Among intellectuals of a more oppositional cast, the idea that reference to human rights has served as a threadbare cloak for both Realpolitik and depoliticization is uncontroversial. Ever since its consolidation in the 1970s as a crucial ingredient in the legitimation of U.S. superpower, the notion that international politics should be subordinated to human rights has shadowed military operations whose claim to act in the name of humanity is easily debunked.1 The invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, together with the deployment of a bewildering arsenal of supra- and infraterritorial violence, from renditions to drone strikes, have done much to eliminate the moral halo that still accompanied the notion of humanitarian intervention well into the 1990s.

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About Alberto Toscano

Reader in critical theory in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. His most recent book, Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (Verso, 2010), explores the history of the pejorative perception of uncompromising politics in Western thought, tracing how the menace of extremist abstraction continues to determine much of our thinking about secularism, religion, and militancy. His Cartographies of the Absolute (co-authored with Jeff Kinkle), on the aesthetics of contemporary capitalism, is forthcoming in 2014. He sits on the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism and is the series editor of The Italian List at Seagull Books.