Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 1]

State sovereignty, cosmopolitanism and territorial disputes

Whether at the level of the individual or at the level of the state, local, regional and international communities are plural. While on the surface notions such as cosmopolitanism accommodate for this plurality, central concepts to disciplines like law, political science and international relations seem to struggle. One such a concept, sovereignty, plays a major role for individuals, communities and states. Assumed to be absolute, sovereignty cannot accommodate pluralism and, therefore, is against cosmopolitanism. Conversely, to accept cosmopolitanism forces to question, and possibly change, current understandings about sovereignty. Therefore, the aura of inclusiveness cosmopolitanism may bring appears to be irreconcilable with the absoluteness in sovereignty. Unsurprisingly, the available conflict resolution procedures and remedies fail to solve several ongoing territorial disputes such as the Israel-Palestine difference, Gibraltar, Kashmir, the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and Crimea because sovereignty and cosmopolitanism operate in a dysfunctional manner.

Regardless of their level of development, territorial extension, population size, type of government or any other feature, states’ sovereignties are continuously penetrated. COVID-19 is the latest and more evident of several situations that seem to challenge sovereignty’s absoluteness. There are many other situations and factors that have a similar result such as capital market integration, international migration, international trade increase, AIDS, Internet, and human rights norms.

Sovereignty and cosmopolitanism may struggle with each other but they do not need to. The challenge remains to reimagine a notion of sovereignty that can enable a pluralism of pluralisms where individuals in civil societies and states in the regional and international arenas may leave aside their differences and recognize their affinities. Furthermore, in order to achieve a theoretical change of paradigm that may result in legal and political evolution, it is crucial to differentiate between different kinds of cosmopolitanism, such as legal and moral cosmopolitanism[1] and focus on the former. Although a worthy ideal, moral cosmopolitanism can influence so much law and politics. Conversely, legal cosmopolitanism centers on the legal rights and obligations of the individual as subject of a global legal order.[2] 

By balancing sovereignty and cosmopolitanism, it is possible to accommodate these plural views. Ergo, the arrangements could result in a pluralism of pluralisms with a shared set of rules and principles for coordination.

In order to bring evidence about how sovereignty and cosmopolitanism operate together, the following posts will refer not to pluralism but to the pluralism of pluralisms characteristic in both (whether it is explicitly recognized or not). By acknowledging agents (individuals, communities and states) and players (hosts, participants, attendees and viewers) it is possible to accept the plurality of subjects. These agents and players act on several contexts (local, regional and international) and their inter-relations in the form of actions and omissions exist simultaneously in three realms (rational, empirical and axiological). To add to the intricacy, the many views (law, politics, philosophy and non-scientific ones) about agents, players, contexts and realms have a horizontal and vertical dimension that should take into account two variables: time and space. A dispersion on the horizontal dimension of sovereignty and legal cosmopolitanism is perfectly in tune with a centralization of sovereignty and legal cosmopolitanism in the vertical dimension.

Tuesday 13th April 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] Thomas Pogge, “Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty,” Ethics 103 (1992): 48-75.

[2] Kai Nielsen, “World Government, Security, and Global Justice,” in Steven Luper-Foy, ed., Problems of International Justice (New York: Routledge, 1988), 263-282.

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