The apology game

The business of demanding apologies resembles the disputes over honor that preoccupied aristocratic societies, except that honor is typically rooted in an individual or social sense of inequality. By contrast, today’s apologetics arise, nominally at least, from a festering insistence on ever more egalitarianism, rooted in the familiar race, class, and gender groupings that so dominate the contemporary liberal “self.” Individual worth plays only a limited role, because in leftist theory group identity decisively shapes the individual. So only public apologies matter, and apologies to the supposedly offended group matter most.

Reason, which could be called on to judge the old disputes over honor and justice, is presumed now to be enlisted on the side of the oppressed or the offended. The with-it liberal’s moral world is divided between offenders and offended; there is no possibility of a third-party view or an outside position from which reason could judge disinterestedly. It’s not for offending against reason but for injuring people’s feelings, actually their feelings about their feelings, that the guilty are now called to prostrate themselves.

As a result, the old meaning of “apology” as a speech of vindication is slowly dying out.