Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad

Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad

Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad

Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad

Synopsis

When Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice was published ten years ago, the front page of The New York Times Book Review hailed the work as "an imaginative alternative to the current debate over distributive justice". Now in Thick and Thin, Walzer revises and extends his arguments in Spheres of Justice, framing his ideas about justice, social criticism, and national identity in light of the new political world that has arisen in the past decade. Walzer focuses on two different but interrelated kinds of moral argument: maximalist and minimalist, thick and thin, local and universal. According to Walzer the first, thick type of moral argument is culturally connected, referentially entangled, detailed, and specific; the second, or thin type, is abstract, ad hoc, detached, and general. Thick arguments play the larger role in determining our views about domestic justice and in shaping our criticism of local arrangements. Thin arguments shape our views about justice in foreign places and in international society. The book begins with an account of minimalist argument, then examines two uses of maximalist arguments, focusing on distributive justice and social criticism. Walzer then discusses minimalism with a qualified defense of self-determination in international society, and concludes with a discussion of the (divided) self capable of this differentiated moral engagement. Walzer's highly literate and fascinating blend of philosophy and historical analysis will appeal not only to those interested in the polemics surrounding Spheres of justice but also to intelligent readers who are more concerned with getting the arguments right.

Excerpt

My aim in this book is twofold: first, to rehearse, revise, and extend a set of arguments about justice, social criticism, and nationalist politics that I have been involved in making for some ten years. The revisions and extensions also represent so many responses to my critics (I am grateful to all of them). But I shall not engage in any polemics here; I want only to get the arguments right -- what that might mean is taken up in my third chapter -- not to gain some advantage in the critical wars. These are wars that can never in any case be won, since none of the participants are inclined, nor can they be forced, to surrender. There is no final arbiter, like the sovereign in Hobbes's Leviathan. So I shall strengthen my arguments as best I can and wait for further criticism. Nothing in these pages is finished or done with.

But I also want, second, to put my arguments to work in the new political world that has arisen since I first presented them. This new world is marked by the collapse of the totalitarian project -- and then by a pervasive, at least ostensible, commitment to democratic government and an equally pervasive, and more actual, commitment to cultural autonomy and national independence. A universal or near-universal ideology side-by-side with an extraordinarily intense pursuit of the "politics of difference": what are we to make of this? The two are not necessarily incompatible, though their simultaneous success is bound to pluralize democracy in a radical way. It will produce a number of different "roads to democracy" and a variety of "democracies" at the end of the road -- a prospect difficult to accept for those who believe that . . .

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