Sunday, December 26, 2010

Colleen Murphy's "A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation"

Colleen Murphy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation, and reported the following:
Political reconciliation involves rebuilding damaged relationships among citizens and officials. Since the end of World War II, politicians and human rights activists have called for political reconciliation in dozens of countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iraq, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. Political reconciliation remains one of the most important and controversial challenges for societies attempting to transition to democracy after an extended period of conflict and/or repression. It is important because achieving some degree of reconciliation is critical for global peacemaking. Yet, it is also controversial. The morality of pursuing political reconciliation remains unclear (e.g., some consider the promotion of reconciliation by a state to be fundamentally unjustified) and there is significant disagreement about what kinds of processes (e.g., amnesty, criminal trials, truth commissions) actually promote political reconciliation.

A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation offers a new account of what the pursuit of political reconciliation entails and explains why its pursuit matters morally. Page 99 discusses a central idea in the book: the importance of respecting agency. To respect agency is to recognize the freedom of individuals to determine for themselves how their lives will go and to hold individuals responsible for the choices they make. I argue that conflict and repression damage political relationships by undermining these two requirements. Processes of political reconciliation rebuild political relationships by promoting and reestablishing them.

Chapter 3, where p. 99 falls, examines how conflict and repression diminish agency by eroding the opportunity of individuals to participate in economic, political, and social institutions. Consider violence, a defining feature of civil conflict and repression. The physical effects of violence may foreclose areas of employment. Violence characteristically traumatizes victims, undermining their trust in others and willingness to engage in the social world. When violence is directed against political opponents, it creates a strong incentive for individuals to avoid politics in particular or the public realm in general, or to cease supporting an opposition movement or regime. Violence incentivizes members of oppressed groups to passively accept tyranny, injustice, or defeat in a conflict. In each of these ways, violence is designed to diminish the freedom of citizens to decide for themselves whether, and in what way, they will participate in the economic, political, and social life of their community. Furthermore, perpetrators of such violence routinely are not held responsible for their wrongdoing.
Read an excerpt from A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue