Duties to the Dead and the Conditions of Social Peace
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.