Cosmopolitanism serves a variety of purposes, and its objects vary widely. They are usually apprehended through the epistemological interests of the beholder, as if through the ever-changing perspective of a kaleidoscope. When one compares and contrasts the different uses of the term, the colors merge into a chaotic image. For the sake of clarity, one might say that controversies around the concept of cosmopolitanism today fall into two major categories. Reclaiming a noble literary tradition, some claim that cosmopolitanism is the best antidote against excessive demands for roots. Others, with more of a sense of social context, respond that advocates of this version of cosmopolitanism fall too easily into the trap of a barely disguised idealism. On one side, a universalistic calling and a taste for independence from social context are praised; on the other, an overly prescriptive moral attitude that does not match daily reality is blamed. This tension is due to the primary experience of the cosmopolitan, a comparative experience with a wide span, which brings to the fore “the polyphony of strivings.”1 Today people are looking not simply to multiply interpretive perspectives and to disembed cultural areas from the scientific coherence traditionally associated with area studies (one place, one period). The comparativist fever that Friedrich Nietzsche invoked toward his own century, which discovered the unsuspected entanglement of human influences, has surged beyond the boundaries of classical erudition and seems to have infiltrated our attitudes to the point of determining much of our spontaneous conduct. More than ever, to be cosmopolitan requires feeling at ease amid diversity, as Richard Sennett put it regarding the public person.

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About Olivier Remaud

Associate professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris and the head of the Centre d'études sociologiques et politiques Raymond Aron. His publications include Si loin, si proche: Essai sur le point de vue cosmopolitique (Seuil, forthcoming); the co-edited Faire des sciences sociales: Critiquer/généraliser/comparer (EHESS, 2012); War and Peace: The Role of Science and Art (Duncker and Humblot, 2010), with Soraya Nour; and Civilisations: Retour sur les mots et les idées (Springer, 2008), with Chryssanthi Avlami. His Les Archives de l'humanité: Essai sur la philosophie de Vico (Seuil, 2004) won the 2005 Francois Furet Book Prize. His research has also been recognized by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.