While cosmopolitan theorists debate whether a global political order is necessary in order to realise cosmopolitan goals, those who think it is largely agree on what it ought to look like: A multi-level, multi-sited global order based on a principle of dispersed sovereignty. Cosmopolitans have justified this principle of dispersed sovereignty and the resultant political order in two ways: A federalist argument holds that dispersing authority across multiple levels or sites of power is supposed to constrain a global political order from becoming a worldwide despotic Leviathan and offer multiple venues for democratic participation. A functionalist argument holds that dispersed sovereignty is especially suitable to address certain complex, border-transgressing political problems.
In this paper, I argue that by relying on both kinds of arguments, institutional cosmopolitans undermine both the stability and the feasibility of the political order that they envisage. Revisiting classical theories of international integration, I show that federalism and functionalism present conflicting conceptions of transnational institution building. Combining the two, I argue, does not necessarily strengthen the case of recent institutional cosmopolitanism. Moreover, the principle of dispersed sovereignty conflicts with core cosmopolitan values of individualism and equality.