At the Borders of Europe From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmopolitics

by Étienne Balibar

Abstract: The essay addresses uses of “cosmopolitanism” and “cosmopolitics” in the current global political conjuncture, from a European point of view. Against the assumption (by Jürgen Habermas in particular) that Europe could become the typical cosmopolitan continent through a natural continuation of its universalist traditions, it argues that the universal exists only in the form of conflicting universalities. Eurocentrism therefore deserves not only a refutation, but a genuine deconstruction. Expanding on previous contributions, I focus on the historical transformation or the “border” as a quasi-transcendental condition for the constitution of the political, which is paradoxically reflected in its center.
The “central” character of the “periphery” acquires a new visibility in the contemporary period. A “phenomenology of the border” becomes a prerequisite for an analysis of the citizen. I examine tentatively three moments: first, the antithesis of war and translation as contradictory overlapping models of the Political, which I call “polemological” and “philological” respectively; second, the equivocality of the category of the stranger, who tends to become reduced to the enemy in the crisis of the nation-state; third, the cosmopolitical difficulty of Europe to deal with its double otherness, regarding other Europeans and non-Europeans who are targeted by complementary forms of xenophobia.

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