Triumphing over evil: Edmund Burke and the idea of humanitarian intervention

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This article argues that one of the main justifications underlying Burke’s plea for a military campaign against revolutionary France was based on humanitarian considerations. With its revolutionary doctrines, France had committed an open act of aggression against the European community of states, the containment of which required a right of intervention and the immediate restitution of the ancien regime. The French Republic endangered the lives of its own citizens, those of Europeans in general, and was liable to lead to the collapse of the whole ancient order upon which the European family of states depended. The motivation and evidence for this is to be found in his understanding of the law of nations, developed from customary practices that constituted a society of states or the Commonwealth of Europe as Burke termed it. It is in this respect that Burke departs significantly from better known codifiers of the law of nations such as Grotius, Pufendorf and Vattel. As such, the basis for ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Burke’s writing is predicated upon common and customary law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)276-298
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of International Political Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2016


  • Edmund burke
  • Humanitarian intervention
  • Just war theory
  • Law of nations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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