Beyond the Ideal Political Apology

  • Alice MacLachlan
Part of the Rhetoric, Politics and Society Series book series (RPS)

Abstract

The practice of apologising has recently become a recognisable feature of public and political life. As philosophers and theorists of apology attempt to understand and assess this practice, it is perhaps natural that we would turn to more familiar models of apology — namely, the norms and ideals that govern our practices of apologising to one another in private, interpersonal contexts. Indeed, several authors have sought to employ these norms to describe the perfect or ideal apology, as a standard for evaluating admittedly imperfect (and often very bad) practices of both personal and political apologising. I argue that this move is mistaken, for several reasons. First, it is far from clear that we can have a coherent, singular model of the ideal or best apology. Second, in modelling political apologies on interpersonal ones, we neglect the importantly political nature of the former, distorting the meaning and function of political apologies while holding them to an impossible standard.

Keywords

Political Action Human Condition Public Sphere Hate Crime Political Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Robert R. Weyeneth, ‘The Power of Apology and the Process of Historical Reconciliation’, The Public Historian 23, no. 3 (2001): 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 6.
    Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 246.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Luc Bovens articulates this regulative ideal as a ‘genuine apology’, while Nick Smith outlines what he calls ‘the Categorical Apology’: Nick Smith, I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Alison Dundes Renteln, ‘Apologies: A Cross-Cultural Analysis’, in The Age of Apology: Facing Up to the Past, ed. Mark Gibney et al. (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 61–76.Google Scholar
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    Mihaela Mihai, ‘When the State Says “Sorry”: State Apologies as Exemplary Political Judgments’, Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no. 2 (2013): 209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For example, Janna Thompson presumes that political apologies are historical apologies in Janna Thompson, ‘Is Political Apology a Sorry Affair?’, Social & Legal Studies 21, no. 2 (2012):1–11, accessed 27 June 2013, doi:10.1177/0964663911435519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Trudy Govier and Wilhelm Verwoerd focus primarily on challenges of collective or institutional action when discussing specifically political apologies Trudy Govier and Wilhelm Verwoerd, ‘The Promise and Pitfalls of Apology’, Journal of Social Philosophy 33, no. 1 (2002): 74–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Mathias Thaler argues a similar point, stating: ‘I thus contend that political apologies are to be assessed on a consequentialist basis: their sincerity must be measured according to the consequences they trigger.’ Mathias Thaler, ‘Just Pretending: Political Apologies for Historical Injustice and Vice’s Tribute to Virtue’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 15, no. 3 (2012): 267. I agree with much of what Thaler has to say on the topic, although I refrain from adopting a broadly consequentialist approach. We might still wish to praise a political apology for expressing and conforming to certain ideals and principles — using public and non-individualistic measures for what it means to express and conform to those ideals — even if, ultimately, the consequences of that apology are minimal.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 18.
    Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (London: New York: Penguin Books, 1970), 86. See, for example, her criticisms of the role compassion played in the French Revolution, also discussed in On Revolution, and her concern for the way in which anti-political, social concerns are imported into the political sphere through the failure to turn passions into principles such as solidarity.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    For a more detailed discussion of Arendtian political forgiveness, see Alice MacLachlan, ‘The Philosophical Controversy over Political Forgiveness’, in Public Forgiveness in Post-Conflict Contexts, ed. Bas Van Stokkom, Neelke Doorn and Paul Van Tongeren, Series on Transitional Justice (Cambridge: Intersentia, 2012), 37–64.Google Scholar
  11. 31.
    Phil Fontaine, ‘Justice, Responsibility, and Reconciliation: Legacies of the Holocaust and the Persecution of Aboriginal Canadians’. (Paper presented at the Holocaust Awareness Week, Ryerson University, Toronto, 2008). For a philosophical analysis of this apology, please seeGoogle Scholar
  12. Alice MacLachlan, ‘Government Apologies to Indigenous Peoples’, in Justice, Responsibility and Reconciliation in the Wake of Conflict, ed. Alice MacLachlan and C. Allen Speight, Boston Studies in Philosophy, Religion and Public Life (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013), 183–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Arendt, The Human Condition, 198. See also Margaret Urban Walker, ‘Truth Telling as Reparations’, Metaphilosophy 41, no. 4 (2010): 525–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 37.
    As Elizabeth Spelman says, apology is a vehicle ‘for vice nested in virtue’, and it allows the apologiser to ‘wrap herself in a glorious mantle of rehabilitation’. Elizabeth Spelman, Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 96–97.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alice MacLachlan 2014

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  • Alice MacLachlan

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