Cover image for The dark sides of virtue : reassessing international humanitarianism
The dark sides of virtue : reassessing international humanitarianism
Kennedy, David, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxix, 368 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
HV553 .K43 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this provocative and timely book, David Kennedy explores what can go awry when we put our humanitarian yearnings into action on a global scale--and what we can do in response.

Rooted in Kennedy's own experience in numerous humanitarian efforts, the book examines campaigns for human rights, refugee protection, economic development, and for humanitarian limits to the conduct of war. It takes us from the jails of Uruguay to the corridors of the United Nations, from the founding of a non-governmental organization dedicated to the liberation of East Timor to work aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Kennedy shares the satisfactions of international humanitarian engagement--but also the disappointments of a faith betrayed. With humanitarianism's new power comes knowledge that even the most well-intentioned projects can create as many problems as they solve. Kennedy develops a checklist of the unforeseen consequences, blind spots, and biases of humanitarian work--from focusing too much on rules and too little on results to the ambiguities of waging war in the name of human rights. He explores the mix of altruism, self-doubt, self-congratulation, and simple disorientation that accompany efforts to bring humanitarian commitments to foreign settings.

Writing for all those who wish that "globalization" could be more humane, Kennedy urges us to think and work more pragmatically.

A work of unusual verve, honesty, and insight, this insider's account urges us to embrace the freedom and the responsibility that come with a deeper awareness of the dark sides of humanitarian governance.

Author Notes

David Kennedy is Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Kennedy (law, Harvard Univ.) writes personal reflections on trying to liberalize international relations. His "humanitarianism" is a synonym for compassion for individuals. He lists possible negatives or "down sides" to such an orientation, e.g., elevating a focus on law over what law actually achieves for individuals such as victims of war. Kennedy urges a pragmatic focus on consequences. Part 1 focuses on individuals involved in advocacy for human rights. Rather than analyze advocacy organizations like Amnesty International, he reflects on his own experiences in Uruguay, where he visited political prisoners and was involved in a movement that focused on East Timor. Based on such amateur activity, he is probably right to warn about the limits and negatives from such action. The second part deals with policy making and governance and looks at the UN refugee office (UNHCR), the European Union, and state foreign policy. Sometimes he seems to blame the wrong agent for what happens, e.g., UN refugee lawyers for the fact that states insist on viewing asylum for refugees as a prerogative of the sovereign state. Despite endorsements on the cover, this book is recommended only for large libraries that can afford personal observations not always backed by compelling evidence. ^BSumming Up: Optional. Graduate and research collections. D. P. Forsythe University of Nebraska

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xxvii
Part I The International Humanitarian as Advocate and Activistp. 1
Chapter 1 The International Human Rights Movement: Part of the Problem?p. 3
Chapter 2 Spring Break: The Activist Individualp. 37
Chapter 3 Autumn Weekend: The Activist Communityp. 85
Part II The International Humanitarian as Policy Makerp. 109
Chapter 4 Humanitarian Policy Making: Pragmatism without Politics?p. 111
Chapter 5 The Rule of Law as a Strategy for Economic Developmentp. 149
Chapter 6 Bringing Market Democracy to Eastern and Central Europep. 169
Chapter 7 The International Protection of Refugeesp. 199
Chapter 8 Humanitarianism and Forcep. 235
Part III What International Humanitarianism Should Becomep. 325
Chapter 9 Humanitarian Powerp. 327
Indexp. 359