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Latin vindicatus, past participle of vindicare to lay claim to, avenge, from vindic-, vindex claimant, avenger


  • 1 obsolete : to set free : deliver
  • 2 : avenge
  • 3 a : to free from allegation or blame
b (1) : confirm, substantiate (2) : to provide justification or defense for : justify
c : to protect from attack or encroachment : defend
  • 4 : to maintain a right to


“'Vindication'” describes a style of political and intellectual discourse that motivates certain social movements. Adherents of vindicationist movements believe that their group is undervalued by the broader society, and they seek to rehabilitate and elevate their collective reputation. Vindicationist rhetoric argues that the minority group possesses qualities and abilities that are equal to or superior to those of the dominant group and that the dominant group’s prejudice against the minority is thus based on false premises. Vindicationism functions to motivate potential followers of the movement while simultaneously scolding the dominant group for failing to appreciate the admirable character and qualities of the people for whom the movement is advocating. Vindicationism is most commonly found in the ideologies of feminist movements and racial-ethnic nationalist movements.

An early example is Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), a pioneering feminist treatise. Mary Wollstonecraft argued on behalf of women’s natural talents and abilities and held that women should not be measured according to essentially male standards. She asserted that men needed to change in order to end women’s oppression. Many of the ideological roots of twentieth-century liberal feminism trace back to Wollstonecraft.

A significant strain of vindicationism emerges in early African American political thought. Black abolitionist David Walker’s famous “Appeal” (1829) argued for the humanity and inherent rights of African Americans. Walker traces African American heritage back to ancient Egypt, whose cultural achievements demonstrate racial abilities equal or superior to those of whites.

The use of “vindication” among social scientists to refer to a particular expression of minority grievances begins with Wollstonecraft’s feminism. The most common application of the “vindication” adjective has historically been to describe African American political writings of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, a recent shift has emerged in the social science community’s use of the concept. Political scientists now apply the term “vindicationism” to attempts by the United States to remake the world to conform to American values. This body of research locates the origins of American vindicationism in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and traces it through subsequent foreign interventions by the United States during the twentieth century. The vindicationist approach to foreign policy reached a peak with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as advocated and prosecuted by the George W. Bush administration and its neoconservative advisors.