The Nature and Moral Importance of Political Reconciliation

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2004)

Colleen Murphy
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Societies in transition from repressive rule or civil conflict to a just social order confront distinctive challenges. Many authors claim that the long-term stability of newly established democracies depends crucially upon the ability of former adversaries to reconcile. Interestingly, however, authors typically assume, rather than attempt to prove, the truth of this claim, thereby presupposing the moral value of political reconciliation. Similar assumptions underlie debates about whether truth commissions can be morally justified in granting amnesty to perpetrators of offenses against human rights. A central issue in these debates is whether reconciliation or retribution should have priority. There is thus a general tendency to employ such central concepts as reconciliation without offering an adequate account of their meaning or moral and practical import. Until we adequately understand the concept of reconciliation, the goals of a wide range of policies and the issues at stake in important moral debates will remain unclear. ;In my dissertation, I offer a novel account of political reconciliation. The concept of reconciliation, I argue, implies both a goal and a means of pursuing it. The state of reconciliation is the goal ideally promoted by processes of reconciliation. In the context of transitional justice, this goal is to establish healthy democratic political relationships. I analyze such democratic political relationships in terms of two fundamental ideals of political morality: respect for the rule of law and equality of agency. My strategy is to discuss first the intuitively problematic aspects political relationships typical of societies in conflict or under repressive rule, drawing on empirical data from political science. I then provide a characterization of a philosophical ideal, which I use to offer a new interpretation of the empirical description of problematic political relationships. Finally, based on my account of the state reconciliation, I develop a set of criteria that we can use when judging the effectiveness of various processes in promoting reconciliation
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