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Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation by Daniel Philpott (review)
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Just and Unjust Peace deals with an important question: What does a holistic framework of justice consist of in the wake of its massive despoliation? The wounds of political injustice include the following: violation of the victim’s human rights, harms to the victim’s person, the victim’s ignorance of the source and circumstances of political injustices, the lack of acknowledgment of the suffering, the standing victory of the wrongdoer’s political injustice, and harm to the person of the wrongdoer. In such situations, Philpott argues, “what the government and community withhold is . . . an acknowledgment not only that a victim has rights but also that his rights were violated and that he suffered because of this violation” (37).

The definition of justice in this context of wounds is reconciliation. It “encompasses peace settlements, human rights, democracy, and other key goals of negative and positive peace [as well as] . . . a broad restoration of right relationship involving a multiplicity of practices that each redress wounds of injustice in a particular way” (48–49).

Daniel Philpott affirms peace as human rights, equality, and the rule of law, plus actors and institutions like the United Nations that spread this justice. He presents a fair summary of contending positions on human rights and works to develop overlapping agreement. “What is most essential to right relationship in the political order is human rights, their popular legitimacy, and their corresponding virtues” (55). But also, “It is in redressing wrong conduct—the other dimension of justice—that political reconciliation becomes far more distinctive” (55). This requires a deeper understanding of just peacemaking with restorative justice based in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in insightful assessment of the burgeoning practices of truth commissions and restorative justice in the transitions from dictatorship to democracy.

Philpott’s “rooted reason” invites different religions to speak from their depths but also encourages them to speak with reasons that can convince in public discourse (18, 20). Envisioning the incorporation of reconciliation into the modern state “is the life’s work of Rabbi Marc Gopin. In today’s Middle East, Gopin argues, Jews as well as Christians and Muslims cannot afford to ignore the peacebuilding potential of traditional religious concepts” (132). Philpott also exhibits sensitive understanding of Islam, asking, “Do Islamic texts and traditions contain the materials for the construction of the ethic of political reconciliation that I am proposing? Can Muslims, on the basis of their religious convictions, join in an overlapping consensus on such an ethic?” His answer is a clear yes (153).

He identifies and assesses six practices of a politics of reconciliation. The first involves building socially just institutions and relations between states: “Since 1974, some ninety societies . . . have sought to replace dictatorships with democracies. . . . A similarly intense global wave of peace operations sponsored by the United Nations . . . has sought to foster human rights and democratic institutions in states that have seen civil war” (175–76). The second has to do with the practices of political acknowledgment of wrongs: “Human rights are the standard that gives truth commissions and other public forms of acknowledgment form and direction” (188). The third pertains to reparations, with attention to the ongoing effects of historical injustices for descendants (195 and 201). The fourth addresses judicial punishment: “In practicing judicial punishment, a state redresses the violation of the victim’s rights insofar as it expresses, reaffirms, and thereby strengthens human rights as the legally valid values of its realm or of relations between it and another state” (237). The fifth is apology: “Like all of the other practices, apologies performed in political contexts have grown in frequency” (198). Finally, there is forgiveness. “Political injustices harm victims by robbing them of their agency and of their ability to pursue their own and others’ flourishing. . . . Forgiveness . . . re-empowers the victim as agent . . . [and liberates] from anger and resentment” and can also lead to recognition of the victim’s suffering, and to mutual respect for human rights (266–68). Throughout, on each question, Philpott displays contending perspectives, finds overlapping affirmations, and reaches incisive judgments with persuasive wisdom.

Copyright © 2013 Society of Christian Ethics
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Glen Stassen. "Just and Unjust Peace: An...

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