Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation

Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation

Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation

Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation


In the wake of massive injustice, how can justice be achieved and peace restored? Is it possible to find a universal standard that will work for people of diverse and often conflicting religious, cultural, and philosophical backgrounds?

In Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott offers an innovative and hopeful response to these questions. He challenges the approach to peace-building that dominates the United Nations, western governments, and the human rights community. While he shares their commitments to human rights and democracy, Philpott argues that these values alone cannot redress the wounds caused by war, genocide, and dictatorship. Both justice and the effective restoration of political order call for a more holistic, restorative approach. Philpott answers that call by proposing a form of political reconciliation that is deeply rooted in three religious traditions--Christianity, Islam, and Judaism--as well as the restorative justice movement. These traditions offer the fullest expressions of the core concepts of justice, mercy, and peace. By adapting these ancient concepts to modern constitutional democracy and international norms, Philpott crafts an ethic that has widespread appeal and offers real hope for the restoration of justice in fractured communities. From the roots of these traditions, Philpott develops six practices--building just institutions and relations between states, acknowledgment, reparations, restorative punishment, apology and, most important, forgiveness--which he then applies to real cases, identifying how each practice redresses a unique set of wounds.

Focusing on places as varied as Bosnia, Iraq, South Africa, Germany, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Chile and many others--and drawing upon the actual experience of victims and perpetrators--Just and Unjust Peaceoffers a fresh approach to the age-old problem of restoring justice in the aftermath of widespread injustice.


Over the past generation, all over the world, societies have sought to confront histories denominated in commas and zeroes. Rwandans face a genocide that killed some 1,000,000, Cambodians one that left 2,000,000 dead. Bosnians look back on a death toll of 100,000. South Africa’s truth commission documented some 38,000 human rights violations; Guatemala’s, 55,000. Even where death tolls are lower—Northern Ireland, the Arab-Israeli conflict—other injustices abound and conflict is all-consuming. Were they stood upright, the collected files that recorded East Germany’s surveillance of its citizens would stretch 121 miles. in the Jewish scriptures, the prophet Ezekiel describes a society overcome by evil as a valley of dry bones. Still today, chroniclers of enormities often select geographic images—rivers and lakes clogged with bodies in Rwanda, killing fields in Cambodia.

The desolate aftermath of evil makes it difficult to talk about justice. the overthrown caudillos or communist apparatchiks may threaten to retake power. a peace settlement may relapse into civil war. Studies show that up to 43 percent of negotiated settlements revert to war within five years. It is urgent, then, to achieve at least the minimal peace that Thomas Hobbes envisioned during the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, one where a sovereign government, a leviathan, holds a monopoly on force. Monitor the cease-fire; quell rampant crime; establish a civilian police force; resettle refugees, whose camps can be breeding grounds for counterattacking militias. Disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate armed factions. If there is time, bury the dead.

Yet talk about justice does take place, even where violence has been monumental. Some of these sundered societies manage to pursue a liberal, democratic peace in the spirit of Hobbes’s seventeenth-century successor, John Locke. They hold and monitor elections, create constitutions . . .

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