Projections of a Cosmopolitan Empire in the Age of the New Imperialism

Adom Getachew - Professor of Political Science and Race, Diaspora & Indigeneity, The University of Chicago
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This chapter examines visions of “imperial cosmopolitanism” as imagined and projected by African and Asian subjects of the British Empire in the early twentieth century Through a close examination of the short-lived, but consequential journal African Times and Orient Review (published intermittently between 1912 and 1920), I demonstrate how an image of a cosmopolitan British Empire was mobilized to critique the entrenchment of racial hierarchies within the Empire and advance projects of imperial reform. From the perspective of a universal and cosmopolitan empire, the denial of rights of mobility to Asian and African subjects as well as the exclusion of Africans from commercial exchange on equal terms portended a division of the empire according to the color line that threatened its demise. Striking in the journal’s cosmopolitanism is the ways it extended the eighteenth-century emphasis on communication and intercourse as the basis for forging a cosmopolitan world. But rather than ground the right of communication in an account of human nature, the journal situates its claim in a historically specific account of the duties and obligations that issue from imperial relations. This historically grounded cosmopolitanism which attends to both right and duties offers an alternative to a cosmopolitanism that stems from a thin anthropological universalism.


Adom Getachew is Professor of Political Science and Race, Diaspora & Indigeneity at the University of Chicago. She is a political theorist with research interests in the history of political thought, theories of race and empire, and postcolonial political theory. Her work focuses on the intellectual and political histories of Africa and the Caribbean. She is the author of Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (2019) and co-editor, with Jennifer Pitts, of W. E. B. Du Bois: International Thought (2022). She is currently working on a second book on the intellectual origins and political practices of Garveyism—the black nationalist/pan-African movement, which had its height in the 1920s. Her public writing has appeared in DissentForeign Affairs, the London Review of Books, the Nation, the New York Review of Books, and the New York Times