We the People: The Civil Rights Revolution. By Bruce Ackerman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. 432 pp. $35.00 hardcover.

Date01 September 2016
Published date01 September 2016
The Impossible Machine is an incredibly significant contribution to the
literature on the South African Truth Commission, but also more
broadly, to the literature and object it is most interested in debunking:
Transitional Justice. Its critique will have to be seriously considered by
those working within that field. It takes as its target Transitional Justice’s
tendency toward conceptual and political amnesia in its repetition of
Eurocentric formulations and it is entirely persuasive in that effort. At
the same time, it is curiously less deft in taking into account another body
of work that has historicized Truth Commissions and Human Rights in
the post-Cold War world (see Moyn 2010). Oddly, Sitze also does not cite
one of the key critiques of SA’s TRC, written by the Ugandan scholar
Mahmood Mamdani in 2002. It would be interesting to consider these
two approaches alongside each other, as the latter critiques are interested
in historicizing (without consoling us) the political moments that shape
the constraints and possibilities within which political choices are made.
If both Sitze and Mamdani are critical of the TRC, the differences in their
critique are illuminating. Putting them into conversation would chal-
lenge Sitze to perhaps consider more seriously the question of the rela-
tionship between the epistemic field, the field of “thought” on the one
hand, and the temporality of political conjunctures on the other, more
carefully. The question that remains is can we think, or evaluate, the
TRC’s legacy outside of concrete politics even when we seek to show
the kind of tainted conceptual politics that sediments itself so quietly in
the celebratory choir of Transitional Justice’s hymns for the TRC?
Mamdani, Mahmood (2002) “Amnesty or Impunity? A Preliminary Critique of the
Report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRC),” 32 Dia-
critics 3–4, 33–59.
Meister, Robert (2011) After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights, New York: Columbia Univ.
Moyn, Samuel (2010) The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
We the People: The Civil Rights Revolution. By Bruce Ackerman.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. 432 pp. $35.00
Reviewed by Megan Ming Francis, Department of Political Science,
University of Washington
Bruce Ackerman has produced a stunning achievement with his lat-
est book, We the People: The Civil Rights Revolution. The book is the
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