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Navigating the Cosmopolitan Paradox: Balancing Normative Aspirations and Empirical Realities

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Question Bank / Reading Comprehension / VARC

Navigating the Cosmopolitan Paradox: Balancing Normative Aspirations and Empirical Realities

The passage given below is followed by a set of three questions. Choose the most appropriate answer to each question

Bruce Robbins’s excellent article points up the paradox of cosmopolitanism – that it seems ‘perpetually torn between an empirical dimension and a normative dimension’. For Robbins, the paradox of cosmopolitanism is rooted in the limited empirical sense of political community. For genuine democracy people need to belong to the same ‘community of fate’, and there is at present little evidence of such a sense of cosmopolitan consciousness. Although leading (Western) governments make claims in support of cosmopolitan human rights established by virtue of membership of a common humanity, their practice is often limited by the ‘communitarian’ reality. The lack of ‘shared fate’ leads to inequalities in practice as governments are often reluctant to sacrifice either treasury resources or military lives in the cause of others, and citizens appear unwilling to shoulder the tax burdens involved in any potential cosmopolitan redistribution of wealth and opportunities.

Robbins suggests that it would be wrong to use the empirical limits to cosmopolitan practices as an argument against normative cosmopolitan claims. He asserts that there is ‘no possibility of simply choosing the actual over the normative’ and instead suggests that we should accept that the ‘contradiction’ exists.

A solution to the problem lies in political change which seeks ‘to bring abstraction and actuality together’.

A ‘Left cosmopolitanism’ is one that denies ‘the past authority over the present’ – the empirical reality that

‘there is as yet little evidence of transnational solidarity’ should be the justification for engagement and

struggle on the side of the progressive cosmopolitan cause. This campaigning perspective is advocated by several cosmopolitan theorists who, in different ways, seek to develop ideas and mechanisms whereby global civil society can encourage and further cosmopolitan practices against the communitarian inclinations of national governments and their electorates.

This article suggests that the ‘cosmopolitan paradox’ – the gap between universal aspiration and hierarchical practice – is not merely one of cosmopolitan ‘consciousness’ lagging behind an immanent cosmopolitan ‘reality’. Rather, the paradox is rooted in the essence of the cosmopolitan thesis itself. The limitations of abstract normative cosmopolitan conceptions of ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, in a world structured by economic and social inequalities, raise major questions over the progressive claims made by cosmopolitan theorists. In fact, rather than challenging existing international structures of power, there is a real danger that the cosmopolitan impulse will legitimize a much more hierarchical set of international relationships.

Whether the cosmopolitan aspiration takes the form of Robbins’s call for a transnational welfare safety net or claims for the protection and promotion of a more extensive range of human rights, all cosmopolitan perspectives reflect the increasing prominence of individual rights claims in the international sphere. Leading cosmopolitan theorists seek to challenge the restrictions of the UN Charter framework, imposed by the major powers in the aftermath of the Second World War, which formally prioritized the ‘state-based’ principles of sovereignty and non-intervention. They argue that these principles need to be replaced by a new set of cosmopolitan principles, which make the universal individual rights of members of ‘global society’ the primary focus.

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  1. Which of the following is a part of ‘the empirical dimension’ in the passage ?
    (a) Shared fate
    (b) Universal Aspiration
    (c) Inequalities in practices
    (d) The cosmopolitan paradox
  2. Which of the following can be inferred from the passage?
    (a) Cosmopolitan theorists seek to legitimize a much more hierarchical set of international
    relationships.
    (b) Cosmopolitan theorists feel that the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention need to be
    implemented at a global level.
    (c) The theories and conceptions of cosmopolitanism are responsible for the cosmopolitan paradox.
    (d) Cosmopolitan consciousness does not really lag behind an immanent cosmopolitan reality.
  3. The author is primarily concerned with
    (a) exploring the Cosmopolitan paradox and solutions and reasons for the same.
    (b) exploring the tussle between the advocates of nationalism and cosmopolitanism.
    (c) arguing that the Cosmopolitan paradox will continue to exist.
    (d) enthusing that ‘empirical reality’ is not an excuse to do away with Cosmopolitan aspirations

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