... smart and provocative ... The question of what constitutes 'necessary' cuts to the heart of whether war can ever be abolished — a question that reverberates through this book, even if Moyn is too searching a thinker to proclaim that he has it definitively figured out.
... a continuation of Moyn’s decade-long critique of human rights and the liberal ideology that undergirds them. But, unlike his earlier books, Humane expresses a more avowed anti-imperialism, looking specifically at the misplaced idealism used to justify American Empire to the nation’s elites ... Moyn’s wide reading in North Atlantic philosophy, legal theory, and criticism enables him to reconstruct a centuries-old debate that most scholars have downplayed or ignored ... Moyn’s narrow focus on the law sometimes leads him to mischaracterize parts of his story ... implies that the arguments of humane war’s advocates were the primary reason the United States adopted the tactics of humane war. But such arguments found purchase only when other, more causally important transformations took place—when the advent of new technologies, domestic coalitions, and state institutions encouraged and enabled the United States to dominate the world through light-footprint and 'precision' wars. Furthermore, several countries, including Azerbaijan, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, have used drones without making any pretense of practicing humane war, which suggests that other factors besides the intellectual are driving the use of this especially effective technology ... Intellectually, Moyn’s criticisms of humane war are spot-on. But I can’t help but conclude that his focus on humane war is somewhat behind the times. Arguments for humane war no longer occupy the center of political debate as they did in the Bush and Obama years; Trump’s vulgarities have given the lie to the idea that the United States is an exceptional nation able to ethically govern the world. The recently elected Joe Biden barely mentioned law, and said nothing about humane conflict, in his February speech addressing U.S. foreign policy. Critiques of humane war simply do not speak to the new era of great power competition, which pits the United States and its allies against China, Russia, and other authoritarian powers. Nor do they directly address the major, and consistent, reasons the United States acts in the world as it does: the desire and ability to dominate others ... affirms that observers must focus less on how war is fought and more on whether it is fought. The concern with humane war paved the way for the more ambitious demands anti-imperialists are making today. For the first time in almost a century, we can dare to imagine peace.