The Least of All Possible Evils

Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza

Eyal Weizman

This book deals with contemporary forms of state violence that are structured by a similar logic of calculations and managed by an assortment of mechanisms of moderation. Humanitarianism, human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) when integrated into state or military practice, combine to provide the frame and the formulas within which these calculations are currently undertaken. A precise number of dead civilians could thus be set as an upper threshold for “proportional” military bombing missions; the size of fields and tonnage of their produce could thus be calculated against security necessities to moderate the design of territorial infringements; the supply of electric current, industrial diesel, and foodstuff – calculated and calibrated at their minimum possible megawatts, litters and calories – could thus be used to govern a population by keeping it on the threshold of life. The condition of incessant calculations in the collusions of humanitarian, human rights and humanitarian law with the logic of state violence is what this book refers to as the humanitarian present.

Published by Verso Books

April 2012, English
Hardback, 208 pages


Publishers Notes:
Groundbreaking exploration of the philosophy underpinning Western humanitarian intervention. The principle of the “lesser evil” — the acceptability of pursuing one exceptional course of action in order to prevent a greater injustice — has long been a cornerstone of Western ethical philosophy. From its roots in classical ethics and Christian theology, to Hannah Arendt’s exploration of the work of the Jewish Councils during the Nazi regime, Weizman explores its development in three key transformations of the problem: the defining intervention of Médecins Sans Frontières in mid-1980s Ethiopia; the separation wall in Israel-Palestine; and international and human rights law in Bosnia, Gaza and Iraq. Drawing on a wealth of new research, Weizman charts the latest manifestation of this age-old idea. In doing so he shows how military and political intervention acquired a new “humanitarian” acceptability and legality in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


Press Reviews

Ramona Wadi (Middle East Monitor, 16 January 2018)

Alex Baker (Ceasefire Magazine, Jun 2012)

Lindsay Bremner, “Forensic Architecture” (The Architectural Review, October 2012)

Rebecca Close, “Grey Areas” (Review 31, Oct 2012)

Zach Dorfman, “Hard Questions for Humanitarians” (The American Interest, Nov 2012)

eflux on ‘Structural Violence’: excerpted passages

Yotam Feldman, “Collateral Assets” (Radical Philosophy 178, Mar-Apr 2013)

Derek Gregory, “Humanitarian space and the humanitarian present” (Geographical Imagination,  Aug 2012)

Anirban Gupta-Nigam (Marx & Philosophy, Jul 2012)

Lisa Hajjar (Jadaliyya, May 2013)

Edwin Heathcote, “Forensic Architecture is on Trial” (Icon 113, Oct 2012)

Carla Hung (Refulgent Asylum, Sep 2012)

International Herbert Marcuse Society, Book of the Month, November 2012

Omar Jabary Salamanca (Antipode, Mar 2013)

J.D. Moon (Choice Reviews Online, October 2013)

Francesco Moscatelli (Tuttolibri, La Stampa, May 2013) 

Samuel Moyn, “Road to Hell” (BookForum, February/March 2012)

Melissa Ptacek, “On the Ruins of Ruins” (Theory & Event, Vol. 16, Issue 1, 2013)

Theo Reeves-Evison,“Toxic Medicine” (Soundings, Dec 2012)

Simon Reid-Henry, “On the politics of our humanitarian present” (Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2013, volume 31)

Legacy Russell (BOMB Magazine, summer 2012)

Etienne Turpin (Fuse 36/2, Mar 2013)

Patrick Weir (Space and Polity, April 2013)

Rhys Williams (The Socialist Review, October 2012)


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