Political philosopher Michael Walzer is professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, and coeditor emeritus of Dissent.
Michael Walzer on
I was born into a world where the Nazis were ruling Germany and Stalin was ruling Russia. I don't think things can get much worse. We aren't living in anything close to the world we would like to live in, but political regimes of that size committed to mass murder don't at this moment exist in the world. So that is a small improvement in human life.
I think inequality, which is both caused by human greed but which also has all kinds of other deep structural causes; our unwillingness to control the environmental damage we're doing to the world we inhabit; and our inability to deal with religious craziness.
We used to talk about universalism in ethics. All of us were universalists to some degree, some of us to a greater degree, some of us to a lesser degree. But my moral universalism is minimalist in character. I've defended a kind of minimalist morality for global society.
I don't think we will see world peace. But I do believe in the reality of preventable wars, unnecessary and preventable wars. The real danger these days is civil war. We have not figured out a way for benevolent outsiders to intervene in a civil war. Some of the worst wars in the last 20, 30 year have been civil wars, like the one now going on in Syria.
In the political world, it would mean a willingness to explain to your own people the costs of doing good in the world, which might involve sacrifices for them; a willingness to use force to stop a massacre, say; an unwillingness to use force to control natural resources.
The greatest human misery right now in the world is endured by people who don't have a state or who don't have an effective state or who live in a predatory state. Before we give up on the Westphalian system, before we give up on the nation-state as a political formation, we need to make sure that everybody has one.