Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2012
When at the end of the eighteenth century Kant penned his reflections on cosmopolitan right, the expansion of western imperialist ventures into the Americas had been underway for several centuries, since the late 1400s, while in the same period the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the British imperial navies had been vying with each other for dominance in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and the Far East. The right to hospitality was articulated against the background of such western colonial and expansionist ambitions. Kant's extensive references to the opening of Japan and China to western travelers and merchants in the “Perpetual Peace” essay give us a very lively sense of this historical context (Kant  1923, 444–446; see also Wischke 2002, 227).
Arendt's reflections on statelessness emerge against a different historical background: the collapse of the multinational and multiethnic empires in Europe in the period between two world wars. The extensive use of denaturalization – that is, revocation of citizenship rights – to deal with unwanted minorities and refugees on the part of the European nation-states emerges in this context. A most brilliant, even if not fully explored, insight on Arendt's part is that the experiences gained by western powers during the colonization of Africa inform and even historically inspire the treatment of minorities in continental Europe. Overseas imperialism and continental imperialism are related. Despite these observations, missing from Kant's as well as Arendt's considerations is an explicit recognition of the economic interdependence of peoples in a world society.