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Humanitarianism in a Post-Liberal World Order

The modern global humanitarian system takes the form it does because it is underpinned by liberal world order. Now the viability of global liberal institutions is increasingly in doubt, a backlash against humanitarianism (and human rights) has gained momentum. I will argue that without liberal world order, global humanitarianism as we currently understand it is impossible, confronting humanitarians with an existential choice: how might they function in a world which doesn’t have liberal institutions at its core? The version of global humanitarianism with which we are familiar might not survive this transition, but maybe other forms of humanitarian action will emerge. What comes next might not meet the hopes of today’s humanitarians, however. The humanitarian alliance with liberalism is no accident, and if the world is less liberal, its version of humanitarian action is likely to be less liberal too. Nevertheless, humanitarianism will fare better than its humanist twin, human rights, in this new world.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Editor’s Introduction

represented a final victory for Western liberal democracy – an unexpected Hegelian denouement in the knotweed of History. Their euphoria – albeit short-lived – provided the entrance music for a new ethical order, constructed by the US, with a basis in liberal humanitarian norms. Without any direct and immediate threat to its hegemony, the US merged its geostrategy with a humanitarian ethics. In 1991, after the Gulf War, the US invaded Iraq in the name of humanitarian concern. The following year, to the applause of numerous humanitarian NGOs, it led a

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

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Journal of Humanitarian Affairs