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Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War [Paperback]

by Jean Bricmont
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 1, 2006 1583671471 978-1583671474 English Ed

Since the end of the Cold War, the idea of human rights has been made into a justification for intervention by the world's leading economic and military powers—above all, the United States—in countries that are vulnerable to their attacks. The criteria for such intervention have become more arbitrary and self-serving, and their form more destructive, from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan to Iraq. Until the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the large parts of the left was often complicit in this ideology of intervention—discovering new “Hitlers” as the need arose, and denouncing antiwar arguments as appeasement on the model of Munich in 1938.

Jean Bricmont’s Humanitarian Imperialism is both a historical account of this development and a powerful political and moral critique. It seeks to restore the critique of imperialism to its rightful place in the defense of human rights. It describes the leading role of the United States in initiating military and other interventions, but also on the obvious support given to it by European powers and NATO. It outlines an alternative approach to the question of human rights, based on the genuine recognition of the equal rights of people in poor and wealthy countries.

Timely, topical, and rigorously argued, Jean Bricmont’s book establishes a firm basis for resistance to global war with no end in sight.


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jean Bricmont is professor of theoretical physics at the University of Louvain, Belgium. He is the author of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (with Alan Sokal) and other political and scientific publications.



Diana Johnstoneis a distinguished researcher and commentator on contemporary global politics. She is the author of The Politics of Euromissiles: Europe’s Role in America’s World (Verso, 1985). Her writings have been published in New Left Review, Counterpunch, and Covert Action Quarterly.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Monthly Review Press; English Ed edition (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583671471
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583671474
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superlative book August 14, 2007
Format:Paperback
The adoption of the humanitarian war rationale has had a particularly damaging effect on what remains of the Left in Western countries; one of the basic tenets for Leftists should have been to oppose imperial wars, and it has been disconcerting to witness the adoption of the human rights lingo to either co-cheerlead wars, accept portions of the rationale for war or simply to demonstrate unreflective muddled thinking. Jean Bricmont's book, Humanitarian Imperialism, is a clearly written guide through this moral maze, an unmasking of tendentious interpretation of history, and an antidote to the principal malaise afflicting our times: hypocrisy. It is an important contribution to help the Left to assess critically history, and to break through an intellectual logjam surrounding the so-called humanitarian wars.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheep's Clothing October 1, 2007
Format:Paperback
Recovering from the popular trauma of Vietnam has been agonizing for the nation's imperial managers. Running a global empire requires seizing opportunity when it arises, as well as strafing the unruly when they threaten to break ranks. But all that got a lot harder once the bloody realities of southeast Asia gave intervention a bad name. Still, there's considerable truth in the old saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way", and there's definitely a "will" in Washington-- an imperial will. But after Vietnam, the "way" took some time to crystallize. Enter the concept "humanitarian intervention", a phrase bound to engage the heart of every well-meaning liberal. What better reason to intervene in another country's internal affairs, than to do so under the cover of aiding human rights. No more need for an Ollie North running covert intervention from the White House basement, or being thwarted by a restive anti-war Congress. Now even liberals and anti-globalists can climb on board the interventionist train. And many did, riding all the way to Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq before the wheels fell off in Baghdad.

Bricmont's succinct little volume is about as timely as timely gets. In a 150-plus pages, we're reminded why the US cannot be trusted to conduct any post-WWII intervention, "humantarian" or otherwise. Just as importantly, Bricmont points out how counter-productive these intercessions prove in advancing ordinary standards of human rights. Much of the material here is likely familiar to students of US foreign policy. Still, discussing the track record within the context of humanitarian assumptions serves a very timely purpose, and should be required reading for all who want to climb aboard that meretricious train.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
In this brilliant book, French scientist Jean Bricmont exposes the liberal lie of humanitarian imperialism, showing that imperialism is never humanitarian.

Throughout the last century, the USA and its allies, principally Britain, constantly attacked progressive forces, upholding by force the unjust world order under which we live, attacking workers seeking justice and national sovereignty. The USA is the organ-grinder, Britain the monkey.

The key example is the Soviet Union, which was always forced to defend itself against aggression. As Bricmont notes, defending the Soviet Union, "The leftist discourse on the Soviet Union, especially on the part of Trotskyists, anarchists, and a majority of contemporary communists, usually fails to recognize that aspect of things in its eagerness to denounce Stalinism. But insofar as a large part of Stalinism can be considered a reaction to external attacks and threats (imagine again a regular series of September 11 attacks on the United States), the denunciation amounts to a defense of imperialism that is all the more pernicious for adopting a revolutionary pose."

Bricmont defends workers' nationalism, pointing out, "the `nationalism' of a people that wants to protect advantages gained in decades of struggle for progress is not comparable to the nationalism of a great power that takes the form of military intervention at the other end of the earth. Moreover, if it is true that national sovereignty does not necessarily bring democracy, there can be no democracy without it." Nations that lose sovereignty lose their democracy.

When peoples defend their national sovereignty against an aggressor, they are upholding international law.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Resurgence of Imperialism April 3, 2012
By jcb
Format:Paperback
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its associated political project in the 1990's had a number of consequences. The political movements which had a symbiotic relationship to the old Soviet Union i.e. left wing movements ranging from Stalinists to anarchists fell into political disarray. The economic impact was equally severe, the `planned' economies of `actually existing socialism collapsed and the free market re-emerged in a manner reminiscent of the 19th century. The most important consequence has been the resurgence of imperialism. This has manifested itself in the unending series of wars and interventions which began with Kosovo in the late 1990s. Today the West is at war in Afghanistan having wrecked Iraq. Military intervention in Iran is being proposed by Israel. In addition to military intervention, torture has returned once more as an instrument of state policy.
Unlike the 19th century when the slave trade or some such provided a justification for attacking other lands the imperialism of today requires a new ideological legitimacy cloaked in suitably soothing tones. This ideology goes under the banner of `humanitarian intervention'. Bricmont's book is an analysis and critique of this ideology.
Bricmont writes in a clear and simple fashion. In the chapter on Power and Ideology he makes the important points: a justifying ideology is always necessary when one one state attacks another. In democratic societies ideology is very important for thought and social control. Unlike North Korea where I imagine the populace have few illusions regarding their rulers, in democratic societies we believe ourselves to be masters of our own minds. In the 19th century King Leopold of Belgium took over the Congo, the ostensible reason was to defeat Arab slave traders.
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