Empire and Cosmopolis: Universalism from Rome to Washington (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2009 faculty weekend seminar led by Anthony Pagden.

Can “cosmopolitanism”–a Stoic idea first conceived of in the context of the empire of Alexander the Great–ever be detached from the concept of “empire”? Is it possible to imagine a universal brotherhood of mankind without also accepting the need for a single political order? This faculty weekend seminar began with the Roman idea that their imperium was the manifestation of just such a brotherhood–a “civilization” which embodied a varied set of beliefs and cultural expectations bound by a single rule of law–which would finally embrace the entire world. With touchstone readings selected to orient discussion, participants explored how this concept determined the course of the European, and later Western, empires until the final extinction of most overt forms of imperial government in the mid-twentieth century. At the same time, participants observed the parallel development of the great Islamic, Mongol, Chinese, and Russian empires, all of which, at various points in their histories, drew upon analogous claims to universality. Faculty with advanced research projects that usefully illuminate these topics were encouraged to apply. Participants introduced their own projects and engaged in discussion with knowledgeable colleagues.

Director: Anthony Pagden is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and History at UCLA. Among his many books are Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present (2001) and Lords of all the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France c. 1500–c. 1800 (1995). He is currently completing a study of Cosmopolitanism in the Enlightenment.