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  • You are asked to comment on the following quote "The legal historical perspective shows that the act of not renouncing, not judging and not repudiating carries its own guilt with it." (p. 15), taken from Bernhard Schlink, Guilt about the Past,

You are asked to comment on the following quote «The legal historical perspective shows that the act of not renouncing, not judging and not repudiating carries its own guilt with it.» (p. 15), taken from Bernhard Schlink, Guilt about the Past, Essay Example

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Collective guilt


The article that this paper will delve on is that of Guilt about the past by Benhard Schlink in which the author argues that the past will affect what will happen in the future. He delves on how we can deal with our guilt that we experience right now due to our past. The author bases his arguments on Nazi Germany and the many people who did not stand and speak up or go against crime.

The claim that people can be liable to a crime committed by an individual is based on the principle of oneness with perpetrators. This, Schlink argues thus: “the collective incurs liability for the perpetrator’s misconduct in as far as solidarity and economic community with the perpetrator are maintained in reaping the profits from their neighbors, aiding them after the fact, and obstructing their just punishment”. Schlink goes ahead and argues that children of those who did not disassociate themselves with the perpetrators have some guilt that will rest upon them. He, however, accepts the fact that children may not have proper knowledge of their grandparents or great grandparents to be able to repudiate themselves from their acts. He further claims that in as far as they are bound by the history of the community in which they live, they will remain tainted by the collective guilt until the time they choose to repudiate themselves with them
(Wohl, Branscombe, & Klar, Collective guilt: Emotional reactions when one’s group has done wrong or has been wronged, 2006).

To me, the repudiation or disassociation rests on the fact that other things are equal. It supposes that people reason about what happens in their environments instead of concerning themselves with the affairs that affect them alone. They therefore concern themselves to narrower domains and instead delve on issues such as the condemnation of morals that are there today should have applied at the time when it first occurred, that the capacity of action is the same as the motive, and that guilt should be associated by default without any debates whatsoever. It entails the fact that there are some events denote some specific meaning so that they hold a special meaning to forbearers and should therefore be a reason to express solidarity with them. I can say that it is more important to disassociate with murders and other atrocious crimes than the good that they did, this is anachronistic: if we are associated with their actions that they did in the past, then this association should be taken as a whole taking into considerations all aspects
(Wohl & Branscombe, Importance of social categorization for forgiveness and collective guilt assignment for the Holocaust, 2004).

The paper will revolve around the statement “The legal historical perspective shows that the act of not renouncing, not judging and not repudiating carries its own guilt with it”. This paper will state the argument from a philosophical perspective. It has been argued that those who stand in solidarity a perpetrator of a crime will be entangled in the crime and will be convicted by current laws for being an obstruction to justice
(Wohl, Branscombe, & Klar, Collective guilt: Emotional reactions when one’s group has done wrong or has been wronged, 2006).

Philosophical perspective

It has been stated before that men are related in some way so that each man bears a moral responsibility for anything that befalls every other man. One of the corporate guilt that is seen in all men is that of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which has been a guilt that affects all humanity. This perspective is according to Stringfellow. This guilt does not only affect the Pharisees and the soldiers who actually took part in the act. One problem with Stringfellow’s argument is that guilt is conceived to be universal and that with this aspect, there is no definite relationship that can be underpinned. For collective guilt to be taken into consideration there must be practical community, which communicates
(Sorrentino & Susumu, 2006). In our case, a Black is responsible, morally, for the guilt of every other human being (including the Whites). The problem here is that a Black can be distant from the white and that there is no communication that normally takes place. For this case, there is no relationship that can be established. Stringfellow does not establish how this is related and does not defend it
(Roccas, Klar, & Liviatan, 2006).

Karl Jaspers’s metaphysical guilt is also another example that shows collective guilt and the act of non-repudiation. In his argument, Karl argues that one is responsible for a crime that was committed if he was alive during the time that the crime was committed and that the they were in close proximity to the scene of the crime.

From my perspective, guilt is individual undertaking and there is no way that this can be applied to modern human beings. Even though we are human beings and we interact as we go, this does not mean that we should take full responsibility of the unlawful acts that are committed by those who are related to us. In the process of moral deliberation, guilt should be taken to be an individual act
(Reicher & Hopkins, 2001). The guilt of those we interact should not be the reason to make us liable for their guilt. I however believe that there should be no obstruction of justice in the process that this is undertaken. Even though the consequences of others can affect other people because of social relatedness, there is no justification that the others that are not guilty should bear the responsibility of the guilt. After the individual has been renounced from the tribal unity, there is no way to move from by way of empirical analysis. For this to take place, one must argue collective guilt in a belief in corporate character which repudiates the exceptionality and the individual character and thus finds no need to resolve the issues that are posed by individual accountability and culpability
(Reicher & Hopkins, 2001).

There are questions that must be asked in this sense where we need to know if our minds remain our own if there is something that is called corporate consciousness. The dilemma that is uncovered by this is the same as the question that comes regarding the will. Given that knowledge, understanding and perception are fashioned by social matrix and the interactions that come along can guilt be associated with thinking that is merely effect of causes? There is an addition to the issue of consciousness. There is a question about the issue of corporate consciousness
(Celermajer). I will ask, is there a reality in corporate consciousness? Is there something that is called group mind? Group mind is associated with collective guilt in the most inclusive case but the problem is that it is not consistent with significant individuality. To accept that there is real group mind and thereby to remove the objections that comes with collective guilt. On the other hand, if group mind has no reality, what remains is individual mind and that this individual cannot be associated with wrongdoing so as to justify the attribution of collective guilt to all. Group mind is not demonstrable and thus it is asserted by those who believe in-group mind

Concerning this, there has been the issue of the white guilt. I will then ask the question, to what extent do whites make group that experience guilt through the corporate actions. The issue of collective guilt has enjoyed its most authority as operational moral principle in those intergroup where the community that are seen here are characterized by tight integrity of sociology that is toughened by consanguinity and prolonged by tradition. These characteristics exist in tribes and clans, which undertake blood feuds on the mentioned principle that individual people are just but extensions and expressions of the groups that they are part of. The strong point, and the only one for that case, for this debate is that the individual is part of the group that is in question
(Castano & Giner-Sorolla, 2006).

The white people in the United States do not form part of the collectivity of the former kind. It is a fact that the attitudes that are associated with white racism are pervasive and also that few whites escape the influence of this racism. It is also a fact that there is a system that has been developed by the whites that are used to oppress the Blacks but Whites in the United States are not only whites but they are shaped by historical events and the relationships that have affected their relationships and therefore has resulted in varied relatedness of the past
(Branscombe & Kappen, The measurement of collective guilt: What it is and what it is not, 2004).

The murder of Luther King

The question of whether one is guilty of murdering Martin Luther King makes sense when White guilt is regarded. The murder of Dr. King brought into fore the struggle for black liberation and also showed the structures of the white racism that existed. If there are some whites who felt elated because of the murder while others felt nothing at all, there must be some others who felt guilty of the act. This is despite the remoteness and the intent that the crime was committed for. The question that comes is the issue that came up that illustrates collective guilt. In this regard, I will argue autobiographically
(Branscombe & Kappen, The measurement of collective guilt: What it is and what it is not, 2004).

The first issue here is that the event showed personal location in a status and collection of relationships into which selfhood was intertwined and which were the bearers of evil. It showed that there were evil people who had bad motives for Dr. King. It also showed the racist attitudes that existed and also show how the actions of racism are multiplied in the various institutions. It also evoked an angry reaction to the whole event because for a long time the people had created the system that would undertake racism. They are our ancestors whether by blood or adoption. In the whole scenario, it was not collective guilt as such but collective guilt came out clearly in the end because even in situations where the individual action could be seen, it could not be separated from the other group.

The question that comes forth therefore is why one can authoritatively about collective guilt and yet they cannot speak out in another case? How can reality be realized in collective guilt in the dimensions of selfhood if it has none for the interpersonal deliberations over moral accountability
(Branscombe & Doosje, International perspectives on the experience of collective guilt, 2004). This can be explained by way of selective and unifying ability of self-awareness especially in the historical mode as memory. The views of the past by an individual is done selectively and it is out of this that relations are created and inhabits a world that is different from the worlds of other selves. The worlds are not created from nothing neither are they created from everything. When our memories bring memory of what happened in the past, the entire history does not come out neither does the history come out as it happened. The memory selects and organizes and also imposes meaning to the history. The whites have oppressed the blacks the whole of history but also there is no unified history of the white oppression safe for the one that history creates. In the same breath, there is no unity of white race oppression safe for the one that is created by historical reason
(Bar-Tal, 2000).


In conclusion, communities and groups normally get motivated to enhance the situation of the group, which is harmed giving reparations in terms of apology, financial support and restitution, or other ways of making up for the past wrongs. In this regard, there is need to repudiate by some way from the past or else there will be some guilt that will come up. There is therefore a need to cut-off the past so that there is no form of guilt at all. In the past, there has been attempts by the past leaders to make this a possibility. An example is that Germany paid huge reparations to Israel for the victims that got up in the Holocaust; Bill Clinton apologized to Africans for the slavery that was undertaken by the American Whites in Africa. The Australian Government also had a “Sorry Day and Week of Reconciliation for the acknowledgement of the acts of discrimination that was undertaken against the Aborigines. This shows us that the past will have to be repudiated so that guilt cannot have away to the present.


Bar-Tal, D 2000, Shared beliefs in a society: social psychological analysis, Sage, London, England.

Branscombe, N, R, & Doosje, B 2004, International perspectives on the experience of collective guilt. In N. Branscombe, & B. Doosje, Collective guilt (pp. 400-421), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Branscombe, N, R, & Kappen, D 2004, The measurement of collective guilt: What it is and what it is not. In N R Branscombe, & B Doosje, Collective guilt (pp. 388-400), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Castano, E, & Giner-Sorolla, R 2006, Not quite human: Infrahumanization in response to collective responsibility for intergroup killing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, Vol 90 Issue 5, pp. 804-818.

Celermajer, D. (n.d.), We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible: Reconciling individual liberty and collective responsibility, Manuscript submitted for publication .

Reicher, S, & Hopkins, N 2001, Self and nation. Sage, London.

Roccas, S, Klar, Y, & Liviatan, I 2006, The paradox of group-based guilt: Modes of national identification, conflict vehemence, and reactions to the ingroup’s moral violations, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, Vol 91, pp. 698-711.

Sorrentino, R M, & Susumu, Y 2006, Collective guilt: Dealing with the memory of ingroup, Cengage Learning, New York.

Wohl, M, & Branscombe, N 2004, Importance of social categorization for forgiveness and collective guilt assignment for the Holocaust, In N. Branscombe, & B. Doosje, Collective guilt: International perspectives (pp. 284-306), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Wohl, M, Branscombe, N, & Klar, Y 2006, Collective guilt: Emotional reactions when one’s group has done wrong or has been wronged, European Review of Social Psychology
, Vol 17, pp. 1-37.