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Is forgiveness always the proper moral response to collective violence?

Resentment's Virtue

Jean Améry and the Refusal to Forgive

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Foreword by Jeffrie Murphy

Thomas Brudholm

"Resentment's Virtue represents an important counterpoint to the privileged status accorded to the logic of forgiveness in the transitional justice and reparations literatures. Brudholm illustrates nicely that 'negative emotions' are not only understandable in the aftermath of mass atrocity, but that they possess a moral component that is often ignored by the boosters of reconciliation."
Andrew Woolford, co-author of Informal Reckonings: Conflict Resolution in Mediation, Restorative Justice and Reparations

Most current talk of forgiveness and reconciliation in the aftermath of collective violence proceeds from an assumption that forgiveness is always superior to resentment and refusal to forgive. Victims who demonstrate a willingness to forgive are often celebrated as virtuous moral models, while those who refuse to forgive are frequently seen as suffering from a pathology. Resentment is viewed as a negative state, held by victims who are not "ready" or "capable" of forgiving and healing.

Resentment's Virtue offers a new, more nuanced view. Building on the writings of Holocaust survivor Jean Améry and the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Thomas Brudholm argues that the preservation of resentment can be the reflex of a moral protest that might be as permissible, humane or honorable as the willingness to forgive. Taking into account the experiences of victims, the findings of truth commissions, and studies of mass atrocities, Brudholm seeks to enrich the philosophical understanding of resentment.

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Excerpt

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"Resentment’s Virtue offers a much-needed corrective to the current fashionable enthusiasm for reconciliation and forgiveness as appropriate and desirable responses to unspeakable atrocities and the persons who authorized or committed them. It also provides a detailed analysis of Jean Améry’s contribution to the alternative argument that continuing outrage and refusal to forgive constitute justifiable moral reactions to such atrocities. It should stimulate renewed discourse on a troublesome subject."
Lawrence L. Langer, author of Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory and, most recently, Using and Abusing the Holocaust

"Brudholm offers a philosophically brilliant reading of Jean Améry's defense of ressentiment as a morally worthy alternative to the forgiveness defended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in response to atrocities. Like Améry, Brudholm resists the pathologizing of resentment that persists in the face of others' refusal to share in the passionate and ‘impossible’ wish that the past wrongs were never done. This take on resentment demonstrates magnificently what Bernard Williams meant by ‘moral remainders’ and the issues they bequeath."
Claudia Card, Emma Goldman Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin

"In retrieving the thought of Jean Améry, Thomas Brudholm sharpens criticism of the facile deployment of ‘forgiveness’ in too much contemporary discourse, and delivers a concept of fitting resentment that, far from wreaking vengeance, would make reconciliation honest. This is a lucid and substantial contribution to an important controversy."
Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, University of Oxford

"Brudholm provides a view that is likely to be controversial, namely, that resentment can be just as much of an acceptable outcome to collective violence…Brudholm makes the case that resentment might be just as permissible as the tendency to forgive."
Contemporary Sociology

"Every now and then a book is published that makes you think – and rethink – the position you have on a specific issue. Danish philosopher Thomas Brudholm’s Resentment’s Virtue ranks among the candidates for becoming one of those books for theologians and philosophers of religion….[It] states its case clear and with a consistent and sufficient backing: it makes clear to the reader that to forgive others for atrocities and crimes might have severe consequences, and that it might even be in the interest of morality to refuse to forgive….Brudholm’s book will be regarded as an important contribution to these studies."
Ars Disputandi

"[A] persuasive and compelling account that urges readers not simply to assume or to presume that forgiveness is the obvious best course."
The International Journal of Transitional Justice

"[Brudholm's] analysis cuts across disciplines in order to bring to the surface discourses on forgiveness and resentment shared by law, ethics and psychology, and bring these into contact with victim testimony and Jean Améry's writings, which offer the position of both testimony and critical reflection.... This is a timely book which has much to offer on the current scholarly debate on forgiveness."
Holocaust Studies

"Brudholm's book surely is an important contribution to the discussion on the ethics of forgiveness, and it might be called a brilliant analysis."
The Journal of Moral Education

"In Resentment's Virtue, Thomas Brudholm rightly takes issue with some of the lazy assumptions concerning both the putative benefits of reconciliation and the assumed negativity of anger directed against those who have committed human rights atrocities.... The results are a thoughtful and interesting… treatment.... [T]he themes in this book will be of interest across the transitional justice disciplines and if Brudholm compels people to take Améry seriously, I think he will regard his work as well done."
International Affairs

"Brudholm has wonderfully moved forward and made a most positive contribution to the scholarly community of debate....Brudholm's book is a breath of fresh air. He shows beyond doubt that the preservation of resentments in many instances can be a reflex of a moral protest. Such moral protest can be as permissible, humane, or honorable and most often more morally great-souled than a willingness to forgive murderers and perpetrators.... Brudholm's book should be of interest not just to those interested in responses to mass atrocity; not just to those interested in transitional grasps for justice; not just to philosophers and psychologists; and not just to ethicists interested in moral emotions and behaviors. This book deserves to be read by a large group, including, most important[ly], politicians, occupying powers, foreign ministries, and policy institutes."
H-Net

“It feels almost impious to question [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu’s position…given his astonishing achievements, courage and charisma. And yet Brudholm does precisely that with care and insight…. [He] sets up a stark contrast between Tutu’s allegiance to forgiveness and [Jean] Améry’s resistance to forgiving great crimes…. Compelling a witness though Améry is, one finishes Brudholm’s thought-provoking book warned about the dangers of unilateral forgiveness.”
The Times Literary Supplement

"In his thoughtful, elegant book Resentment's Virtue, Thomas Brudholm makes a powerful case for the appropriateness of resentment and the refusal to forgive.... Brudholm's sensitive reading of Jean Améry will serve as a reminder that forgiveness must be earned-and that sometimes this is impossible."
Passions in Context issue 3, 2013

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Contents


Foreward by Jefferie Murphy
Preface and Acknowledgements

1. Transitional Justice and the Ethics of Anger

Part I: Revisiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa

2. Commissioning Anger
3. The Hearings
4. The Therapy of Anger
5. Desmond Tutu on Anger
6. Layers and Remainders

Part II: Jean Améry on Resentment and Reconciliation

7. Contextualizing "Ressentiments"
8. Opening Moves
9. Facing the Irreversible
10. Restoring Coexistance
11. Guilt and Responsibility
12. Wishful Thinking?
13. A Multifarious Reception
14. Epilogue: Between Resentment and Ressentiment

Appendix I: Overview of Jean Améry's "Ressentiments"
Appendix II: Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
Notes
Works Cited
Index

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Brudholm is Research Fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies.

Subject Categories

Philosophy and Ethics
History
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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