An anthropological investigation of cruelty and its contrasts

Ronald Stade*, Nigel Rapport

*Corresponding author for this work

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In liberal political philosophy, from Michel de Montaigne to Judith Shklar, cruelty – the wilful inflicting of pain on another in order to cause anguish and fear – has been singled out as ‘the most evil of all evils’ and as unjustifiable: the ultimate vice. An unconditional rejection and negation of cruelty is taken to be programmatic within a liberal paradigm. In this contribution, two anthropologists triangulate cruelty as a concept with torture (Stade) and with love (Rapport). Treating the capability to practise cruelty and the liability to suffer from cruelty as universal aspects of a human condition, Stade and Rapport aim to instantiate the precise enactment of cruelty, firstly, and secondly, to propose a process of its social negation. CIA training manuals and quotidian practice within the British National Health Service are employed as illustrative materials.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophy & Social Criticism
VolumeOnline First
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jun 2022


  • Cruelty
  • Torture
  • Love
  • Intimacy
  • Impersonalism
  • Civil attention
  • Psychology


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