In the last several decades, there have been numerous—and largely unprecedented—efforts around the world to develop and enact protocols for what to do in the wake of conflict and horror. From Nuremberg, to South Africa, to Guatemala, different models have been tried, and each bears lessons for the future. At The Immanent Frame today, I interview Daniel Philpott, who is working to develop a holistic framework for such work under the banner of “reconciliation.”
When we reason about justice, whether it is the justice of war or of reconciliation, we’re providing a set of moral standards. We know that they’re going to be violated. But I still think it is important to articulate them. For instance, in courts of law, if we’re trying to decide whether something is a war crime, we need some standards to know what that means. Even if moral standards aren’t always respected, people need to be able to make moral claims against violators. The ethic of reconciliation and just war theory provide a proscription for what just action ought to look like. Military academies in the United States take just war theory very seriously. This is what they teach their soldiers: no, you can’t kill civilians; no, you can’t wage aggressive war. The standards are really tough, and people are expected to conduct themselves in that way. It’s also ensconced in international law. My dream is that the ethic of reconciliation will have a similar status, providing a cookbook for how to approach certain problems, even if, at times, it is going to wind up being compromised.