What is a 'Manifestly Illegal' Order? Law and Politics after Yoram Kaniuk's Nevelot

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The question of what is a “manifestly” illegal order has long been contested. Yet surprisingly, it has so far only been partially understood - with the important exception of Hannah Arendt’s commentary about it in her essay Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship. This chapter proposes a typology of three formations of the political imagination, which in the post–Cold War period have devolved into three kinds of nihilism: sovereignty, cosmopolitanism, and the rule of law. It relies on three texts: first, a piece of fiction, the novella Nevelot (“Caracasses”) by the late Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk. This story will lead directly into the second text, Military Prosecutor v. Malinki, a famous opinion of an Israeli military court. In 1958, the Court held that soldiers who followed an order to kill unarmed Israeli citizens were criminally responsible, as the order was “manifestly illegal.” Arendt's is the third text this chapter will engage. Kaniuk's Novella and the Court's decision will both be instructive in offering a contemporary interpretation of Arendt's idea of judgment. Judgment is what allows us to resist a "manifestly" illegal order, but today it might have a more central role in conceptualizing politics and law. The reading of Arendt is offered here as an alternative to the three "nihilisms" suggested above.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of Nihilism
Subtitle of host publicationFrom the Nineteenth Century to Contemporary Israel
EditorsRoy Ben-Shai, Nitzan Lebovic
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781623562564
StatePublished - 2014


  • legal theory; political theory; Israel studies; international law; human rights; international humanitarian law; laws of war; constitutional law; law and literature; law and history; Hannah Arendt; Yoram Kaniuk


Dive into the research topics of 'What is a 'Manifestly Illegal' Order? Law and Politics after Yoram Kaniuk's Nevelot'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this