Rosenfeld, Sofia — Citizens of Nowhere in Particular: Cosmopolitanism, Writing and Political Engagement in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Work Cited
Rosenfeld, Sophia. “Citizens of Noweher in Particular: Cosmopolitanism, Writing and Political Engagement in Eighteenth-Century Europe.” National Identities 4, no. 1 (2002): 25-43.

Contention of the essay: the development of the conceptual space of political engagement among private subjects cannot be reduced to the creation of national loyalties. A body of literature existed, produced in the 18th century under the amorphous space of the transnational Republic of Letters, in which individuals transformed themselves into political spokesmen by de-situating themselves rhetorically.
These authors “encourage us to rethink our often resolutely presentist assumptions about the connection between geographical or familial rootedness, on the one hand, and the political identity associated with citizenship, on the other.” (27)
“For in the years immediately preceding the French Revolution, before the nation-state had become an entirely hegemonic paradigm even in Western Europe, it appears that the idea of political engagement was not yet necessarily dependent on one’s sense of belonging to a distinctive subgroup of humanity. Rather… public action often depended upon the opposite: deliberate deracination and namelessness on the part of the individual subject” (Rosenfeld 2002, 27).
Roots of participatory citizenship in the context of absolutism
Political decision-making and political expression were the monopoly of kings and their chief advisers. Hence a royal endorsement necessary to the publication of anything. It was especially true when it came to international affairs: the determination of foreign policy, until the outbreak of the French Revolution, was the exclusive prerogative of ministers and heads of state.
Yet, the second half of the 18th century saw a growing number of writers from an expanding range of social background. Especially an increasingly broad range of unofficial francophone literature found its way into circulation across Europe. The intention behind those texts was

“to influence a new entity: trans-European public opinion, a realm of philosophical contestation and, ultimately, political pressure established in good measure by writers themselves. Publication and response became a form of public action, a challenge to the absolute sovereignty of the state. And what these authors sought to communicate were generally not suggestions for improving a particular dynasty’s fortunes externally. Instead, they were alternative and often adversarial blueprints for developing international or global political systems that worked against specific royal ambitions and associated conceptions of society, especially on the part of absolute monarchies” (Rosenfeld 2002, 28).

Some of what the history of ideas have categorised as “peace plans” are famous (Penn, Saint-Pierre, Kant), many others are obscure or footnotes in this history.
What Rosenfeld wants to focus on is not so much the details of the content of such peace plans, but “how their individual authors justified writing these polemics, that is, making themselves into political actors, the precursors of participatory citizens, and intruding upon terrain from which they were, in both principle and practice, supposed to be excluded” (Rosenfeld 2002, 28-29).

“At issue is ultimately the question of authorial self-representation in an era before not only the concept of the nation but also the related vision of the author as public spokesman and participant in the business of rule had assumed the self-evident status that it has today” (Rosenfeld 2002, 29).

“Almost all the authors of these polemics call considerable attention to themselves as individuals. They make no effort to disguise the fact that the words on the page are the product of the minds of single, specific beings, writers, who are conveying their own, assume a distinctly modern, proprietary attitude towards their ideas…” (Rosenfeld 2002, 29).

Yet these writers, in describing themselves, insist on their lack of connections to the sphere of decision-making. Moreover, they forgo the chief marker of identity: the legal name. Many times the works were “anonymous”, although the author’s identity was an open secret. They identified themselves by their unbounded affection for humanity at large, calling themselves “Doctor Man’lover” or “a friend of mankind”. (29) They would also call themselves “simple citizen” or “an isolated human being”. “As the literary critic Thomas Keenan points out, the word ‘human’ has long stood, in contradistinction to proper nouns, as ‘the name of that which would precede geographical divisions and political articulations, of that which is by definition essentially unbordered’” (Rosenfeld 2002, 29).
The authors were both individuals with their own singular political thoughts, and individuals without particular connections to any family, location, history, or status.

“Local and national situatedness were here simultaneously subsumed, though not necessarily rejected, in favour of both a universal identity as a human and a personal one as a political actor” (Rosenfeld 2002, 30).

1.    Silence:
Ex: Nouvel essai sur le projet de la paix perpétuelle (Switzerland, 1788) by Antoine de Polier de Saint-Germain.
First, the author leaves off any reference to himself or precise location of the book. Then, he gradually reveals more and more about an alternative aspect of himself: his philosophical orientation and his motivation as a public spokesman on matters of international relations.
2.    Reference to another extra-historical authorial identity:
Ex: République universelle, ou l’Humanité ailée, réunie sous l’Empire de la Raison (André Guillaume Resnier).
During the « Year I » of reason appears the universal Republic. Written by the fictitious « Reinser II de Genève », he established himself as “an alternative moral elite distinguished by its compassion, public mindedness, and dedication to rationality.” (31) He depicts himself as a spokesman for “Reason” and a “martyr for truth”.

“What these texts share is a method of justifying both their production and their contents based on denying the reader’s expectations regarding the author’s familial, local, and even national identity” (Rosenfeld 2002, 31).

Of course these examples were neither unique at the time nor reserved to cosmopolitan themes. “But in the late eighteenth century, the employment of pseudonymous cosmopolitan monikers, in conjunction with expressions of fungible individuality, was especially associated with the publication of transgressive peace plans” (Rosenfeld 2002, 32).
The purpose of pseudonymity
The rhetorical stance of presenting oneself both in one’s singularity as an individual and one’s representativeness as a member of a boundaryless community of humanity served several purposes:
–    “Opened up a space for a new kind of non-nationally-specific political identity and engagement
–    “Rendered feasible a new type of secular political vision outside the related frameworks of both the nation-state and the locality”. (Rosenfeld 2002, 32)
1.    The uses of pseudonymity in the 18th century Republic of Letters
Primary reason for authorial disguise = practical: protect the writer as vulnerable being (censorship + preserving modesty and dignity/social stigma of publication).
But it did not protect completely. The other reason is that it “could potentially function as a form of liberation and, consequently, empowerment, especially for one who wrote from a marginal position in terms of sex, social status, geography, politics, religion, or some combination thereof” (Rosenfeld 2002, 32).
On the one hand, the author could deviate charges of immodesty upon himself to critics on the content of the writing. On the other, it could entail rhetorical benefits for the author as he/she tried to elevate the value of his public utterances as interventions in the public sphere. “And in the case of the peace plans under consideration here, their authors frequently found that they could use their humanitarian pseudonyms as a foundation for epistemological and moral empowerment for themselves as protocitizens, as well as for their political projects” (Rosenfeld 2002, 33).

2.    The effects of this practice on the transformation of the writer into a thoroughly public actor and an example for his own political theory
“… by explicitly drawing attention to their lack of connections or position, eighteenth-century authors could also confirm their radical autonomy and, hence, impartiality as intellectual voices, the fact that they were not beholden to any particular interest or any kind of received wisdom associated with any one faction” (Rosenfeld 2002, 33).
Ex: Ange Goudar noted that because of his status as an outsider he could consider the world of politics objectively, as a “knowable science”, rather than subjectively as a private matter.

“They could also assume a moral authority, and consequently, privilege for themselves that allowed them to overcome the normal obstacles to public expression and, as private individuals, do and say that to which they would ordinarily not be entitled” (Rosenfeld 2002, 33).

They could then strip kings and princes of their exclusive authority and prerogatives, and take their place to write on the public good of the world’s citizens.
Eurocentricism and francocentricism
The danger of this model of abstract universal human is the “Enlightenment thinkers’ difficulty recognizing and coming to terms with difference and heterogeneity, which is another way of saying their tendency to generalize from their own example” (Rosenfeld 2002, 34):
–    They were all men of considerable social and economic privilege
–    The Western European locus and bias is apparent

“The humanitarian cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth century is, in the end, a distinctive kind of local situatedness and privilege chiefly revelatory of membership in the francophone Republic of Letters” (Rosenfeld 2002, 35).

But very few of these plans project a unitary world state. Most are preserving local differences.

“Certainly, both Enlightenment epistemology and Enlightenment political theory depended heavily upon the idea of a uniform human nature. But attachment to this idea in no way meant that variation among humans was seen as impossible or even undesirable” (Rosenfeld 2002, 35).

Often they include “unquestioned francocentric assumptions about what progress towards modernity should entail” (Rosenfeld 2002, 36). But the more important is that they constitute “early attempts to grapple with the difficult task of balancing universalism and difference” (Rosenfeld 2002, 36).

“As such, they offer us an alternative way of conceptualising the roots of individual political engagement, a model tied exclusively neither to nation-state membership nor to the sentiment of national belonging” (Rosenfeld 2002, 36).

Changing name
At first the peace plans were an alliance among constitutional monarchs recognizing human rights in a pacific confederation. The culture of the Revolution led to plans linked to the idea of the republic understood as a form of government characterized by popular sovereignty, constitutional protections for the universal rights of man. A few revolutionary thinkers even proposed plans for federations of individuals, considered as citizens of the world.
At the same time, antipathy to the social hierarchy and the Church led to replace the name in the public sphere with a moniker emphasizing the individual’s political values or public actions. Those wanting to imagine new configurations beyond the national level continued to find it useful to adopt pseudonyms.
An extreme example of this is Cloots: from Prussian Klootz he Frenchifyed his name into Cloots. From baron von Klootz he adopted simply Cloots. From Jean-Baptiste, he unbaptised himself into Anacharsis, name of an ancient Sythian who left his native land to travel civilized countries in search of broader knowledge. He added “orator of the human race”.
“… it was a way to emphasise [sic] that one was both an individual, a single person free to identify oneself at will, and a public servant, writing (which is to say acting) in the name of and for the sake of the good of humanity alone” (Rosenfeld 2002, 38).

At the same time, the idea of the nation as a community of person grew. In 1795, an anonymous author (thought to be Scipione Piattoli), published a plan based on transnational cooperation referring to himself as “the old cosmopolitan Syrach”: in good measure because his views had become out-of-date.

“These examples have the potential to help us see the teleological and often anachronistic ways in which historians of modern Europe have frequently described the coming-into-existence of the citizen out of a locally and then nationally rooted being. In fact, as it turns out, political engagement did not always follow directly from the development of national identity in distance. The model of the abstract human, stripped of any relationship to any particular form of identification but understood as an individual, also provided a foundation for the emergence of the public actor, at least in the realm of rhetoric, before the era of a triumphant bourgeois liberalism in Europe – a situation which suggests that the history of conceptual globalism, needs, along with nationalism and localism, to be rethought” (Rosenfeld 2002, 39).

“Perhaps the key discovery of the authors of these odd peace plans of the late eighteenth century is that identity can be extremely fluid. After all, one can situate oneself not only locally or nationally but also cosmopolitically in multiple ways simply by manipulating that basic identifier that is one’s name. And it is, in part, as a result of this possibility that private persons first began to imagine something like global citizenship” (Rosenfeld 2002, 39).


About Frank Ejby Poulsen

Education: MRes History, European University Institute, Florence, Italy. MSc Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. LLM International law and EU law, University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, France. Academia Profile: Languages: French: Mother tongue Danish: C2 English: C2 German: B1-B2 Spanish: A2-B1 Norwegian and Swedish: reading comprehension
This entry was posted in Articles, Cosmopolitanism, Eighteenth century and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s