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Kirkus ReviewsPolitical philosopher (Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study; The Spheres of Justice, 1983, etc.) and social critic Walzer delivers elegantly turned, highly nuanced reflections on what it takes in a democratic society for different groups to live together in peace.
Walzer regards toleration—making room in society for people whose beliefs and practices you don't share—as the principal work of democratic citizens. Toleration embraces a continuum of attitudes, from simple indifference to differences; resigned acceptance of them; principled recognition of the right to be different; to curiosity and even enthusiasm about human variation. Walzer identifies five historical models or regimes that encourage toleration and ultimately presents an analysis and defense of the approach that he believes works best for a multicultural US on the threshhold of the 21st century. Unlike other multiethnic models, such as multinational empires (like the USSR, which could be repressive but ruled more evenhandedly than local majorities were likely to do) or nation-states (in which one group shapes national life but tolerates members of minority groups as individual citizens), ours is an immigrant society, and Walzer explores the distinctive qualities that tend to keep the manifold parts of America's "dispersed diversity" cohesive, despite recent contentious assertions of various group identities in public life. Since contemporary American society is not only a pluralism of groups, but also a pluralism of individuals, there's a synergy between the pull of associational life and radical individualism that functions to knit us together.
Walzer speaks of the paradoxes of power in democratic society with clarity and eloquence. He not only maintains that the US has become socially (though not economically) more egalitarian over the last 50 years, but he also confirms its capacity for further evolution, while conceding that this process may not always be harmonious.