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Cosmopolitan law and time: Toward a theory of constitutionalism and solidarity in transition



This article seeks to confront the contemporary condition in which cosmopolitan law – meant to resonate as something citizens across borders author and live together – instead is increasingly a source of detachment, confusion, and alienation. Taking the European Union’s twin crises of democratic legitimacy and social solidarity as its starting point, the article offers a critique of existing approaches to supranational constitutionalism that are insufficiently responsive to this disenchantment. The article’s purpose, in turn, is to present perspectives from philosophy and legal theory that might promisingly recast, in this new cosmopolitan frame, our thinking about law as a mode of social integration. Specifically, the article’s central claim is that time – as a seldom-examined, yet essential dimension of law – is closely linked to law’s cosmopolitan potential and, concurrently, to the motivational resources for cosmopolitan solidarity. It is through a sensitivity to time – our awareness of the past passing into the present in anticipation of a future – that citizens can meaningfully hold together cosmopolitan law’s dual, ostensibly divergent hopes: shared commitment and self-decentring plurality. Drawing on Seyla Benhabib’s ‘democratic iterations’ and its roots in the work of Jacques Derrida and Robert Cover, the article elaborates the following two concepts: ‘cosmopolitan promise-making’, a diachronic form of cosmopolitan political agency; and ‘cosmopolitan legal narrative’, a set of plural, evolving constitutional interpretations open to mutual engagement over time. These concepts, in temporalizing our understanding of political identity and constitutional law, together serve to underwrite a cosmopolitan legal order without also thinning solidarity’s social and democratic foundations. The article concludes with a critique of the contemporary role of European courts and a concrete vision for the cosmopolitan development of EU jurisprudence. Reinterpreting Article 4(2) TEU as the right to constitutional narrative, the article advances new modalities and normative aspirations for constitutional interpretation beyond the nation-state.


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1 Václav Havel, Speech in the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 8 March 1994, <>, accessed 12 January 2015.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid. For an important account of law’s expressive symbolism, a broader framing to which I am very much indebted, see Přibáň, J, Legal Symbolism: On Law, Time and European Identity (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007).

4 See, eg, Isiksel, T, ‘On Europe’s functional constitutionalism: towards a constitutional theory of specialized international regimes’ (2012) 19(1) Constellations 102.

5 Hauke Brunkhorst cites the following deficiencies in the EU legal framework: ‘discrimination of residents, potential deportation of EU citizens out of individual countries, democratically insufficient rights to participation, privileging of the executive and the state apparatus’. Brunkhorst, H, Solidarity: From Civic Friendship to a Global Legal Community (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005) 172.

6 See Bauman, Z, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Polity Press, Cambridge, 2006).

7 I draw in parts of this introductory section on my, ‘The Spirit and Task of Democratic Cosmopolitanism: European Political Identity at the Limits of Transnational Law’ (2012) 8 Croatian Yearbook of Law and Policy 176–7.

8 See Case C-120/95, Nicolas Decker v Caisse de maladie des employés privés [1998] ECR I-1831. See also Case C-158/96, Kohll v Union des caisses de maladie [1998] ECR I-1931.

9 See Gobrecht, J, ‘National Reactions to Kohll and Decker’ (1999) 5(1) Eurohealth 17; see generally Willy Palm et al., ‘Implications of recent jurisprudence on the co-ordination of health care protection systems’ (Association Internationale de la Mutualité, Brussels, 2000).

10 See Newdick, C, ‘Citizenship, Free Movement and Health Care: Cementing Individual Rights by Corroding Social Solidarity’ (2006) 43 Common Market Law Review 1645.

11 See, eg, Case C-438/05, The International Transport Workers’ Federation & The Finnish Seamen’s Union v Viking Line ABP & Oü Viking Line Eesti [2007] ECR I-10779; Case C-341/05, Laval un Partneri Ltd v Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundet and others [2007] ECR I-11767; Case C-346/06, Dirk Rüffert v Land Niedersachsen [2008] ECR I-1989.

12 Brunkhorst’s work, it must be noted, is an important exception. See Brunkhorst (n 5). Nevertheless, while his critiques of European integration are compelling, Brunkhorst’s articulation of a thicker strand of solidaristic thinking in the end departs little from a Habermasian discourse theory of law and constitutional patriotism.

13 See generally Benhabib, S, Dignity in Adversity. Human Rights in Troubled Times (Polity Press, Cambridge, 2011); Benhabib, S, ‘Claiming Rights across Borders: International Human Rights and Democratic Sovereignty’ (2009) 103(4) American Political Science Review 691; Cohen, J, ‘Changing Paradigms of Citizenship and the Exclusiveness of the Demos’ (1999) 14(3) International Sociology 245; Walker, N, ‘The Idea of Constitutional Pluralism’ (2002) 65 Modern Law Review 317; see also Kumm, M, ‘Who is the Final Arbiter of Constitutionality in Europe?: Three Conceptions of the Relationship between the German Federal Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice’ (1999) 36 Common Market Law Review 351; Kumm, M, ‘The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Conflict: Constitutional Supremacy in Europe before and after the Constitutional Treaty’ (2005) 11 European Law Journal 262; von Bogdandy, A, ‘Pluralism, Direct Effect, and the Ultimate Say: On the Relationship between International and Domestic Constitutional Law’ (2008) 6 International Journal of Constitutional Law 397.

14 See Habermas, J, ‘Political Culture in Germany since 1968’ in The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historians’ Debate (Nicholsen, SW ed and trans, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989); Habermas, J, ‘Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe’ (1992) 12 Praxis International 1; Habermas, J, ‘Remarks on Dieter Grimm’s “Does Europe Need a Constitution?”’ (1995) 1 European Law Journal 303; Habermas, J, The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory (Cronin, C and de Greiff, P eds, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998); Habermas, J, ‘The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy’ in Habermas, J, The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays (Pensky, M trans, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2001). See generally Müller, JW, Constitutional Patriotism (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007).

15 See, eg, Markell, P, ‘Making Affect Safe for Democracy?: On “Constitutional Patriotism”’ (2000) 28(1) Political Theory 39.

16 J Habermas, ‘Democracy, Solidarity and the European Crisis’, Lecture delivered at KU Leuven, 26 April 2013, <>, accessed 12 January 2015.

17 See J Habermas, ‘The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy’ (n 14).

18 Kumm, M, ‘The Cosmopolitan Turn in Constitutionalism: On the Relationship between Constitutionalism in and beyond the State’ in Dunoff, J and Trachtman, J (eds), Ruling the World? Constitutionalism, International Law, and Global Governance (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009).

19 Sharon Krause has interpreted this ‘motivational deficit’ in terms of the too sharp division in Habermas’s work between the moral and the ethical. See Krause, S, ‘Desiring Justice: Motivation and Justification in Rawls and Habermas’ (2005) 4(4) Contemporary Political Theory 363.

20 Craig Calhoun helpfully distinguishes between constitution as legal framework and constitution as the creation of concrete social relationships, each of which is necessary for a fully developed constitutional-democratic system. Calhoun, C, ‘Imagining Solidarity: Cosmopolitanism, Constitutional Patriotism, and the Public Sphere’ (2002) 14(1) Public Culture 152–3.

21 See, eg, Derrida, J and Habermas, J, ‘February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Heart of Europe’ (2003) 10 Constellations 291.

22 Derrida, J, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe (Brault, PA and Naas, M trans, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1992) 17.

23 Benhabib, S, The Rights of Others: Aliens, Citizens and Residents (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004) 179. See also ibid 19–24; Benhabib, Dignity in Adversity (n 13) 129. See also Resnik, J, ‘Law’s Migration: American Exceptionalism, Silent Dialogues, and Federalism’s Multiple Points of Entry’ (2006) 115 Yale Law Journal 1564.

24 See Benhabib, S, ‘Democratic Exclusions and Democratic Iterations: Dilemmas of “Just Membership” and Prospects of Cosmopolitan Federalism’ (2007) 6(4) European Journal of Political Theory 449.

25 Ibid 451.

26 Ibid 455.

27 See Baubock, R, ‘The Rights of Others and the Boundaries of Democracy’ (2007) 6(4) European Journal of Political Theory 398; Aleinikoff, TA, ‘Comments on the Rights of Others’ (2007) 6(4) European Journal of Political Theory 424.

28 See Aleinikoff, ‘Comments on the Rights of Others’ (n 27).

29 See Honig, B, ‘New Facts, Old Norms: Response to Benhabib’s “Reclaiming Universalism”’ in Benhabib, S, Another Cosmopolitanism: Hospitality, Sovereignty and Democratic Iterations (Post, R ed, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006).

30 Benhabib herself often uses spatial metaphors or a principally spatial vocabulary in discussing the conceptual contours of democratic iterations. Time is seldom thematized directly in her recent work. For example: ‘[D]emocratic iterations signal a space of interpretation and intervention between transcendent norms and the will of democratic majorities’. Benhabib, ‘Democratic Exclusions and Democratic Iterations’ (n 24) 455 (emphasis added). However, it should be noted that Benhabib’s early, pivotal engagement with critical theory incorporated temporal insights more avidly: for example, one can read her exploration of norm and utopia as in some ways analogous to my emphasis on the proportion of continuity or discontinuity over time. It is this temporal dual movement between the ‘politics of fulfillment’ and the ‘politics of transfiguration’ – and its recurrence in each moment of meaningful cosmopolitan politics – that concerns me here. See Benhabib, S, Critique, Norm, and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory (Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1987) 13, 328.

31 Benhabib, ‘Democratic Exclusions and Democratic Iterations’ (n 24) 448.

32 Ibid 451.

33 See, eg, Rubenfeld, J, Freedom and Time (Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2001).

34 See Benhabib, ‘Democratic Exclusions and Democratic Iterations’ (n 24) 454.

35 Benhabib, Dignity in Adversity (n 13) 88.

36 Benhabib, ‘Democratic Exclusions and Democratic Iterations’ (n 24) 447.

37 J Derrida, ‘Signature Event Context’ in J Derrida, Limited, Inc. (Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 1988).

38 Cover, R, ‘The Supreme Court, 1982 Term—Foreword: Nomos and Narrative’ (1983) 97 Harvard Law Review 4. See also Michelman, F, ‘Law’s Republic’ (1988) 97(8) Yale Law Journal 1493.

39 Benhabib, Another Cosmopolitanism (n 29) 48.

40 See Hägglund, M, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2008).

41 Derrida, J, Rogues (Brault, PA and Naas, M trans, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2005) 127.

42 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 16.

43 Derrida, J, ‘Nietzsche and the Machine’ (1994) 7 Journal of Nietzsche Studies 56.

44 Derrida, J, Margins of Philosophy (Bass, A trans, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1982) 13.

45 Hägglund, M, ‘Radical Atheist Materialism: A Critique of Meillassoux’ in Bryant, L, Srnicek, N and Harman, G (eds), The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism (, Melbourne, 2011) 119. Consider, on this note, how we speak everyday of something having ‘taken place’, taken its place in time.

46 For Derrida, this inscription consists in those visible and invisible ‘marks’ that unify and distinguish ideas, the ‘arche-writing’ that is the transmission belt of signification, its parcelling and distribution across time. See Derrida, J, Of Grammatology (Spivak, G trans, reprint edn, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1998) 107–8.

47 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 18.

48 Derrida, J, Writing and Difference (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1978) 226.

49 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 18 (emphasis omitted).

50 Ibid 121–2.

51 Derrida, J, The Politics of Friendship (Collins, G trans, Verso, London, 1997) 13.

52 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 115 (emphasis omitted).

53 See ibid 157.

54 Derrida, J, Of Hospitality (Bowlby, R trans, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2000) 135; Derrida, J, ‘The Principle of Hospitality’ (2005) 11(1) Parallax 6.

55 Derrida, Of Hospitality (n 54) 77.

56 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 29 (emphasis in original).

57 Ibid 72.

58 Ibid 137 (emphasis omitted).

59 Arendt, H, On Revolution (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1963) 167.

60 Honig, B, ‘Declarations of Independence: Arendt and Derrida on the Problem of Founding a Republic’ (1991) 85(1) American Political Science Review 103.

61 I am indebted to Alexandre Lefebvre for this observation. See Lefebvre, A, Human Rights as a Way of Life: On Bergson’s Political Philosophy (Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2013) 80.

62 Habermas himself has expressed evocatively his fears of just this regression in rights culture: ‘the transformation of the citizens of prosperous and peaceful liberal societies into isolated, self-interested monads who use their individual liberties against one another like weapons’. J Habermas, ‘Prepolitical Foundations of the Cosmopolitan State?’ in Habermas, J, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays (Cronin, C trans, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008) 107.

63 Cover (n 38) 4.

64 See ibid 8 (‘Law is a signification that enables us to submit, rejoice, struggle, pervert, mock, disgrace, humiliate, or dignify.’).

65 Ibid 10.

66 Ibid 9.

67 Derrida, The Politics of Friendship (n 51) 13.

68 Julen Etxabe has shown compellingly and with instructive clarity how Cover’s legal theory reconceives the ontology of law, occupying at once the fields of ‘is’, ‘ought’, and ‘might be’ (what Cover, referencing George Steiner, labels ‘alternity’). See Etxabe, J, ‘The Legal Universe after Robert Cover’ (2010) 4(1) Law and Humanities 115, 122. See also Goldoni, M, ‘Robert Cover’s Narrative Approach to Constitutionalism’ (2010) Italian Society for Law and Literature 1.

69 Cover (n 38) 6 (emphasis in original).

70 Ibid 45.

71 Derrida, The Other Heading (n 22) 28.

72 Derrida, J, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (Kamuf, P trans, Routledge, New York, NY, 1994) 54.

73 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 12.

74 Derrida, The Other Heading (n 22) 29.

75 Derrida, J, Speech and Phenomena (Allison, DB trans, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 1973) 85.

76 Arendt, H, On Revolution (Penguin, London, 1990) 206.

77 See Kelsen, H, The Pure Theory of Law (Knight, M trans, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1967).

78 See Arendt, On Revolution (n 76).

79 See Derrida, J, ‘Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority”’ (1990) 11 Cardozo Law Review 919.

80 Cornell, D, ‘The Violence of the Masquerade: Law Dressed up as Justice’ (1990) 11 Cardozo Law Review 1047, 1059 (emphasis in original).

81 Hägglund, Radical Atheism (n 40) 73 (emphasis added).

82 Cover (n 38) 39.

83 Ibid 44.

84 Ibid 40.

85 Ibid.

86 Ibid 44.

87 See ibid 66–7.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid 67.

90 Ibid 57–8.

91 Ibid 58.

92 Ibid 66.

93 See, eg, Walker, N, ‘Late Sovereignty in the European Union’ in Walker, N (ed), Sovereignty in Transition (Hart, Portland, OR, 2003); Kumm, ‘Who is the Final Arbiter of Constitutionality in Europe?’ (n 13).

94 There is some affinity here with Miguel Maduro’s model of ‘contrapunctual law’, though again Cover places greater emphasis on legal narrative’s diachronic integrity than on the synchronic integrity of the legal order as a whole. See M Maduro, ‘Contrapunctual Law: Europe’s Constitutional Pluralism in Action’ in Walker, Sovereignty in Transition (n 93).

95 See, eg, Case C-333/13, Elisabeta Dano and Florin Dano v Jobcenter Leipzig [2014] ECLI:EU:C:2014:2358 (holding that EU law does not prohibit Member States from restricting the access of economically inactive EU migrants to certain non-contributory social benefits and that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has no application in this context); see also Joined Cases C-95/99 to C-180/99, Khalil and others v Bundesanstalt fur Arbeit [2001] ECR I-7413 (interpreting restrictively Regulation 1408/71, on social security, in a case involving stateless persons and refugees); Case C-327/02, Lili Georgieva Panayotova and others v Minister voor Vreemdelingenzaken en Integratie [2004] I-11055 (interpreting restrictively the establishment provisions of the Europe Agreements).

96 See, eg, Case C-256/01, Allonby v Accrington and Rossendale College [2004] ECR I-873; Case C-320/00, Lawrence and others v Regent Office Care Ltd and others [2002] I-7325 (interpreting restrictively Article 141 TEU on non-discrimination in remuneration).

97 See Cruz, J Baquero, ‘The Changing Constitutional Role of the European Court of Justice’ (2006) 34(2) International Journal of Legal Information 245.

98 See, eg, Tridimas, T, ‘Precedent and the Court of Justice: A Jurisprudence of Doubt?’ in Dickinson, J and Eleftheriadis, P (eds), Philosophical Foundations of European Union Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012).

99 See, eg, Mannfred Brunner v European Union Treaty [1994] 1 CMLR 57; and, more recently, Lisbon, BVerfG, 2 BvE 2/08, judgment of 30 June 2009.

100 Cover (n 38) 67 n 195.

101 For a thoughtful discussion on the past and future of EU citizenship law, see Maas, W, ‘The Origins, Evolution, and Political Objectives of EU Citizenship’ (2014) 15(5) German Law Journal 797.

102 Treaty on European Union, Consolidated Version, 30 March 2010, art 4(2) [2010] OJ C83/01.

103 See Besselink, LFM, ‘National and Constitutional Identity before and after Lisbon’ (2010) 6(3) Utrecht Law Review 36.

104 Sieberson, S, Dividing Lines between the European Union and Its Member States: The Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008) 98.

105 Chalmers, D, et al., European Union Law: Cases and Materials (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010) 2020.

106 von Bogdandy, A and Schill, S, ‘Overcoming Absolute Primacy: Respect for National Identity under the Lisbon Treaty’ (2011) 48 Common Market Law Review 4.

107 Ibid 3.

108 See Kumm, ‘The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Conflict’ (n 13).

109 von Bogdandy and Schill (n 106) 15.

110 Ibid 11.

111 Case C-208/09, Ilonka Sayn-Wittgenstein v Landeshauptmann Von Wien [2011] ETMR 12.

112 Case C-391/09, Malgozata Runevič-Vardyn and Łukasz Paweł Wardyn v Vilniaus miesto savivaldybės administracija and others [2011] ECR I-03787.

113 von Bogdandy and Schill (n 106) 26–7.

114 See Kumm, ‘The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Conflict’ (n 13) 286.

115 Kumm, ‘The Cosmopolitan Turn in Constitutionalism’ (n 18) 269.

116 Antaki, M, ‘The Rationalism of Proportionality’s Culture of Justification’ in Huscroft, Get al. (eds), Proportionality and the Rule of Law: Rights, Justification, Reasoning (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014) 284308. See generally Aleinikoff, TA, ‘Constitutional Law in the Age of Balancing’ (1987) 96 Yale Law Journal 943; White, J Boyd, ‘Law as Rhetoric, Rhetoric as Law: The Arts of Cultural and Communal Life’ (1985) 52 University of Chicago Law Review 684.

117 Antaki (n 116) 284.

118 Ibid 297.

119 See Kumm, M, ‘The Idea of Thick Constitutional Patriotism and Its Implications for the Role and Structure of European Legal History’ (2005) 6 German Law Journal 319.

120 Ibid 354.

121 See generally Burt, R, Constitution in Conflict (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992); Ginsburg, R Bader, ‘Speaking in a Judicial Voice’ (1992) 67 New York University Law Review 1185.


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