INTERPRETATION AND SOCIAL CRITICISM by Michael Walzer

INTERPRETATION AND SOCIAL CRITICISM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A rich and lyrical reflection on the practice of social criticism and interpretation, and on the formation of moral standards, by one of our finest social thinkers. It is a little book, divided into three elegant chapters, but it packs a big wallop. Walzer begins by arguing that reliable moral criteria can be based only on interpretations of what people already know and have experienced morally in their cultures, rather than upon any kind of abstract or invented wisdom. The second chapter on social criticism flows from this simple principle. According to Walzer, model social critics must be ""connected"" people who earn their authority by arguing with their fellows from inside a shared and particular culture. Such critics, in other words, must not be marginal or detached but willingly immersed in the tensions of the culture they criticize, seeking to interpret and elaborate the larger meanings of the cultural system they share with others, and to urge people to live up to the promise of those meanings. As Walzer says, model social critics perform their functions ""a little to the side but not outside"" the moral order they share with others. Conversely, disconnected critics share little with the culture they criticize; they try to invent new principles of behavior, and to impose them on others through manipulation and coercion. Walzer singles out the Bolsheviks as examples of disconnected critics. In the last chapter, Walzer offers an illustration of a ""connected"" critic in the figure of the Jewish prophet, Amos, a man embedded in his own particular culture, who judged the internal character of his people's society, and who reminded his fellows to live up to their most revered principles on an everyday basis (in particular, to live up to their inherited commitment to eliminate the ""oppression of the poor""). Every culture, Walzer says, if it is to thrive, must listen to the voices of its own prophets. Wonderfully clear, and informed by a deep commitment to democratic values.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0674459717
Publisher: Hazard Univ. Press