Political Forgiveness

Political Forgiveness

Political Forgiveness

Political Forgiveness

Synopsis

What does forgiveness mean when it appears in politics, and what is its relationship to other ideas in political philosophy? In Political Forgiveness, P. E. Digeser defends a conception of forgiveness against those who are skeptical of its desirability as a political idea. While much of the previous work on forgiveness reflects theological or psychological perspectives, Digeser offers a concept of political forgiveness that is secular and public rather than religious or personal. It centers on the capacity of victims and creditors to release transgressors and debtors from their moral and financial debts. "If justice is a matter of receiving one's due," he says, "then political forgiveness entails releasing one's due." Nevertheless, political forgiveness remains connected to justice in important ways. Exploring the limits and possibilities of political forgiveness, Digeser considers not only its relationship to justice, but also such issues as who has authority to forgive, the connection between forgiveness and reconciliation, the meaning and scope of group responsibility, the idea of pardoning as a form of political forgiveness, and whether there is an obligation to forgive.

Excerpt

All theorizing begins with the particular, the concrete, the obvious stuff that appears before our noses. As an engagement in theorizing, this book is no different. It is occasioned by political actors who, in their official and unofficial capacities, have come to believe that forgiveness can be a political concept: high and low officials of Chile, Argentina, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United States asking their victims and their countries for forgiveness; the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission putting its faith in truth and the capacity of a people to forgive in order to aid in the peaceful transformation of a regime; a president of the United States publicly asking to be forgiven for telling lies about a sordid sexual relationship. In addition, forgiveness also plays a more mundane but no less significant role when domestic and international institutions deal with crushing financial debts or when criminals appeal to the legal system and their victims for forgiveness. In other words, forgiveness has become part of our public life in such a way that we may wonder what exactly forgiveness means, how it is connected to other political ideas and concepts, and whether it is a practice that ultimately coheres with important political commitments and values. When we become curious about forgiveness in this way, we are on the road to theorizing. That is to say, paradoxically, we are attempting to understand that which we may never have suspected that we didn’t understand.

The attempt to understand forgiveness theoretically can, of course, be driven by a variety of motives. With more or less missionary zeal, the theoretician may aspire to improve or transform the world; or, as an agent of the Zeitgeist, the theorist may seek to clarify and map out the meanings and political uses of forgiveness; or she may simply be dissat-

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