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The humanity of universal crime: inclusion, inequality, and intervention in international political thought

Graf, Sinja (2021) The humanity of universal crime: inclusion, inequality, and intervention in international political thought. Oxford University Press, New York, NY. ISBN 9780197535707

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Identification Number: 10.1093/oso/9780197535707.001.0001


The international crime of “crimes against humanity” has become integral to contemporary political and legal discourse. However, the conceptual core of the term-an act offending against all of mankind-runs deep in the history of international political thought. In an original excavation of this history, The Humanity of Universal Crime examines theoretical mobilizations of the idea of “universal crime” in colonial and post-colonial contexts. The book demonstrates the overlooked centrality of humanity and criminality to political liberalism’s historical engagement with world politics, thereby breaking with the exhaustively studied status of individual rights in liberal thought. It is argued that invocations of universal crime project humanity as a normatively integrated yet minimally inclusive and hierarchically structured subject. Such visions of humanity have in turn underwritten justifications of foreign rule and outsider intervention based on claims to an injury universally suffered by all mankind. The study foregrounds the political productivity of the notion of universal crime that entails distinct figures, relationships, and forms of authority and agency. The book traces this argument through European political theorists’ deployments of universal crime in assessing the legitimacy of colonial rule and foreign intervention in non-European societies. Analyzing John Locke’s notion of universal crime in the context of English colonialism, the concept’s retooled circulation during the nineteenth century, and contemporary cosmopolitanism’s reliance on crimes against humanity, it identifies an “inclusionary Eurocentrism” that subtends the authorizing and coercive dimensions of universal crime. Unlike much-studied “exclusionary Eurocentrist” thinking, “inclusionary Eurocentrist” arguments have historically extended an unequal, repressive “recognition via liability” to non-European peoples.

Item Type: Book
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 Oxford University Press
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: K Law > KZ Law of Nations
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2024 09:30
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2024 17:51

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