Aesthetics as State Security International Law, Art Repatriation, and Ontological Security

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This paper tackles the puzzle of private international law and why former colonizing states refuse to engage in art repatriation efforts. I combine existing ontological security, art restitution, and international law literatures to argue that states construct a sense of aesthetic confidence. Returning the art of their former colonial subjects would undermine their constructed ontological security and admit culpability in their past plunder of the world's cultural memories. Using this argument, I move to discuss two case studies: the Benin Bronzes and Mongyudowŏndo, under the control of the United Kingdom and Japan respectively. Both cases illustrate how international law was constructed and is still used as a type of "soothing mechanism" to protect former or existing empires from confronting the moral transgressions of their past both from international scrutiny and legal recourse. 

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Political Science