Several weeks ago, over 600 religious leaders, representing more than 120 countries and a wide-range of religious traditions (Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Indigenous, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and others), came together in Vienna, Austria for the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace.
Posts Tagged ‘justice’
Today, at the beginning of 2013, the world is confronted by a bewildering array of protracted and new armed conflicts: Syria, Gaza, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar, Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Libya are just a few of the many parts of the world wracked by violent conflict. And, although some of the rhetoric about the burden of civilian suffering compared to military casualties in these so-called “new wars” may have been overblown (not least because civilians have always paid a heavy cost in war), there is little doubting that non-combatants remain firmly in the firing line. The injustices of war are legion and extend to killing, torture, mutilation, sexual and gender based violence and abuse, forced displacement, and much else. For all that the world’s governments proclaim their commitment to the protection of civilians of armed conflict, and for all the writings on the moral and legal constraints introduced over the past three millennia or so, war always produces more than its fair share of injustice.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its ten-year anniversary last summer. During its first decade of life, both the shadow and the actuality of international justice in the form of investigation, trial, and judgment have become a central feature of many conflicts, ongoing and concluded. Nearly a decade before the ICC opened its doors, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission attracted enormous global attention, and the moral sanction against racial violence at its core resonated across the globe. And yet, the concept of reconciliation that defined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not occupied the same coveted (if also contested) international space that international justice—through trials—does today. If anything, advocates of justice and trials have subsumed reconciliation and truth seeking into a package of justice that has trials at its core. In his new book, Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott forces us to rethink this ordering.
One of Philpott’s goals in Just and Unjust Peace is to challenge both sorts of reactions to the role of religion in debates on ethics and justice: the polite, but perhaps patronizing, stance of detachment, as well as the presumption that religion is essentially incompatible with democratic freedoms. He proposes bridging the two as a way to broaden and better ground an ethical debate on the central question that animates the book: What does justice consist of “in the wake of its massive despoliation?” (3). This is the question that has been at the center of ongoing debates on transitional and international justice, but Philpott goes about addressing it in a wholly original way. Instead of grounding the inquiry in a preliminary engagement with prevailing international legal standards, he begins by articulating a general theoretical approach to justice and reconciliation, and then uses it to examine contemporary institutions and practices.
Recent history is full of episodes of egregious, widespread and often systematic wrongdoing: genocide, torture, and mass killing. Cambodia, South Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Guatemala are a few of the places where violence has occurred. Histories of violence and injustice leave marks of damage, despair, and pain. The central question Daniel Philpott considers in his book Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation is: “What does justice consist of in the wake of its massive despoliation?” The answer, Philpott argues, is political reconciliation.
The meaning of political reconciliation for Philpott centers on what he calls the “restoration of right relationship.” When a society emerges out of war or dictatorship, it is full of wounded relationships: among citizens, among communities, and between the state and its citizens and communities. These wounds are created by political injustices, the particular sort of injustices that transitional justice, at its best, seeks to address. Philpott argues that an effective conception of political reconciliation must address such injustices, and he roots his conception in a mix of religious and legal doctrines and traditions: human rights, restorative justice, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He offers a conception of transitional justice that goes well beyond the liberal peace.
Daniel Philpott’s book, Just and Unjust Peace, can be regarded as a milestone for policymakers and academics looking for ways that go beyond the liberal peace frameworks. As a “student” of international relations and religion, I see the book as a tremendous contribution to the conversations surrounding conflict transformation and peacebuilding. In this short essay, I am not evaluating the myriad possibilities the book offers in multiple fields. Rather, I would like to convey two important implications of Philpott’s approach for those of us sitting at the intersection of religion and international affairs.
The child, as the psychoanalytic theorist Adam Phillips points out, “remains our most convincing essentialism.” By this he means that at a time when racial, gender, and even sexual identities are increasingly understood to be constructed, permeable, and ever shifting, the category of childhood—with its razor-sharp counterpoint of adulthood—remains steadfast and enduring. Legal definitions, of course, reinforce this clear demarcation, with eighteen being the moment one crosses the presumed divide from childhood into adulthood. That some adults remain perpetual children—regressed, childlike, or developmentally arrested—long after they cross the temporal barrier between childhood and adulthood is as indisputable as is our widely accepted awareness that continuums of development make childhood and adulthood highly variable, evolving, and overlapping identity positions for us all. A fifteen-year-old looks, acts (we hope), and understands very differently than a six-year-old, despite the fact that both are understood to be children.
Many of these documents are appalling in the way that bureaucratic recitals of torture are appalling, in the way that ledgers of desecration are appalling. As I read them, I never want to ignore the mangled lives that they attempt so laboriously to contain—to conceal—within the boxes of church law or clinical psychology or (less frequently) moral theology.
I find mangled lives among those we now call the abused, but also among the abusers. I don’t say that lightly, abstractly. There are, in the identified abusers, some men who seem so far beyond our ordinary talk about ethics that they are “monsters” according to one old sense of the word. But there are other men—perfectly familiar, much sadder—who now get swept up into the same category of abuser.
One of the major achievements of the past quarter century has been the growing awareness of the prevalence and damaging psychological consequences of the sexual abuse of children. State child protection authorities substantiated 63,527 cases that involved childhood sexual abuse in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control of more than 17,000 adult Kaiser-network members, generally well educated and middle class, found that 16 percent of men and 25 percent of women said they had experienced childhood sexual abuse. And yet, it is remarkable how recently the sexual abuse of children was not taken seriously. Not until 1974, when Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, were states required to establish reporting requirements in suspected cases.
Physicians, psychologists, and criminal codes (i.e., Texas state law) largely agree on what constitutes the sexual abuse of children by an adult. It includes, but is not limited to, the sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed; penetrative sex, including penetration of the mouth; encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including masturbation; intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child; showing children pornography, or using children to create pornography; and encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.
What I want to tackle, immediately, is the fraught relationship between effect and affect in this subject for those of us who seek to interpret it. It is difficult to write or think about sex abuse without being affected by its circulating effects, without feeling that the very practices of academic analysis do something suffocating to its experience. To think about sex abuse in an academic context could suggest that we might wish to think away its awfulness; to write about sex abuse could suggest that we seek to argue away its visceral trauma.
Next Thursday, November 10, the the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the SSRC, and a range of other institutions will co-present a public event, “Paradigms for Peacebuilding: The Need for New Thinking,” in New York City.
In collaboration with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, the Institute for International Law and Justice at New York University’s School of Law will host an International Symposium on Restorative Justice, Reconciliation and Peacebuilding on Friday and Saturday, November 11-12.
Ars Disputandi has recently published a collection of essays from the 2010 Conference of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion titled Religion in the Public Sphere. Edited by Niek Brunsveld and Roger Trigg, the volume—available online and in print—includes contributions from Nicholas Wolterstorff (“Does Forgiveness Violate Justice?“) and Richard Amesbury (“Secular State, Religious Nation?“). In the introduction, Trigg writes.
Recently, there was a brief back and forth at Cif Belief between Michael McGhee and Stephen Clark. The former, a self-described secular humanist, is currently on the philosophy faculty at Liverpool University, where the latter, “a professing Christian,” is Professor Emeritus.
Obama’s list of virtues comes in pairs, and the pairings are mutually illuminating. I will, though, examine them not in the order in which they are listed in the address, but rather according to the depth of their roots, beginning with those anchored most firmly in the ancient classical and, later, the Christian traditions of the West. What emerges when we take this angle of approach, I will argue, is not simple continuity. Neither do we uncover a sharply defined contrast between classical and Christian, or ancient and modern, virtues. Rather, what comes into focus is a continuously unfolding understanding of the virtues, driven on the one hand by socio-historical changes and on the other by efforts to resolve internal tensions in how the virtues are conceived, both singly and in relation to one another.
In short, I agree with Wolterstorff that, while there is no theory in this extremely diverse array of biblical texts, readers may “nonetheless sense a certain rhetorical unity pervading the great bulk of these writings.” We just disagree about what this narrative unity is. What if we said that the “red thread” (so to speak) which unites these tales is not a “frame” guaranteeing rights but rather the clear and repeated indication that humanity is faced with traumatic contingency, surprise, and uncertainty, and that they are at times (for this very reason) subjects of remarkable, even Promethean moments of invention?
At first glance, Justice is an internecine wrangle between theists (or better put, Christians). On the one side is Alasdair MacIntyre and his crowd, with their passively pious, neo-Aristotelian foundationalism. “We are waiting not for a Godot but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict,” MacIntyre concludes in his After Virtue, and I assume he is waiting still, whoever happens now to be sitting in the chair of St. Peter. On the other side, those like Wolterstorff who hope that Christianity might still have something to say in contemporary conversations about politics, justice, and human rights. Kozinski and Smith take up this wrangle in various ways. But it is a wrangle that I, standing over here, view with some detachment. What do I care whether Christianity can reconcile itself with a theory of inherent rights?
If it is indeed the case that “the social ontology of rights talk generally assumes that, at bottom, the kind of relation between social entities is conflictual or competitive,” then I dissociate myself from that generality. No guilt by association here; I don’t hang out with Hobbes. The agonistic social ontology that James K.A. Smith attributes to me is not mine. To affirm natural inherent rights is not to presuppose such an ontology, nor does my account of such rights presuppose such an ontology. Nothing Smith says shows anything to the contrary.
It does certainly seem, as Simone Chambers points out in “Do good philosophers make good citizens?“, that Dr. Wolterstorff ultimately asserts, rather than adequately demonstrates, that only theistic belief can guarantee human rights in perpetuity for all humans. Why? I think it is because he knows that there is ultimately no philosophical demonstration possible for such a conclusion. […]
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s calm, careful, humble response to my posts might make me look like an overly pugilistic polemicist. But I think he’s just from a different school of pugilism. (As a Canadian and long-time hockey player, I think pugilism is a great way to spend a Friday night, with beers afterward.) Wolterstorff is a careful student of the “bob and weave” school of philosophical polemics, turning ill-advised haymakers into merely glancing blows. I, on the other hand, tend to be a student of the George Foreman school of philosophical polemics (and frequent user of his grills to boot!): I’m easily sucked in by rope-a-dopes. Why stop now?
I want to re-emphasize the structure of my discussion about secular accounts of human rights. The project of trying to ground human rights is the project of trying to find what it is about human beings that gives each and every one a dignity sufficient for their possessing human rights.
I’ll close my contribution to this symposium with some broad brush strokes by suggesting that Wolterstorff’s project can be seen as a powerful, persuasive version of a Whig Calvinism, which, instead of ending up with a neoconservativism, ends up with a theistic liberalism.
Perhaps one might argue that Justice: Rights and Wrongs is not simply a contribution to a conversation among philosophers. It is also a contribution to a public dialogue about human rights and thus a conversation among citizens. Here one might argue that because human rights are the sorts of things that are instituted and enforced by governments, we need to approach the conversation from the point of view of what we could agree upon, and not from the point of view of establishing what we think is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Wolterstorff (not unlike Jeff Stout) sometimes assumes that commitment to liberal democracy is the only way to care about justice; so a critique or rejection of the paradigms of liberal democracy or rights-talk is seen as a lack of concern for justice per se. Thus when he sketches the influential narrative of MacIntyre and Hauerwas, he narrates it as “a hostility to justice and rights”—taking it to be the case that an opposition to rights talk is equivalent to an opposition to justice per se. That seems clearly false to me (to adopt a Wolterstorffian locution!) unless one sets up the matter in a way that simply begs the question.
Everywhere in Justice Wolterstorff’s interest in theological and philosophical history collides with his desire for syllogism, or for causal necessity, or for foundational or axiomatic truth. He is always rushing headlong toward the moment when, blessedly, “it proves impossible not to continue” toward the terminus of thought—indeed, for the moment when we can lay down thinking altogether—even if, lost in the rush, the relief of having arrived at a foundation obscures from the mind its having reached a parallel conclusion, like the sanction of state violence.
It seems to me that what worries Wolterstorff about “right order” theories of justice (i.e., communitarian accounts) is that they leave justice at the whim of a particular story, a particular community, and thus leave the wronged without recourse, without a basis for appeal. If rights are going to “work”—that is, if they are going to provide an extra-story and supra-community criterion for naming wrongs—then the worth of the human person needs to be grounded in some feature or property that is not conditioned by a particular story and which is a feature of all human beings.
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a unique—and uniquely readable—book. It skillfully constructs a case for the continuing force of political discussions of rights, properly understood not only in their “possessive” articulations, but also more broadly as social articulations of “rights against” others in pursuit of life-goods. The point of this rather subtle turn is to take on those who would reduce rights discourse to a kind of flattened and shallow individualism, as well as to argue against modern eudaimonist thinkers who would reject the language of rights altogether. […]
Why should we conclude that God’s love for human beings takes the form of attachment love as opposed, for instance, to the agape love dominant in the Christian tradition? Why should we conclude that God loves us at all? And if God and God’s love exist, why should we conclude that God loves every human being equally?
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a profoundly ambitious book. His normative aspiration is nothing less than “speaking up for the wronged of the world” by reorienting contemporary thinking on rights and justice. … But what about the practice of liberal democracy? What would it mean to govern so that members of a society can “enjoy the goods to which they have a right”? Justice is not a book of practical application, but it is clearly on Wolterstorff’s mind.
The truly dynamic discussion in America today about religion and politics is not between “wall of separation” secularists and Christian political theologians attempting to turn American into a theocracy. Instead, the promising but fledgling discussion is between religious and non-religious democrats who are acutely aware of the two horns of this essential American dilemma. First, one has a right to express one’s convictions in whatever terms one holds them, including religious terms; second, one cannot assume that one’s fellow citizens’ convictions are shaped by the same terms.
In December, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, it has served as a charter for the modern human rights movement. Many scholars are unaware of the religious underpinnings of the Declaration. […]
The central claim of Nicholas Wolsterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is that justice is based on natural human rights that inhere in the worth of human beings, a worth that is bestowed on each and every human being through God’s love. He contrasts this view of “justice as inherent rights” with an alternative notion of “justice as right order,” the view that was espoused by pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and dominated philosophical thinking until relatively recent times. […]