“Are There Just Wars?” with Michael Walzer

Episode 27:

Originally broadcast: April 10, 2011



The philosopher William James once remarked that those who think that war is inevitable suffer from a lack of imagination. What about those who think that war is never justified, do they suffer from a lack of imagination as well? Can war ever be the moral thing to do? Is it ever justified to be the attacker, or is war only a matter of defense? Given the modern nature of war, can we really distinguish between civilians and combatants, and, given the dangers of terrorism, is pre-emptive war now permissible? Join WHY? as we engage in the thousand-year old quest for a definition of just war with one of the most influential thinkers on the subject: Michael Walzer.

Michael Walzer is professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. One of America’s foremost political thinkers, he has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He has played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. Walzer’s books include Just and Unjust Wars (1977), On Toleration (1997), and Arguing About War (2004); he has served as editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the new forms of welfare and also on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.

WHY?’s host Jack Russell Weinstein explains, “I’ve been reading Michael Walzer since I was an undergraduate and he’s always impressed me with his ability to see politics in a different light. There are few subjects more emotional than war. It will be a relief to discuss its morality with someone who can be both passionate and reasonable at the same time.”

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