School of Law

Knowing what we know now: International crimes in historical perspective

10 December 2012 | 5.00pm - 6.15pm | Seminar
School of Law, The Liberty Building, University of Leeds

A description of past deeds in terms that were not available to the agents themselves constitutes an anachronistic (i.e. historically incoherent) interpretation of the past. Historians argue that such unfaithfulness to the categories used by people in the past or the attribution of a contemporary concept to a historical event are senseless. Considering past deeds like war crimes or crimes against humanity would, in their view, bea-historical and moralistic if the unavailability of these concepts in the past would have people from sharing current values, norms and beliefs.

This raises the question if criminologists are culpable of 'senseless anachronism' when they use contemporary concepts to describe or explain historical international crimes. And what about lawyers who apply contemporary legal standards when judging actions that were committed in the past? Are they, too guilty of anachronistic reasoning and, therefore, a historical moralism?

In his paper Professor de Haan will discuss whether anachronism is always 'senseless' (and 'senseless anachronism', therefore, a pleonasm) and if every form of anachronism inevitably implies a form of 'ahistoric moralism. He will argue that:

  1. we can distinguish between 'senseless' and 'sensible' forms of anachronism; that
  2. we can, therefore, reasonably talk about international crimes that have been committed by historical figures; that
  3. these crimes, if not adjudicated can, at least, be morally condemned; and, that
  4. they can be explained in ways that can no longer simply be dismissed in terms of 'a historic moralism' or 'senseless anachronism'.

Location Details

Seminar Room G.28
School of Law
The Liberty Building
University of Leeds

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