In January 2014 (nearly 10 years ago!), Mark and I were fortunate to host Professor Michael Walzer at the Colloquium in Law and Religion (co-hosted, that year, with our friend, Professor Michael Moreland, at Villanova). If memory serves, Professor Walzer gave a very interesting paper on what the Jewish law of war could take from the Catholic “Just War” tradition of thought. The paper was filled with insights about religious law, and some important differences between the Catholic and Jewish intellectual and spiritual inheritance (one of which concerned the difference between the Natural Law Tradition and the Noahide Covenant). It was an honor to have him with us.
But, of course, Professor Walzer’s most notable contributions have been in the area of liberal political thought (see, for example, here). Liberalism has had a rather more contested legacy in the 10 or so years since we last met with Prof. Walzer than it had in the generation and more before that. And so it is that Walzer has a new book that seems to grapple with some of that recent contestation, in what looks like an important statement and recapitulation of his own views. The book is The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On “Liberal” as an Adjective (Yale University Press). Congratulations to him.
There was a time when liberalism was an ism like any other, but that time, writes Michael Walzer, is gone. “Liberal” now conveys not a specific ideology but a moral stance, so the word is best conceived not as a noun but as an adjective—one is a “liberal democrat” or a “liberal nationalist.”
Walzer itemizes the characteristics described by “liberal” in an inventory of his own deepest political and moral commitments—among other things, to the principle of equality, to the rule of law, and to a pluralism that is both political and cultural. Unabashedly asserting that liberalism comprises a universal set of values (“they must be universal,” he writes, “since they are under assault around the world”), Walzer reminds us in this inspiring book why those values are worth fighting for.