Reparations as balance

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Reparations are often justified as a means to ensure “peace,” “reconciliation,” or to “vindicate victims” (Bottigliero, 2004, 14; Greiff, 2006, 463–466; Laplante, 2015, 555–557). The justification of reparations range from corrective justice notions of restitutio in integrum (returning all that is lost) to moral notions of recognition and relational restoration, to even communitarian notions of engendering civic trust, social cohesion and transformative explanations of the place of reparations in post-conflict societies. Reparations can seem almost Janus-faced, allowing a broad umbrella of conceptions and expectations to co-exist, but it is worth interrogating the justifications of reparations, as it can help to “serve to clarify the nature and the full extent of our normative commitments” (Greiff, 2012, 33).

This article analyses some of the main justifications for reparations so as to challenge some of their normative assumptions in redressing the past. The discussion focuses on three predominate concepts of reparations namely justice, morality/recognition and reconciliation/relational justifications. These accounts do not fully reflect the practice of reparations for mass atrocities, which creates a normative account that is either too utopian to be realized or inadequately provides the conceptual tools to navigate moral challenges to realize effective reparations. Indeed more critical scholars working on these issues point to “rough” or “imperfect” justice (Eizenstat, 2003), but do not provide a coherent account to what this theoretically amounts to. Instead this author proposes reparation as balance to reflect that such measures in practice are part of a negotiated process. Reparation as balance involves the relevant stakeholders finding common ground to redress the past and prevent its non-recurrence in the future. This point is referred to as the “goldilocks' zone” wherein reparations can be conceived as a space to which conflicting perspective can find a harmony to redress the past through a spectrum of measures. Such a position does not fully repair victims' harm as required by restitutio in integrum, but also does not compromise society's values nor is humiliating to those responsible. This approach envisages reparations as not simply a victim-centered measure to remedy their harm, but also a space for responsible actors to rehabilitate their own moral position in the present and future from their past actions. “Reparations as balance” is informed by many contemporary struggles for reparations by victims, but also an understanding of what has succeeded in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social Philosophy
Early online date08 May 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 May 2023


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