Michael Walzer

Michael Walzer
Michael Walzer
Full name Michael Walzer
Born March 3, 1935 (1935-03-03) (age 76)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic · Political Philosophy
Main interests Human Rights  · Ethics · Just War Theory  · Liberalism  · Communitarianism  · Value pluralism  · Social Criticism  · Internationalism

Michael Walzer (pronounced /ˈwɔːlzər/;[1] March 3, 1935) is a prominent American political philosopher 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, including just and unjust wars, nationalism, ethnicity, 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.[2]

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".[3] He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Review of Books.


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.

Among works of scholarship that seek to apply Walzer's ideas on Just and Unjust Wars to real situations are: Yaacov Lozowick's Right to Exist.[4]

Published works

See also

Sources and external links

For an analysis of communitarianism see: Gad Barzilai, Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003]


  1. ^ Michael Walzer: The Free Market and Morality
  2. ^ Michael Walzer, On Toleration, (New Haven: Yale University Press 1997) ISBN 0300076002
  3. ^ Interview with E. J. Dionne
  4. ^ Politicide Revisited, by Chad Alan Goldberg , Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 34, No. 3 (May, 2005), pp. 229–232

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