Responsiblity: from the moral to the political

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Both international criminal law and state responsibility demonstrate the importance and salience of responsibility as a concept in international relations. There exists a body of work in legal theory that explores the nature of responsibility and liability. Much of it, however, is about criminal law and procedure. There is also a body of work in international legal and political theory that looks at debates around collective and corporate responsibility. While I will draw on some of the latter literature, I will not look to the former, as it tends to be about individual moral agents rather than seeing agents as part of political communities. So, in order to explore the confusing and conflicting ways in which both individual and state responsibility have emerged and intersect, I propose looking instead to political theory. After connecting responsibility to speech and discourse, I explore its moral meaning. I argue that moral responsibility, while underlying these legal meanings, also fails to connect to politics. Through the philosophies of Aristotle and Hannah Arendt, I propose how responsibility might be better understood as a political concept. I conclude that privileging the idea of political responsibility would greatly benefit how we deploy ideas of responsibility in the international system, and might make help to make it a more universalizable concept.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResponsibility in international relations
Subtitle of host publicationselected papers from an international roundtable consultation in Vienna
EditorsHans Köchler, Joël Christoph
Place of PublicationVienna
PublisherInternational Progress Organization
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9783900704377
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2023

Publication series

NameStudies in international relations (Vienna, Austria)


  • Responsibility
  • International law
  • War crimes
  • Hannah Arendt
  • Aristotle


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