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Politics and Passion: Toward a More Egalitarian Liberalism Paperback – June 7, 2006
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Distinguished political philosopher Michael Walzer here offers a provocative reappraisal of the core tenets of liberalism. Ranging over contested issues including multiculturalism, pluralism, difference, civil society, and racial and gender justice, he suggest ways in which liberal theory might be revised to make it more hospitable to the claims of equality.
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Try this one first. Should liberals be tolerant of totalitarian groups within their society? There is no easy answer. If we rule that some religious parents have no right to raise their children in religious schools we would be saying, in effect, "We're tolerant! We're liberals! We tolerate all liberals! And we don't tolerate others, but so what ... they're different than us!"
Obviously, that won't do at all.
If we go to the other extreme, and tolerate everyone, no matter how much of a threat they are to our society, that won't work either. If we smugly decide to do something in between these two extremes, that means being arbitrary rather than following easily applied principles.
Walzer concludes that when "political power is at stake, we should tilt decisively against the totalizing groups," just for the sake of decency. But he reminds us that this is merely a guideline. "It doesn't solve the problem of day-to-day coexistence." Such problems require "a long and unstable series of compromises."
The author also talks about involuntary associations, such as family or cultural group. Are we morally obliged to defend our families or cultural groups if they are attacked? Walzer thinks we generally are.
Walzer also asks about the concept of deliberation. That's different than debate, which is simply a contest in which one tries to win, even with an unsound argument. Deliberation involves trying to make as good a decision as possible about what policy to pursue.Read more ›
Walzer's chapters in this book seem to have been originally published as individual essays. He has done some re-writing, and he has written "connective tissue" to give his ordering of the essays the feel of a consecutive argument, and by and large, I think he has done so quite successfully.Read more ›
In the course of a discussion of international politics that aims to spread an emancipatory ideal (often coterminous with the spread of liberal democracy) Walzer makes the following comment: "a politics committed to transcending group life, breaking the categories of difference, is likely to be ineffective (there are many examples); and it is pretty sure to be nasty and repressive in its own way. Individuals with rights are also individuals with emotions: they have the affiliative passions that go with their practical attachments, and if we want to strengthen their hand, some of the help they need has to come via their own political associations (p. 138)."
Liberalism is, argues Walzer, a philosophy that does - in a fashion - aim to transcend group life. With the noble (in theory at least) goal of promoting a universal egalititarianism for all inhabitants qua citizens. Walzer is certainly not alone in noting that the problem is that a nation's citizenship (those who seek and are involved in the political process) and its inhabitants are not synonymous.Read more ›