The goal of this essay is to analyse the influence of Johann Bernhard Basedow and Rousseau on Kant’s cosmopolitanism and concept of cosmopolitan education. It argues that both Basedow and Kant defined cosmopolitan education as non-denominational moral formation or Bildung, encompassing—in different forms—a thin version of moral religion following the core tenets of Christianity. Kant’s encounter with Basedow and the Philanthropinum in Dessau helps to understand the development of Kant’s concept of cosmopolitanism and educational theory ‘in weltbürgerlicher Absicht’. Rousseau’s role is more complex: he clearly influenced Kant; he is usually considered a precursor of modern nationalism and national education; and recent studies have stressed the cosmopolitan dimension of his educational programme. I claim that the dilemma of education according to Rousseau is that one has to choose between education of homme or education of citoyen, and that there is no way to avoid or go beyond this stark alternative. Kant’s reinterpretation of Rousseau is favourable and creative and has found many followers up to the present, but is misleading, as he ignores the dilemma and imposes his own conception of cosmopolitanism, of cosmopolitan education and of (possible) progress in history on Rousseau while claiming that this was actually Rousseau’s message.