Part III: The Changing Fortunes of Cosmopolitanism: Demos, Cosmos, and Globus. The Globe as World, Earth, and Planet

IWM Lectures in Human Sciences

The intense interest in cosmopolitanism in the social and political sciences, cultural and legal studies dates back to the last two decades of the twentieth century. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the reunification of Germany, and the extension of the European Union to east and central European countries formerly under Communist rule, the Kantian cosmopolitan ideal of uniting diverse countries under the rule of law, respect for human rights and the free exchange of goods and services seemed to come alive. By the beginning of the new century, cosmopolitanism had fallen on hard times. This lecture series defended cosmopolitanism from below by engaging with the postcolonial critiques of Kantian thought, voiced by James Tully, Inez Valdez, Sylvia Wynter and Walter Mignolo.

In the third lecture, Seyla Benhabib analyzed three dimensions of globality: the world; the earth and the planet. Globalists are surely correct that as a consequence of economic as well as technological movements, we have reached an unprecedented intensity in time and space in the movement of news and people, services and microbes, fashion and money across borders. This is our world of practices and institutions; conflict and consensus; wars and commerce. But these processes have also endangered the earth: that thin membrane around the planet earth, according to Bruno Latour, which has made human life possible. Must we then adopt a planetary perspective? What does this even mean? The speaker returned here to an important distinction made by Hannah Arendt between “world alienation” and “earth alienation” to reorient our thinking on these issues.

Seyla Benhabib is the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy Emerita at Yale University. She is currently Scholar in Residence at Columbia Law School and Professor Adjunct of Law, where she teaches legal and political theory as well as a course on refugee, migration and citizenship law in comparative perspective. She also holds appointments in Columbia University’s Center for Contemporary Critical Thought and the Department of Philosophy. Professor Benhabib is the author of numerous publications, including: Exile, Statelessness, and Migration. Playing Chess with History from Hannah Arendt to Isaiah Berlin (2018), Another Cosmopolitanism (2006), The Claims of Culture (2003), and The Rights of Others (2004). She is currently working on a book called At the Margins of the Modern State. Critical Theory and the Law (Forthcoming with Polity Press). Her work has been translated into twelve languages. Professor Benhabib has previously taught at the New School for Social Research and Harvard Universities, where she was Director of Harvard University’s Program for Degrees in Social Studies. Throughout her professorial career, she has held many prestigious visiting professorships including the Spinoza Chair in Amsterdam (2001), the Gauss Lectures at Princeton (1998), the John Seeley Memorial Lectures (Cambridge University, 2002), and the Tanner Lectures (Berkeley, 2004). Professor Benhabib is the recipient of the Ernst Bloch prize (2009), the Leopold Lucas Prize (2012), and the Meister Eckhart Prize (2014). Currently, Seyla Benhabib is Albert Hirschman Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (Insititut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, IWM) in Vienna.

Fabio Wolkenstein, Associated Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Vienna, introduced the speaker and moderated the subsequent Q&A with the audience.

Ayşe Çağlar, IWM Permanent Fellow and Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna gave the welcome address.

Recordings of all three lectures in the series are available on our YouTube channel.


The Changing Fortunes of Cosmopolitanism: Demos, Cosmos, and Globus
IWM Lectures in Human Sciences

I. Kantian Cosmopolitanism and its Critics
Thursday 5 October 2023, 18:30 CEST, Großer Festsaal, Universität Wien, Universitätsring 1

II. From the Hermeneutics of Suspicion to Reconstructing Cosmopolitan Law
Tuesday 17 October 2023, 18:30 CEST, Skylounge, Oskar-Morgenstern Platz 1 (entrance via Berggasse)

III. The Globe as World, Earth, and Planet
Thursday 19 October 2023, 18:30 CEST, Hörsaal 14, Oskar-Morgenstern Platz 1 (entrance via Berggasse)