Friday, 2 July 2010

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa?

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?


Adam said...

Weren't the Brits also the first to abolish it? I won't accept responsibility for things done by previous generations, the good or the bad. My ancestors are a mix of Irish, Romanies, and Saxons. And if you believe the DNA test I had done I've also got middle eastern, eastern european and Visigothic ancestry. We're all mongrels, and I doubt any of us are specifically descended from actual slavers or the political class that supported slavery. Learn from the past and move on. Blaming all living whites for slavery sounds like prejudice to my ears. It's like blaming all living Germans for the Nazis.

The Plashing Vole said...

I do tend to agree with you. States which claim continuity should take responsibility for ongoing effects, but I don't think citizens bear concrete responsibility. Some moral acknowledgement should be forthcoming though.

The British were first to abolish slavery in the UK, but didn't abolish the trade in the Empire for several more decades. Out of sight, out of mind.

Your DNA test sounds fascinating. I think it's a wonderful thing to be a melange of ethnicities.