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Drawing upon Carl Schmitt’s idea of the katechon - a theological figure of the ‘restrainer’ - it is argued that two different accounts of ‘restraint’ operate within contemporary historiography. In one, the USA and the Soviet Union assume the role of the katechon during the Cold War, holding at bay an earthly apocalypse, securing stability through their mutual enmity. In the other, liberal account, it is the Cold War itself that acts as the restrainer, holding back the promises of Kant’s enlightenment project of world government, and of the securing of global peace through law. Each of these accounts has problematic effects: either by operating as an apology for the power of the guarantors of order, or by denying/deferring responsibility for the present state of affairs. We are therefore asked to think, instead, about international law and its history through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s conception of ‘weak messianic power’.
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