The boundaries of transitional justice Jean Améry and Johan Degenaar on the tension between survival and justice

Theo De Wit


What can political philosophy, interested in the field of ‘transitional justice’ learn from dissident voices in states who try to define their future while dealing with a past where human rights were severely violated? In this article I discuss Jean Améry’s reflections on Germany’s handling of their national socialistic past and compare that with texts of the South African philosopher Johan Degenaar. My premise will be that with regard to a central point, Améry and Degenaar’s reflections on their nations’ respective political choices display a strong resemblance: both resisted the notion of the priority of the (quasi-) natural survival of the nation over the sake of justice. But I will indicate also that the resistance of Améry and Degenaar was partly in vain: mainly, survival triumphed over justice in both cases. This indicates the lasting meaning of ‘anamnestic reason’, a conscious, critical remembrance of the past.


(Transitional) justice; survival; resentment; Apartheid; National Socialism; anamnestic reason

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ISSN 2413-9467 (online); ISSN 2413-9459 (print)

© 2017 Pieter de Waal Neethling Trust, Stellenbosch.

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