Dealing with guilt and shame in international politics

Lotem Bassan-Nygate*, Gadi Heimann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


State and non-state actors often try to provoke moral emotions like guilt and shame to mobilize political change. However, tactics such as `naming and shaming’ are often ineffective, suggesting that policy makers engage in norm violations in ways that minimize moral emotions. We argue that when violating norms, decision makers deal with guilt and shame through coping mechanisms that allow them to pursue policies that contradict their moral standards. We conceptualize guilt and shame as two separate phenomena that provoke distinct reactions. Shame is more likely to provoke immature defenses like denial and distortion, while guilt provokes a more mature and reparative reaction. We provide empirical evidence for this theory by examining two crucial issues on the state of Israel’s political agenda during the first decade of its existence. We analyze political debates over the return of the Palestinian refugees and the reparation agreement between Israel and West Germany, using a series of primary sources from three different political forums.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalInternational Relations
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • Israel
  • defense mechanisms
  • emotions
  • guilt
  • shame


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