Michael Walzer Responds

Michael Walzer Responds

A quick word from a third Michael. I agree entirely with the second Michael’s response to the first, but want to add a few comments as co-editor of Dissent. Instead of arguing about the state of the left, Michael Wreszin writes, “We should now be in the streets.” But there he sits banging away at his computer, and banging away, and banging away. And he is right; we should be arguing about what ought to be done, and how to do it, before we rush into the streets. That’s what we do; that’s why we run a magazine; and that’s why we are happy to print Wreszin’s response to some recent Dissent articles.

It’s a curious response. He berates us for being exactly like the old Dissent, which wasn’t heated enough in its opposition to the Vietnam War (there were disagreements among the editors then too); and he berates us for not being enough like the old Dissent and asks us “to return to its initial vision.” Is that really what he wants? When Dissent was founded, in 1954, Wreszin’s counterparts were equally sharp, though perhaps less rhetorical, in condemning its “initial vision,” which entailed a sustained critique of the existing American left. We are still in the¬† same business. It’s not our only business. Mostly, as Wreszin knows, we print harshly critical pieces on American politics and society. But we want to get the criticism right, and we want it to be effective; we want to be usefully engaged with our fellow citizens. And that sometimes requires us to criticize people who get American politics and society wrong and who do not display a “decent respect” for the opinions of other Americans.

Wreszin doesn’t say much in the way of substantive argument. But he does defend one (in my opinion, bad) left response to 9/11: “the hijackers . . . should be treated as criminals and hunted down as such.” They should be fought “just as organized crime is [fought] at home.” This is the dial 911 answer to 9/11. “We’ve been attacked. Call the cops!” And the critique that I made of this response in Dissent last year (“Five Questions About Terrorism,” Winter¬† 2002) is that it involves the pretense that international society is just like domestic society. There is, indeed, an old left view that international society should be, and one day will be, just like domestic society. But right now it plainly isn’t. There were no police that we could summon up to deal, say, with terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Pretending that the police were just waiting to be called was a way of opposing the Afghan War, but was it a serious way? Of course, police work by many different (and differently competent) national police forces is an important part of our response to 9/11. But it could never have been the whole story. Wreszin gives no sign of ...