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Cambridge University Press


“Humanitarian” (humanitaire) came into use in French contemporaneously with the emergence of romantic socialism, and in the context of the rebuilding of post-revolutionary French society and its overseas empire beginning in the 1830s. This article excavates this early idea of humanitarianism, documenting an alternative genealogy for the term and its significance that has been overlooked by scholars of both socialism and humanitarianism. This humanitarianism identified a collective humanity as the source of its own salvation, rather than an external, well-meaning benefactor. Unlike liberal models of advocacy, which invoked individualized actors and recipients of their care, socialists privileged solidarity within their community and rejected the foundational logic of liberal individualism. In tracing this history, this article considers its importance for contemporary debates about humanitarianism’s imperial power dynamics.

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