Historical Injustice

Historical injustice is ubiquitous in human history. The origins of just about every institution relevant to human political life has a pedigree stained by injustices of various magnitudes. Slavery, genocide, mass expropriation of property, mass internment, indiscriminate killings of civilians and massive political repression are all depressingly familiar features of human history, both in the distant and more recent past. Should any of them be redressed? Can historical injustice be redressed? Should states be held accountable for their bloody origins, such as the brutal colonization of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australasia? Should former imperial powers have to redress the descendants of those whom they colonized? Should the descendants of slaves and holocaust survivors be compensated for the harm done to their people? Dealing with historical injustice has also become a major task for countries struggling to found new institutions and forms of collective life after years of oppression or civil conflict – for example, in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of Soviet Communism, as well as in post-colonial Africa , South America and Asia.1 So in what sense do these historical injustices matter? They mattered to the victims at the time, to be sure. But do they have any moral consequences for the descendants of both the perpetrators and the victims? Why should an injustice that occurred long ago, by people now dead against people who are also dead, be a matter of justice today? On the one hand, it just seems obvious that history matters, and especially to those for whom it..
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