Walzer's Paradox

From the August/September 2015 Print Edition

The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions
by michael walzer
yale, 192 pages, $26
Michael Walzer’s name is associated with the summons to undertake social criticism that is engaged: that is, rooted in actual circumstances; cognizant of real people’s wants, needs, and desires; and respectful of the diversity of beliefs, practices, and forms of association by which groups of men and women organize their moral, political, and spiritual lives. The paradox of his work is not that it seems to partake of the conservative sensibility. The admixture of a conservative suspicion of high theory and a conservative emphasis on historical circumstances and cultural particularities has long given the emphatically leftist outlook of this political theorist and public intellectual its distinctive heft and hue. Rather, the paradox is that while he is committed to understanding alternative viewpoints from the inside and exhibits intellectual proclivities associated with the conservative spirit, Walzer rarely engages with conservatives and conservative thought. In his political theory, he scarcely mentions Leo Strauss, ­Michael Oakeshott, F. A. Hayek, or Alasdair MacIntyre. In his writings on American politics, Walzer seldom takes up Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley Jr., Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Richard John ­Neuhaus, Leon Kass, or George Will. A political theorist and public intellectual dedicated to reaching beyond his parochial perspective to comprehend people in faraway cultures and distant historical epochs, Walzer all but excludes from his purview conservatives and conservatism in the here and now. Continue Reading »

Illiberal Liberalism

From the April 2007 Print Edition

Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate by Ronald Dworkin Princeton University Press, 192 pages, $19.95 In November 1996, First Things ran a symposium called “The End of Democracy?” asking at what point, if left unchecked, would the judicial usurpation of . . . . Continue Reading »