A Contradiction in Terms
Satyabrat Pal
HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION: A HISTORY by Brendan Simms Cambridge University Press, 2012, 408 pp., price not stated
September 2012, volume 36, No 9

The debate over humanitarian intervention started soon after the death of the Cold War and slowly faded, like rigor mortis. This book is a collection of essays by West European historians outraged that both its advocates and opponents either deny or are unaware that, both as concept and practice, humanitarian intervention has a long and living history. They trace its intellectual roots through Grotius to Aquinas, its practice to origins in 17th century Europe, taking 400 pages to establish it as a continuum in the Christian tradition, not as an innovation. One of the older texts of that tradition, the Book of Eccle-siastes, puts it more pithily—there is no new thing under the sun. And the prophet did a generic review of books like these in two other propositions—of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Once the authors finish tracing its genealogy, humanitarian intervention turns out to be a twin of Father Christmas, emerging from a regenerate West European womb before being adopted by the rest of the world, including the heathen, to whom both bring much joy if they are embraced.

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