The bête noire and the noble lie: the International Criminal Court and (the disavowal of) politics

Christof Royer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


For the traditional legalistic discourse on the International Criminal Court (ICC), “politics” is a bête noire that compromises the independence of the Court and thus needs to be avoided and overcome. In response to this legalistic approach, a burgeoning body of literature insists that the Court does not exist and operate “beyond politics”, arguing that the ICC is an institution where law and politics are intimately connected. The present article seeks to contribute to this “non-traditional” literature by addressing two of its fundamental weaknesses: First, writers of the “non-traditional camp” often present a rather limited view of “politics”; in particular, they have shied away from taking the radical step of portraying and analysing the ICC as a “political actor”. This undermines both its critical and constructive potential. Secondly, these commentators offer a simplistic explanation as to why “traditionalists” treat politics as the ICC’s bête noire: Traditionalists, they claim, are “legalists” with scant interest in and understanding of politics. By focusing on the ICC’s nature as a political actor, this article does not only paint a more nuanced picture of the ICC but also demonstrates the constructive potential of this understanding of the ICC to shed light on the so-called “peace versus justice dilemma”. And secondly, it demonstrates that precisely because the ICC is and ought to be a prudent political actor, it must officially disavow politics. The “noble lie” of disavowing politics, therefore, is a prudential strategy to avoid dangerous moral and political consequences and, ultimately, to secure the continued existence of the ICC itself.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
VolumeFirst Online
Early online date25 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2018


  • International criminal justice
  • International political theory
  • International Criminal Court
  • Carl Schmitt
  • Judith Shklar
  • Noble lie


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