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REPAIRING THE PAST : Polarities of Restorative Justice

Donald W Shriver, John
June 4, 2015

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.


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