Sunday, February 18, 2007
First Aired: 
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What Is It

Justice, truth, and identity;  race, society, and law—these all come into dramatic play as South Africa makes the tumultuous transition to a post-apartheid democracy.  How has the new South Africa constructed its concepts of reconciliation?  How has its historical emergence meant a rethinking, reimaging, re-experiencing, relabeling, and repoliticizing of race?  John and Ken discuss reconciliation with Daniel Herwitz, a philosopher who has spent much time in South Africa.

Listening Notes

Ken asks "Are justice and reconciliation reconcilable?" Reconciliation in this context means the coexistence of two groups of people in harmony against a past when one group oppressed the other. They may not be best friends after what happened but they should still be able to live together. After the fall of apartheid, South Africa is a prominent example for the process of reconciliation.

Ken introduces Daniel Herwitz, Humanities Professor from University of Michigan. Daniel Herwitz worked in South Africa as a philosophy professor after receiving his Ph.D. Herwitz thinks that the whole idea of reconciliation is a Christian idea. The Christian reconciliation involves the acceptance of the Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) as One. Ken points out that there is also a trinity in the process of reconciliation: truth, amnesty and reconciliation. Daniel Herwitz explains that the truth commissions (such as the ones in Chile) that are wholly merciful do not lead to reconciliation between people because they lack force. People do not take these seriously. On the other hand, if truth commissions are just about punishment, they do not lead to reconciliation either, as harmony, forgiveness and coexistence are not emphasized. Anglican Bishop Tutu, in Herwitz's words "with his sparkling effervescence", was influential in South African reconciliation. In South Africa, in order to be granted amnesty, a person needed to disclose fully his or her crime and successfully argue that what he or she did was in the service of a political end. John points that the political end did not need to be justified.

Hegel's ideas serve as a metaphor for South African reconciliation and buttress its plausibility. Hegelian dialectic is the idea that progress is achieved by the synthesis of opposing ideas. According to Hegelian dialectic, there is a subtle relationship between the dominator and the dominated. For instance, the master(the dominator) and slave (the dominated) both realize that the master depends on the slave. This undermines the master's role as the dominator and gives slave some power over the master.

Reconciliation can benefit not only South Africa but many groups around the globe - such as Muslims and Christians, Japan and China, Aboriginal people and Australians. South African reconciliation is an encouragement for the union of all conflicting groups. Ken points that in all reconciliation processes (such as ones in Germany and Japan after WW2) there was a civil society. In Iraq, there is a down-spiraling collapse and no order to spearhead the reconciliation between Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. Herwitz notes that the involvement of a foreign power makes the process of reconciliation horrendous, since then reconciliation revolves around the power of the foreign occupier.

  • (4:11-7:54) Roving Philosophical Reporter Amy Standen interviews Pat Clark, the director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in South Africa.
  • (49:53-52:00) The 60-second philosopher Ian Shaoles explores the philosophy behind reconciliation and personal forgiveness.