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This review is from: Of War and Law (Hardcover)
Of War and Law is a deceiving complex book. Like Kennedy's other books, it is very readable, and offers brilliant reflections into global governance - in this case, the heavy topic of war. Or maybe it isn't such a 'heavy' topic, since after all, everything nowadays is framed as a war in America: war on terror, war on drugs, war on fast food... there is even (if we listen to Fox News) a war on Christmas. In such a world where war is no longer bracketed off, where we supposedly are living daily in various states of warfare, it is easy to become desensitized, to stop taking its implications seriously.
At the same time, progressives have a tendency to distance themselves, in the context of foreign affairs, from war. Against warfare, the rally cry is some version of the 'rule of law', which is supposed to stand in contrast to the cynical politics of warfare. But if war has permeated our culture, Kennedy demonstrates in what seems so obvious but only after it is pointed out, there is simply no way to separate law from politics, or for that matter, law from war - what the military has come to term, 'lawfare'.
This has led progressives to view war from afar - both unwittingly desensitized to its effects (e.g., do we still keep count of the civilian casualties in Iraq, or even our troops), and unwilling to venture outside of the formal confines of legal condemnation (e.g., 'The Iraq War is Illegal'). OWAL analyzes the nature of this disengagement, but more importantly, puts forward a passionate, and even radical, polemic that challenges us to reawaken to the implications of the warfare all around us, and to regain our sense of agency. Is war/politics inescapable, even within the confines of legal humanitarianism? Yes. But what Kennedy shows us, this is not cause for despair, but the very grounds for a radical new politics of progressive engagement.
It is easy to read OWAL within the American philosophical tradition of pragmatism, and within the 'skepticism' characteristic of American IR literature, or perhaps even as an offshoot of Sartrian (or Camus) existentialism. While these may be true to varying degrees (more to the first and third streams than the second), OWAL can also be read in light of the French anti-philosophy of A. Badiou, and as a response to the post-Frankfurt school and the rise of postmodern thought. What Kennedy reminds us of, is that to speak truth to power is not merely a catchy phrase to echo at demonstrations, but a grounds for a progressive militancy that is altogether sustainable in our daily cosmopolitan existence. In short, Kennedy reminds us that political success of any form is not acheived through complacency and denunciations, but through organized political action, through serious commitment, and that if international law means anything, if it is a language ultimately of love, of togetherness, that this demands labour and sacrafice. Kennedy's book offers us nothing less than the first openings towards a way beyond the cosmopolitan irony and progressive deprication that characterizes the modern progressive movement.
This book is a must-read (and re-read) for anyone who cares about the idea of making the world a better place and wants to think seriously about the strategies and costs attached to this commitment.