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Agonistic Democracy and the Politics of Memory

Duncan Bell
All memory is individual, unreproducable it dies with each person. What is called
collective memory is not a remembering but a stipulating: that this is important, and
this is the story how it happened, with the pictures that lock the story in our minds.1
Nationalist movements are born with the knowledge of history as contested terrain,
they recognize the writing of history and the constitution of memory as a means to
political power.2

I. Introduction
We live in a mnemonic age. During the previous three decades questions of historical
memory have become, as Jay Winter observes, a cultural obsession of monumental
proportions across the globe.3 This obsession has been catalyzed above all by the
legacy of the Holocaust. The consequences of this reorientation have been mixed; the
memory fest occludes as much as it reveals, conceals as much as it illuminates.4 It has
created an increased awareness of some of the horrors of history and their continuing
reverberations, bringing to light that which was often hidden, silenced, suppressed.
But the political uses of history also fuel conflicts the wars in the Balkans during
the 1990s highlighted, once again, the grim destructive power that the past can exert
over the present. There are also less violent, but still politically pernicious, causes for
concern. Fetishizing the past can, after all, be neurasthenic and disabling. In affluent
societies obsessed with commemoration and heritage, the locations of history tug at
our heartstrings and allow us to debate endlessly over museums and memorials while
accepting whether realistically or from exhaustion, depending on the perspective of
the observer the continuing limits on public-policy responses to social problems.5
This anxiety mirrors the problems that arise from the postsocialist attempt to decouple
identity politics from economic redistribution.6 The parallel is hardly surprising, as the
fixation on memory is bound up with (and has grown up alongside) the discourse
of identity politics; memory, after all, is one of the key mechanisms through which
identities are constructed and reproduced. It is essential to negotiate creatively between
the past and the future if we are not to sink into a morbid traditionalism or be drawn
towards a shallow expurgation of history.
Much of the recent proliferation of academic work on memory has focused on the
ways in which communal and in particular national identities are forged, sustained,
and transformed.7 The memory fest has also spawned a host of thorny ethical questions. Do we have a duty to remember previous generations, and past events? What or
who are the agents of remembrance citizens, corporations, public institutions? How
do we decide which memories to focus on and which to let slide into the abyss? Or
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should we follow the advice of Nietzsche and attempt to forget in the name of life,
of living?8 Communitarians and liberal nationalists, in particular, have grappled with
some of these issues, highlighting the vital role that perceptions of the past play in
shaping individual and communal identities.9 Although this has been a constructive
development, it raises a variety of questions concerning the manner in which collective memory is theorized. This essay examines some of these questions. Firstly, it
seeks to clarify the debate over the political roles of the past by introducing a tripartite distinction between memory, myth, and critical history. Secondly, it illustrates
the problems that can arise from certain understandings of memory, especially those
articulated by communitarians and liberal nationalists, by critiquing a recent prominent
account of mnemonic ethics, Avishai Margalits The Ethics of Memory.10 And finally,
it posits an alternative framework for helping to think through the relationship between
historical consciousness, political identity, and power. Throughout the essay I will
illustrate, albeit very briefly, the points made by reference to the role of the empire in
British political debate. In general I underscore the dangers of approaching questions
about memory without fully integrating the ethical, political, and historical dimensions
of identity constitution. I argue, in particular, that it is important to avoid creating or
defending institutions, procedures, and attitudes, that entrench (even reify) collective
identities, while simultaneously attempting to establish the political conditions in which
different communities can freely propound their historical identity-constitutive claims.
In order to facilitate a pluralistic radical democracy, it is essential to acknowledge
multiple and often conflicting pasts, and the intrinsically power-infused and tensionridden nature of communal mythological construction.11 What I will term a politics
of acknowledgement is a necessary though not sufficient condition for achieving this
ambition.

II. Memory, Myth, and History


Memory is employed in contemporary social and political thought in an oftenbewildering variety of ways.12 This permissiveness is a cause for concern, both theoretical because it serves to conflate different phenomena and political because
this conflation has deleterious consequences for understanding the vectors of power.
Jeffrey Olick argues that much work on memory, and especially on the memory-nation
nexus, is marred by misleading substantialism.13 It too often assumes that which it
is supposed to explain. Uses of the term memory often reify what is in fact a fluid process, a process that relies heavily on institutional mediation, political manipulation,
and active agency. The existence of a collective memory should not be the starting point of investigation or ethical stipulation. Rather, in attempting to grapple with
ethical questions about the uses of the past it is vital to analyze the dynamics of popular historical consciousness and the ways in which particular collective memories
come to be formed and reproduced, the social and political roles they perform (whether
intentionally or not), and the modes of inclusion and exclusion they sanction. A problem common in the literature on memory lies in unsustainable leaps between different

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levels of analysis in Margalits case, as we shall see, between small-scale communities (families) and much larger units (nations). A further, related issue is a tendency to make assumptions implicitly about communal homogeneity, either in terms of
society as a whole or of the various subcommunities of which societies are composed.14
This is both theoretically and politically problematic, for it means that conflicts within
communities are frequently elided. Are there things that we ought to remember? asks
Margalit (84). Who are the we in this question? Let us understand the we as the
collective or communal we (48). The singularity of community is presupposed it is
both the result and the transmission mechanism of collective memory. This ignores
the practices through which the collective comes to be identified at any particular
moment.
In order to help avoid these common pitfalls, it might be useful to introduce a
tripartite distinction between forms of historical consciousness.15 In place of the overly
promiscuous employment of the term memory, a clearer (though far from exhaustive)
grammar of historical representation can be sketched by distinguishing between social
memory, mythology, and critical history. There are no precise lines that divide these
forms in all contexts; such precision is virtually impossible in analyzing the complexity
of social and political life. The categories should be understood as ideal types, analytical
abstractions employed with the intention of shedding light on an opaque world.
Memory is a term best reserved for a limited class of cognitive and social processes.
Rather than employing it freely to encompass the multiple ways in which people and
groups conceive of the past, it should instead be regarded primarily as a property of
individuals albeit an extremely unreliable property. As psychologist Chris McManus
notes, individual memory is distressingly quixotic, perverse and idiosyncratic.16 Following the work of historians Jay Winter and Emmanuel Sivan, it is helpful to see
memory as an individual cognitive process rooted in the experience (or perceived experience) of a past event or set of events. This does not mean that memory is completely
separable from social context, for memories both draw on and are narrated through
pre-existing discourses, and they are at least partially shaped by shifting environmental
factors. They can also be transformed and reformatted over time, through a process of
interpolated learning.17 The notion of experience is, of course, both elusive and profoundly complex. Its history is, in part, the history of western philosophy. Nevertheless,
Martin Jay is correct to argue that we need to navigate between two polarized positions,
one which regards experience as a mode of lived authenticity that is non-transferable,
non-fungible, and thus available only to those who bear it, the other which conceives
of it as entirely a construct of discourse. Neither of these is adequate, he writes, for
experience lies
at the nodal point of the intersection between public language and private subjectivity, between expressible commonalities and the ineffability of the individual interior.
Although something that has to be undergone or suffered rather than acquired vicariously, even the most seemingly authentic or genuine experience may be already
inflected by prior cultural models . . . .18


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In other words, experience (or the memory of experience) should not be ascribed priority
or authenticity, but nor should it simply be dissolved into a discursive forcefield, a
move that itself is an intrusive assault, through erasure, of the interior dimension of
subjectivity. An experience is undergone or suffered, and memory is a recalling,
although imperfect, of this sufferance (174). As Tzevetan Todorov writes, Memory,
in the sense of mental traces, only ever belongs to an individual.19
Social memory is best understood as the process whereby groups of individuals
publicly share and exchange (autobiographical) memories of past experiences, and it
is therefore limited both spatially and temporally. As Sivan and Winter write, for more
than one individual to share the same memory, even if of the same event, means only
that there is sufficient overlap between their memory traces. For this overlap to become
a social phenomenon, it must be expressed and shared. Only in this sense, and then only
metaphorically, is it possible to speak of a collective memory.20 As such, memory is
not transmissible as memory across generations and outside relatively small groups.
As Samuel Hynes writes about the memorial to the dead at Thiepval, no pile of bricks
and stones can cause us to remember what we have not seen.21 I have no memory
of Auschwitz, for I was not there. Thiepval and Auschwitz may well invoke powerful
images and emotions, even a complex narrative, but this does not necessarily mean
that they are subjects of memory. In terms of the British empire, memories of imperial
occupation and rule are still present for many individuals and networked groups (for
example, veterans organizations), but they cannot be passed down to their descendents
or fused with those lacking similar personal histories. At some stage in the next few
decades, the memory of empire will disappear entirely, although its echoes and effects
will doubtless remain important.
A longstanding tradition of thought counterposed mythos to logos, flights of imagination to the ratiocinative power of reason.22 This understanding is reflected in much
popular usage, where myth is synonymous with false belief. This is not how I employ
the term. Myths are highly simplified narratives ascribing fixed and coherent meanings
to selected events, people, and places, real or imaginary. They are easily intelligible,
transmissible, and help constitute or bolster particular visions of self, society, and world.
Myths in complex modern societies are not reducible to the varieties of sacred myth
anatomized by anthropologists, though they often assume similar structural properties
stories of origins and foundings, stories of the exploits of culture heroes, stories of
rebirth or renewal, and eschatological stories.23 It is such narratives that form the focus
for most extant studies of collective memory. We can refer to the totality of myths
within any given collective as the communal mythscape. This is the discursive space
in which the various myths of the collective are forged, transmitted, and challenged.
The particular forms assumed by mythscapes, which myth or set of myths predominate, are always the result of power, and the struggle over interpretations of the past
comprises a core dimension of agonistic politics. The governing myths of a particular
community those that help determine its dominant self-understandings are never
uncontested, and are always challenged by, and supervene on, a variety of subaltern
myths.

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The mythscape may well subsume memories, both social and individual, or it may
propel them to center stage. Contrasting myths of and about empire retain great force in
British politics. The governing mythology of the empire in the postwar era has tended
to be a Whiggish one, a narrative in which the empire was a necessary step on the road
to the present. In this triumphalist story the British excelled as generous benefactors,
spreading civilization to backward peoples and then decolonizing when the time was
right, and in a manner far more orderly and peaceable than any other imperial power.24
But subaltern mythologies proliferate stories of suffering, oppression, and resistance.
The contentious interweaving of these elements helps constitute the mythscape of the
British empire, indeed the British state, helping to define the contours of contemporary
political debate.
Although myths are usually ideologically indeterminate, they are never politically
neutral, for they always narrate some things (and exclude others) about a community.
It is myths that put the flesh on the bones of more formalistic ideological structures.
For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, British socialists, liberals, and
conservatives, despite their manifold differences, frequently drew on similar visions of
British history and character in order to animate their political programs.25 For many
of the harshest twentieth century critics of liberalism, often following lines traced by
Carl Schmitt, one of the major weaknesses of liberal thought is its lack of affective
power, its ultimate fragility in the face of existential threat.26 But purveyors of this
criticism are always faced with explaining the passionate loyalty displayed by members
of liberal communities. The answer lies partly, of course, in the devotion of many people
to the national communities in which they live, where those communities are largely
mythological imagined constructs.27 In different national contexts, liberalism draws
on, shapes, and is in turn reshaped by, these myths. So too are all effective (and affective)
political ideologies.28
Memory and myth are not synonymous, however, and memory can and frequently
does function in opposition to myth, whether of the governing or subaltern varieties.
The memories that are privileged in the minds of individuals (whether deliberately
or not) or are recalled through rituals of collective remembrance may not be those
that are privileged in mythology, conceivably due to the highly personal nature of the
incident being recalled, or the complexity and ambiguity of the narrative, or because
it happens to conflict with the self-image emplotted in various myths. Autobiographical memories are usually too personal, too localized, and too multi-dimensional to
fit neatly into the simplifying schema of communal stories. In terms of the empire,
the memories of individuals often fit very awkwardly with general mythological constructs the memories, for example, of colonial administrators involved in (and either
ashamed or proud of) violent repression of dissent or, alternatively, the memories of
indigenous agents complicit in the operation of empire and the betrayal of nationalist myths of redemption. Or, again, memories of miscegenation (or various forms
of sexual transgression) and the hybridity of identities that played such an important
role in the imperial encounter. There is little role for any of this in the mythscape of
empire.

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Critical history is as much ethos as argument. To oppose history to memory is only


to invite confusion and mystification, writes Richard Bernstein, drawing a lesson from
Dori Laubs work on Holocaust testimony.29 If the opposition were construed as a rigid
binary composed of two mutually exclusive ways of viewing the past, one superior
to the other, then I would agree. But memory (myth, in my terms) and history often
conflict. Indeed Bernstein, outlining Henri Roussos work on Vichy France, details the
surprise expressed by historian Henri Rousso when he was confronted by evidence
in the archives that the French governing mythology of the war, in which Vichy was
insignificant and the real France was embodied in De Gaulle and the spirit of the
resistance, was wildly inaccurate.30 Critical historians are or at least should be selfreflexive, aware of the partiality, weak foundations, and fallibility of their enterprise, as
opposed to the intrinsic simplicity and univocality of mythology. While always aware
of the dangers of nationalist glorification and accommodation, this mode of historical
sensibility stresses the contingency, opacity, and plurality of the past. It can be counterposed to mythistory, the form of history writing that seeks meaning in the ebb and
flow of time, searching for glory, heroism, and ultimately transcendence.31 This is not to
posit a straightforward opposition between myth and history. There exists no historical
consensus that represents the ultimate truth about the lost world, a final vocabulary of
the past. Laboring under prevailing canons of rationality, historians are divided on most
issues, most of the time. Although it is possible, in a limited number of cases and at a
rather high level of generality, to reach agreement on certain issues, in most cases it is
not. Many of the most significant events and episodes in world history are the subject of
radically conflicting historical interpretations. No serious historian denies the existence
of the Holocaust or claims that Luxemburg started the Crimean war. They differ, however, by up to 1000 years over the first appearance of English nationalism.32 Passionate
controversy exists over the origins of the two world wars, the nature of the English,
French, and American revolutions, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the planning of
the Holocaust. Historians certainly disagree on the motives, dynamics, and nature of the
British Empire, as well as its wider impact on the modern world.33 The identification of
the historical truth about any particular case is often impossible. Thus, while I agree
with much of what Burke Hendrix says about the role of memory in Native American
land claims, his belief that it is possible to get the history right and that events can be
remembered correctly seems overly optimistic.34 In his discussion of history, meanwhile, Margalit focuses too much on the classification of past events and episodes
and too little on the source of most of the bitter controversies, the initial selection of
salient events, and their subsequent interpretation, their location within a larger frame
of meaning (61).35 Ultimately, though, the point is less about finding a single answer
than it is in realizing that there is a question to be asked in the first place, that historical
topics are usually (always?) ambiguous and open to legitimate contestation and multiple
interpretations.


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III. Communitarian Mnemonics


Margalits work highlights some of the problems that emerge when different types of
historical consciousness are conflated. In The Ethics of Memory he sets out to answer
the question of whether members of communities have an obligation to remember
aspects of their collective past. He makes two linked arguments: firstly, that memory
plays a constitutive role in the formation and reproduction of individual and communal identities, including national identities; and secondly, that as a result of this
identity-constitutive function the members of such communities, qua members, have
a mnemonic obligation. He likens this obligation to a medical ought: if you want to
remain healthy, you should eat well, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, and so forth. If
you want to live in a healthy community, you are likewise obligated to remember what
the collective memory of that community embodies and transmits (1046). Despite
its subtle attempt to confront difficult issues about remembrance, and despite its many
illuminating and humane insights, the analysis is marked by a repeated denial or deferral of serious conflict within societies.36 This is a routine problem with communitarian
and liberal nationalist mythologies.
The main problem with Margalits account stems directly from his explicit attempt
to disconnect the ethics of memory from the politics of memory. He does not claim
this move is easy, stating that the psychology of memory, the politics of memory, and
even the theology of memory are closely related to ethics (6). But closely related
is not enough. They are interwoven, and cannot or at least should not be separated
in this manner. This problem is reinforced by his failure to draw lessons from the
vast literature on how national myths have shaped recent history. The separation and
the absence would not necessarily be a problem if Margalit was elucidating an ideal
theory or what he elsewhere describes as an idealistic strategy37 of memory.
But this is not his aim. Firstly, he describes himself as an e. g. philosopher (ix),
a philosopher, that is, who draws on pertinent, striking examples to illustrate his
theoretical arguments (39). And secondly, he focuses on actually existing societies: I
am, in general, more interested in what will make things better than in what will make
things best. Margalit has convincingly asserted the priority of negative politics,
since eradicating cruelty and humiliation is more urgent than promoting and creating
positive well-being (78).38 Negative politics as a normative and practical strategy
should focus consequently on how institutions can stop humiliation (112, 114). As
I wish to show, however, in decoupling politics from ethics, Margalit undermines his
own ambitions.
Margalit distinguishes between ethics and morality. Ethics is a relationship that holds
between members of a thick community, people bound by strong symbolic bonds
(103). His central case, his formative metaphor, is the family, on which he models
communities up to and including the nation, the paradigmatic ethical community of
the modern era (76).39 The scope of the extended family connotes a sense of inclusion
within a community of metaphorical neighbors. In the context of ethics, he writes,
a neighbor is someone with whom we have a history of a meaningful, positive, personal


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relationship, or a history that can be mediated through some imagined community, such
as the community of my fellow Jews, most of whom I have never encountered in my
life (45, my italics). These thick relations, he maintains, are anchored in a shared past
or moored in a shared memory (7) and they bind natural communities of memory
(46), which include families, clans, tribes, religious communities, and nations (95).
Margalit argues that there are two main varieties of communal memory, common
and shared. A common memory is an aggregate notion, the sum of the total number
of memories of an event within a community, and it does not require communication
or generate intersubjective meanings.40 A shared memory, on the other hand, requires
communication, for it integrates and calibrates the different memories of those who
remember the episode . . . into one version. Both communal and individual identities
are shaped by memory. In an ethical context, argues Margalit, a person is somebody
with personality, and the personality is constituted by memory. These shared memories
help constitute encompassing groups groups that have a common culture and
that structure the life styles, modes of action, aspirations, and relationships of their
members.41 It is for this reason that the members of the encompassing group have an
obligation to seeing memory preserved (51, 60). This does not mean that individuals
are obligated to remember everything all of the time, for this obviously demands too
much, only that they ensure that the community as a whole remembers. Who, then,
carries the obligation? In practice, Margalit suggests that the mnemonic guardians are
public institutions (106, 58, 54).42
Whereas ethics is particular, morality is universal: its scope is the whole human
commonwealth (46, 3240). Morality connotes a thin relation, albeit one that registers a compulsory ought (as opposed to a quasi-voluntary medical one). It is what
should guide our behavior to humans qua humans, and as such it cannot be contradicted
by ethics. Because it encompasses all humanity, morality is long on geography and
short on memory. Ethics is typically short on geography and long on memory (3740,
2733, 8). A (very) thin universalism overlays a thick particularism.
My main concern here lies in the political consequences of this approach to the ethics
of memory. Some of the problems are likely to be found in any coherent communitarian or liberal nationalist account; others are specific to Margalits own formulation.
Margalits simultaneous separation of ethics and politics and his endorsement of a
negative mode of theorizing about society lead inadvertently to difficulties. This decoupling takes for granted, as given, that which is in need of excavation and critique. His
account of memory falls prey to the charge of misleading substantialism. Margalit
never explains adequately how understandings of the past emerge and are reproduced;
his idealized sketch of how memory functions at different levels of analysis erases the
political dynamics and the traces of asymmetric power relations that shape and help
reproduce communal mythologies. He presents a static rather than a dynamic account
of politics, and this serves to naturalize the prevailing constellation of power.
At two points he comes close to acknowledging the interweaving of power and
myth. Firstly, he notes the attempt to control memory in authoritarian, traditional,
and theocratic regimes (11).43 Yet he leaves aside the role that related (though less

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extreme) forms of power play in democracies, even appearing to deny the continuities.
And secondly, he stresses the different ways in which white and black communities (themselves overly homogenizing categories) in the United States reacted to the
assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., but he does not pursue
this point (53). In this silence lie the seeds of the major problems with his account.
The chief difficulty resides in the repeated, and mostly undefended, metaphorical
extensions that underpin the argument. For Margalit, collective memory modeled on
familial relations is a non-deceptive, indeed an illuminating, metaphor. I argue, in
contrast, that it is deceptive.44 Families (and neighbors) make very poor templates for
nations. Firstly, as feminist scholars among others have pointed out, the family is itself a
site of contest and exclusionary power dynamics, its thick bonds masking significant
injustice.45 Secondly, the very scale and institutional structures of the nation (or other
large communities) render the metaphor misleading. The differences in the mechanics
of mediation are vast. How are communities of memory formed? Margalit suggests
that most are the product chiefly of spontaneity and voluntarism: In talking about
natural candidates for communities of memory [including nations] I mentioned groups
that, left on their own, are very likely to become communities of memory, usually
quite spontaneously and sometimes with the help of manipulation (70). This is an
unrealistic picture of the role of modern states.46 Although the construction of myths
is far from exclusively a top-down instrumental process, far more than a little help
is usually provided by (at least elements of) the state. This is true of both authoritarian
regimes and to a lesser, though still significant extent, liberal democracies.47 At one
point Margalit observes that wily political leaders do indeed manipulate nationalist
sentiment, but this falls in a discussion of Milosevic, Hitler, and Stalin (9899). This is
to draw the circle far too narrowly. Large-scale political mythologies in all societies are
mainly the products of manipulation sometimes deliberate, sometimes sinister, often
neither and the role of particular, and frequently shifting, structures of power.48 The
exemplary case of this dynamic, as explored by Eugen Weber, was the transformation
of peasants into Frenchman in the late nineteenth-century.49 Myths of empire have
also been central to the construction of modern British political identity, impacting on
the manner in which political leaders see their role in the world, and helping determine
attitudes to race.50 This might not be the proper relation between mythology and
community that Margalit wants to defend, but it is the most common historical pattern.
For a theorist concerned with negative theorizing, this commonality cannot be ignored
without either lapsing into an implausible account of political life or retreating to an
ideal mode of theorizing that simply disregards the actual dynamics of modern politics.
The analogy between closely-knit groups (families, neighbors) and large collectivities is not sustainable because the agencies of mediation are, in the context of modern
states, the very institutions, including schools, museums, government departments, and
media outlets that have been responsible for the creation and dissemination of specific
and usually highly exclusionary stories about the past. Prioritizing certain historical
narratives within a given society reflects the argumentative logic of much communitarian political theorizing, which, as Melissa Lane observes, says nothing about why

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the past happened the way it did, only that the residues of that past in particular communal values and beliefs are valuable and should be accorded self-determination.51
This means that communitarian accounts often end up in danger of unreflexively cherishing only a limited range of the actual myths (or values) in society. This is a route to
alienating minority and dissenting groups.
Under the rubric of negative politics Margalit argues convincingly that we should
give precedence to the alleviation of humiliation, including humiliation that takes the
form of rejection from the community. Indeed he characterizes disengagement, estrangement, and alienation as the solvents of ethical community (144). Yet separating politics and ethics, even if belatedly recognizing their proximity, serves to sanction
these very problems. The institutional amnesia of many modern societies of British
attitudes to the horrors of empire, of Israels sidelining of so much Palestinian suffering, of American views about slavery and the treatment of its indigenous populations
is a potent form of humiliation for subgroups. To rob us of our memory, writes W.
James Booth, is to destroy a part of us, something essential to who we are, something
arguably as crucial to our identity as our physical person.52
This form of rejection challenges Margalits celebrated vision of the decent society. The decent society is a society that seeks to avoid the institutional humiliation of
its members; indeed, it is one where institutions do not act in ways that give the people
under their authority sound reasons to consider themselves humiliated.53 Humiliation
need not be the product of the intentions of individual agents as it can result from the
unintended consequence of various patterns of action. The key, suggests Margalit, is to
rectify situations where it is possible to discern systematic institutional humiliation.54
For my present purposes, it is important to focus on one key variant of the idea of humiliation as rejection. This concerns the treatment of encompassing groups. Causing
persons to feel ashamed of belonging to such a group (or groups) can be considered
a rejection of their humanity and not only of their belonging to a particular group.
In this sense causing persons to feel ashamed of what is morally legitimate belonging constitutes humiliation.55 In particular, I am concerned with what Margalit terms
mediated rejection, which is the rejection of groups that the person belongs to, groups
that determine the way the person shapes her life as a human being. Such humiliation
can be instantiated through deliberate rejection or benign neglect (137, 143). It is
through either of these processes in relation to some of the key identity-constitutive
mnemonic features of encompassing groups that Margalits account of the ethics of
memory clashes with his vision of the politics of the decent society. If memory is central to individual and collective personality identity, and if the rejection of certain
core aspects of identity represents a case of humiliation, then downplaying, trivializing or ignoring communal memories (myths) is humiliating. The dominant shared
memories of all modern states are repositories of humiliation. Asian, Caribbean, and
African immigrants in the United Kingdom, especially during the 1950s and 1960s,
were frequently marginalized, and consequently humiliated, for they fell outside the
prevailing discursive construction of the normative boundaries of the national community.56 The depth of racial prejudice in the popular historical consciousness of the

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United States has yet to be confronted adequately the ghosts of slavery still shadow
political life in the country.57 The examples can be iterated ad infinitum. Of course,
Margalit could once again respond that this is not a proper ethical relationship, that
it is a bad one. But this would be to ignore the fact that all modern societies have
developed in this manner, that none avoid the exclusionary problems identified
(although some of course deal better with them than others). There are no examples in
modern history of non-discriminating, non-exclusionary national mythologies.

III. Agonistic Politics and the Ethics of Myth


Democratic theorists need to avoid the twin dangers of trivializing the powerful role
of popular historical consciousness in constituting individual and communal identities
and substantializing those very identities. An important first step is to analytically
separate memory and myth, which would help avoid problematic leaps from individuals
and family units to larger political collectivities, as well as taking some of the emotive
sting out of the deeply resonant term collective memory, saturated as it is with
theological overtones and the connotations of personal authenticity.58 Like families,
individual persons make poor models (even if implicit) for political collectives. In the
remainder of this essay I will focus, albeit very briefly, on some important aspects of
the relationship between political mythologies and critical history.
An ethical framework for engaging mythology should form an essential component
in any comprehensive account of political justice, as the way in which societies institutionalize mythologies what they choose to acknowledge as belonging to their history,
what to teach and commemorate, and what is left aside is a deeply consequential
mechanism of inclusion and exclusion.59 It is essential, I argue, for public institutions
to explicitly acknowledge the array of identity-constitutive mythologies existing within
any society while simultaneously calling the status of mythology itself (in its dominant
and subaltern forms) into question. This is not synonymous with the sorts of Hegelianinspired demands for recognition advanced in much recent political theory. Rather
than positively affirming the distinctive qualities of other identities, it simply concedes
the importance of identity-constitution for individual and collective identities and the
rights of groups to make claims and present a public face based on this fact. This does
not preclude positive endorsement, but it does not demand it. This signals, then, a type
of formal rather than substantive recognition, in Patchen Markells terms, signifying equal inclusion in a process whereby identities are contested and remade rather
than a claim about the necessity of affirmation.60 The aim should be to acknowledge
the plurality of interests and identities co-existing within modern democratic states,
in the sense that identity groups are accorded a legislatively protected space for articulating their claims about the past and its impact on the present, and that no single
exclusionary narrative should be imposed on others. (This of course leaves room for
a minimal consensus, at least on some matters, if such can be found.61 ) It might be
argued that a standard liberal conception of state neutrality, underpinned by the usual
bundle of equal basic rights, provides room for this. In principle this is feasible, but

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there exists a yawning gap between theory and practice. Due to the structure of power
relations in any given society, certain groups and certain myths dominate, and they
retain this position of hegemony through a combination of conscious policy-making
and often-unintended institutional path-dependencies and social practices. In order to
offset this imbalance, the decent state may well have to actively intervene in order to
create spaces for the articulation of a politics of acknowledgement. State neutrality
should be seen as an ambition, something to be celebrated when the civic virtues necessary for the perpetuation of a radical pluralist democracy have become sufficiently
widespread.62 This seems a distant prospect. This conception of the ethics of myth is
driven by the idea that since effacing or ignoring the constitutive mythologies of some
communities, usually at the expense of others, is a form of humiliation, a just society
would strive to acknowledge the multiplicity of historical narratives existing within it.
Power can never be expunged from any political community and contestation can never
be extinguished, but it is essential to minimize the grounds for conflict, and to design
institutions and encourage attitudes responsive to and capable of accommodating the
various perceptions of the past that exist within society.
The argument is grounded in (and motivated by) two empirical claims. Firstly, I
accept the sociological constructivist argument that the identities of individuals are at
least partly constituted by the myths of the communities in which they live. We are
the products of our past, even if we are not fully determined by it. Secondly, it is very
difficult, if not perhaps impossible, for the mythologies of major events (persecution,
war, genocide) to be eradicated entirely, although they are often subjected to official
campaigns to silence, marginalize, or deny them.63 The way in which the bloody story
of empire has either been ignored or glossed positively in Britain has led to much
resentment amongst many of those who were subjected to its disciplinary powers (as
well as their descendents). It also feeds into contemporary imperialist manifestations of
British foreign policy.64 If we accept the fact of multiple mythologies, and if we further
accept the idea that being marginalized by the governing institutions of a community and
even subjected to dominant mythologies that in some sense sanctify or at least legitimate
oppression undermines equal citizenship, then the removal of the mechanisms and
modes of mythological humiliation is a necessary though not sufficient condition for
the creation of a functioning pluralist democracy. In societies in which conflict between
different groups is unavoidable, and where the notion of consensus is either illusory or
a cover for hegemonic power relations, the intention should be to create an environment
in which competing claims can be channeled away from the possibility of violence and
into democratic structures robust and flexible enough to accommodate ineliminable
political contestation. It remains crucial to negotiate the rocky path between accepting
the power of memory in constituting communal identities and articulating a political
vision that does not essentialize or valorize those identities. The importance of this ideal
is reflected in the tensions wracking many democratic societies in a so-called age of
terror.
The decent society should be the very society that challenges and constantly contests itself as a singular uniform entity. Rather than taking the dominant mythology

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as a given, and as the sole or primary target of ethical claims, as Margalit and many
communitarians and liberal nationalists do, this position starts with and institutionalizes
a questioning of the homogenizing claims of that mythology. According to Margalit,
the memories of a community are not open to rational assessment; as such they are
exempt from serious internal critique (5863). David Miller defends a similar position.65 Both affirm a contingent calcification of power. What we are being invited to
undertake in bowing before collective memory, writes Todorov, is the defense of
a particular selection of facts that allows its protagonists to maintain their status as
heroes, victims, or teachers of moral lessons, against any other selection that might
give them less gratifying roles.66 The responsibility that members of a multi-cultural
society have to the past is to acknowledge that past in its polyvocal variety, the plural,
conflicting histories that feed the self-understandings and identities of diverse individuals and groups.67 The point is to come to a mutual understanding of difference in a
spirit of agonic negotiation.
This position would appear to open up the possibility of accepting all pasts as
equally deserving of prominence. Isnt there a danger of the nihilistic erasure of ethical
judgment? Does the Klu Klux Klan deserve an equal billing with Martin Luther King?
To say that identity-constitutive mythologies deserve to be acknowledged does not mean
that they should all be judged in the same manner. Judgments by the state should be
aimed not at the stipulated content of particular historical narratives, however, but rather
at the publicly articulated policy programs that organized identity groups propound.
They should, that is, focus on the proposed policies that are (sometimes) derived from
specific historical narratives, not on the content of the narratives themselves. Although
the two are often linked in practice, it is essential to keep them analytically separate.
If such political programs do not accord with the minimal necessary conditions for
fostering democracy if, for example, they threaten violence then they can justifiably
be proscribed. Conceptions of the past should not be censored. Those who glorify
the history of empire should not be airbrushed away. Nor should those who point to
its gross cruelty and hypocrisy. For those who believe in the ultimate harmony of
interests between individuals and groups are there really any such believers left?
this dualistic perspective might seem unnecessary, even dangerous. However, such a
position disregards both the intrinsically conflictual nature of social and political life
and also the fact that mythologies do not simply disappear if they are ignored; indeed,
such silencing can fuel resentment and hatred, catalyzing spirals of distrust.
The notion of memory as atonement has been central to much of Jurgen Habermass
work on German identity, partly underpinning his conception of constitutional patriotism (Verfassungspatriotismus).68 Habermas is correct that German public institutions
should continue to condemn the Nazi era, that forgetting or normalizing that past is
not a defensible option. But it does not follow from this, as much recent debate in
Germany seems to suggest, that the suffering of Germans, and especially German
civilians, at the hands of the Allied powers should not therefore be publicly acknowledged. Three episodes in particular have gained attention the massively destructive air
campaign waged against German cities; the mass rape of German women by soldiers

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of the Red Army in and around Berlin in 1945; and the concurrent ethnic cleansing
of German citizens from many of the Eastern provinces.69 For much of the postwar
period these events were consigned mainly to the byways of memory, failing to enter
into the dominant mythology of the war. Instead they helped fuel the conspiratorial
resentment characteristic of extreme nationalist politics. Acknowledging past suffering
is not a zero-sum game; it is not antithetical to admitting to, and trying to learn from,
the horrors of Nazism.
Myths are formed and fostered in a variety of ways, but among the most significant
vectors of transmission are the curricula of state educational institutions, schools in
particular.70 Such institutional settings are of vital importance in elaborating a plausible account of the ethics of myth. Assessing the causes of the destructive riots that
paralyzed many deprived areas of French cities in 2005, Tariq Ramadan focused on the
role of the educational system in fostering alienation among ethnic minorities: school
curriculums have little or nothing to say about the history and traditions of many in
society. If a curriculum does not recognize certain parents contribution to society, how
can we pretend that it respects their children?71 The same might be said about the
teaching of the British Empire or the relative lack thereof.72 This sort of imbalance is
vital to address. But unreflective teaching of conflicting identity-constitutive myths in
schools also heralds significant dangers. Firstly, it might simply entrench and perpetuate already existing antagonistic identities. Secondly, it does not touch on the proper
relationship between critical history and myth. It is essential to both recognize the
power of the past in shaping the present while simultaneously opening up this process
to criticism, in order to avoid any single identity or cluster of identities dominating
other legitimate forms to emphasize both equality of acknowledgement, in so far as
it is practically feasible, and equal exposure to modes of mythological deconstruction
and critique. One such approach (perhaps best seen as a republican one) would be to
insist that various prominent myths are taught, and hence are acknowledged for their
role in society, but that the emphasis should be placed on teaching the methods, including the presuppositions, of critical history, where this involves both the systematic
questioning of the privileged nature of inherited mythological stories and the ability
to try and assess the claims promulgated by such myths. Rather than teaching a single
historical interpretation, as if it were the only or best one, it would offer a general way
of assessing all claims about the past, instilling an ethos of openness instead of prioritizing one narrative. As Patchen Markell comments on the duality of identification,
citizens also must learn to fear, be angry at, and be ashamed of the very institutions
and cultures that claim their attachments and allegiances.73 This is not to insist that
everybody accepts this stance, or that they should not subscribe to any mythical claims,
only that they are exposed to the necessary tools in order to be able to adopt it.
In a sense, the idea would be to encourage a particular orientation to the world, and
the ultimate point of an ethics of myth would be the creation of a type of agent: the
questioning individual who is at least aware of the contingency of their own communal
identity. As in William Connollys vision, democracy should be seen not only as a set of
institutions and procedures, but as a cultural disposition, a form of agency expressing

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a postnational ethos of critical engagement.74 This approach would be anathema to


the contented communitarianism of a Margalitian approach, or to the idealized visions
of national attachment found among liberal nationalists, for the very community itself
(as well as the subgroups of which it is composed) would be open to constant selfexamination and critique.

V. A Very Brief Conclusion


The past is not another country. History histories haunt the modern world, shaping
individuals and communities alike. Any conception of politics that ignores the power
that myths and memories play in molding identities and structures of power is destined
to fail in offering counsel for how best to proceed. And any political theory that fails to
account for this will inevitably be weakened. In this essay I have attempted to sketch
a framework for thinking through some of these divisive issues. This is necessarily
only a brief sketch, and of course would require both much fuller elucidation and
context-specific tailoring if it were ever to be put into practice.
Decoupling the politics of the past from ethical questions is counterproductive,
and can lead to the perpetuation of humiliation and marginalization. As well as being
problematic in itself, this is dangerous in multi-cultural societies. It breeds discontent
and puts further barriers in the way of fostering pluralism. The aim, whether or not it is
fully realizable, should be to simultaneously acknowledge the power and social role of
mythologies whilst calling mythology itself into question. The injunction formally to
acknowledge multiple pasts whilst offering the tools necessary to challenge all settled
identity claims, is a demanding stipulation, albeit considerably less demanding than
many recent calls for the necessity of recognition. It would involve acknowledging
that the present a present with its own entrenched power structures is based on the
suffering and persecution of others, both outside and inside society. Facing up to national
pasts is always difficult, but it is not a hopelessly implausible vision. Much work remains
to be done on developing specific strategies and institutions for acknowledgement. It is
a task that politicians and political theorists will need to engage in the coming years.

NOTES
I would like to thank the following for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay and
for discussing ideas developed in it: Arash Abizadeh, Richard Bernstein, Roland Bleiker, David
Campbell, Jenny Edkins, Avigail Eisenberg, Sarah Fine, Steve Legg, Jan-Werner Muller, Thomas
McCarthy, Jeffrey K. Olick, Ross Poole, Andrea Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, Casper Sylvest, James
Tully, and Maja Zehfuss.
1. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (London: Penguin, 2003), 767.
2. Anne Norton, Ruling Memory, Political Theory 21 (1993): 459.
3. Jay Winter, Notes on the Memory Boom: War, Remembrance, and the Uses of the Past in
Duncan Bell, ed., Memory, Trauma, and World Politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006); Andreas
Huyssen, Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia, Public Culture 12 (2000): 216.
4. The term is taken from Allan Megill, History, Memory, Identity, History of the Human
Sciences 11 (1998): 3843.

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5. Charles Maier, A Surfeit of Memory? Reflections on History, Melancholy, and Denial,


History & Memory 5 (1993): 137, 141, and Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative
Narratives of the Modern Era, American Historical Review 105 (2000): 828.
6. Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the Postsocialist Condition
(London: Routledge, 1997).
7. Jeffrey Olick and Joyce Robbins, Social Memory Studies: From Collective Memory to
the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices, Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1998): 10541;
Jan-Werner Muller, ed., Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Jeffrey Olick, ed., States of Memory: Continuities,
Conflicts, and Transformations in National Retrospection (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003);
and Claudio Fogu, Richard Ned Lebow, and Wulf Kansteiner, eds., The Politics of Memory in Postwar
Europe (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
8. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life [1873] in his
Untimely Meditations, ed. Daniel Breazeale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 62.
9. For examples: David Miller, On Nationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 34
47; Michael Walzer, Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad (Indiana: University of
Notre Dame Press, 1994), 8; Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit, Liberalism and the Right to
Culture, Social Research 61 (2004): 491510.
10. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), hereafter cited parenthetically.
11. My main point of reference for thinking about agonistic democracy, in which conflict
plays both an ineliminable and potentially constructive role, is the work of, amongst others, Bonnie
Honig, William Connolly, Chantal Mouffe, and James Tully. For recent examples, see Connolly,
Pluralism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005) and Mouffe, On the Political (London: Routledge,
2005).
12. See, for an overview, Duncan Bell, Introduction in Bell, ed., Memory, Trauma, and World
Politics, 133.
13. Olick, Introduction, in States of Memory, 56.
14. Wulf Kansteiner, Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective
Memory Studies, History and Theory 41 (2002): 17997. On parallel problems in political theory, see
Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in a Global Era (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2002), viii.
15. This section extends the discussion in Duncan Bell, Mythscapes: Memory, Mythology,
and National Identity, British Journal of Sociology 54 (2003): 6381.
16. Chris McManus, Tilting at the Windmills of Our Minds, Times Higher Education Supplement, September 16, 2005, 24.
17. Sivan and Winter, Setting the Framework in Sivan and Winter, eds., War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 640. This approach
differs from a more Durkheimean one, they argue, in that it seeks to avoid the problematic collapse of
individual and collective memories. See here Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, tr. Lewis
A. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1925]).
18. Martin Jay, Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 67.
19. Tzvetan Todorov, Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century, tr. David Bellos
(London: Atlantic, 2003), 132.
20. Sivan and Winter, Setting the Framework, 13. They prefer the term collective remembrance.
21. Samuel Hynes, Personal Narratives and Commemoration in Sivan and Winter, eds., War
and Remembrance, 206.
22. Margalit employs the term in this manner: The Ethics of Memory, 64. On the genealogy of
myth, see Bruce Lincoln, Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2000).
23. Christopher Flood, Political Myths (London: Routledge, 1996), 41. A political myth can
be said to exist when accounts of a more or less common sequence of events, involving more or less


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the same principal actors, subject to more or less the same overall interpretation and implied meaning,
circulate within a social group (42).
24. See the debates in Robin Winks, ed., The Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. V:
Historiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Antoinette Burton, ed., After the Imperial
Turn: Thinking Through and With the Nation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).
25. Stefan Collini, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850
1930 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991); Peter Mandler, The English National Character: The History of an
Idea from Burke to Blair (London: Yale University Press, 2006).
26. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, tr. George Schwab (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1996).
27. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 2nd . ed. (London: Verso, 1991).
28. Michael Freeden, Liberal Languages: Ideological Imaginations and Twentieth Century
Progressive Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
29. Richard Bernstein, The Culture of Memory, History & Theory 43 (2004): 16667. This
is of course a common criticism of Pierre Noras nostalgic longing for a lost age of memory.
30. See here Henry Rousso, Le Syndrome de Vichy (1944198-) (Paris: Sevil, 1987). See also
Moshik Temkin, Avec un certain malaise: The Paxtonian Trauma in France, 197374, Journal of
Contemporary History 38 (2003): 291306.
31. Joseph Mali, Mythistory: The Making of Modern Historiography (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2003). Although historians have played, and sometimes continue to play, an important
role in the amplification and transmission of various nationalist mythologies, in recent decades many
have moved away from this position. Stefan Berger, A Return to the National Paradigm? National
History Writing in Germany, Italy, France, and Britain from 1945 to the Present, Journal of Modern
History 77 (2005): 62978, stresses the power of myths in this historiography, but also the countervailing attempt to deconstruct them: the genuine pluralization of historiographical cultures since the
1960s has brought with it an emphasis on multiple perspectives (675).
32. Krishan Kumar, The Making of English National Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), chs. 13.
33. Compare, for example, Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
(London: Allen Lane, 2003); Nicholas Dirks, The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of
Imperial Britain (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2006).
34. Burke A. Hendrix, Memory in Native American Land Claims, Political Theory 33 (2005):
774, 776. This is not to suggest that all interpretations are equally valid, for many claims can be
ruled implausible on account of their failure to conform to existing and widely accepted evidentiary
standards. However, there are usually multiple valid interpretations of any given episode, and each
of these will be embedded in, and given priority by, often radically conflicting frames of reference.
See, for a brief discussion, Ian Shapiro, Problems, Methods, and Theories in the Study of Politics,
of Whats Wrong with Political Science and What to Do About It, Political Theory 30 (2002):
6036.
35. Elsewhere, however, Margalit gives a subtle account of the interpretative disputes central
to understandings of sacred texts and traditions: Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit, Idolatry, tr.
Naomi Goldblum (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1998).
36. Margalit at least recognizes the centrality of external contestation: Ethics of Memory, 77
and 103. However, he sidelines the fact that solidarity is often also based on a legacy (and continuing
practices) of persecution, alienation, and marginalization within communities.
37. Margalit, The Decent Society, tr. Naomi Goldblum (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University
Press, 1996), 282.
38. See also ibid., 4; Margalit and Joseph Raz, National Self-Determination, The Journal
of Philosophy 87 (1990): 440; and Margalit, Recognizing the Brother and the Other, Aristotelian
Society Supplementary, 75 (2001): 127. For his criticism of idealistic strategies, see The Decent
Society, 28184.


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39. What do we imagine when we imagine a community with whom we are supposed to have
thick relations? My answer is that we imagine an extension of family relations that would include
relatives we have not met. The Ethics of Memory, 75.
40. See also Jeffrey Olick, Collective Memory: The Two Cultures, Sociological Theory 17
(1999): 33348.
41. Margalit, The Decent Society, 138; Ethics of Memory, 46; Margalit and Raz, National
Self-Determination; Halbertal and Margalit, Liberalism and the Right to Culture.
42. In The Decent Society (128), he identifies some key public institutions (and those that
represent them): clerks, police, soldiers, prison wardens, teachers, social workers, judges, and all the
other agents of authority.
43. This is perhaps the main issue explored in Todorov, Hope and Memory.
44. For his discussion of the types of metaphor, see The Ethics of Memory, 4850.
45. Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic, 1989).
46. The difference between large and small communities is a point that he partially recognizes
elsewhere: Margalit and Raz, National Self-Determination, 447. He also suggests friendship as a
possible model (The Ethics of Memory, 104). On the disanalogy between friendship and citizenship,
see Christopher Heath Wellman, Friends, Compatriots, and Special Political Obligations, Political
Theory 29 (2001): 22124.
47. On how memory is frequently manipulated by political entrepreneurs to generate conflict,
see Charles Tilly, The Politics of Collective Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
I do not mean to suggest that elites are somehow immune to the pull of the myths they help to perpetuate,
for they are often shaped by them also. Rather, I am arguing that due to the nature of power relations
within societies, elites will have a major role in the perpetuation of particular mythologies.
48. Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995). See also the references in note
7 above.
49. Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 18701914
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976). See also Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
50. Paul Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1986).
51. Melissa Lane, Time and Political Theory in Patrick Baert, ed., Time in Contemporary
Intellectual Life (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2000), 245.
52. W. James Booth, Communities of Memory: On Identity, Memory, and Debt, American
Political Science Review 93 (1999): 258.
53. Margalit, The Decent Society, 1011. See also Margalit, Decent Equality and Freedom:
A Postscript, Social Research 64 (1997): 14760.
54. Margalit, The Decent Society, 910, 12829.
55. Ibid., 135. See also his discussion of the damaging moral psychology of humiliation: The
Ethics of Memory, 62, 111, 11821, 12931.
56. Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Period (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1997).
57. Thomas McCarthy, Vergangenheitsbewaltigung in the USA: On the Politics of the Memory of Slavery, Political Theory 30 (2002): 62348; and Lawrie Balfour, Reparations After Identity
Politics, Political Theory 33 (2005): 787.
58. On the theological tenor of mnemonic discourse, see Kerwin Lee Klein, On the
Emergence of Memory in Historical Discourse, Representations 69 (2000): 12750; Gabrielle
Spiegel, Memory and History: Liturgical Time and Historical Time, History & Theory 41
(2002): 14962; Barbara Misztal, The Sacralization of Memory, European Journal of Social
Theory 7 (2004): 6785. It is not coincidental that nationalism has a sacred dimension: Anthony
Smith, Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2003).
59. On memory as a face of justice see, W. James Booth, The Unforgotten: Memories of
Justice, American Political Science Review 95 (2001): 77791.


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60. This distinction is drawn from Patchen Markell, Recognition and Redistribution in John
Dryzek, Bonnie Honig, and Anne Phillips, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2006). Acknowledgement in this sense is compatible with the minimalist
understanding articulated in James Tully, Struggles over Recognition and Distribution, Constellations 7 (2000): 479, and Introduction in Alain-G. Gagnon and Tully, eds., Multinational Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 134.
61. See here also Susan Dwyer, Reconciliation for Realists, Ethics and International Affairs
13, (1999): 89.
62. As William Connolly argues, a pluralist democracy would require, in practice, the inculcation of two civic virtues: a disposition for agonistic respect between opponents who passionately
disagree over a wide range of fundamental moral issues; and critical responsiveness, the willingness
to listen carefully to the demands of others. Connolly, Pluralism, 1237.
63. For a telling example, see Jay Winter, ed., America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Part I.
64. Anne Deighton, The Past in the Present: British Imperial Memories and the European
Question in Muller, ed., Memory and Power in Postwar Europe, 10021; Andrew Gamble, Between
Europe and America: The Future of British Politics (London: Palgrave, 2003), ch. 4.
65. Miller, On Nationality, 3440.
66. Todorov, Hope and Memory, 175.
67. On why this is different from a standard liberal account of toleration, see Connolly, Pluralism.
68. Jurgen Habermas, The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historians Debate,
tr. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge: Polity, 1994) and A Berlin Republic: Writings on Germany,
tr. Steven Rendall (Cambridge: Polity, 1997).
69. Mark Anderson, Crime and Punishment, The Nation, October 17, 2005; W.G. Sebald,
On the Natural History of Destruction, tr. Anthea Bell (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004); Tony Judt,
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2005), ch. 1; Antony Beevor,
Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 (London: Viking, 2002).
70. The complexity of debates over education is illustrated in Walter Feinberg and Kevin
McDonough, eds., Citizenship and Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies: Teaching for Cosmopolitan Values and Collective Identities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
71. Ramadan, Fear Will Only Fuel the Riots, The Guardian, November 12, 2005, 32. To make
matters worse, recent French legislation seeks to create a school curriculum that paints the empire in a
positive light: Kim Willsher, Official History Angers Teachers, The Sunday Telegraph, December
11, 2005, 28.
72. Nicholas Pyke, Schools Ignore It But is it Time for the Empire to Strike Back, The
Guardian, July 5, 2003.
73. Patchen Markell, Making Affect Safe for Democracy? On Constitutional Patriotism,
Political Theory 28 (2000): 54. On the necessity of shame in societies which venerate aspects of their
past, see Farid Abdel-Nour, National Responsibility, Political Theory 31 (2003): 693719.
74. William Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1995) and The Liberal Image of the Nation in Duncan Ivison, Paul Patton, and Will Sanders, eds.,
Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2000), 18399.

Duncan Bell is a University Lecturer in International Relations at the University of


Cambridge, and a Fellow of Christs College. He is the author of The Idea of Greater
Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 18601900 (2007) and the editor of
Memory, Trauma, and World Politics: Reflections on the Relationship Between Past and
Present (2006), Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations
in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought (2007), and Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme (2008).

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