July–Aug 2000; and responses by Geoffrey Hawthorn, ‘Running the World through Windows’, NLR 5, Sept–Oct 2000, and David Chandler, ‘“International Justice”’, NLR 6, Nov–Dec 2000. But nation-states are a key to understanding our present world not simply because they intractably persist, but also because in significant ways their political valences have altered. Such states continue to represent, as they have always done, jurisdictional acts of enclosure designed to perpetuate class privileges over specified regions. Today, however, they are also the terrains on which new constituencies can work along varied axes of power. They are, in fact, the only effective structures for doing so. National states impose labour discipline on the working poor and adjudicate disputes among local elites. These have always been among their primary functions. But in the current phase of worldwide neo-liberalhegemony, they also offer a manageable (albeit top-heavy) site within which the working poor can make limited claims on power, and have at least some opportunity to affect the way they are ruled.

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Related articles:

  1. David Chandler: 'International Justice' Every military expedition by the West now dons the mantle of human rights. What happens to international law when justice is the name of power? The charade of NATO’s tribunal in The Hague.
  2. Daniele Archibugi: Demos and Cosmopolis As representative democracy spreads it is steadily thinning: the nation-states that have been its traditional framework are losing much of their power. Popular sovereignty can only be recovered, Daniele Archibugi argues, in a cosmopolitan order antithetical to its simulacrum in the ‘international community’ of today.