Just came across a post from a Jesuit claiming

Historical revisionism is one of the worst, and dangerous, mistakes one can make.

It appears to be with regards to the latest news of Jesuits in US pledging USD100M in reparations to descendants of slaves.

As @MauroALLEGRANZA pointed out in the comments

the issue is not about the "historical judgment" that slave trade was a "bad thing". I assume that this is quite uncontroversial; thus, the issue maybe is: "is Jesuit proposal of a posthumous reward legitimate?" In other words: must we pay for the error of our fathers?

Therefore, I wonder if should we pay for the error of our "fathers" and the implications of that?

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    See Historical revisionism. What does it mean? To review our previous interpretation and understanding of historical facts due to new evidences? This is normal science. Or it means to "negate" historical facts? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 17 at 8:50
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    Sometimes. Wikipedia gets it mostly right:"At a basic level, legitimate historical revisionism is a common and not especially controversial process of developing and refining the writing of histories. Much more controversial is the reversal of moral findings... an illegitimate form of historical revisionism known as historical negationism if it involves inappropriate methods..." It appears that the quote has this later form in mind, in which case the question becomes whether moral reevaluation is indeed illegitimate in this case. – Conifold Mar 17 at 9:16
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    Agreed... But IMO the issue is not about the "historical judgment" that slave trade was a "bad thing". I assume that this is quite uncontroversial; thus, the issue maybe is: "is Jesuit proposal of a posthumous reward legitimate?" In other words: must we pay for the error of our fathers? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 17 at 9:23
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    I am confused, the case of the Jesuits you link has nothing to do with ancestry. The present Jesuits are not the descendants of the 19th century Jesuits (at least I hope. With catholic priests we can never be sure...). On the other hand, the Jesuit order is the same institution and can be held responsible now for what it did, as an institution, long time ago. The same way a company is liable to what it did years ago, even if all the personnel has been replaced. Furthermore this is voluntary. So if Jesuits as an institution feel they have to provide reparation, why not let them be ? – armand Mar 17 at 11:25
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    The idea of reparations going directly to individuals is generally a straw-man, as reparations theorists are concerned with current inequalities and iniquities that resulted from and continue from these historical crimes. Ghettos, redlining consequences, unequal education opportunities, and lack of business startup support, are specific continuing harms, which reparations should be directed to address. There is a moral duty towards that, not just from descendents if slave owners, but on all righteous people with the power to effect change. – CriglCragl Mar 17 at 19:25

You are mixing two questions here. There is the quote about historical revisionism and there is the reparation (compensation) payment by the Jesuit order they feel compelled to.

The intersection between these problems is the ethical question of how to deal with "historical guilt", ie. obviously unethical acts committed by people that are long dead but in relation to us either because we share organisational or ancestral bonds.

What the first quote is about is demanding a bare minimum: We should not revise (ignore, negate) history just because it features episodes that are unpleasant, since that way, the past mistakes are forgotten but not undone. In other words: We should at a minimum acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of the past, since not doing that is indeed "one of the worst, and dangerous, mistakes one can make". This includes the general attitude that past atrocities had or should have no bearing on the present life.

The other ethical problem is another beast. Generally, it is acknowledged that people deserve compensation for crimes committed against them. This includes compensation by organisations (or their legal successor), as shown eg. by the need of handing back works of arts to the families of the original Jew owners by German state museums. Or the (ongoing!) German compensation of the church for its dispossession during the Emperor's times (over 200 years ago).

The moral duty of present individuals to compensate present decendents of past victims of crimes, on the other hand, is disputable. It has some grounding in above reasoning: It is a way to show that you, individually, acknowledge and are willing to act on, ie. positively prevent these past mistakes made by others. It is important to point out here that it is not the only way to do so. There are some border cases eg. of past (individual) slave traders or past company owners who used forced labour in Nazi Germany, ie. ancestors whose atrocities still have direct consequences for their family (inherited wealth), while having negative consequences (because of traumata that have consequences over generations) for the descendants of those who suffered. There are good reasons to assume that there is a direct moral duty to compensate between individual descendants there, but that is still debatable.

What we speak about here, though, is an organisation that acknowledges the moral guilt of a predecessor organisation not only in word, but in deed. Whether there is, as a matter of fact, a moral or even legal duty for that is not even relevant here. One party has made clear that they feel they should be compensated, the other decided that they indeed feel the same. The only question that remains is "how much" but that, with all due respect, seems not to be a genuinely moral problem anymore, considering the sums we are talking about.

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    Do you have a source for "the (ongoing!) German compensation of the church for its dispossession during the Emperor's times"? I'm interested – Bruno Pérel Mar 18 at 9:32
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    @BrunoPérel I've been off by almost 80 years (happens since early 1800s), but here's a recent article. It is unconstitutional, there has been effort by the opposition last year to fulfil the constitutional demand to end this practice, but it is still ongoing. – Philip Klöcking Mar 18 at 11:44
  • "This includes the general attitude that past atrocities had or should have no bearing on the present life." - I'm not sure I 100% agree. Saying that "your great-great-great grandfather hit my great-great-great-grandfather therefore you owe me money" sounds absolutely absurd to me. It irks me to no end that there's still so much debate and finger pointing and blame shifting about a war that happened nearly 80 years ago. There's barely anyone left alive that remembers it in living memory. How long do you intend to go on? This debate has long outlived its usefulness. [contd]. – Vilx- Mar 19 at 8:15
  • The world is what it is today, you're not going to change it now because you decide that someone wronged someone decades or centuries ago. This just brings more unnecessary conflict. Yes, do not forget the past; make sure that the mistakes are not repeated - but to continue to debate who was right and who was wrong and who should apologize and pay whom - that seems totally counterproductive to me. – Vilx- Mar 19 at 8:17
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    @Vilx- I see no major disagreement there. I made quite clear that for individuals, this kind of compensation is controversial and that there are other ways to acknowledge past mistakes. The passage you cite is about atrocities, ie. basically crimes against humanity, and the attitude of denying the usefulness of remembrance there completely. Also, I hinted at the fact that the seek for compensation nowadays is more often than not motivated by greed rather than moral reasons. Otherwise, one would not demand extraordinary sums like many do but, like said Jew families, only due acknowledgement. – Philip Klöcking Mar 19 at 8:36

In the financial world, it is well-accepted that the heir inherits from his predecessor, both assets as well as any liabilities up to the limit of those assets. In the modern legal world, one does not inherit punishment.

This outlines a framework and limits for compensating for the errors of our forefathers.

Clearly in this framework, one is expected to pay for the errors of one's fathers, but only out of the gains received from those activities. But one should not be punished for it, nor have to pay from the fruits of one's own effort. To the extent possible, reparations should be from the value derived from one's own forefathers, even if it is difficult to ascertain these amounts.

A natural consequent question is then to whom should this payment or reparation be made. Since those original victims are not around, and you haven't done anything to the victim's descendants directly, do the victim's current descendants deserve anything 'for free'?

The same framework provides an answer - if we consider the victim's (economic, social and cultural) inheritance which would have naturally devolved to the victims' descendants today, can it not be said that you have been a beneficiary of what was stolen from them?

So descendants of your forefather's victims should be able to claim a right to reparation from you, but only to the extent that you have gained from your forefather's actions.

It might be impossibly difficult to put a number to what an individual person gained or lost, but at an aggregate level (e.g. for a country as a transfer of GDP) it should be calculable. The mathematical answer might be astonishingly high, for example if one considers the net present value of the colonial-era drop in Indian GDP, the UK's owed reparations to India could dwarf their own current GDP tens, if not hundreds of times over.

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