Reconciling Historical Injustices: Deliberative Democracy and the Politics of Reconciliation

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Deliberative democracy is often celebrated and endorsed because of its promise to include, empower, and emancipate otherwise oppressed and excluded social groups through securing their voice and granting them impact in reasoned public deliberation. This article explores the ability of Habermas' theory of deliberative democracy to accommodate the demands of historically excluded social groups in democratic plural societies. It argues that the inclusive, transformative, and empowering potential of Habermas' theory of deliberative democracy falters when confronted with particular types of historical injustices. It falters because it pays little attention to the historical dimension of injustices and the demands to which it gives rise. The historical dimension of longstanding injustices, it is argued, gives rise to a set of distinctive demands, such as collective memory of exclusion, acknowledgement of historical injustices, taking responsibility, and offering apology and reparations for causing these injustices, which go beyond the type of democratic inclusion that is often offered by deliberative democracy. Yet, the solution is not to abandon the model of deliberative democracy. Quite the contrary, it remains a valuable basis for forward-looking political decision making. The article concludes that in order to achieve inclusive, empowering and transformative deliberation in consolidated democracies that have experienced historical injustices, the politics of reconciliation is indispensable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-143
Number of pages17
JournalRes Publica
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Apology
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Historical injustice
  • Memory
  • The politics of reconciliation


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