Reparations and State Accountability

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Reparations and State Accountability

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Title: Reparations and State Accountability
Author: Page, Jennifer Marie ORCID  0000-0002-7326-6243
Citation: Page, Jennifer Marie. 2015. Reparations and State Accountability. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: In the United States, many associate the idea of reparations with the longstanding African American claim of being owed redress for slavery and Jim Crow. Many defend the black reparations claim based on the exceptional nature of the hardships that African Americans have endured: paying reparations to blacks need not open a Pandora’s Box of other grievances, it is argued. My dissertation puts forward a theory of reparations in the domestic liberal democratic context, grounded in a variety of real world cases, that suggests that governments owe reparations in a much wider range of situations than is usually recognized. Though some compelling reparations claims refer to racialized state-sponsored injustices (e.g., Japanese American internment, the illegal annexation of Hawaii, the Tuskegee syphilis study), others have little to do with race (e.g., eugenical sterilization surgeries, LSD experimentation conducted under the CIA’s MKULTRA program, harms to “Atomic” veterans). The argument for paying reparations to blacks is grounded in an argument for liberal democratic governments to pay reparations whenever political power is abused.
The core claim of the dissertation is that the government is unaccountable at the very times when it matters the most morally. When an injustice is conducted according to the law, not only are the activities of state personnel and taxpayer resources channeled towards unjust ends, an individual who is harmed does not have a viable means of recourse against the state. Sovereign immunity, the legal principle that the government cannot be sued without its consent, or “the King can do no wrong,” precludes redress in the majority of cases. Reparations seekers may appeal to the legislature, but this is an unreliable avenue to redress. I argue that reparations claims are fundamentally about the government’s accountability for injustice, and that reparations claimants are reasonable to call state power to account. On an accountability-based theory of reparations, liberal democratic governments should recognize that the safeguards against the abuse of power are not infallible, and observe a norm of redress. A liberal democracy that willingly takes responsibility for its abuses, apologizes, and pays reparations demonstrates its adherence to its legitimizing commitments.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467498
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