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The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism Paperback – August 28, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0691123943 ISBN-10: 0691123942
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Editorial Reviews


"David Kennedy's new book reflects on the misunderstandings and mistakes that sometimes lurk amidst the work and results of well-intentioned people who are trying to make the world a better place. . . . This is a disheartening but essential book."--Donald W. Jackson, The Law and Politics Book Review

"Important and timely. . . . The most systematic and attentive treatment of the problems that arise when ideas of humanitarian professionalism contradict the real needs of people in distress."--Eric A. Heinze, Perspectives in Political Science

"This is an interesting and important book. . . . [W]hat Kennedy does do well is to argue that the humanitarian community has by and large failed to confront the reality of bad consequences flowing from good intentions."--Ramesh Thakur, Japanese Journal of Political Science

"David Kennedy . . . has written in this work a provocative analysis of those who would better the lives of individuals through action in international relations. . . . Kennedy is always stimulating and well worth reading."--David P. Forsythe, The American Journal of International Law

"There is a sort of almost spiritually liberating quality in [Kennedy's] relentless self-examination, in his search for a meta-shift of focus for the discipline, in his search for new boundaries to trespass beyond what can be concretely said. . . . Kennedy's call for a pragmatic and responsible humanitarian self-empowerment can appeal to many."--Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral, European Journal of International Law

From the Inside Flap

"Here, finally, a practical guide for the world's idealists. David Kennedy reveals international human rights as a noble cause easily perverted when ideals substitute for thought. He wisely asks advocates and policy makers to look at the real needs of real people in real distress, and avoid the seduction of lofty aspiration. A wise and sobering look at a field in particular need of wisdom and sobriety."--Robert B. Reich, University Professor of Social and Economic Policy, Brandeis University, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor.

"David Kennedy's challenging and thought provoking arguments should be read, considered, and internalized by all activists and policy makers in international humanitarianism."--Mary Robinson, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland

"Kennedy's work is sometimes disturbing--even shattering--but always enlightening and ultimately liberating. This is the deepest, most challenging, and effective collection of essays on international and humanitarian activism available today."--Martti Koskenniemi, New York University, author, Gentle Civilizer of Nations

"Kennedy's original insights come out of his attention to the way personal alliances and ideas of professionalism intersect and often contradict humanitarian commitments. This book is a distinctive and original contribution in which Kennedy's bold iconoclastic voice is given full rein."--Hilary Charlesworth, Australian National University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691123942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691123943
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,392,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Peter F. Rousmaniere on March 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
I would love to attend a lecture by the author or dine with him and a small group, or attend a seminar held by him --as his personal style of communicating,largely autobiographical and without notes, fits these mediums. This style in book format is exasperating.

The author is clearly a keen observer and has had access to many people and institutions involved in international humanaritarianism, which (I think) he means as international promotion largely through law of human rights. Means other than though law -- religious movements, cultural movemments, economic vehicles, public health, public discourse, philanthropy, collaborations among small sets of nations -- these are not taken up. His case studies are few and seem selected not on the basis of a schema but it appears mainly as postcards from his personal experience.

There are no footnotes, no bibliography, no direct evaluation of the UN. WTO, WHO, World Bank. He has developed no methodology to use to predict or explain success or failure of a legal initiative, while it is clear from the first pages that be believes this undertakings have at least very mixed results. Thus the reader cannot straightforwardly apply the lessons of the author to a real or hypothetical legal initiative -- for instance, abolition of capital punishment. the reader has pretty much to yank the author's findings out of these verbose pages.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Signs and Wonders on September 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Though the style of this book might seem "perplexing" to new readers of Kennedy's work, this book is a culmination of a distinctive style of critical appraisal which meshes personal experience with doctrinal detail. For a more schematic version of the same theses, see the author's International Legal Structures or Martti Koskenniemi's From Apology to Utopia. Here, Kennedy logs with humor and self-analysis his own imperfect quest to combine the "good fight" with the "good life." In the second and third chapters ("Spring Break" and "Autumn Weekend") Kennedy reprints two classic first-person narratives. The first takes place at a Paraguayan prison, (p. 37) and the second at an international conference on the future of East Timor (p. 85). These memoir-fragments invert the familiar human rights narratives of heroic war correspondents and indignant statesmen; Kennedy's frontline is neither the killing fields nor the seat of power, but a more familiar world for most of us: the mundane conferences and awkward conversations of a nascent "international civil society." He reveals with sympathy but not superiority the ambiguous motives, human faults and fantasies underlying cosmopolitan activism. While we might sometimes wince as Kennedy skewers well-meaning doers and hard-won deeds, the forcefulness of his critique increases proportionally with the poltical power of his targets.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey R. Campbell on July 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author understands that the human rights movement has gone badly wrong, but he cannot explain why or what to do about it. Instead, Mr. Kennedy gives us mere repetition of plastic words like "vocabulary", "heuristic", and "pragmatism". With such little content, its length (357 pages, I read every one of them) is damning. A good book on this topic would discuss some of the worst failures of the human rights movement. For example, applying the laws of war exclusively to states has induced non-state belligerents to use civilians as human shields. It would then proceed to apply clear analytical thinking to their correction. The author appears to have no appetite for such an undertaking, and he certainly doesn't have the required tools.

The author is the Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. If I were one of Mr. Hudson's heirs, I would try to get his money back.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Haskell on May 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
'The Dark Sides of Virtue' is a very important read for anyone interested or already engaged in international law / international relations.
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Betty Burks on February 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
The Shadowy Past of A Real Town., February 8, 2007

Reviewer: Betty Burks (Knoxville, TN) - See all my reviews

The cover of this paperback is a gravestone along the lines of Brian Conley's weird book of ten years earlier. That was about Jim Love, a fictitious character who took cocaine. At the present time, a newly-appointed county commissioner admits he sold cocaine. The name refers to a story showing the dark side of Knoxville right out of the book, 'Suttree.' He blames it on a writer from Switzerland who thought that the "city" was dirty and ugly; she took morphine in 1937 making her views unreliable.

The riverfront barges to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, were something I did not know about. Recently, he "interviewed" a California prostitute who purportedly practiced her trade in this town. I am wondering when he will find the two from New Orleans who are presently plying their wares to certain public bus drivers. That wasn't in 'Suttree.'

Bars, alehouses, wine and spirits liquor stores abound in his books and articles of which they are comprised. In this one, Harry C. was deemed a hero because he sold liquor to the decadant residents for many years until shortly before his death. The violent street resembled those of the Wild West, like 'Suttree' pretty horses movie. McAdoo's electric trolley system back then was a forerunner of today's #1 in American bus system which was that only on paper. In actuality, it is struggling to keep going, cutting back on the hours and services but propsing a floating (in air) transit center along and under the Church Street bridge and hanging in mid-air over busy James White Parkway.

These pieces are from a wild imagination.
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