The Tasks of Critical Theory: Recognition and the Emergence of Homo Cosmopolitanus

There have been few engagements with the question of what Critical Theory (CT) has endowed contemporary social and international thought. In social theory, Axel Honneth has framed this as a question of the ‘legacy’ of CT and in Critical International Relations Theory (CIRT), Andrew Linklater has framed this as a question of its ‘achievements’. This paper builds upon these analyses and argues that by including what I call ‘cosmopolitan social-relations’ to its study of social-life, CT may overcome some of the key limitations identified by Honneth and Linklater regarding the problems of historical agency and historical sociology. However, the paper seeks to contribute to the future development of CT and CIRT by moving beyond Honneth and Linklater’s analysis, in order to examine the cosmopolitan dimensions of recognition that have not yet been developed in the literature of critical social or IR theory. The paper argues that if we can identify a cosmopolitan sphere of recognition – in addition to Honneth’s triad of ‘love, rights and solidarity’ – that CT may retain its claim to be a form of “historically effective reason” and its “normative motif of a rational universal, the social pathology of reason, and the concept of an emancipatory interest” (Honneth). Ultimately, the paper argues that only a form of mutual recognition that moves across both local and cosmopolitan ties of political community could secure the Hegelian conditions of freedom in which we all are free in, and through, the other. Only in this way, could the conditions for the emergence of Homo Cosmopolitānus be secured through truly global processes of mutual recognition.

Shannon Brincat has a PhD in International Relations from the University of Queensland, Australia, that examined the concept of emancipation in Critical International Relations Theory. He is the co-editor of the journal Global-Discourse and has been working on the development of a Global Greenhouse Gas Tax Draft Treaty at the University of Helsinki, Finland. He has co-edited and contributed to Critical Theory in International Relations and Security Studies: Interviews and Reflections (Routledge, 2011) and is the editor and contributor to the three volume series Communism in the 21st Century (Praeger, 2012). His articles have appeared in The European Journal of International Relations, Review of International Studies, Constellations, Alternatives, and The Journal of International Political Theory, amongst others.