Just Pretending: Political Apologies for Historical Injustice and Vice's Tribute to Virtue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Should we be concerned with, or alarmed or outraged by, the insincerity and hypocrisy of politicians who apologize for historical injustice? This paper argues that the correct reply to this question is: sometimes, but not always. In order to establish what types of insincerity must be avoided, Judith Shklar’s hierarchy of ordinary vices is critically revisited. Against Shklar’s overly benign account of hypocrisy, the paper then tries to demonstrate that only institutional and harmful forms of hypocrisy must be rejected in political apologies for historical injustice. Employing Melissa Nobles’ ‘membership theory’, this paper defends the claim that the sincerity standard for political apologies is, in stark contrast to apologies between individuals, agent independent. This means that in political apologies, rather than focusing on the remorse and regret of the agent who apologizes, we must primarily examine the apology’s consequences in terms of renegotiating the legal, political and affective dimensions of citizenship. In domestic affairs, the paper shows that apologies can only be considered sincere if they push the polity towards a more inclusive conception of membership in the political community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-278
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date19 Dec 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • historical injustice
  • hypocrisy
  • moderate realism
  • political apology
  • sincerity


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