Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism in Modern British Political Thought: Continuities and Discontinuities



This chapter provides an overview of attitudes towards cosmopolitanism and internationalism in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British political thought with a focus on the question of continuities and discontinuities. Contrary to widespread belief, it was not as late as the First World War that ‘cosmopolitanism’ acquired negative connotations. In fact, British political thinkers were wary of the terms ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’, and even thinkers that were quintessentially universalist and anti-nationalist in their moral commitments (such as the Comtists) were explicitly critical of what they saw as the ‘puerile affectation’ of ‘Cosmopolitans’ pretending to be ‘superior to country’. The chapter shows that the negative associations of the term ‘cosmopolitanism’ noted by historians of the Inter-War Period were in fact a constant theme in British thought since the aftermath of the French Revolution. Meanwhile, internationalism was a word that emerged later than cosmopolitanism but it was also contested, and Alfred Zimmern emerges as one of the people who tried hard to differentiate between correct and false uses of ‘internationalism’ in an attempt to criticize plans for world government that were sold by their proponents as projects related to ‘internationalism’.


British political thought Cosmopolitanism Alfred Zimmern Internationalism World government Anti-cosmopolitanism Frederic Harrison Nationalism Interwar 



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

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