The Dark Heart of Kindness: The Social Construction of Deflection

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The success of norms constructivists rests in part on their assertion of academic activism as a heroic aspect of intellectual life. Critics of this vision, however, insist on the complicity of norm scholars in creating and maintaining processes of global injustice. Frustrated with this criticism, Richard Price calls for answers to a simple question: can detractors go beyond mere criticism and provide a praiseworthy target toward which norms constructivists can aim? We respond to this challenge, first, by offering an internal critique of Price's logic. We suggest that Price and other norms entrepreneurs underplay the darker, colonial side of modern ethical life on which the successes of norms cascades depend. Second, we draw on Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost to contrast contemporary norms constructivists with the heroic characters represented in and by this book. Norms entrepreneurs, Edmund Morel and Roger Casement, successfully exposed Belgian atrocities in colonial Congo, and Hochschild himself brings this mostly forgotten history to light. Yet the narrative trajectory of these three heroes is tragic, compelling each to face their complicity in the very forces they resist. This tragic vision calls us not to celebrate but to resist the continuing legacies of colonial domination. © 2012 International Studies Association.

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International Studies Perspectives

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