Arguing About War Hardcover – 11 Jun 2004
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'This book of essays has an outstanding pedigree' -- The Financial Times, August 14 2004
About the Author
Michael Walzer is UPS Foundation Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of more than a dozen books, including On Toleration, The Jewish Political Tradition, Volumes I and II, and 50 Years of Dissent, all published by Yale University Press.
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Much of this book is reprinted articles on events like the Bosnian war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war in Iraq. Walzer does a good job of applying his theoretical constructs in a rigorous and fair way. He is critical, for example, of the Bush administration's preventive war in Iraq but has no patience with any efforts to justify terrorist activities. He is quite critical as well of European and Russian, as well as the Clinton administration's, policies towards Iraq.
Comparing Walzer's analysis of moral choices in policies towards Iraq with the statements of Bush administration spokesmen and apologists is interesting. Many of the same arguments appear, only Walzer applies them in a rigorous and consistent manner, often leading to very different conclusions. Walzer exhibits the moral clarity that the Bush administration would like to believe it possesses.
Walzer also makes the very good point that in a truly just war, moral intentions and behavior in the aftermath of a war are just as important as the decision to enter war and the conduct of war. Neglect of the aftermath is a weakness of traditional just war theory derived from the Catholic tradition. If you don't do a competent and principled job of occupation and reconstruction, your war is not moral. In contemporary Iraq, we're witnessing a counter-example of competent and principled occupation that serves as a vivid demonstration of Walzer's argument.
Though Mr. Walzer remains very much a man of the Left in general, this recognition that humanitarian intervention may be morally justified/obligated against regimes that do not meet standards of liberal democratic legitimacy has put him so much at odds with the rest of the Left that they accuse him of being a crypto-conservative and he has been forced to ask whether there can even be a Decent Left, a question which he largely answers in the negative. The essays in this book are drawn from the past twenty-five years, with an emphasis on our recent interventions in Iraq (twice), Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti, etc. and our tragic non-intervention in Rwanda. Because he straddles the line between Left and Right he's unlikely to satisfy anyone completely. But you can't help but admire the utter gravity with which he reckons with every issue and, even where you disagree, the depth of his arguments forces you to reckon with them yourself. The Decent Left may be a deuced small collection of folk, but counting Mr. Walzer among their number is no small boast.
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