Michael Walzer and the Critical Connection

Journal of Religious Ethics 22 (2):333 - 353 (1994)
This paper explores Michael Walzer's vision of social criticism in view of his theoretical and historical work on justice and politics. Concentrating on the concept of shared understandings and political participation, I argue that Walzer's early theoretical work leads directly to his more recent emphasis on the connectedness of the social critic and his insistence that the critic must appeal to the common language and beliefs of the community he or she criticizes. The primary question I raise is whether Walzer ultimately places too much emphasis on forms of immanent critique. I explore this question by turning to the work of Sharon Welch and Cornel West. Both thinkers offer visions of social criticism that avoid the universalism and detachment Walzer criticizes, but their understanding of marginalization and their involvement in religious communities allows them more critical distance than Walzer allows.
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