Michael Waltz

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Michael Waltz

Michael Laban Walzer (born March 3, 1935 in New York City ) is an American social and moral philosopher and an eminent intellectual .


Michael Walzer, son of Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe, is considered one of the most influential representatives of political philosophy in the United States. He has written widely recognized treatises on justice , civil society , social criticism and war . His works are also becoming increasingly important in the European debate. The main reason for this is his theory of the “just war”. Walzer was also known for his contributions to the debate on liberalism and communitarianism .

Walzer was born in New York City in 1935. In New York he also studied with Irving Howe at Brandeis University , where he obtained his BA in 1956. Walzer became Howe's assistant and began to work for the magazine Dissent , which he published, an organ of the anti-Stalinist left in America. After Howe's death, Walzer became editor of the magazine, which he still uses today in the spirit of its founder to examine and discuss left-wing positions.

After completing his studies, he was a Fulbright Fellow at Cambridge University for a year before receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1961. received. From 1962 to 1966 Walzer taught at Princeton University , from 1966 to 1980 at Harvard University. In 1971 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1990 to the American Philosophical Society . Since 1980 he has been a professor at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton .

Michael Walzer is editor of Dissent and co-editor of Philosophy and Public Affairs , Political Theory, and The New Republic . In his contributions, Walzer combines elements of Jewish tradition with modern political thinking. Within America's “communitarian” scene, he is a prominent representative of a socially critical political theory.

Walzer belongs to a group of 58 leading American intellectuals, including the sociologist Francis Fukuyama ( The End of History and the last Man ), the cultural historian Samuel P. Huntington ( Clash of Civilizations ), and the social theorist Amitai Etzioni , who died on March 12, 2002 had published a manifesto for the "just war". The undersigned support the policy of the US government after the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the New York World Trade Center in principle, justified from a value-conservative standpoint .

In Germany, on May 19, 1998, Walzer received the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize awarded by the Evangelical Theological Faculty of the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen . In 2016 he was elected an external member of the British Academy .

Just Wars

Walzer dealt with the moral realities of war long before the historical shock of Sarajevo and Srebrenica . His book on Just and Unjust Wars , published in 1977, is now a classic. The doctrine of just war is about the “restriction of possible reasons, purposes and means of war”, ie “containment” instead of categorical avoidance of war.

In his theory of jus ad bellum, Walzer differentiates between wars of aggression and interventions. In the event of aggression, the attacked state has the right to defend itself and third countries can support it. In addition, a state has the right to defend itself preventively if an attack by another state is imminent (anticipation). A prerequisite for this, however, is a recognizable intention to attack, such as B. the stationing of soldiers in the border area. According to Walzer, the right to intervene exists in exactly three cases: (1) In the case of secession or national wars of liberation, i.e. when two or more political communities live within a territory, one of which is already involved in a military struggle for independence ( support for secession or national liberation ) (2) In the case of a counter-intervention, i.e. when another state has already intervened in a civil war ( counter-intervention ) and (3) In the case of slavery or massacres, when the violation of human rights within an area is so serious that this state no longer has self-determination ( humanitarian intervention ). These interventions are subject to certain rules and are intended to promote the values ​​of independence and community.

As early as 1967, Walzer defended the Israeli preventive attack in June 1967 against the Egyptian army ( six-day war ). He later campaigned for the intervention in Kosovo and the war against the Taliban. He only considered the war against Iraq to be unjustified, even though he had previously suggested a similar approach as an advisor to Clinton. when where? However, the rejection of the Iraq war, following the logic of his teaching, is not categorical either. Rather, he makes the assessment dependent on the development of the country after the end of the war.

In October 2016 he published together with Todd Gitlin , Peter Beinart , Edward Witten , Adam Hochschild u. a. an open letter in the New York Review of Books calling for a targeted boycott of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories .

Theory of justice

Walzer presented a comprehensive theory on the philosophy of justice in 1983 with his work Spheres of Justice : a defense of pluralism and equality (German edition 1992: Sphären der Gerechtigkeit: a plea for plurality and equality ). Walzer assumes that human society is a distribution society that produces goods and distributes them among themselves. The community determines the value of the goods based on their common vision. It also lays down the principles according to which the individual goods are to be distributed. In order for this to be “just”, Walzer does not demand simple equality, but rather “complex equality”. He also wants to prevent the dominance of certain goods to ensure justice and prevent tyranny. This means: "No social good X of one sphere should be distributed to men and women who are in possession of a good Y of another sphere, regardless of its importance, solely because they have this Y." That is why he separates social life in spheres in which goods are distributed according to different principles.

There are eleven spheres: membership and belonging, security and welfare, money and goods, upbringing and education, recognition and political power, among others. A fair distribution requires that the various spheres of distribution are clearly delimited from one another and that all goods are allocated according to their social meanings and the specific criteria and standards of their own sphere. For example, medical services are to be awarded to sick people according to the need for treatment and political offices to candidates according to their qualifications. Three central distribution principles are: free exchange, merit and need. The former is the main criterion for the sphere of "money and goods", the latter for the sphere of "recognition", and the latter for the sphere of "security and welfare". Simple equality, according to Walzer, is ultimately unstable, while complex equality can prevent success in one area of ​​society from leading to success in another. For example, he calls for a strict separation of the areas of business and politics. The relative autonomy of the spheres is thus intended to ensure a fair distribution of goods. This theory shows a clear communitarian approach, as Walzer puts the community at the center, which determines the value of goods and their modes of distribution.


  • Is there a just war? Stuttgart 1982
  • Criticism and common sense. Three ways of social criticism . Berlin 1990
  • Doubt and interference. Social Criticism in the 20th Century . Frankfurt am Main 1991
  • Civil society and American democracy , essay collection, trans. Christiane Goldmann, Rotbuch, Berlin 1992 ISBN 3-88022-788-8
  • Local criticism - global standards . Hamburg 1996
  • Spheres of justice. A plea for plurality and equality . Frankfurt 1992, new edition. 2006
  • Exodus and Revolution . Frankfurt 1995
  • Courage, compassion and a good eye. Virtues of social criticism and the benefits of social theory, in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 48/5 (2000), pp. 709–718 (Lecture on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institute for Social Research , Frankfurt / M.)
  • Declared wars - declarations of war, essays . 2003
  • Islamism and the Left. in: Dissent-Magazine, USA, Winter 2015 Online . About the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the parallel murders in Montrouge and in a kosher Parisian supermarket
  • The paradox of liberation. Freiburg im Breisgau 2018 ISBN 978-3-495-49001-3
  • The danger of white Christian racism. The theorist of the just Kriges talks about the anti-Semitism in Trump's America, the failures of the Democrats and the change in relation to Israel. A conversation with the American philosopher Michael Walzer by Tilman Salomon, FAZ June 6, 2019, No. 130, page 11

Secondary literature

  • Michael Haus : The Political Philosophy of Michael Walzers. Criticism, fellowship, justice . VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2000. ISBN 3-531-13512-0
  • Manuel Knoll / Michael Spieker (eds.): Michael Walzer: Sphären der Gerechtigkeit. A cooperative commentary (with a foreword by M. Walzer), Stuttgart 2014 (“Staatsdiskurse” series, edited by Rüdiger Voigt ).
  • Felix Heidenreich and Gary S. Schaal: Introduction to the Political Theories of Modernity . Barbara Budrich, Opladen 2006.
  • Skadi Krause and Karsten Malowitz: Michael Walzer for an introduction . Junius, Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-88506-970-9
  • Walter Reese-Schäfer: What is communitarianism? Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1994.
  • Angelika Krebs : Michael Walzer, Sphären der Gerechtigkeit (1983) . In: Manfred Brocker (Ed.): History of political thinking. A manual . Suhrkamp 2007. Frankfurt am Main, pp. 697-712.
  • Wulf Kellerwessel: Michael Walzers communitarian moral philosophy . LIT, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8258-9090-2
  • Karl-Heinz Nusser (Ed.): Freedom, social goods and justice. Michael Walzer's understanding of the state and society . Nomos, Baden-Baden 2012. ISBN 978-3-8329-5714-8

Individual evidence

  1. Member History: Michael Walzer. American Philosophical Society, accessed December 30, 2018 .
  2. The left must rethink the war . Justice and responsibility: the American philosopher Michael Walzer on America's politics and the campaign in Afghanistan. In: Tagesspiegel, November 13, 2001; What we fight for. Michael Walzer on defense against terrorism (in conversation with C. Schlüter). In: FR, February 20, 2002; M. Walzer: About the just war. In: Die Welt, March 12, 2002.
  3. https://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/der-ungerechte-krieg/351278.html
  4. Not necessary. Michael Walzer on the impending war against Iraq (in conversation with C. Schlueter). In: FR, October 5, 2002
  5. M. Walzer: It is not too late yet. Inspectors yes, war no. Why an attack on Iraq is currently unjustifiable. In: Die Zeit No. 42, 2002
  6. M. Walzer: Against the war! At the moment there are still alternatives - and that is the best argument against an operation in Iraq. In: FR, February 1, 2003
  7. M. Walzer: So, is this war fair? A moral discussion based on a recent example. In: Die Welt, March 29, 2003.
  8. ^ For an Economic Boycott and Political Nonrecognition of the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories , New York Review of Books , October 13, 2016; Over 70 American Intellectuals Call for 'Targeted Boycott' of Israeli Settlements , Haaretz , September 25, 2016.

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