Monday, March 6, 2023

Witt on Kinsella on Lieber's Code and Settler Empire

In Lieber at Sand Creek: A New Critical Reinterpretation of the Laws of War, a post on Just Security, John Fabian Witt comments on Helen M. Kinsella’s Settler Empire and the United States: Francis Lieber on the Laws of War, which appeared in the American Political Science Review. The post concludes:

[T]he most exciting feature of Kinsella’s article is the foundational puzzle it raises for legal historical interpretation. What counts as an adequate historical explanation when the regime under study is pervasively conditioned by empire? On the one hand, empire’s ubiquity powerfully conditioned the Lieber Code, as it did virtually every development in the nineteenth-century laws of war. On the other hand, the very fact of empire’s pervasiveness limits its capacity to explain the distinctive features of something like the Lieber Code. Neither the Code’s special vices, nor its particular virtues, stand out in Kinsella’s account. And that is a loss – for it undoubtedly had plenty of both.

--Dan Ernst