In This Review

An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics
An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics
By Donald W. Shriver, Jr.
Oxford University Press, 1995, 284 pp

This book, by a professor of Christian ethics, starts from the unexceptional premise that the world would be a better place if nations and other political actors would practice greater forgiveness toward enemies, in light of the way that memories of wrongs committed long ago tend to drive atrocities. The problem is that the author takes the ethical question out of a political context. He is therefore prone to seeing moral equivalence in America's dealings with its various enemies, and he fails to confront adequately how democracies are to live with hostile states that are neither forgiving nor repentant. His extended treatment of America's post-war relations with Germany and Japan is much less perceptive than, for example, Ian Buruma's Wages of Guilt; while aware that the Japanese have not come to terms with their past as the Germans have, Shriver plays this down by saying that Americans have not done so either. His moral premise quickly leads to mushy recommendations for greater mutual understanding and some highly questionable recommendations for dealing with race problems in the United States.