We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Unchopping a Tree: Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Political Violence

Ernesto Verdeja

Publication Year: 2009

Political violence does not end with the last death. A common feature of mass murder has been the attempt at destroying any memory of victims, with the aim of eliminating them from history. Perpetrators seek not only to eliminate a perceived threat, but also to eradicate any possibility of alternate, competing social and national histories. In his timely and important book, Unchopping a Tree, Ernesto Verdeja develops a critical justification for why transitional justice works. He asks, “What is the balance between punishment and forgiveness?  And, “What are the stakes in reconciling?” 

Employing a normative theory of reconciliation that differs from prevailing approaches, Verdeja outlines a concept that emphasizes the importance of shared notions of moral respect and tolerance among adversaries in transitional societies. Drawing heavily from cases such as reconciliation efforts in Latin America and Africa—and interviews with people involved in such efforts—Verdeja debates how best to envision reconciliation while remaining realistic about the very significant practical obstacles such efforts face

Unchopping a Tree addresses the core concept of respect across four different social levels—political, institutional, civil society, and interpersonal—to explain the promise and challenges to securing reconciliation and broader social regeneration.

Published by: Temple University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (59.9 KB)
pp. v

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (102.7 KB)
pp. vii

This is a work about political reconciliation, about the need and challenges of reconciling after severe political violence. I became interested in this subject while living in South America as a child and seeing firsthand the difficulties of engaging with a fraught...

read more

1 Theorizing Reconciliation

pdf iconDownload PDF (240.1 KB)
pp. 1-27

The past one hundred years witnessed the highest number of political deaths of any century (Rummel 1997). Two major wars, numerous civil conflicts and wars of independence, and systematic state-sponsored atrocities have left behind a battered political...

read more

2 Key Normative Concepts

pdf iconDownload PDF (285.8 KB)
pp. 28-65

A major difficulty for societies emerging from a recent history of mass violence is how to contend with demands for justice, truth, and victim acknowledgment while recognizing the need for stability and peace. Although clearly important, a successful democratic ...

read more

3 Political Society

pdf iconDownload PDF (233.1 KB)
pp. 66-91

Establishing a new political order after mass violence is a delicate and fraught process. The members of political society, the political elite, must balance a number of competing goals. They may, for example, choose to prosecute those responsible for crimes, therefore...

read more

4 Institutional and Legal Responses: Trials and Truth Commissions

pdf iconDownload PDF (310.9 KB)
pp. 92-135

This chapter explores the use of institutional mechanisms to foster societal reconciliation. Although the vast majority of conflicts in the twentieth century were never followed with prosecutions of those responsible for the most significant violations, and while few authoritarian leaders have faced trial for their abuses, the century...

read more

5 Civil Society and Reconciliation

pdf iconDownload PDF (226.2 KB)
pp. 136-159

Political scientists have traditionally studied democratic transitions from the perspective of political elites by focusing on their abilities to promote stability and governance while protecting peace from the spoiling tactics of disaffected opponents. The four-volume...

read more

6 Interpersonal Reconciliation

pdf iconDownload PDF (204.6 KB)
pp. 160-179

Societal reconciliation is, in its most basic sense, about reconciling individuals, thus any theory of reconciliation must at some point face the difficult task of how to connect social and institutional processes of reconstruction with the personal dynamics between individuals... At this level, issues...

read more

7 Conclusion

pdf iconDownload PDF (147.0 KB)
pp. 180-186

In the aftermath of political violence and oppression, a society is tasked with the diffi cult challenge of moral and material reconstruction. This is a complex process that involves many moral goals, actors, and institutions. I have sought to show how reconciliation in a society...


pdf iconDownload PDF (182.3 KB)
pp. 187-196


pdf iconDownload PDF (258.0 KB)
pp. 197-220


pdf iconDownload PDF (186.4 KB)
pp. 221-228

E-ISBN-13: 9781439900567

Publication Year: 2009