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Thursday, June 30, 2005

National Forgiveness and Moral Takings

While I've written in the past to explain why I am "Against Mercy," I have also spent a good amount of time thinking about and trying to explain why particularized amnesty regimes in states recovering from mass atrocities are defensible from a retributivist perspective.   

Thanks to Rick Garnett over at Mirror of Justice, I have just came across an interesting op-ed by my friend and former teacher Dan Philpott in the South Bend Tribune entitled "Pope's greatest legacy could be forgiveness." 

In the piece, Dan argues that Benedict XVI should undertake the mission of conceptualizing and implementing an ethos of national forgiveness as part of his mission as Pope.  Specifically, Dan P. argues that Benedict 16 should expand upon the initial efforts by JPII on the forgiveness front.

[JPII] became globally famous for mercy and forgiveness when he pardoned his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in a personal meeting in 1983. His strongest teaching of forgiveness as a political ethic, though, came in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In his subsequent "Message for the World Day of Peace," he appended to Paul VI's famous aphorism, "no peace without justice" the phrase "no justice without forgiveness."

He astutely points out the potential ambiguities associated with the ethical sloganeering from the Vatican.

In the din of commentary following Sept.11, John Paul II's call for forgiveness arrived like a Renaissance holy fool -- cheekily provocative, but also enigmatic: Who exactly was to forgive? President Bush? The American people? And who were they to forgive? Osama bin Laden? Islam? Is it possible to forgive while also warring against one's attackers, which John Paul II, after all, affirmed was just?

Philpott then issues the precatory statement Benedict is the type of smart and moral figure who can furnish a "social ethic of forgiveness, one that explains when, how and under what circumstances nations ought to practice the principle."  He observes that

Forgiveness in politics is rare, critics will point out, and for good reason: It is utopian. But one day before Benedict XVI was elected, The New York Times carried the following headline: "Atrocity victims in Uganda choose to forgive." In the mid-1990s, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu proposed that wounded countries have "no future without forgiveness" and encouraged it through his country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Half a decade earlier in Chile, President Patricio Aylwin called for national repentance for the torture and killing of thousands during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Militants and civilians, politicians and prelates have also granted and received forgiveness in El Salvador, East Germany, Northern Ireland, Guatemala and elsewhere.

Most of these voices advocate forgiveness as one of several practices in a larger process of reconciliation, complementary to the public telling of the truth about past injustices, reparations, apologies and, most of all, accountability for offenders. These are the ingredients of an ethic of forgiveness. Weaving them together and passing the product along to the world is a job for which a global moral leader with an impressive intellect -- like the new pope -- is uniquely suited. In an era when war is fueled anew by the deepest sorts of identities -- religious, ethnic, national, and civilizational -- forgiveness may well prove Benedict's greatest legacy.

My sense here is that recovering nations may have duties of reconcilation (in ensuring domestic peace and stability) and of repentance for past wrongs they have caused, but it is not likely to be the case that nations themselves should be in the business of forgiveness.  If the State of Ames wrongs specific persons in Freedonia, it is not the government that was wronged, but the persons, and therefore Freedonia lacks standing to forgive on behalf of its citizens--for there are (and ought to be) limits to what Freedonia can stand for and forgive, even in democratic societies.  On the other hand, if Ames wrongs Freedonia as a state in 1944 (say by violating their political airspace or by sending spies to engage in espionage against Freedonia), and Freedonia decides to forgive Ames through an official letter in 2005, there's some form of historical discontinuity because the people of 2005 don't occupy the same moral space that Freedonians of 1944 do.

For Freedonia to forgive here might work a "moral takings" violation.  (I suspect these initial thoughts are inadequate and I'll want to develop and/or revise them a bit more, but thought I'd get the ball rolling here at least.)

Posted by Administrators on June 30, 2005 at 08:29 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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