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At Dissent, Michael Walzer sketches a foreign policy for the left: "no more shortcuts, no more pretending."

There is a lot to be said for the default position. We should work in the place we know best to make things better. The improvement of humanity begins at home. This argument has special force for Americans, who live in an increasingly inegalitarian society that is also a near-hegemonic world power: we need to be wary of adventures abroad that make our work at home more difficult.

Still, good leftists can’t avoid internationalism. We can’t escape what Václav Havel in 1993 called “the feeling of co-responsibility for the world.” Our deepest commitment is solidarity with people in trouble, and some of the worst troubles—poverty, hunger, tyranny, and mass murder—are being experienced right now in other people’s countries. So we are going to be engaged again and again in arguments about what we can do to help. There is no magical way of getting these arguments right. But certain ideological positions, rigidly held, are almost certain to get them wrong: that the use of force is never justified; that “imperial” powers, like the United States, can never act well in the world; and that revolutionaries and fighters for liberation, populist leaders and political vanguards, must never be criticized. In all these cases, ideological commitment means that we will only get things right by accident.

At First Things, a prominent conservative intellectual argues against a reflexively antigovernment conservatism:

When conservatives grumble against government it is against government that seems to them to be imposed from outside, like the government of an occupying power. That was the kind of government that grew in Europe under communism, and which is growing again under the European Union—softer, gentler, perhaps, but also unaccountable. And it is easy to think that a similarly alien form of government is growing in America, as a result of the liberal policy of regimenting the American people according to moral beliefs that are to a certain measure alien, leading them to denounce government tout court. But this would be a mistake, not just about the fundamental human need for government, but also about the American situation as compared with Europe. And because it is a mistake that so many conservatives make, it is time to warn against it.

At the New York Times, Gordon Marino questions the wisdom of "do what you love":

The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into “a mature human being.” This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way.

The universally recognized paragons of humanity—the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings—did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning.


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Matthew, thanks for calling attention to Michel Walzer's fine piece. Not only does his line of reflection have relevance to politics. It also has relevance to thinking about the Church and Church reform. It is a model for practical reasoning. Consider, for example, the very difficult problems of dealing with pedophiles. With Walzer, one could rightly say,"No more short cuts, no more pretending." But that dictum has to be applied both to those who reflexively regard the hierarchy as self-serving and corrupt as it does to the clericalists who refuse to acknowledge the serious flaws that exist in a number of areas of Church practice.

Of course, Walzer's line of reflection is of most obvious importance in the sphere for which he has written it, the sphere of political life.