The Politics of Mercy, Forgiveness and Love: A Nietzschean Appraisal

  • M Ure


This paper critically examines Hannah Arendt's claim that we should conceive forgiveness as a specifically political or worldly virtue. According to Arendt, the virtue of forgiveness is necessary if we are to halt the reactive rancour that always threatens to destroy the space of politics. This paper suggests that in building her case for the politics of forgiveness Arendt confusingly intermingles three conceptual threads – mercy, Christian forgiveness and forgiveness driven by eros. Drawing on Nietzsche's scattered analyses of these threads, it argues that all three of these modalities of forgiveness jeopardize rather than restore the circuits of mutual recognition that are integral to democratic communities. Nietzsche shows that these shadings of unconditional or unilateral forgiveness do not necessarily arise from a will to live together, as Arendt assumes, but are anchored in and oriented by our need to console ourselves for the narcissistic wounding we inevitably suffer in the struggle for recognition.

South African Journal of Philosophy Vol. 26 (1) 2007: pp. 56-69

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