Sun, 25 Feb 2018

Writings on Revenge

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Forthcoming, Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Ed. by Michael Gibbons

Apologies. This article is not yet available online.

The Angry Jew: Hannah Arendt on Revenge and Reconciliation

Roger Berkowitz, Philosophical Topics, Fall 2011.

Sholom Schwartzbard killed Simon Petlura in an act of revenge. He admitted his crimeand a French jury acquitted him in 1927. For Hannah Arendt, Schwartzbard’s actions show that revenge can, in certain circumstances, be in the service of justice. This paper explores Hannah Arendt’s distinction between reconciliation and revenge and argues that Hannah Arendt embraces revenge as one way in which politics and justice can happen in the world, but only under certain conditions. First, Arendt only endorses revenge when the crime calling forth vengeance is extraordinary, one that bursts the bounds of traditional legality. Second, the avenger must give himself up for judgment to the legal system, asking a jury to judge whether his extraordinary act was just even though it was illegal. These are strict conditions and will only rarely be met. When they are, revenge can be a profoundly political act in the service of justice, one that can restore a broken political order.

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Assassinating Justly: Reflections on Justice and Revenge in the Osama Bin Laden Killing

Culture & the Humanities, Volume 7 Issue 3, October 2011

Assassination has always been part of war and in recent years it has played increasingly important roles in United States military policy. The assassination of Osama bin Laden offers itself as an example of an assassination that nevertheless claims to be just. Comparing the bin Laden assassination with the assassination of Simon Petlura by Sholom Schwartzbard in 1927 and the kidnapping and trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, this article argues that assassinations, which under certain conditions are justified under international law, can also be just, but only when they are accompanied by the risk of a jury trial.

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Bearing Logs on Our Shoulders: Reconciliation, Judgment and the Building of a Common World

Theory and Event, (2011)

On her first return visit to Germany in 1950, Hannah Arendt went walking in the Black Forest with Martin Heidegger. They discussed revenge, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Upon her return to New York, Arendt began her diary of thoughts, her Denktagebuch. The first seven pages of Arendt's Denktagebuch argue that reconciliation—and not revenge or forgiveness—is an essential example of political judgment. The connection between reconciliation and judgment means that only reconciliation, and not revenge or forgiveness, can respond to wrongs in a way that fosters the political project of building and preserving a common world. This essay argues that the question—"Ought I to reconcile myself to the world?"—is, for Arendt, the pressing political question of our age.

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Parables of Revenge and Masculinity in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River

Law, Culture, and the Humanities v. 1, #3 (2005) (With Drucilla Cornell)

- Reprinted in Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity, Drucilla Cornell (Fordham University Press, 2009).

This paper offers a reading of Clint Eastwood's film Mystic River. Mystic River differs from archetypal Hollywood revenge movies in one important way: the act of revenge kills the wrong man. Moreover, instead of abandoning its wayward avenger, the movie strives to defend or at least to understand the act of wrongful vengeance as the loving act of a kingly father. To explore the connection between trauma, masculinity, and revenge, the paper follows the stories of the film's three male protagonists. Dave is defeated by his boyhood trauma and never recovers. Jimmy, the film's avenger, forcefully resists the dehumanizing power of the loss of his daughter by taking revenge. Sean neither succumbs to trauma nor masters it. Instead, Sean –when confronted by his wife's silent departure and with the fact of Jimmy's vengeance –responds by admitting his vulnerability. An upright man struggling to balance his masculinity with the reality of his tragic limitations, Sean's willingness to accept his human finitude is set against Jimmy's rebellious insistence on his superhuman justice based on the prerogative of vengeance.

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