Robert Knox ~ Imperialism, Hypocrisy and the Politics of International Law

(2022) 3 TWAIL Review 25-67 
ISSN 2563-6693
Published under a Creative Commons licence

International lawyers typically dismiss accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ as rhetoric. By contrast, this article argues that such accusations are central to international law. The article begins by examining the centrality of accusations of hypocrisy to the 2014 Crimea crisis, noting the crucial juridical function of accusations of hypocrisy. In order to unpack this, the article turns to political theorists of hypocrisy, who see a structural link between ‘modernity’ and ‘hypocrisy’. Modern societies lack an overarching set of agreed ‘values’, making accusations of hypocrisy a crucial political currency. At the same time, the contradiction between formal legal equality and social and economic inequality in modern society constantly generates hypocritical behaviour. The article demonstrates that we can only fully understand this situation in light of the social relations of capitalism. The article charts historically how the unfolding of capitalist social relations gave rise to different configurations of hypocrisy within international law. Finally, the article asks what potential such accusations might have to help transform and overcome the social relations of capitalism and imperialism.