Ethics & International Affairs Volume 23.4 (Winter 2009): Feature: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation [Abstract]

Dec 15, 2009

The core proposition of this article is that reconciliation, both as a process and an end state, is a concept of justice. Its animating virtue is mercy and its goal is peace. These concepts are expressed most deeply in religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The idea of justice as right relationship is also found in the contemporary restorative justice movement, an approach to criminal justice that has emerged in the past generation.

For contemporary political orders addressing past war, genocide, and authoritarianism, the holistic justice of reconciliation involves not only the legal guarantee and actual practice of human rights and the laws of war but also a redress of the range of wounds that political injustices inflict. Reconciliation is achieved through a set of six political practices that seek to restore a measure of human flourishing. A secondary fruit of these practices is an increase in the legitimacy that citizens bequeath to their governing institutions or to their state's relationship with other states.

The article takes a close look at two of the practices that are often thought to be at odds in addressing past injustices—punishment and forgiveness—and argues that when viewed as practices that reflect and participate in a restorative concept of justice, punishment and forgiveness become compatible in principle—with important implications for the politics of facing past evil.

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