Michael Walzer (/ˈwɔːlzər/; March 3, 1935) is a prominent American polemicist and public intellectual. A professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, he is co-editor of Dissent, an intellectual magazine that he has been affiliated with since his years as an undergraduate at Brandeis University. He has written books and essays on a wide range of topics, many in political ethics, including just and unjust wars, nationalism, ethnicity, Zionism, economic justice, social criticism, radicalism, tolerance, and political obligation and is a contributing editor to The New Republic. To date, he has written 27 books and published over 300 articles, essays, and book reviews in Dissent, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, “Harpers,” and many philosophical and political science journals.
Life and work
Michael Walzer is usually identified as one of the leading proponents of the “Communitarian” position in political theory, along with Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Sandel. Like Sandel and MacIntyre, Walzer is not completely comfortable with this label. He has, however, long argued that political theory must be grounded in the traditions and culture of particular societies and opposed what he sees to be the excessive abstraction of political philosophy. His most important intellectual contributions include Just and Unjust Wars, a revitalization of just war theory that insists on the importance of “ethics” in wartime while eschewing pacifism; the theory of “complex equality,” which holds that the metric of just equality is not some single material or moral good, but rather that egalitarian justice demands that each good be distributed according to its social meaning, and that no good (like money or political power) be allowed to dominate or distort the distribution of goods in other spheres; and an argument that justice is primarily a moral standard within particular nations and societies, not one that can be developed in a universalized abstraction.
In On Toleration, he describes various examples of, and approaches to, toleration, in multinational empires such as Rome, among nations in past and current-day international society, “consociations” such as Switzerland, nation-states such as France, and immigrant societies such as the United States. He concludes by describing a “post-modern” view, in which cultures within an immigrant nation have blended and inter-married to the extent that toleration becomes an intra-familial affair.
Walzer is married to Judith Borodovko Walzer. They are parents of two daughters, Sarah Esther Walzer (born 1961) and Rebecca Leah Walzer (born 1966).
Walzer is the older brother of historian Judith Walzer Leavitt.
In 1956 Walzer graduated Summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History. He then studied at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship (1956–1957) and completed his doctoral work at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in Government in 1961.
Walzer was first employed as a professor in 1962 by Princeton University. He stayed there until 1966 when he moved to Harvard. He taught at Harvard until 1980 when he became a Permanent Faculty Member in the School of Social Science at the IAS.
Walzer taught a semester-long course with Robert Nozick in 1971 called “Capitalism and Socialism”. The course was a debate between the two: Nozick’s side is in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and Walzer’s side is in his Spheres of Justice, where he argues for “complex equality”. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Review of Books.
Awards and Honors
In April 2008, Walzer received the prestigious Spinoza Lens, a bi-annual prize for ethics in The Netherlands. He has also been honoured with an emeritus professorship at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study.
- The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Harvard University Press, 1965) ISBN 0-674-76786-1
- Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War and Citizenship (Harvard University Press, 1970) ISBN 0-674-63025-4
- Political Action (Quadrangle Books, 1971) ISBN 0-8129-0173-8
- Regicide and Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1974) ISBN 0-231-08259-2
- Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 1977, second edition, 1992, third edition, 2000, fourth edition, 2006) ISBN 0-465-03705-4
- Radical Principles (Basic Books, 1977) ISBN 0-465-06824-3
- Spheres of Justice (Basic Books, 1983) ISBN 0-465-08189-4
- Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books, 1985) ISBN 0-465-02164-6
- Interpretation and Social Criticism (Harvard University Press, 1987) ISBN 0-674-45971-7
- The Company of Critics (Basic Books, 1988) ISBN 0-465-01331-7
- Zivile Gesellschaft und amerikanische Demokratie (Rotbuch Verlag, 1992) ISBN 3-596-13077-8 (collection of essays in German collection, the title translates as “Civil Society and American Democracy”)
- What It Means to Be an American (Marsilio Publishers, 1992) ISBN 1-56886-025-0
- Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad (Notre Dame Press, 1994) ISBN 0-268-01897-9
- Pluralism, Justice and Equality, with David Miller (Oxford University Press, 1995) ISBN 0-19-828008-4
- Toward a Global Civil Society (Berghahn Books, 1995) ISBN 1-57181-054-4
- On Toleration (Yale University Press, 1997) ISBN 0-268-01897-9
- Arguments from the Left (Atlas, 1997, in Swedish)
- Pluralism and Democracy (Editions Esprit, 1997, in French) ISBN 2-909210-19-7
- Reason, Politics, and Passion (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999, in German) ISBN 3-596-14439-6
- The Jewish Political Tradition, Vol. I: Authority. co-edited with Menachem Lorberbaum, Noam Zohar, and Yair Lorberbaum (Yale University Press, 2000) ISBN 0-300-09428-0
- Exilic Politics in the Hebrew Bible (Mohr Siebeck, 2001, in German) ISBN 3-16-147543-7
- War, Politics, and Morality (Ediciones Paidos, 2001, in Spanish) ISBN 84-493-1167-5
- The Jewish Political Tradition, Vol. II: Membership. co-edited with Menachem Lorberbaum, Noam Zohar, and Yair Lorberbaum (Yale University Press, 2003) ISBN 978-0-300-09428-2
- Arguing About War (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0-300-10365-4
- Politics and Passion: Toward A More Egalitarian Liberalism (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0-300-10328-X
- Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism. edited by Walzer (Princeton University Press, 2006) ISBN 0-691-12508-2
- Thinking Politically (Yale University Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0-300-11816-2
- In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible (Yale University Press, 2012) ISBN 978-0-300-18044-2