What kinds of political arrangements enable people from different national, racial, religious, or ethnic groups to live together in peace? In this book one of the most influential political theorists of our time discusses the politics of toleration. Michael Walzer examines five "regimes of toleration"—from multinational empires to immigrant societies—and describes the strengths and weaknesses of each regime, as well as the varying forms of toleration and exclusion each fosters. Walzer shows how power, class, and gender interact with religion, race, and ethnicity in the different regimes and discusses how toleration works—and how it should work—in multicultural societies like the United States.
Walzer offers an eloquent defense of toleration, group differences, and pluralism, moving quickly from theory to practical issues, concrete examples, and hard questions. His concluding argument is focused on the contemporary United States and represents an effort to join and advance the debates about "culture war," the "politics of difference," and the "disuniting of America." Although he takes a grim view of contemporary politics, he is optimistic about the possibility of coexistence: cultural pluralism and a common citizenship can go together, he suggests, in a strong and egalitarian democracy.
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.