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Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism

Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism [Kindle Edition]

Michael Barnett
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Empire of Humanity explores humanitarianism’s remarkable growth from its humble origins in the early nineteenth century to its current prominence in global life. In contrast to most contemporary accounts of humanitarianism that concentrate on the last two decades, Michael Barnett ties the past to the present, connecting the antislavery and missionary movements of the nineteenth century to today’s peacebuilding missions, the Cold War interventions in places like Biafra and Cambodia to post–Cold War humanitarian operations in regions such as the Great Lakes of Africa and the Balkans; and the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 to the emergence of the major international humanitarian organizations of the twentieth century. Based on extensive archival work, close encounters with many of today’s leading international agencies, and interviews with dozens of aid workers in the field and at headquarters, Empire of Humanity provides a history that is both global and intimate. Avoiding both romanticism and cynicism, Empire of Humanity explores humanitarianism’s enduring themes, trends, and, most strikingly, ethical ambiguities. Humanitarianism hopes to change the world, but the world has left its mark on humanitarianism. Humanitarianism has undergone three distinct global ages—imperial, postcolonial, and liberal—each of which has shaped what humanitarianism can do and what it is. The world has produced not one humanitarianism, but instead varieties of humanitarianism. Furthermore, Barnett observes that the world of humanitarianism is divided between an emergency camp that wants to save lives and nothing else and an alchemist camp that wants to remove the causes of suffering. These camps offer different visions of what are the purpose and principles of humanitarianism, and, accordingly respond differently to the same global challenges and humanitarianism emergencies. Humanitarianism has developed a metropolis of global institutions of care, amounting to a global governance of humanity. This humanitarian governance, Barnett observes, is an empire of humanity: it exercises power over the very individuals it hopes to emancipate. Although many use humanitarianism as a symbol of moral progress, Barnett provocatively argues that humanitarianism has undergone its most impressive gains after moments of radical inhumanity, when the "international community” believes that it must atone for its sins and reduce the breach between what we do and who we think we are. Humanitarianism is not only about the needs of its beneficiaries; it also is about the needs of the compassionate.

From the Back Cover

Michael Barnett takes the reader on a fascinating intellectual journey through the rich and little known history of humanitarianism, its roots in religious tradition, and its ambiguous and conflict-ridden relationship with diplomacy and military power. Empire of Humanity is a great read that explains much about why the humanitarian enterprise has ended up where it is now; it is thoughtful, well written, and nuanced.--Andrew Natsios, Georgetown University, former vice president of World Vision U.S. (1993-1998) and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (2001-2006)

The ability to respond to the pain of a suffering world means neither to believe in oneself blindly nor to doubt oneself into paralysis. This subtle truth emerging from the epoch of humanitarianism, as Michael Barnett panoramically reconstructs it, takes the field to an entirely new level of sophistication and reflection. Synthesizing disparate research into the past of transnational compassion, Barnett's outstanding book turns to history to make a major contribution to the study of international politics and lay the ground for a future in which sympathy and self-questioning depend on one another.--Samuel Moyn, Columbia University, author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History

Returning to the Western sources of humanitarianism, Michael Barnett offers a history in the longue durée, from the antislavery movement to contemporary killing fields and refugee camps. His lucid and honest analysis of the ideologies and practices, ambitions and engagements, ambiguities and contradictions of the humanitarian movement questions the moral foundations of our politics of compassion.--Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study, and coauthor of The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood

Michael Barnett has pulled off a tour de force with his new book, Empire of Humanity. He unpacks the history, myth, and manipulation of this endeavor, from the founding myths way back in that first period of globalization in the nineteenth century, through the world wars and the cold war to the complexity of today's operations. Barnett shows how humanitarianism has always been intractably tied up with the liberal aspirations of the day and the political necessity for projecting foreign policy, and how the internal angst over whether to save lives and remain neutral or to commit to challenging the causes of inhumanity, has always divided the humanitarian church. This is a solid, highly readable analytical history, standing in stark contrast to many recent works high on cynicism and hype but low on fact.--Peter Walker, Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security and Director of the Feinstein International Center, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University

"In Empire of Humanity, Michael Barnett gives a critical history and a contemporary account of humanitarian practice. Each phase is differentiated by the particular sociohistorical combination of three sets of forces--destruction (states and warfare), production (capitalism), and compassion (norms in international relations). Barnett surveys the variety of dilemmas humanitarians have faced and the choices they have made; his compelling account is the most comprehensive and sophisticated single-volume analysis of the history and practice of humanitarianism currently available."--Stephen Hopgood, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, author of Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International

This well-paced and lucid book is the political history against which every other account of humanitarianism will have to be measured. Barnett opens up the field of humanitarianism for further study in a manner that few could emulate. This book has breadth and depth. It is scholarly and yet immensely readable--anyone interested in NGOs, volunteers, practitioners, and policymakers will need to read this text to make sense of humanitarian aid today. An indispensable book.--Bertrand Taithe, University of Manchester

This is the first major scholarly book that covers the Western humanitarian system since its beginning. Empire of Humanity is indispensable.--Craig N. Murphy, John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1595 KB
  • Print Length: 311 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0801447135
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (10 Jun 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0055O1DHA
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #389,775 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars .. 10 July 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One of the reviews describes it as the best single volume on the subject. This is an excellent introduction.

Highly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism 3 Oct 2013
By Flavia - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is okay, though a bit schematic. The author tries to formulate abstracts like eras (one coming after the other) and the "forces" in interplay producing each "era". Actually, it takes maybe too much time talking about abstracts and too litle talking about regular plain facts and events and regulations and specific actions.
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They did so by following several basic principles: impartiality, for they must give aid based on need, not on who is being helped or where they live; neutrality, for they must avoid appearing to act in ways that favor one side or another; and independence, for they must be unconnected to any party with a stake in the conflict. &quote;
Highlighted by 8 Kindle users
I identify three distinctive ages of humanitarianism, an age of imperial humanitarianism from the late eighteenth century to World War II, an age of neo-humanitarianism from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, and an age of liberal humanitarianism from the end of the Cold War to the present. &quote;
Highlighted by 8 Kindle users
While many histories of humanitarianism emphasize either geopolitics, capitalism, or ethics, I emphasize how these three combined to shape the global environment in which humanitarianism operated. &quote;
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