Giunia Valeria Gatta

«Shklar made me do it!». The liberalism of fear and international intervention

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In this article, I draw on Judith Shklar to provide an alternative to the liberal model of military intervention proposed in the last few years by intellectuals such as Michael Ignatieff. I suggest that Ignatieff misunderstands Shklar's liberalism of fear when he appropriates it as a foundation for military intervention on behalf of human rights. Through a reading of his Tanner Lectures "Human Rights as Politics. Human Rights as Idolatry" on one hand, and drawing on Shklar's entire body of work on the other, I highlight the profound differences separating these authors with regard to: their stance on natural law; the question of foundations and moral universals; the question of voice (Who speaks on behalf of the oppressed?); and their general stance with respect to the legacy of colonialism. I pit what I call Shklar's activism against Ignatieff's interventionism, and put forward a reading of «putting cruelty first» as opening a forum for contestation across nations and cultures.


  • Humanitarian Intervention
  • Shklar
  • Ignatieff
  • Human Rights
  • Liberalism of Fear


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