Rites of Affirmation: The Past, Present, and Future of International Humanitarian Law

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In this article I identify, demonstrate, explain, and critique two narratives used in the writing of the past of international humanitarian law (IHL). One tells of IHL’s ineluctable progress, the other of its timeless, culture-less, universal immanence. These appear at odds: one narrates the dynamic process of restraining—and humanising—war through law; the other emphasises a constant and immutable idea of humanitarian restraint that inheres in any human civilisation. Culturally, nonetheless, these two narratives share the same function: both are used to affirm, to exogenous and endogenous audiences, faith in the project to humanise war. Deconstructing these narratives as forms of social memory suggests, however, that both types express and deal with epistemic anxieties about the present achievements of that project; both, in fact, allow practitioners to come to terms with the present state of the project to humanise war by deferring the fulfilment of its promise to the indefinite future.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationYearbook of International Humanitarian Law
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

Publication series

NameYearbook of International Humanitarian Law
ISSN (Print)1389-1359


  • international humanitarian law
  • laws of war
  • culture
  • history
  • historiography
  • social memory
  • progress

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