Now, I'm liberal but to a degreeI want ev’rybody to be freeBut if you think that I’ll let Barry GoldwaterMove in next door and marry my daughterYou must think I’m crazy!I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba*
City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, is a rather conservative online source of news and comment - mostly comment. The picture above accompanied an article that appeared in City Journal, and that I plan to write about in this blog posting. The Bible and the flag properly indicate where City Journal is mostly coming from. I subscribe to its email bulletins, and a recent bulletin was titled, "The 'Liberal' In All Of Us." The article so headlined was, in fact, a review of a recent book, The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On “Liberal” as an Adjective. Michael Walzer is the author of the book. Fred Bauer wrote the review for City Journal.
Walzer is identified by Bauer and City Journal as the "longtime editor of the democratic-socialist magazine Dissent." The magazine itself (click the link to the title) doesn't mention the "socialist" part of Bauer's characterization. Dissent calls itself, "a mainstay of the democratic left," and it lists the following contributors: "Hannah Arendt, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, A. Philip Randolph, Michael Harrington, Dorothy Day, Bayard Rustin, Czesław Miłosz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Chinua Achebe, Ellen Willis, Octavio Paz, Martha Nussbaum, Roxane Gay, and many others." If you don't recognize a name, feel free to look that person up, to see how many of them call themselves "democratic-socialists."
I am beginning this blog posting, as you can see, by attempting to throw just a little bit of shade on City Journal, for trying to prejudice its readers against Walzer and his claims on behalf of "liberalism." At least, that's how I would characterize what City Journal is trying to do. I, personally, don't have any great familiarity with Walzer, and I don't have any problem with that "democratic-socialist" label, either. I am betting, however, that most readers of City Journal don't much cotton to anything that has any taint of "socialism" about it.
Why have Bauer and City Journal injected that "socialist" word, if not to use it as a warning to readers? Wikipedia, to the degree we think that it formulates its comments in a rather "neutral" manner, doesn't mention that Walzer has any "socialist" connections, but Wikipedia does tell us that Walzer has "written over twenty-seven books, to date, and has published over 300 articles, essays, and book reviews in Dissent, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harpers, and many philosophical and political science journals." Wikipedia calls Walzer a "public intellectual." I suggest that we dismiss Bauer's implicit warning about Walzer's supposed "socialism." What about his latest book?
Actually, I think Bauer kind of likes Walzer's book. Bauer concludes his review with this statement:
While Walzer is forthrightly a man of the Left, his account of the “liberal” in The Struggle for a Decent Politics contains insights that might be valuable to people with other perspectives. Walzer reminds us that a spirit of temperance and openness can be in harmony with other commitments—and that maintaining those commitments to others may be an important part of preserving the “liberal,” broadly understood (emphasis added).
Since I haven't read Walzer's book, only the Bauer review, I don't know how well Bauer captured what Walzer is trying to say. What I have focused on is the title Walzer chose for his book. Walzer's title emphasizes that he is in search of a "decent politics." In fact, a "decent" politics must always give credit for good faith to those with whom one might disagree, politically. A "decent" politics must always recognize that our inevitable disagreements about what we should collectively do are not a reason either to attempt to marginalize those with whom we disagree on the issues, or (even worse) to extirpate them. Bauer seems to say that Walzer does call for a "spirit of temperance and openness" towards those with whom we may well disagree.
In politics, as in life, we are "in it together" - and that means that we are in it together with all our disagreements. Those disagreements define the "plurality" that Hannah Arendt has made the touchstone of her political writings. A glad acceptance of and recognition of our plurality, instead of a demand that our own views be accepted, and imposed, is where a "decent" politics begins. That kind of politics doesn't require that we "agree." It doesn't mean that "one side" has to prevail, and the other side "lose." Decency demands that we live together, and find a way to get along, despite our disagreements. Look at Bauer's closing statement again, and the highlighted text. That is what a "decent" politics requires, and it seems that this is what Walzer is saying in his book.
"Getting along, despite our disagreements," is not the same thing as capitulating to something you just don't think is right. As Bob Dylan has recognized (see the epigraph), our need is to live together - but we always do that only "to a degree." A "decent" politics won't try to make me let "Barry Goldwater" move in next door, and marry my daughter.
And I am not going to let that happen, either!
*Bob Dylan, "I Shall Be Free No. 10"
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