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The Liberal Defence of Murder [Hardcover]

Richard Seymour
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2008
A war that has killed over a million Iraqis was a 'humanitarian intervention', the US army is a force for liberation, and the main threat to world peace is posed by Islam. Those are the arguments of a host of liberal commentators, ranging from Christopher Hitchens to Kanan Makiya, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, and Bernard-Henri Levy. In this critical intervention, Richard Seymour unearths the history of liberal justifications for empire, showing how savage policies of conquest - including genocide and slavery - have been retailed as charitable missions. From the Cold War to the War on Terror, Seymour argues that the colonial tropes of 'civilization' and 'progress' still shape liberal pro-war discourse. and still conceal the same bloody realities.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (1 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844672409
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844672400
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 15.8 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 800,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a socialist, writer, teacher and neurotic. I write regular columns for the Guardian and occasional pieces for other publications, and am the author of, most recently 'Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made' (Pluto, 2014).

Previous books include 'The Liberal Defence of Murder' (Verso, 2008), 'The Meaning of David Cameron' (Zero, 2010), and 'American Insurgents', 'Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens' (Verso, 2012).

I have also contributed to 'Christopher Hitchens and his Critics', 'The Ashgate Research Companion to Political Violence', 'On Utoya: Anders Breivik, Right Terror, Islamophobia and Europe', and 'Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line'.

I was born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland in 1977, and grew up in Protestant squalor and small town idiocy. I have lived in London since 1996, and am currently researching a PhD in sociology at the London School of Economics.

Product Description


A welcome critical engagement, meaningful intellectualism and unbashed factual analysis. --Ariane Koek, Resurgence

Seymour s analysis has truly impressive breadth and depth. --Maria Ryan, Journal of American Studies

Indispensable ... Seymour brilliantly uncovers the pre-history and modern reality of the so-called 'pro-war Left.' --China Mieville, author of Perdido Street Station

About the Author

Richard Seymour lives, works and writes in London. He runs the Lenin's Tomb website, which comments on the War on Terror, Islamophobia and neoliberalism.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A secret history of liberalism and imperialism 15 July 2010
By Zaytoun
I really hate the title of this book. Hate it. It's too shouty. Too much like an Evening Standard placard. But it is undeniably apt. And this book does what the best histories do. It surprises, entertains and illuminates. I say it's a 'secret' history. A lot of what it says you don't chat about in mixed company. Much of it is scandalous, much intriguing. And it will be new to many people. You don't hear every day that Locke was a racist slave-driver, Charles Dickens harboured genocidal fantasies about Indians, the founder of "liberal internationalism" was a KKK supporter and white supremacist, and that all too many of today's liberals have a soft spot for death squads and racist murderers. This is a secret history of "the liberal defence of murder".

Seymour's polemic is apparently motivated by an attempt to undercut the liberal supporters of Bush's wars, like the increasingly yawnsome Christopher Hitchens. This is why the intro and prologue contain a mixture of scattergun arguments, witticisms, interviews, gossip and testimonials, and bitter critique of the 'clash of civilizations'-style stories used to demonise Muslims and justify wars. But it is only when you get to the meat of the text, the four chapters making up the main body of the book, that you start to see how all this fits together. And it's here that the text rises above the usual polemics. Only when you've been through the colonial era, the Cold War, and the era of humanitarian interventions do you really see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Then you understand that pro-war liberalism is not a transitory phenomenon, but merely a recent expression of an old blight.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Second edition 28 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With respect to M A Krull's review, the errors he mentions have now been corrected in the second edition.

The second edition also contains new material and argument, presented in the Prologue and Afterword.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Richard Seymour, who runs the Lenin's Tomb website, has written a fascinating study of Britain's imperial wars and their liberal apologists. They variously claimed that the British Empire brought feminism, humanitarianism, internationalism, secularism or democracy. In reality, empires mean autocracy, reaction and violence. Empire is not and never was a force for good.

He shows how liberals and Labour social-democrats backed the empire's endless wars. They tried to justify their support for imperialism by claiming that the only alternative to empire was barbarism, so the Empire was the lesser evil.

They claimed that empire paved the way for democracy, that conquest meant freedom, and that colonialism brought `civilisation' and `progress'. The reality was far grimmer: between 1872 and 1921 life expectancy in India fell by 20%. In the years 1876-8, between 6 and 8 million Indians died of hunger and in 1896-1900 another 17-20 million died.

After 1917, liberals and social-democrats joined conservatives in defaming communism (later personalised as `Stalinism') as the worst evil, making everything permissible. The logic of anti-communism is a slippery slope, with no stopping place before connivance with the crimes of imperialism. Seymour dissects the shifting lies of the pro-war `left', Greens like Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Trotskyists like Christopher Hitchens. The current fashion of humanitarian intervention fits in with the neoconservatives' moralisation of empire.

Seymour explores the vague and elastic notion of `totalitarianism' and denounces those who call Islam the `third totalitarianism'. He shows how Hitchens distorts his opposition to religion in order to target Islam.

Empires mean domination and exploitation at home and abroad.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Liberal Defence of Murder 11 May 2009
Richard Seymour is the author of the popular left-wing blog "Lenin's Tomb", and this book is his first book. It chronicles the development of the new trend of supposed 'humanitarian' interventionism, and particularly the support of much of the self-declared political Left for this type of imperialist war. For that is what it is, whether its PR campaigns may invoke 'human rights' or not, as Seymour takes pains to make clear.

The author discusses not just the nature and development of the new war-mongering on the part of supposed 'Leftists', but also goes into detail on the history of this type of warfare. Unfortunately, at times this becomes simply yet another list of the many and multifarious imperialist crimes and interventions on the part of Britain, France, the United States etc. in the long and sordid history of imperialism, with the link to specifically leftist or 'liberal' politics sometimes being rather unclear. Yet this is contrasted by Seymour with more in-depth portraits and commentaries on the various current opinion leaders involved with forging the new pro-imperialist consensus among the 'respectable' Left, which contains an interesting range of different people, from Christopher Hitchens to Makiya and from Samantha Power to Norman Geras. Richard Seymour is deservedly unsparing of these modern apologists for imperialist war, but he also takes care to properly describe and contextualize their positions and arguments, which is quite helpful since it allows a succesful and effective contrast between their claims on the one hand and their opportunism and hypocrisy on the other. This, after all, is the point of the book, and in that sense it is definitely a useful and important read.
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