CREDOS: Pursuing truth — IV

You’ve written a book, ‘The Myth of Moral Justice,’ about moral justice as opposed to narrowly defined legal justice. Wiesenthal was renowned for his memoir, “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.” In it, Wiesenthal tells the story of being called to the bedside of a Nazi and his refusal to exonerate him for his crimes, to absolve him if his guilt. How do you understand what he did in terms of notions of forgiveness within religious traditions?

My book is a moral critique of the legal system precisely because of its narrowness. It is looking in many ways for what I would describe as Wiesenthal’s standard of justice. I reject purely retributive legal justice: You’ve lost money, it must be remedied by receiving compensation in a monetary way. If a crime has been committed, somebody must be punished, whether by putting him in jail, or killing him. That’s a very narrow sense of how to relieve people of damages that were done to them. To give them remedies, or to do what’s legally called justice. That’s different from the sense of doing what’s just.

Wiesenthal was interested in something wider than the purely retributive. Nuremberg in many ways is an example of moral justice. Many people don’t remember that Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who was the Secretary of Treasury during World War II, believed that if you see a Nazi you kill a Nazi. That that was most efficient way and the most legally correct way, given the enormity of the crime. —