Against the New Utopianism: Response to "Against the New Internationalism" [Full Text]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 19.2 (Summer 2005)

July 13, 2005

There is much that is interesting in Anthony Burke's essay. Unfortunately, Burke is unable to resist hyperbolic language and too readily substitutes rhetorical onslaught for compelling argument. For example, those he criticizes as being neo-imperialists in liberal internationalist clothing are many times over said to present "disturbing" or "disturbing indeed" arguments. We are told that liberty is a "hermaphrodite"; that the war on terrorism constitutes "the democracy that slaughters, the liberator that tortures" (p. 73), as if Abu Ghraib is standard policy rather than aberration and the deaths of civilians intentional rather than a tragic unintended consequence of fighting. Burke's opponents, he says, deploy "notoriously vague" and "fear-soaked rhetoric" as they "scandalously" mimic the ICISS report's title (p. 76). Citing Jürgen Habermas, he calls the war against Saddam Hussein an "unimaginable break" with existing norms (pp. 75, 76). This suggests that there are "imaginable breaks," but we do not know anything about the criteria he is applying. Reserving sunny language for his own proposed alternatives, Burke blasts the idea of state sovereignty itself as "violent and exclusivist," and "linger[ing], like a latent illness, in the very depths of modern cosmopolitanism" (p. 74). These excesses are distracting and cloud the observations in his essay that are perceptive and deserve serious consideration.