Unchopping a Tree

Unchopping a Tree: Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Political Violence

Ernesto Verdeja
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Unchopping a Tree
    Book Description:

    Political violence does not end with the last death. A common feature of mass murder has been the attempt at destroying any memory of victims, with the aim of eliminating them from history. Perpetrators seek not only to eliminate a perceived threat, but also to eradicate any possibility of alternate, competing social and national histories. In his timely and important book, Unchopping a Tree, Ernesto Verdeja develops a critical justification for why transitional justice works. He asks, "What is the balance between punishment and forgiveness? And, "What are the stakes in reconciling?"Employing a normative theory of reconciliation that differs from prevailing approaches, Verdeja outlines a concept that emphasizes the importance of shared notions of moral respect and tolerance among adversaries in transitional societies. Drawing heavily from cases such as reconciliation efforts in Latin America and Africa-and interviews with people involved in such efforts-Verdeja debates how best to envision reconciliation while remaining realistic about the very significant practical obstacles such efforts faceUnchopping a Tree addresses the core concept of respect across four different social levels-political, institutional, civil society, and interpersonal-to explain the promise and challenges to securing reconciliation and broader social regeneration.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0056-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Theorizing Reconciliation
    (pp. 1-27)

    The past one hundred years witnessed the highest number of political deaths of any century (Rummel 1997). Two major wars, numerous civil conflicts and wars of independence, and systematic state-sponsored atrocities have left behind a battered political landscape. The genocide of Jews, Roma, Armenians, Ibos, Tutsi, Hutu in Burundi, Bengalis, Khmer, the Aché (Paraguay), Guatemalans, Timorese, Bosnian Muslims, southern Sudanese, and Herero and repression, mass terror, and murder in places as disparate as Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Romania, Uganda, China, and Iran illustrate the heterogeneous nature of political violence of the past century but do not by any means exhaust...

  5. 2 Key Normative Concepts
    (pp. 28-65)

    A major difficulty for societies emerging from a recent history of mass violence is how to contend with demands for justice, truth, and victim acknowledgment while recognizing the need for stability and peace. Although clearly important, a successful democratic transition requires more than strong leadership. Legacies of violence require that a society engage certain ethical questions in order to arrive at a just peace and meaningful reconciliation.

    In the previous chapter I introduced the five normative concepts that underpin my theory of reconciliation as respect. In this chapter, I discuss the concepts at length. I begin by presenting the idea...

  6. 3 Political Society
    (pp. 66-91)

    Establishing a new political order after mass violence is a delicate and fraught process. The members of political society, the political elite, must balance a number of competing goals. They may, for example, choose to prosecute those responsible for crimes, therefore risking the dissolution of a fragile peace and the resumption of violence. Others may persecute their adversaries using the full power of the state, and thus weaken the rule of law. Leaders are also confronted with the difficult decision of how to allocate resources, that is, the choice between the particular demands for victim reparations and the general needs...

  7. 4 Institutional and Legal Responses: Trials and Truth Commissions
    (pp. 92-135)

    This chapter explores the use of institutional mechanisms to foster societal reconciliation. Although the vast majority of conflicts in the twentieth century were never followed with prosecutions of those responsible for the most significant violations, and while few authoritarian leaders have faced trial for their abuses, the century also witnessed the emergence of the principle that serious human rights violations should be punished through a legal process, rather than with simple revenge. The development of international human rights law and the establishment of occasional tribunals reflect a change in how nations understand past violations and their legacies. Indeed, considering the...

  8. 5 Civil Society and Reconciliation
    (pp. 136-159)

    Political scientists have traditionally studied democratic transitions from the perspective of political elites by focusing on their abilities to promote stability and governance while protecting peace from the spoiling tactics of disaffected opponents. The four-volume workTransitions from Authoritarian Rule(O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead 1986) oriented much of the subsequent work written on analyzing elite fragmentation and its consequences. Civil society received attention only after significant divisions between elite “soft-liners” and “hard-liners” became insurmountable. Along these lines, political scientists have examined the contributions of elites in fostering reconciliation as a process of balancing civil society pressures and maintaining social stability...

  9. 6 Interpersonal Reconciliation
    (pp. 160-179)

    Societal reconciliation is, in its most basic sense, about reconcilingindividuals, thus any theory of reconciliation must at some point face the difficult task of how to connect social and institutional processes of reconstruction with the personal dynamics between individuals. At this level, issues of repentance, acknowledgment, forgiveness, pardon, and vengeance occupy the moral space between victims, bystanders, and perpetrators. We are tasked with identifying which responses are morally legitimate, which are not, and (in a more theoretical-reflexive sense) what the limits of such an inquiry are. There is a danger here: A model of reconciliation should not reduce itself...

  10. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 180-186)

    In the aftermath of political violence and oppression, a society is tasked with the difficult challenge of moral and material reconstruction. This is a complex process that involves many moral goals, actors, and institutions. I have sought to show how reconciliation in a society emerging from a period of significant violence is shaped by a number of normative goals that operate across diverse social spaces, and I have sought to provide a theoretical framework for understanding such processes that differs from prevailing approaches. The understanding of reconciliation provided here attempts to ground a realistic, critical account of what is feasible...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 187-196)
  12. References
    (pp. 197-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-228)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)