Rhetorics of Judge-Penitence : How Moral Superiority is Publicly Constructed through Admissions of past Wrongdoing.

Forchtner, Bernhard (2011) Rhetorics of Judge-Penitence : How Moral Superiority is Publicly Constructed through Admissions of past Wrongdoing. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 11003569.pdf]
PDF (11003569.pdf)
11003569.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs.

Download (10MB)


Given the increasing number of public admissions of wrongdoing by official representatives of states, other institutions and individuals, as well as the subsequent scholarly attention directed to this phenomenon, this thesis investigates one potential misuse of such practices. Here, I take Albert Camus' novel The Fall as a starting point and ask if such admissions cannot ultimately be directed against 'others' through rhetorics of judge-penitence. Such an argumentative pattern aims to project the in-group as a penitent sinner which has faced its dark past and thus learnt the lessons provided by history. This creates, in turn, the possibility to construct an 'other' discursively as having failed to do so, i. e. as being morally inferior. Utilising Critical Discourse Analysis in the context of the debate over the Iraq crisis in 2002/3 in three European countries - Germany, Austria and Denmark - I focus on the (mis)use of self-critical references to the Holocaust and World War II in general. Through a qualitative analysis of particularly argumentative sections of broadsheet newspapers in each of these countries, the study illustrates the, albeit restricted, existence of such a phenomenon as well as its varieties. By exploring Maurice Halbwachs' notions of collective memory, (non-)constructionist approaches aiming to explain the rising significance of admissions of wrongdoing and Charles S. Peirce's semiotics in the context of the public sphere, I explain the influence of different historical contexts and national narratives on the existence and realisation of rhetoric(s) of judge-penitence. By applying Jurgen Habermas' Critical Theory when elaborating the moral significance of memory, I theoretically justify normative evaluations of both admissions of past wrongdoing and their rhetorical misuse. In conclusion, and going beyond my chosen test cases, the thesis illuminates how admissions of wrongdoing may be (mis)used in political discourse.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Lancaster University (United Kingdom), 2011.
?? miaapqrhetoric. ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
02 May 2019 16:29
Last Modified:
18 Dec 2023 00:54