Systemic evil and the international political imagination

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In light of the persistence of discourses of atrocity in the post-Holocaust era, and with the resurgence of talk of evil that followed 11 September 2001, it is clear that the idea of evil still possesses a powerful hold upon the modern imagination. Yet, the interplay of evil and the political imagination – in particular, how different images of evil have shaped the discourses and practices of international politics – remains neglected. This article suggests that evil is depicted through three contending images within international politics – evil as individualistic, as statist and as systemic – and their corresponding forms of collective imagination – the juridical, the humanitarian and the political. It argues further that the dominance of the juridical and, to a lesser extent, the humanitarian imagination obscures our ability to imagine and respond to political evils of structural or systemic violence. Drawing on the example of global poverty, this article contends that the ability to portray and critically judge systemic evils in international politics today depends upon enriching our narratives about indefensible atrocities and reimagining our shared political responsibilities for them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-440
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • Arendt
  • Global poverty
  • Judgement
  • Political imagination
  • Political responsibility
  • Systemic evil


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