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Cosmopolitanism vs. Terrorism? Discourses of Ethical Possibility Before, and After 7/7.

James Brassett

CSGR Working Paper 252/08

October 2008


The article provides a critical analysis of the relationship between cosmopolitanism and terrorism, via the question of response. Using 9/11 and 7/7 as key moments in the evolution of this relationship, the paper asks: How does cosmopolitanism respond to terrorism? What limits does this response contain? How might we go beyond such limits? It is argued that cosmopolitan responses to terrorism provide an important, but limited, (and sometimes limiting), alternative to mainstream discourses on terror. After 9/11 the possibility for cosmopolitan thinking ‘beyond’ the mainstream view was articulated by a range of authors, including Archibugi, Habermas, Held and Linklater. A brief survey suggests that defending international law, constructing international institutions and alleviating global poverty were seen as good responses, in the context of divisive mainstream politics. However, by engaging a case study of the Make Poverty History campaign, the paper argues that when cosmopolitan ideas were cemented in practice, the distinctiveness of a cosmopolitan response faded. This point was brought into sharp relief by a number of moralising responses to 7/7. Straightforward dichotomies between ‘barbaric terrorists’ and ‘civilised cosmopolitans’ served to construct cosmopolitanism as a coherent, and united, global community. Available tactics, for this ‘community’, were reduced to more-of-the-same – more aid, more global democracy - and assertions of a moral equivalence between Bush and ‘Terror’, such that ‘you are either with cosmopolitans, or, you are with the War on Terror.’ In light of these ethical closures, and drawing from the arguments of Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler, the paper identifies some cursory ways in which cosmopolitans might think beyond such limits, to (continue to) articulate an imaginative and engaged approach to global ethics.

Keywords: Cosmopolitanism; Global Ethics; Make Poverty History; Terrorism

Contact Details:

Dr James Brassett is RCUK Fellow and Assistant Professor of IPE,

Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR),
University of Warwick.