Of Humanity and the Law

(2013) 9 Journal of International Law & International Relations 77

6 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2013 Last revised: 22 Aug 2014

See all articles by John Reynolds

John Reynolds

National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Date Written: January 29, 2013


Samera Esmeir’s Juridical Humanity is a compelling account of the relationship between law and the human in colonial Egypt. The book tells a story of how modern law engendered a concept of ‘juridical humanity’ that was rooted in sensibilities of humaneness and operated to inscribe the native Egyptian within the colonial rule of law. In contrast to accounts of colonisation as a venture that dehumanises through exclusion from the law, the project of juridical humanity described by Esmeir connotes a type of inscription within the law that purports to enable a form of humanisation — as seen through a colonial lens — based on a liberal idealising of the ‘rule of law.’ The effect of colonial law’s humane reforms is a process of rendering the natives— hitherto dehumanised by their own despotism — human through the law. Through this particular narrative, Esmeir probes the more general relationship between law and the human with regard to history, nature, sovereignty and violence.

This review considers Esmeir’s pioneering study in relation to postcolonial and postmodernist accounts of law and humanity, as well as third world approaches to international law scholarship and the role of law in the contemporary Egyptian uprisings. It reflects on the crucial contribution of Esmeir’s work in pointing to significant ambivalences in coloniser-colonised dynamics and the relationship between humanity and juridicality.

Keywords: colonial law, Egypt, empire, humanity

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Reynolds, John, Of Humanity and the Law (January 29, 2013). (2013) 9 Journal of International Law & International Relations 77, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2333192

John Reynolds (Contact Author)

National University of Ireland, Maynooth ( email )

Maynooth, County Kildare

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