Historical justice in post-colonial contexts: repairing historical wrongs and the end of empire

In Klaus Neumann & Janna Thompson (eds.), Historical justice and memory. The University of Wisconsin Press (2015)
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It is a truism to say that we live in a world that has been deeply shaped by imperialism. The history of humanity is, in many ways, a story of the attempted and achieved subjugation of one people by another, and it is unsurprising that such interaction has had profound effects on the contemporary world, affecting cultural understandings of community identity; the composition of, and boundaries between, modern day states; and the distribution of resources between different communities. This chapter addresses the claim that some contemporary states may possess obligations to pay reparations as a result of the lasting effects of a particular form of historic imperialism: colonialism. Claims about the harms and benefits caused by colonialism must make some kind of comparison between the world as it currently is, and a counterfactual state where the injustice which characterised so much of historic interaction between colonisers and the colonised did not occur. Rather than imagining a world where there was no such interaction, this chapter maintains that the appropriate counterfactual is one where relations between different communities were characterized by an absence of domination and exploitation. This means that current day states may possess reparative duties which are much more extensive than is often supposed.

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Daniel Butt
Oxford University


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