Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Collective Shame, Collective Guilt and Collective Responsibility Should Not be Confused, Gubin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 11 – Russians are currently discussing the issue of collective recognition of the crimes of their government, something very useful if their country is to go forward from its current horrific position as the invader of neighboring Ukraine, according to Moscow commentator Dmitry Gubin.

            But unless certain conceptual issues are cleared up, he suggests, there is a great danger that these discussions like those after the collapse of the USSR will rapidly shift from a search for understanding into a search for enemies on whom everything can be blamed (

            Such discussions inevitably touch on three inter-related things that must be kept separate if such understanding is to be achieved, Gubin says. “Collective Russian shame,” “collective Russian responsibility” and “collective Russian guilt” are not one and the same thing but very different matters altogether and must not be conflated.

            Many Russians are ashamed of what their country is doing and consequently of their membership in it, Gubin says.  Shame in this case doesn’t mean you are guilty but it can serve as the basis for mobilization against those in the state who are guilty of crimes. Indeed, only the existence of such a reservoir of shame can help achieve that end.

            If collective shame is useful and important, collective guilt is impossible because only a particular individual can be guilty of a crime. To blame all Russians for anything is equivalent to taking hostages in a family where only the father is guilty. That is wrong, and it is wrong to call for Russians to feel a sense of collective guilt.

            The third concept, collective responsibility, is different from both of these and important. According to Gubin, “collective responsibility arises independently of guilt and is limited exclusively by the mercy of the winners.” Those ashamed of what Putin is doing and who refuse to have anything to do with his regime nonetheless as Russians can’t escape responsibility.

            That is because as a member of a society and a citizen of a state one suffers when those groups are attacked for the crimes of their leaders and they must take responsibility for the fact that they “belong to a criminal state” even if they don’t support what it is doing and are ashamed as well.

            And that entails something else as well, Gubin concludes. It means that Russians bear responsibility for providing reparations to those their state has attacked and for supporting politicians at home who are willing to demand that all Russians tighten their belts so as to be able to provide such reparations.  

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