We're just starting a paper about the apology in political culture - why did political leaders start to apologise for historical ills, such as the Irish Famine, the Australian apology to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, or the Catholic church's occasional moments of contrition? What good does it do?
Mike's putting it into the context of history and political theory with humour and erudition. The focus is the challenge to the liberal tradition and the notion of transgenerational responsibility. Such as: was it meaningful for the UK now to apologise for the slave trade? The state has existed continuously, but society has changed hugely. Perhaps the public apology is a secular echo of the public repentance found in old-style religion.
Of course, if you've apologised, perhaps you should make reparations. After all, an apology is meaningless if there are no consequences. There's a movement in the US and Africa demanding reparations for slavery. I'm sympathetic, but who should pay and who should be paid? I didn't enslave anyone, and nor did the state whose passport I carry, but the UK ruled Ireland and was a slaving nation. Should my taxes contribute to a reparation fund? Yes, probably.
How to make reparations? A cheque to everyone descended from slaves seems difficult to administer, and some will have done well. I'd go for a massive UN fund to modernise and repair Africa after the ravages of colonialism. Your thoughts?