"Do ourselves credit and render a lasting service to mankind": British moral prestige, humanitarian intervention, and the Barbary pirates

Oded Löwenheim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations

Abstract

This paper raises the issue of moral credibility in international relations and shows that considerations of preserving moral prestige can become crucial for armed humanitarian intervention. It contrasts realist and constructivist explanations about the causes of humanitarian intervention and demonstrates that traditional accounts do not provide a complete understanding of the phenomenon of intervention. In the case studied here, Britain engaged in a relatively costly humanitarian intervention against the Barbary pirates, slave trade in Christian Europeans due to her willingness to defy moral criticism and exhibit consistency with her professed moral principles. No material incentives and/or constraints influenced the British decision, and neither was it affected by a sense of felling, with regard to the Christian slaves. Instead, allegations that Britain urged Europe to abolish the black slave trade out of selfish interests, while at the same time turning a blind eye toward the Christian slave trade of the pirates, undermined British moral prestige and became the cause of the Barbary expedition.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)23-48
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Volume47
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes

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