An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics

Article excerpt

An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics, by Donald W. Shriver. Oxford University Press, New York, 1995. 284 pp. $27.50. ISBN 0-19509105-1.

SHRIVER PRESENTS a compelling argument that justice alone is not sufficient for political relationships, and that community building requires four aspects of forgiveness: (1) memory suffused with moral judgment; (2) forbearance-the abandonment of vengeance; (3) empathy for the humanity of the enemy; and (4) a willingness to renew relationship.

Not only is such forgiveness possible among groups and even nations (against Niebuhr!), but it is necessary and historically demonstrable. The bulk of the book is a review of three examples of forgiveness and its problematics: German-American and AmericanJapanese relations following World War II, and black-white relations in the United States.

Shriver's effort to see all sides of an issue and to display the historical record in its complexity is a clear strength of this book. I am not normally a history buff, but found myself mesmerized by Shriver's review of the record. Both sides in each example are taken to task for their complicity in creating conflict and their responsibility for creating the conditions of forgiveness. …