Connolly and the never-ending critiques of liberal peace: from the privilege of difference to vorarephilia

by Pol Bargués-Pedreny

Critiques multiply and critiques of the critiques, too. In international intervention debates, after the policy difficulties in building a stable and durable peace in societies affected by war, scholars have come to the fore to announce the crisis of ‘liberal peace’. While there are numerous critiques, one has come to dominate critical debate and revolves around the question of how to engage more generously with ‘difference’: hybrid peace or post-liberal peace. Informed by poststructuralist sensibilities, this critique underlines the problem that international peace frameworks have denied the political, societal and cultural heterogeneity of conflict-affected societies, excluding the views of the majority of their population.[1] A recognition and deeper engagement with the everyday life of these societies is understood to expose the biases of current peacebuilding processes and animate an alternative way of thinking about peace. As Oliver Richmond states: ‘the limitations of the liberal peace project have sparked new forms of peace in reaction, response, or as resistance, by a repoliticization of post-conflict subjects. This represents the inadvertent rediscovery or rebirth of post-liberal politics in infrapolitical terms’.[2]

At stake is the problem that these critical approaches are under siege by authors who point out that hybrid peace is reproducing the liberal reductive and binary schemas that it is meant to overcome, still failing to engage sensitively with alterity.[3] Amidst the anxiety caused by the emergence of the ‘critique of the critique’,[4] this article examines the inner logic of both the critique of liberal peace and the critique of hybrid peace.

In order to do so, it is useful to engage with William Connolly’s work on pluralism, which rethinks the classic pluralist ideal by committing to a deeper pluralism.[5] Connolly problematizes approaches that address the tense relation between identity and difference either by empowering particular identities at the expense of others (as in Culturalist frameworks) or by professing a model inclusive of all identities (as in Universalist frameworks). These approaches are problematic because, he contends, difference constantly exceeds conceptual capture. Instead, Connolly encourages to ‘draw agonistic care for difference from the abundance of life that exceeds any particular identity’[6] by the means of adopting self-reflexive strategies and promoting a democratic ethos of public contestation.

The problem is not failing to be sensitive to difference, but thinking that a final pluralism can be articulated

The analysis of Connolly’s work is relevant to develop the argument and to conclude it. First, his attempt to pluralize existing forms of pluralism enables the conceptualization of critiques of international interventions. That is, both the critique of liberal peace and of hybrid peace rest comfortably on the assumption that local alterity cannot be fully understood, respected or treated sensitively by current frameworks. Initially, tactics to build a liberal democratic peace were seen as disrespectful towards difference, disavowing large sectors of the population and bringing unintended consequences, hybridisations and negative peace outcomes. However, as much as this assumption has enabled the thinking of hybrid peace, it is in turn the source of its critique, as hybrid peace is also considered incapable of opening up to the needs and values of societies intervened in.

Second, Connolly’s speculative turn,[7] which radicalizes pluralism to emphasize the human inaccessibility to a world of becoming, is mobilised to grasp the direction that critiques are taking in debates of international intervention: there is a gradual transvaluation of the crisis of liberal peace. The earlier attempts to promote liberal democracy, to meet development standards, implement peace agreements or write plural constitutions are viewed with utter suspicion and condescension. Now it is clear that these efforts have largely been unsuccessful. However, rather than using these crises as opportunities to transform political and social orders, rather than placing confidence in human capacities either to govern autonomously or to assist meaningfully, critiques are learning to cope with the chronic hopelessness of every new attempt to intervene. Instead of providing new foundations for international relations, Connolly sets forth the wisdom of current critiques: the problem is not failing to be sensitive to difference, but thinking that a final pluralism can be articulated.[8]

The article, ‘Connolly and the never-ending critiques of liberal peace: from the privilege of difference to vorarephilia’ is thus an attempt to foresee the consequence of critiques that disregard pluralism and continuously find new spaces to pluralize. The constant emphasis on the frustrating setbacks in peacebuilding processes is opening the space for a nihilistic world where peace can no longer be achieved, let alone built or facilitated. In other words, once it is appreciated that difference is always richer and more creative than peacebuilding frameworks, critical scholars actually start embracing the faultiness of international interventions. Vorarephilia – a paraphilia in which people feel sexual gratification in the idea of being eaten or eating another person – is used as a metaphor to draw attention to the transvaluation of the failure of liberal peace: rather than valuing peace and endorsing a particular alternative strategy to liberal peace, the trend is to take a sceptical view of peacebuilding and indeed embrace the incapacity to produce a final intervention that is respectful of pluralism.


[1] Autesserre, Séverine. Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Mac Ginty, Roger. International Peacebuilding and Local Resistance: Hybrid Forms of Peace. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

———. Failed Statebuilding: Intervention, the State, and the Dynamics of Peace Formation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014

Tadjbakhsh, Shahrbanou, ed. Rethinking the Liberal Peace: External Models and Local Alternatives. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011.

[2] Richmond, Oliver P. 'A Pedagogy of Peacebuilding: Infrapolitics, Resistance, and Liberation'. International Political Sociology 6, no. 2 (2012): 126.

[3] Graef, Julian. Practicing Post-Liberal Peacebuilding: Legal Empowerment and Emergent Hybridity in Liberia. London: Macmillan, 2015.

Heathershaw, John. “Towards Better Theories of Peacebuilding: Beyond the Liberal Peace  Debate.” Peacebuilding 1, no. 2 (June 1, 2013): 275–82.

Reconfigurations: Frictions between Imported Processes and Indigenous Practices'. International Peacekeeping 20, no. 2 (April 1, 2013): 137–43.

Rampton, David, and Suthaharan Nadarajah. 'A Long View of Liberal Peace and Its Crisis'. European Journal of International Relations, June 16, 2016.

Wolff, Jonas and Lisbeth Zimmermann. 'Between Banyans and Battle Scenes: Liberal Norms, Contestation, and the Limits of Critique'. Review of International Studies 42, no. 3 (2016): 513–34.

[4] Richmond, Oliver P, and Roger Mac Ginty. 'Where Now for the Critique of the Liberal Peace?' Cooperation and Conflict 50, no. 2 (June 1, 2015): 172.

[5] Connolly, William E. Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox. Expanded ed. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

———. Pluralism. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005.

———. The Ethos of Pluralization. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

[6] Connolly, Identity/Difference: 10.

[7] Connolly prefers the term ‘speculative realism’ or ‘immanent naturalism’ to ‘new materialism’ or ‘posthumanism’ in order to define his care for the ‘fragility of things’. This is an appreciation of the multiple entanglements between humans and non-humans and the imbrications of culture and nature in a cosmos that remains open, becoming, self-organizing, mysterious to human understandings. Connolly, William E. 'The ‘New Materialism’ and the Fragility of Things'. Millennium – Journal of International Studies 41, no. 3: 399–412.

[8] Connolly, William E. Identity/Difference: 175.

About the author

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Pol Bargués-Pedreny received his PhD in International Relations from the University of Westminster in 2014. He has worked as a postdoctoc researcher at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research and the Institute for Development and Peace (both in Germany). Since October 2017, Bargués-Pedreny has been a research associate at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and a visiting research fellow at Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals.

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