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Should governments apologize for past wrongs done in their name?

Sins of the Parents

The Politics of National Apologies in the United States

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Brian A. Weiner

"Sins of the Parents grapples with the problem of intergenerational responsibility in the context of American political history. It is a work that is sensitive to the contested uses of the past, sophisticated in its deployment of an Arendtian vision of forgiveness, and unabashed in its project of expanding our conception of citizenship."
P.E. Digeser, author of Political Forgiveness

Debates have swirled around the question of national forgiveness for the past fifty years. Using two examples—the land claims of the Oneida Indians and the claims for reparations to Japanese Americans interned during World War II—Brian Weiner suggests a way of thinking about national misdeeds. Arguing beyond collective "innocence" or "guilt," Sins of the Parents offers a model of collective responsibility to deal with past wrongs in such a way as to reinvigorate our notion of citizenship.

Drawing upon the writings of Abraham Lincoln and Hannah Arendt, Weiner offers a definition of political responsibility that at once defines citizenship and sidesteps the familial, racial, and ethnic questions that often ensnare debates about national apologies. An original contribution to political theory and practice, Sins of the Parents will become a much discussed contribution in the debate about what it is to be an American.

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Excerpt

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"The work provides a thoughtful framework within which to approach this difficult issue. Highly recommended."
Choice

"Political theorist Brian A. Weiner's Sins of the Parents is but the latest entry in the extensive recent literature on 'transitional justice' and the related questions of redress and rectification, but brings valuable, and in some cases new, materials to bear on these questions…This book offers important innovation to the literature on national apologies and collective memory… Sins of the Parents is a constructive step forward in considering national apologies, and the American case in particular."
Contemporary Sociology

"Weiner’s book is well written and generally persuasive. It combines a well-researched examination of debates about particular claims, along with a plausible account of how facing up to dark episodes in a nation’s history could transform its political life for the better."
Political Studies Review

"Sins of the Parents will appeal to scholars across a variety of disciplines and sub-fields within political science....Weiner’s passion is evident throughout the book, and he writes in a lively, non-polemical tone at a level that advanced undergraduates and graduate students will appreciate. Sins of the Parents would be well assigned in various classes, from political theory courses on justice and citizenship to courses in race and ethnic politics."
The Journal of Politics

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Past Wrongs, Present Responsibilities?
1. The Promises of Great Nations: The Oneida Land Claims Cases
2. Explaining (away) The Misdeeds of Political Ancestors: The Civil Liberties Act of 1988
3. The Birth and Death of Political Memories
4. The Political Responsibilities of Citizens
5. The Political Promise and Limitations of National Apologies
Conclusion: Citizenship in the Shadows of Misdeeds
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Brian A. Weiner is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
Law and Criminology
Sociology


In the series

Politics, History, and Social Change, edited by John C. Torpey.

This series will disseminate serious works that analyze the social changes that have transformed our world during the twentieth century and beyond. The main topics to be addressed include international migration; human rights; the political uses of history; the past and future of the nation-state; decolonization and the legacy of imperialism; and global inequality. The series will also translate into English outstanding works by scholars writing in other languages.

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