Hostageship: What can we learn from Mauss?
Journal of International Political Theory
183 - 202 p.
al-Qaeda, commensurability, ethics, hostages, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, just war tradition, Mauss, utilitarianism
Hostages have become an important political and security issue in the context of conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa. The work of Marcel Mauss helps us to shed a new light on this phenomenon, which today is portrayed in negative terms as a major violation of fundamental universal rights such as the right to liberty. In The Gift, however, Mauss refers to the granting of hostages as “acts of generosity.” In line with Mauss’ approach, I consider hostageship as a “total social phenomenon,” combining politics, law, and economics, in both domestic and global settings, which reveals structural political and social questions that need to be addressed. The article highlights the role that hostages fulfilled as “gifts” in premodern international relations when hostages were granted and not taken as they are today. I underline the role they notably performed as elements of proto-diplomacy. I show the reasons why the function of hostages has changed over time by underlining the importance of the later Middle Ages as a transitional moment. Finally, I discuss the issue of contemporary hostageship from a normative perspective, arguing along with Mauss, against an interest-based utilitarian vision of hostageship and in favor of a solidarist approach to hostage crises.