Some thoughts from Michael Walzer

From Imprints, via a link from Crooked Timber: the one, the only, Michael Walzer. (To those of you who never took Walzer’s seminar on Hobbes, all I can say is that you bear your almost intolerable deprivation with more cheerfulness than I could muster, were I in your shoes.)

Here are my favorite bits from the current interview. But read it in full. Then read Obligations.

It is a good idea to strengthen the UN and to take whatever steps are possible to establish a global rule of law. It is a very bad idea to pretend that a strong UN and a global rule of law already exist.

So far as justice, that is, moral legitimacy is concerned, if the Iraq war was unjust before the Security Council voted, it would have been unjust afterwards, however the vote went. It can’t be the case that when we try to figure out whether a war is just or unjust, we are predicting how the Council will vote.

After 9/11, those of us who want to defend civil liberties have to accept a greater burden than before. It isn’t enough to point to The Patriot Act and scream ‘Fascism!’ We have to make the case to our fellow citizens that the government can defend them against terrorism within the constitutional constraints, whatever they are, that we believe necessary to personal freedom and democratic politics. Only if we can’t make that case would we have to consider modifying the constitutional regime. Right now, I think that we can make the case; I only regret that so many people on the left don’t believe that they have to make it. They talk about this question as if the last thing they want to worry about is the safety of their fellow citizens.

I think that one great mistake of contemporary academic philosophers, starting with Rawls himself, is the claim that our natural endowments are ‘arbitrary from a moral point of view’ and should not be allowed to have effects in the social world — or, better, the effects they have should never be philosophically ratified. As Rawls wrote, we have to ‘nullify the accidents of natural endowment.’ This puts philosophy radically at odds with ordinary morality. Sometimes, of course, that is a useful conflict, but in this particular encounter, philosophy does not fare well. Our natural endowments make us what we are, and what we are necessarily has consequences in the social world, and some, at least, of these consequences must be legitimate. John Rawls deserved the honours he won by writing A Theory of Justice — even if his intelligence was an accidental effect of the natural lottery.

The Green Party campaign in 2000 was a very bad idea, the product in part of Ralph Nader’s narcissism and in part of old left sectarianism. The sharp right turn of American politics is the direct result of that campaign.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: