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Politics and Passion: Toward a More Egalitarian Liberalism Paperback – June 7, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This clearly and engagingly written book shows up the thinness of much contemporary liberal theory. Informed by his social democratic convictions, Walzer allows the real dilemmas of egalitarian liberalism to surface, and faces them honestly, without the conjuring tricks and obfuscation that philosophy can lend itself to."--Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, McGill University

Book Description

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.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300115369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300115369
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Nobody ought to expect political ethics to be easy. And maybe that's a good way to start thinking about the topics in this book. Walzer asks us some tough questions right away.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I want to second the review of this book by "Freeborn John" (9/20/2011) which lays forth clearly and succinctly the focus of Walzer's book and its starting point with the idea of our "pluriform identities" that result from what Walzer calls our involuntary associations -- the groups we are born into before we can choose and which might, at any time and in any society, be a relatively disadvantaged group. The business of politics as Walzer sees it here is to negotiate something closer to parity with the advantaged groups, some of which might be involuntary too (like an aristocracy, for example) but others of which might be voluntary ( e. g. a trade union, a chamber of commerce). Politics, then, isn't just a matter of "me" -- the individual, relatively rational agent -- seeking to maximize my "happiness"; rather, it has to do with the way that public policies impact the interactions of groups so that the powerful are limited in their ability to organize everything for their own interests only. Framing the issue at the degree of abstraction that I have here makes it easy to forget that, down in the weeds where it matters, things can be quite difficult to resolve -- matters of race, ethnicity, gender, poverty, ideological commitment, multiculturalism, etc. inevitably surface, and what we call justice or fairness -- which is what freedom makes meaningful -- requires hard and careful thinking and delicate social interaction.

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.
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Format: Paperback
Walzer begins Politics and Passion with an observation what is empirically evident in all our lives but needs to be reiterated again and again in political philosophy; namely, that we all have pluriform identities. Where Walzer differs from others such as Amartya Sen who have dissented from the tendency towards monocultural identities is his summary of how the plurality of affiliations are often involuntary in nature, the clearest example being that which we involuntarily receive from our parents and guardians in our early youth.

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.
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