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Professor lectures on ethic of reconciliation and the Holocaust

| Sunday, October 4, 2015

Last Friday, Notre Dame political science professor Dan Philpott presented his ethic of reconciliation in times of gross injustice as part of a series on the Holocaust currently taking place at the University.

“Remembrance: The Holocaust in a Global Context” is a series of lectures, films and discussions planned to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Philpott said his time living in Germany and studying its reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of Holocaust and communism helped inform his ethic.

Philpott’s lecture was based on a book he wrote, he said, with the central question being: “What is the meaning of justice in the wake of massive injustice?” He said he aimed to answer that question in a more comprehensive way than others had done before by creating his ethic of reconciliation.

Philpott said reconciliation confronts many difficult foreign policy dilemmas in peace building.

“Is it justifiable to forgo the prosecution of war criminals in order to elicit a peace settlement? Can conditional amnesties be justified? May leaders apologize or forgive on behalf of entire states or nations? On behalf of dead people? Do states owe reparations to representatives of victims of past generations? How are amounts to be determined? Is forgiveness justifiable, or does it indefensibly sacrifice just punishment?” Philpott said.

Reconciliation confronts these dilemmas holistically, he said, by attempting to restore right relationship, address a wide array of wounds and involve all actors proper to the political order — ordinary citizens, state leaders, victims and perpetrators.

In order to put these concepts into action, Philpott said it is important to understand the injustices. He said there are at least six kinds of wounds from which victims suffer: the violation of the victim’s basic human rights, the different kinds of harms to the person of the victim (death, permanent injury, lasting psychological and emotional damage, etc.), ignorance of the source of circumstances of the political injustices that harm the victim, failure of the community to acknowledge the suffering of the victim, standing victory of the political injustice and the wound to the perpetrator himself that the crime inflicts, Philpott said.

Philpott said his ethic of reconciliation proposes six matching practices to these wounds, aimed at restoration of the victims and of right relationship.

“First, building socially just government institutions based on human rights and respect for international law,” he said. ” … Second, acknowledgement of the suffering of victims of the community through restorative political processes. … Third, reparations in the form of material compensation to victims. … Fourth is punishment, which takes place in the form of national or international courts. …

“Fifth practice is apology, which is conferred by perpetrators for their own misdeeds and by political officials for acts done in the name of a political order. … The sixth practice is forgiveness, which is purported by individual victims and, in theory but rarely in practice, by a political official on behalf of a group,” Philpott said.

The inclusion of both punishment and forgiveness in the six practices is often seen as a point of tension, Philpott said. However, he said both are necessary to address the array of wounds afflicted by political injustices.

“The fundamental contention of the ethic is that addressing the range of wounds of injustice both for their own sake, and because they may lead to further injustices, is itself a matter of justice — the justice of right relationship. So too, it is a matter of peace and a matter of mercy,” Philpott said.

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About Emma Borne

Emma Borne started as a news writer for the Observer in Fall 2013. She is a senior majoring in Sociology and Peace Studies. She loves writing for the Observer because it allows her to participate in campus life in a way that she otherwise wouldn't and because she gets to work with some super talented, awesome people!

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