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Duties to the Dead and the Conditions of Social Peace

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This essay focuses on the purported duty—defended by Walter Benjamin but widely assumed in much political theory and practice—of the living to redeem the suffering of those who died as a consequence of oppression, exploitation, and political violence. I consider the cogency and ethical value of this duty from the perspective of a politics grounded in the equal life-value of human beings. For both metaphysical and ethical reasons I conclude that this duty does not obtain, first because the dead cannot experience redemption, and secondly because it is politically counterproductive: it personalizes a pathological form of political resistance which may easily incite further violence and thus perpetuate human suffering and oppression.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-08-01

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