The work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has
generated a great deal of interest in the role of forgiveness in politics.
More specifically, it has raised the question of whether forgiveness
should be a constitutive part of reconciliation processes between
groups. In this paper, I argue that it should not, and that it might be
both more useful and more realistic to consider something like Adam
Smith’s notion of ‘sympathy’ instead. The first part examines the
arguments for and against policies promoting political forgiveness.
The second part suggests sympathy as an alternative. The third part
considers and rejects some objections to the employment of sympathy
in this context.