A key contention of the transitional justice movement is that the more comprehensive and
vigorous the effort to bring justice to a departed authoritarian regime the better the
democratizing outcome will be. This essay challenges this view with empirical evidence
from the Iberian Peninsula. In Portugal, a sweeping policy of purges intended to cleanse
the state and society of the authoritarian past nearly derailed the transition to democracy
by descending into a veritable witch-hunt. In Spain, by contrast, letting bygones be
bygones, became a foundation for democratic consolidation. These counter-intuitive
examples suggest that there is no pre-ordained outcome to transitional justice, and that
confronting an evil past is neither a requirement nor a pre-condition for democratization.
This is primarily because the principal factors driving the impulse toward justice against
the old regime are political rather than ethical or moral. In Portugal, the rise of
transitional justice mirrored the anarchic politics of the revolution that lunched the
transition to democracy. In Spain, the absence of transitional justice reflected the
pragmatism of a democratic transition anchored on compromise and consensus.