Author ORCID Identifier

Hengameh Saberi: 0000-0002-9943-7290

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Björnstjern Baade, Dana Burchardt, Prisca Feihle, et al. Cynical International Law? : Abuse and Circumvention in Public International and European Law. Springer; 2021


This essay is a brief tour through the philosophical journey of cynicism as a critical ethos and modus of political agency. Against colloquial and psychological uses, all with a crippling effect, it seeks to remind of the best potential of a philosophical cynical temperament for a sense of empowered agency by revisiting its travels from ancient Athens to our time. With that history in sight, it will then in a preliminary and experimental fashion imagine some possible avenues through which international law can begin to appreciate a cynical orientation as a force for good rather than an enemy to deny, dismiss or psychologise in paralysed surrender.

Understanding the history of a cynical orientation as a mode of active engagement through social critique has an eye on the present and the future. It is to direct us toward a meaningful way to channel in the individual and collective cynical reservoir for clamming agency against exclusionary social structures. The first, essential step toward developing that temperament however, is to have clarity about cynicism’s distinctive philosophical history, filtering out destructive effects of resignation as a sensibility, apathy, disillusionment, and despair over one’s individual alienation and social nihilism. Modest but unavoidable, it is this very first step which motivates the present essay.


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