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Michael Walzer on Sovereignty - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 292
Sovereignty/international politics/Walzer/Brown: for Walzer, the rights of political communities
derive from the rights of their members and '[t]he moral standing of any particular state depends on the reality of the common life it protects and the extent to which the sacrifices required by that protection are willingly accepted and thought worthwhile' (1992(1): 54). Cf.>Sovereignty/International political theory.
Brown: what distinguishes this position from that of the human rights regime is that it is up
to the members of a political community to determine what kind of 'common life' they wish to live,
and it cannot be assumed that their choice will be based on the rights of the individual; thus the universal element in this position does not concern what the community chooses, but rather its right to choose for itself the arrangements under which it is governed. >Lifeworld.
Community: for Walzer (1992(1): 90), communal
Gaus I 293
autonomy should be respected, and outsiders may only intervene when it is clear that the common life of a community does not exist or has broken down, for instance into slavery, massacre or genocide. This position, which Walzer initially established in the context of a discussion of the ethics of warfare has been defended in a series of books over the last two decades, and is consistent with the general account of justice presented in his major work of 'domestic' political theory, Spheres of Justice (1983(2); see also Walzer, 1987(3); 1994(4)).
VsWalzer: one obvious objection to Walzer' s position - and is that the picture these
to Nardin's and Frost's (>Sovereignty/International political theory) - writers paint of the state does not seem to be drawn from life. Even if one accepts that communities should have the right to choose their form of government, overriding thereby the putative rights of individuals - and many would deny this, arguing that there is no intrinsic value to >diversity - it is by no means clear that the 'fit' between existing states and political communities allows this communal right to be activated under the Westphalian system. >International political theory/Brown, >International law/International political theory.


1. Walzer, M. (1992) Just and Unjust Wars (1977), 2nd edn. New York: Basic.
2. Walzer, M. (1983) Spheres of Justice. London: Martin Robertson.
3. Walzer, M. (1987) Interpretation and Social Criticism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
4. Waver, M. (1994) Thick and Thin: Moral mgument at Home and Abroad. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.


Brown, Chris 2004. „Political Theory and International Relations“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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