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Peter Kemp - professor of philosophy, the ancien president of FISP

Philosophical Images of the Human Being - Citizen of the World as a Cultural Figure

In European Culture the figure of the World Citizen has developed as a philosophical image of the human being since the Stoics, such as Cicero, Seneca, Marc Aurelius and many other philosophers 2000 years ago. But the idea of the citizen of the world can also be found in the Confucian classic Ta Hsüeh, The Great learning of the Highest Order of Cultivation, a chapter of the Li-chi, The Book of Rites, one of the five Chinese classics1. It was probably written in the 3rd century BC, i.e. three hundred years before the great stoic philosophers. This makes us believe that the figure of the citizen of the world may find support in every culture that has cultivated ideas of a universal human fellowship, such as Confucian culture.
The central idea in these cosmopolitan doctrines is, that every human being is considered as a member of Mankind and thus has two citizenships: the national citizenship and the world citizenship. And as there are duties and rights in relation to other citizens, there are duties and rights in relation to Mankind2.
This means that to some extend we humans to day understand ourselves in the same way and are the same living beings as we have been for a very long time of our known history
This is true already on a very elementary level. We are living beings mastering a language that can help us to express our experiences, knowledge and wishes, coordinate our actions and focus on ourselves in order to understand what we are. In short: conscious livings being. Moreover, we can fix signs in different materials, so that we can communicate not only live but through time, thereby develop a human time including a long past and long future. Thus we are cultural living being from the origin of our humanity. And as such we have created philosophical images about ourselves that are very old.
However, by a constant growing of domination of our globe our condition has radically changed and we are not the same as we were only hundred years ago. Thereby the figure of the world citizen as acquired a new sense. The Stoics in old Greek philosophy talked about the cosmopolitan as the human being having reason common with other human beings, but the philosophers of Enlightenment enlarges the content of this figure. They considered like Kant that every human being had the right to travel and to be received as visitor. And now in our age which is that of globalization the cosmopolitan is the person who recognizes that the technological development has created great problems of different kind which no single country, no single state can handle alone.
One of these problems to day is how to assure a sustainable development that permit future generations to live with at least possibilities, for instance climate conditions, that are not inferior than those at our disposal. Another problem is how to tolerate other cultures and other ritual behaviour than those we know from our own tradition. And a third problem is how to apply a democratic control of financial transactions on a global scale like the democratic control we have made of our national economies. Finally we have the problem how to establish a legal world order for actions across the boarders in order to sanction criminality and in particular sanction what since the Nurnberg and Tokyo Trials in 1947 was called crimes against humanity.
These global common problems that must be the problems of the citizen of the world in our time change our world as lifeworld on two different levels.
On the existential level the encounter with the other can no more be limited to an I-thou relationship and even not to a being together in a group; the other is not only a family member, a collaborator or a national fellow, but he or she is also the stranger coming from other cultures and nations. This means that we must offer openness and tolerance to others, independent of which kind of culture and tradition they come from.
On the social political level the figure of the citizen of the world means that he or she not only belongs to a state, but in some respect also belongs to a community beyond the states, i.e. community of international or transnational actors such as multinational companies, NGOs, global scientific networks. transnational tribunals, transnational revolt groups etc. This means that to day we must accept other political actors on the global political scene than the States: the so called non state-actors.
This entails new ideas about how to be human.
First: A new idea of living together in peace. This life together can be motivated in two radical different ways: by the fear of one's own death, as in Hobbes where people originally involved in a fight of all against all accept to live together according in order to avoid to be killed by the other. Or by a wish to live together in order to be enriched by this common life in the same way that Aristotle described life in the true friendship. The hobbesian idea was in a way sufficient to understand the power of the State and to consider conflicts between States as normal, but in an age where we have to live together across the States, we cannot handle that by considering every foreigner as an enemy. Only the wish to be enriched by a life together can create the true peace.
Second: A new idea of the relation between individual and State. In several hundred years a human being was considered only as subject to a prince or a State. According to international law an individual could not be on the same level as the State. He or she was always sub-jected to a State or stateless, a tragic condition for a person. But since the trials in Nürnberg and Tokyo after the second World War and since the proclamation of the Universal Human Rights in 1948 a person can both be a passive legal subject , as in the case of an individual accused of having committed crime against humanity, or an active legal subject as in the case of a process in the European Court for Human Rights, where the individual can carry on a lawsuit against his or her own State.
Third: A new idea of the social contract. This contract or covenant that we know from Hobbes and, in another form, from Rousseau and Kant, cannot any more be only as a national covenant. We must presuppose a global social contract that maintain a global world order valid for every human being. This idea it is taken up in our time in a new way as a condition for the global citizenship by David Held , Martha Nussbaum and Ulrich Beck3.
Finally a new idea of world history. Different criticism of Hegels concept of world history in which every event is integrated in a global world view has been disqualified since Søren Kierkegaards revolt againt the philosophical speculation. And in more recent time Jean-Francois Lyotard introduced the claim that all the big stories should now be replaced by small stories4. The world History seemed to have come to and end. And Francis Fukuyama proclaimed The end of history and the last Man5. However, by recognizing our human condition as cosmopolitan we cannot only consider what we are here and now but also what we have done and what we wish to do on a global scale and thereby conceive our belonging to a world History. In other words, we must accept a new kind of common history for all mankind. A new philosophy of history becomes a necessity.
Thus the revival of the Citizen of the World as a cultural and political figure for our time oblige us to rethink our condition as cosmopolitans guided by new ideas about living together, individual responsibility, global social contract and world history.
Philosophical images of the Human being might often be mirrors of the state of affairs. But such an image can also be a guide of humanity. This, I believe, is the case of the Citizen of the World as a cultural figure.

November 2009



1. Cf- Manuel B. Dy, Jr., “A Cosmopolitan Ethics of the Ta Hsueh”, unpublished paper at the 28th Symposium of Eco-ethica, Roskilde, organized by the Tomonobu Imamichi Institute for eco-ethica, October, 2009.

2. Peter Kemp: Citizen of the world. A Cosmopolitan Ideal for the 21st Century, Humanity Books/Prometheus books, New York, forthcoming April 2010.

3. Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man, Penguin Books, New York, 1992, pp 336 ff.

4. David Held: The Global Covenant, Polity, London, 2004; Martha Nussbaum: Frontiers of Justice, Belknap, Harvard, 2006, and Ulrich Beck: Macht und Gegenmacht im globalen Zeitalter. Neue weltpolitische Ökonomie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, Edition Zweite Moderne, 2002; in English: Power in the Global Age: A New Global Political Economy. Trans. Kathleen Cross. London: Polity Press, 2005.

5. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Manchester University Press, 1984.

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