In this study in political theory I develop a political conception of
reconciliation. In the late twentieth century, the concept of reconciliation
became prominent in the political discourse of many polities divided by
grave state wrongs. Reconciliation is an inherently political aspiration since it
invokes a "we" to underwrite the legitimacy of shared public institutions.
Yet the logic of reconciliation, which tends toward harmony and closure, also
seems at odds with politics, which invariably entails plurality and conflict.
The work of Carl Schmitt provides a point of departure for
considering the political nature of reconciliation and defining the problem of
how a relation of enmity might be transformed into one of civic friendship.
In the first half of this thesis I consider the liberal ideal of toleration (as
articulated by John Locke) and the communitarian ideal of recognition (as
articulated by Charles Taylor) as political ethics that might animate
reconciliation. Against toleration and recognition, I turn to Hannah Arendt's
ethic of worldliness to develop a theory of political reconciliation.
Reconciliation, on this account, entails a difficult mode of interaction
between former enemies that seeks to enclose both within a common horizon
of understanding while affirming the possibility of calling any such shared
horizon into question.
In the second half of the thesis, I draw on the interdisciplinary
literature surrounding transitional justice to develop this theory of political
reconciliation. I consider the implications of Arendt's ethic of worldliness
(outlined in the first half of the thesis) for how we should think about four
key issues confronting societies divided by past wrongs: the constitution of a
political association that might accommodate former enemies; political
grounds for forgiveness; the collective responsibility of those implicated in state
wrongs and; coming to terms with the past through remembrance of these
Two central arguments recur throughout the thesis. First, we should
affirm reconciliation as an aspiration that sustains politics by framing an
encounter between enemies in which they might debate the possibility and
terms of their association. Yet, we must also invoke politics to resist the
tendency inherent in the logic of reconciliation to bring to a close what
should remain open, incomplete, contestable. Second, and following from
this, in conceiving reconciliation politically we must reverse the order of our
moral thinking. It is a political mistake to presuppose a common moral
community that must be restored between those alienated by past wrongs.
Political reconciliation would never get off the ground if it required
agreement on shared norms and the nature of wrongdoing in order to initiate
the 'return' of the wrongdoers to community with those wronged. Rather, it
must begin with the constitution of a space for politics through the
invocation of a "we" and proceed from this faith in a community that is not yet toward the possibility of a shared understanding of what went before.