On Toleration

Michael Walzer, Author
Michael Walzer, Author Yale University Press $40 (144p) ISBN 978-0-300-07019-4
Reviewed on: 03/24/1997
Release date: 03/01/1997
Paperback - 144 pages - 978-0-300-07600-4
Open Ebook - 141 pages - 978-0-300-12773-7
Open Ebook - 126 pages - 978-1-281-72965-1
Hardcover - 137 pages - 978-0-585-34880-3
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Based on the Castle Lectures in Ethics, Politics, and Economics that Walzer (social scientist at the Institute for Advanced Study, an editor of Dissent and the author of Spheres of Justice) delivered at Yale in 1996, this brief book explores international examples not of political toleration but of ""cultural, religious, and way-of-life differences."" He begins historically, with five societal models: antidemocratic empire; the respect for sovereignty within the international order; multinational states, such as Switzerland and Belgium, that have a respect for their constituent nationalities built into their constitutions; nation-states; and immigrant societies that respect individual rights. He then looks at some hard cases, such as the pressure of immigration on French national identity, the multiple tensions in Israel, the secessionary impulses in Quebec and aboriginal Canada. He concludes by reflecting on the contemporary American tendency toward group distinctions, as well as on the countering call for the hegemony of a shared culture. He supports the empowerment of locally based groups in running schools, housing and museums, believing (rather optimistically) that such particularization will weaken rather than strengthen ethnic group difference. He's on stronger ground, however, when he argues that multiculturalism can't succeed without an attack on class difference. Walzer offers interesting insights into power, class, gender, religion, education and civil religion: e.g., the common identity fostered by the latter (Independence Day, etc.) is especially important in immigrant societies like ours. Still, he might have augmented his thesis with some attention to the roles of popular culture and constitutional law. Reader's Subscription selection. (May)
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