Contemporary western war and the idea of humanity

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In the post-cold-war period Western military force has been deployed in the name of protecting humanity despite the obvious paradox of trying to achieve such protection through means that undermine this very aim. This has generated much debate about the merits of (humanitarian) intervention. In this paper I aim not to take a position in this debate but, rather, to examine its terms. I seek to draw out what is assumed, implied, and obscured by this debate. I explore the larger issue of how the framing of the debate in terms of protecting humanity works to exclude the apparent benefi ciaries from the realm of politics and generates the demand for an urgent, violent resolution to what is produced as an ethical dilemma. I start by exploring the ways in which post-cold-war Western war has been represented as war for humanity. I then draw out how critical scholarship has brought into view the fact that the apparently universal category of humanity is marked by hierarchy, and thus undermines itself. I end by arguing that the idea of humanity provides an ethical framing which both relies on and responds to the problematic association of politics with intelligibility, leaving us with a predicament that cannot be resolved. © 2012 Pion and its Licensors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-876
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironment & Planning D: Society & Space
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Ethics
  • Humanity
  • Intelligibility
  • Liberalism
  • Violence
  • War


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