"As a historian, I know that there is no closure for history, that the repressed returns, sometimes as tragedy, sometimes as farce. Still, I think I (naively) held to the popular belief that there was a certain finality to history’s judgment. We often use the words “the judgment of history,” or we suggest that we need to be “on the right side of history.” The moral stance implied in those words draws enduring distinctions between good and evil, justice and injustice, equality and inequality, right and wrong—as if in her wisdom, Clio will rescue us mortals from the errors of our ways. In these lectures, I am interested in the paradoxical operations of the judgment of history, particularly as the imposition of that judgment was seen as a means of closing the future to the wrongs of the past and in this way establishing the singular linearity of history’s path. What aspects of the past were repudiated? How and in what terms? What of them remained? How account for the remainders? And what do they tell us about the ways in which the moral and the political are inextricably intertwined in the idea of history itself? I take as my cases three examples of the way the realization of justice was defined in the discourse of the judgment of history." (Joan W. Scott)
Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa:National politics in the present
This lecture moves to 1996, when the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission struggled to implement the judgment of history (the end of apartheid) as the future of the nation was being negotiated. There the challenge involved confronting a present fraught with danger and finding some common ground between the victims and perpetrators of “gross human rights violations.” These violations had to do with individual bodily harm and psychological “trauma”—at once recognizing and leaving aside the structures of oppression (segregation, discrimination, political disenfranchisement, economic exploitation…) that defined the system. The common ground was “forgiveness,” justice conceived as individual redemption for victims and perpetrators alike. In South Africa, the need for political compromise crucially left in place the material underpinnings of the white supremacist state, especially its rules of property ownership. As a result the racial inequality taken to be a violation of human rights under apartheid persisted in the form of economic inequality in the non-racialist new South Africa.