REPAIRING THE PAST : Polarities of Restorative Justice
Forging links between academic analysis and the hard, practical work of politicians is a neglected art. Behind the difficulty are the threats of ambiguity. Making a decision to do something is different from thinking about doing. There is a "leap", H. Richard Niebuhr used to say, "from the chair into the battle." There are few subjects so fraught with ambiguity than that of "repairing the past." Some pragmatists would label it as a non-starter: the past is gone. It is not there to be repaired. Quite the opposite claim came from William Faulkner in 1950: "The past is not dead and gone; it isn't even past." Since about 1990, the world has seen multiple, diligent human efforts to revisit, uncover, and revise the collective pasts of societies whose members have been horribly, unjustly damaged. Court trials, truth commissions, history revisions abound. It is as if the post-Soviet 1990s had freed citizens of all levels to look hard at the monstrous horrors of the twentieth century, which to date set the record for numbers of human-enacted ldllings of each other. These efforts altogether may be grouped under "transitional justice." If academics and politicians are to collaborate in thinking about repairing the past, they vwll need to juggle variables and combinations of ideas and forces which account for the ambiguities. What I shall offer here is a proposal for how to grasp a set of issues which filter through many ofthe discussions of academics regarding the hard, practical work of politicians and others on the front lines of transitional justice.