Or was it employed as a moral language to clarify the positions of opponents whose divisions were exacerbated, not by humanitarianism itself, but by westward expansion, sectional competition for political dominance, and the growing profitability of slavery? Chapter by chapter, Polemical Pain clearly demonstrates the fluidity of humanitarianism, showing how it could be poured into a surprising variety of containers and made to assume their shape. Once that argument has been so effectively made, it is difficult to understand humanitarianism as a prime mover behind the splintering of opinions over slavery during the decades before the Civil War. Margaret Abruzzo's Polemical Pain nevertheless makes an important contribution to the growing body of work on the history of human rights. Her close reading of humanitarian ideas and their different applications by opposing groups has complicated our understanding in valuable new ways. Most important, her systematic demonstration of the malleability of humanitarianism helps explain how such a potentially radical critique of long-lived customs and practices--involving the infliction of physical pain to enforce social hierarchies and political power--became so widely accepted. Karen Halttunen karen halttunen, professor of history at the University of Southern California, is the author of Murder Most Foul:
The Journal of the Civil War Era – University of North Carolina Press
Published: Nov 16, 2013
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