The Global Theater of Forgiveness

The late philosopher asks: if the whole world confesses, who's behind the screen?

Whether one regards this as a huge step forward, a historic change, and/or a concept still unclear in its limits and unsure in its foundations (one can take both positions at the same time, as I am inclined to do myself), the undeniable fact is that the concept of "crime against humanity" remains on the horizon of any geopolitics of forgiveness, providing it with its discourse and its legitimation. To take the striking case of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which remains unique in spite of the analogies—analogies only—with certain South American precedents, in Chile in particular: What gave the commission its ultimate justification, its declared legitimacy, is the definition, by the international community as represented by the United Nations, of apartheid as a "crime against humanity." We could take a hundred other examples; there are very many of them and they are all similarly underwritten.

This piece is excerpted from The Future of Values (Berghahn Books/UNESCO Publishing), the second 21st Century Talks anthology, edited by Jérôme Bindé and published last fall.

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