Cosmopolitan dystopia

International intervention and the failure of the West

By Philip Cunliffe

Cosmopolitan dystopia


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0573-8
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £16.99
  • Published Date: January 2020
  • BIC Category: Warfare & defence, International relations, Diplomacy, Politics, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Terrorism, Arms negotiation & control, HISTORY / Military / Afghan War (2001-), HISTORY / Military / Iraq War (2003-2011), POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / Arms Control, Other Warfare & Defence Issues, Society & social sciences / Warfare & defence, Society & social sciences / Arms negotiation & control, Society & social sciences / International relations, POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / Diplomacy
  • Series: Manchester University Press


Cosmopolitan Dystopia shows that rather than populists or authoritarian great powers it is cosmopolitan liberals who have done the most to subvert the liberal international order. Cosmopolitan Dystopia explains how liberal cosmopolitanism has led us to treat new humanitarian crises as unprecedented demands for military action, thereby trapping us in a loop of endless war. Attempts to normalize humanitarian emergency through the doctrine of the 'responsibility to protect' has made for a paternalist understanding of state power that undercuts the representative functions of state sovereignty. The legacy of liberal intervention is a cosmopolitan dystopia of permanent war, insurrection by cosmopolitan jihadis and a new authoritarian vision of sovereignty in which states are responsible for their peoples rather than responsible to them. This book will be of vital interest to scholars and students of international relations, IR theory and human rights.


'Written by one of the top analysts in the peacebuilding field, this highly readable book provides a wealth of fresh and powerful insights. Brimming with new and important framings, from the cosmopolitan dystopia of the title to the treatments of humanitarian anti-diplomacy and new forms of hierarchical sovereignty, this book is a must read for students and practitioners alike.'
David Chandler, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster

'This book presents a fundamental challenge to all those who have understood globalisation, humanitarian interventions, and the almost universal acceptance of the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) as progressive steps in the development of international relations. Philip Cunliffe has produced a powerful set of arguments to uncover the logic of contemporary liberal interventions. Far from being progressive, he argues, these interventions have ushered in a cosmopolitan dystopia, destroyed conventional state sovereignty, eroded traditional modes of politics, and undermined long-standing practices of diplomacy which sought to resolve competing state interests.'
Mervyn Frost, Professor of International Relations, King's College London

'This elegantly written and wide-ranging critique suggests that the current strains in the liberal international order stem not from external forces, or so-called illiberal challengers, but rather from Western states' own attempts to undermine the foundational principle of non-intervention. Through his twin concepts of "inverted revisionism" and "the politics of exception", Cunliffe offers a rich account of how liberal ideals came to fuel episodes of Western hubris, which have in turn contributed to on-going conflict and instability. Provocative and essential reading.'
Jennifer M. Welsh, Canada 150 Chair in Global Governance and Security, McGill University

'Trading in big ideas and compellingly argued, Cosmopolitan Dystopia presents an incisive analysis of contemporary international relations and the fault lines that structure it. Viewed in its totality, what Cunliffe's book offers us, in his own words, is a razor-sharp set of reflections on the stories we tell ourselves about the international order.'
Ethics & International Affairs.


Introduction: the rise of cosmopolitan dystopia
1 Inverted revisionism and the subversion of the liberal international order
2 Through the looking-glass: the new critics of intervention
3 What should we do? The politics of humanitarian exceptionalism
4 Failed states, failed empires and the new paternalism
Conclusion: waiting for the Americans


Philip Cunliffe is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent

Newsletter Sign Up

Manchester University Press

Your cart is empty.

Select your shipping destination to estimate postage costs

(Based on standard shipping costs)

Final cost calculated on checkout
Promotional codes can be added on Checkout