This article assesses the recent use of contractarian strategies for the justification of cosmopolitan distributive principles. It deals in particular with the cosmopolitan critique of political membership and tries to reject the claim that political communities are arbitrary for the scope of global justice. By focusing on the circumstances of justice, the nature of the parties, the veil of ignorance, and the sense of justice, the article tries to show that the cosmopolitan critique of political membership modifies the contractarian premises in a way that is both unwarranted and unnecessary. While failing to establish principles of global distributive justice, existing cosmopolitan adaptations of the social contract device simply weaken the method's justificatory potential.
Earlier versions of this article were presented at the University of Essex Political Theory Conference and at the conference on “The Social and the Political” at the European University Institute. I am grateful to participants at these events, as well as to Renato Caputo, Bob Goodin, Katrin Flikschuh, Peter Wagner, Jonathan White, the editors and referees of The Review of Politics for their excellent comments and suggestions.