In Mihaela Mihai & Mathias Thaler (eds.), On the Uses and Abuses of Political Apologies. Palgrave MacMillan (2014)

Alice MacLachlan
York University
As official apologies by political, corporate, and religious leaders becoming increasingly commonplace – offered in response to everything from personal wrongdoing to historical oppression and genocide – providing a plausible account of what such apologies can and cannot accomplish is of paramount importance. Yet reigning theories of apology typically conceive of them primarily as moral and not political phenomena, often modeling official apologies after interpersonal ones. This risks distorting the meaning and function of political apologies, while holding them to an impossible standard. In this paper, I argue that we require a normative theory of official apologies as political practice, and that crucial resources for this theory can be found in Hannah Arendt’s account of meaningful speech and action. In the Human Condition, Arendt privileges what she calls political speech and action as the highest category of human activity, which she identifies according to the following features: i) it can only take place with others; ii) it forces the agent to risk something by disclosing him or herself; iii) it creates a meaningful narrative; and, iv) it engenders some new relationship among those involved. These features, taken together, are a very good description of a successful apology. Furthermore, Arendt’s account of political speech depends upon her account of political forgiveness and political promising, two practices closely linked to the emerging practice of official state apology. In particular, I argue, theorizing apologies as Arendtian speech draws our attention to hitherto overlooked or underemphasized features of apologies and their functions, such the role they play – both powerful and problematic – in establishing authoritative narratives.
Keywords Apology  Political Apology  Hannah Arendt  State Apology
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