Immanuel Kant, as one of the major thinkers of the Enlightenment, argues that universal history denotes the movement of humankind from political immaturity or domination to political maturity or republicanism. Nature provides nothing but an impersonal backdrop to this story; for Kant, Enlightenment, or maturity, is a developmental or long-term process in which each generation builds on the political experience and knowledge of the previous ones. Civilization, thus, is the condition of a cumulative process of political maturity brought about by humankind using its reason.

As the title of this essay indicates, Kant writes from the vantage point of a citizen of the world. This means that the essay is written by someone who views himself as a citizen whose identity is not bounded by a nation or a state, but by a transcendental horizon which, for Kant, means the universal condition and capacity of human reason. This horizon underlies this essay — as it does all of his political writings - which begins by asking how human beings can live together in a way that minimizes the conditions of violence and tyranny. It takes concrete form in Kant's ideal-type construction of a modern republican, constitutional state. Kant's essay raises many, if not most, of the issues concerning civilization and culture to which many of the essays and extracts will return again and again.