Cosmopolitan dystopia

International intervention and the failure of the West

Author: Philip Cunliffe

Liberal cosmopolitanism promised a humane and progressive vision of global reform and improvement, in contrast to the terrible utopian projects of the twentieth century. Yet the efforts to globalise human rights and democracy through force have subverted the liberal international order and produced a new type of cosmopolitan dystopia, in the form of permanent war, jihadist insurrection and a new paternalism embodied in transnational protectorates and the paradigm of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’. Cosmopolitan Dystopia explains how this came about through the rise of humanitarian exceptionalism. The book argues that humanitarian exceptionalism saw humanitarian emergencies as opportunities to develop deeper forms of human solidarity that went beyond nation states, thereby necessitating military responses to each new crisis. This in turn helped to normalise permanent war. As the norm and exception have collapsed into each other, the rules-based order envisioned in traditional liberal internationalism has corroded away. Efforts to embed humanitarian exceptionalism into the international order have undermined the classical liberal ideal of self-determination, with the spread of protectorates and a new paternalist legitimisation of state power in the ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ paradigm.

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‘Written by one of the top analysts in the peacebuilding field, this highly readable book provides a wealth of fresh and powerful insights. Brimming with new and important framings, from the cosmopolitan dystopia of the title to the treatments of humanitarian anti-diplomacy and new forms of hierarchical sovereignty, this book is a must read for students and practitioners alike.
David Chandler, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster 

‘This book presents a fundamental challenge to all those who have understood globalisation, humanitarian interventions, and the almost universal acceptance of the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) as progressive steps in the development of international relations from its primitive realist origins involving diplomacy, balance of power politics and war. It discusses the ways in which the superpower (and its great power allies) have intervened militarily in a string of countries in response to exceptional threats to human rights posed by their governmments' gross crimes against human rights. Instead of ushering in a set of stable democratic and rights respecting states, these interventions have decimated the target states and resulted in a period of seemingly never-ending war. Philip Cunliffe has produced a powerful set of arguments to uncover the logic of contemporary liberal international relations.  Far from being progressive, he argues, these interventions, that were justified on ethical grounds, have ushered in a cosmopolitan dystopia, destroyed conventional state sovereignty, eroded traditional modes of politics, and undermined long-standing practices of diplomacy which sought to resolve competing state interests.
Mervyn Frost, Professor of International Relations, King’s College

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