Dialogue or tough campaign? Maybe we need a division of labor
M. W. 19 December 2007

This text represents the third contribution of Michael Walzer in his dialogue with the philosopher Nadia Urbinati. The dialogue stems from Urbinati’s article “Forget manichaeism: like Bobbio, I choose dialogue”, published by the magazine Reset in its September-October 2007 issue (no.103).

Hi Nadia,

It appears that the Cold War analogy is centrally important in our discussion. You keep coming back to its Italian version, where Bobbio argued for a politics of dialogue rather than of confrontation. And I have conceded that that may well have been the right argument in Italy. But its effectiveness, even in Italy, depended on the larger international confrontation. Without the Truman Doctrine in Greece, without the Korean War, without Radio Free Europe, without the strong support and wide publicity that American cold warriors gave to the Eastern dissidents, without the Hungarian and Czech uprisings, Stalinist communism would have been a flourishing and probably expanding system, and the Italian CP would never have changed at all.

So maybe there is an argument to be made for a division of labor. Some of us should be involved in a politics of dialogue, and some of us should be waging a tough ideological campaign (not against Islam as a block but) against jihadi zealotry. But if that is right, why are the Reset people so hostile to the tough campaign? I will continue to be skeptical about the value of cross-cultural exchange – not hostile, just skeptical. But a local dialogue about whether or not a mosque should be built in this town, between supporters and opponents, that seems to me not only valuable but absolutely necessary.

Best, Michael

Michael Walzer teaches Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is one of the main participants in public debate in the United States and in Europe. He is editor of the magazine Dissent, and also contributes to the periodical The New Republic. His most recent works include Politics and Passion: Toward A More Egalitarian Liberalism (Yale University Press, 2004),On Toleration (Yale University Press, 1997) and Arguing About War (Yale University Press, 2004).