The Vicious Circles of Habermas' Cosmopolitics

Law & Critique (2014, Forthcoming)

33 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2014 Last revised: 7 Feb 2014

See all articles by Isobel Roele

Isobel Roele

Queen Mary, University of London

Date Written: October 1, 2013


Habermas' cosmopolitan project seeks to transform global politics into an emancipatory activity in order to compensate for the disempowering effects of globalization. The project is traced through three vicious circles which stem from Habermas' commitment to intersubjectivity. Normative politics always raises a vicious circle because politics is only needed to the extent that an issue has become problematized through want of intersubjective agreement. At the domestic level Habermas solves this problem by constitutionalizing transcendental presuppositions political participants cannot avoid making. This fix will not work at the global level because it is pre-political as between human individuals. Habermas therefore premises cosmopolitics on the transformation of nation-states into sites of participatory politics, engagement in which will eventually ignite a global cosmopolitan consciousness. This transformation depends on the constitutionalization of existing UN structures and their enforcement of an undefined and (therefore) 'uncontroversial' core of human rights. Unable to ground this project in social practice, Habermas eventually disregards his own lodestar of intersubjectivity based in social practice by relying on the prediscursive concept of human dignity. This move is not merely philosophically inconsistent, it also opens the door to the moralization of politics and the imposition of human rights down the barrel of a gun.

Keywords: Cosmopolitanism, Habermas, Human Rights, Democracy, Public International Law

Suggested Citation

Roele, Isobel, The Vicious Circles of Habermas' Cosmopolitics (October 1, 2013). Law & Critique (2014, Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: or

Isobel Roele (Contact Author)

Queen Mary, University of London ( email )

Lincoln's Inn Fields
Mile End Rd.
London, E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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