Michael Walzer

Michael Walzer is a professor of social science at the Institute
for Advanced Study and co-editor of Dissent magazine.

Recent Articles

2001: Demystifying Terrorism

In October 2001, I wrote a piece for the Prospect [see “Excusing Terror” ] in which I criticized “the politics of ideological apology” -- the excuses that some on the left were making for terrorism. No one was justifying terrorism, but we were often asked to “understand” it. I argued that terrorism as a political strategy had to be condemned and opposed without regard to the causes that the terrorists claimed to serve. In fact, terrorism served no decent cause. Is anybody still excusing terrorism? The answer is yes: Secret sympathy, even fascination, with violence among men and women who think of themselves as “militants” is a disease, and recovery is slow. But the excuses are heard much more in Europe than in the United States. My sense is that the argument here has shifted. It is focused more on how to deal with the threat of terrorism, how to make people feel secure. Speaking more politically, it is focused on how to make people feel...

Excusing Terror

Even before September 11, hardly anyone was advocating terrorism--not even those who regularly practice and support it. The practice is indefensible now that it has been recognized, like rape or murder, as an attack upon the innocent. The victims of a terrorist attack are ordinary men and women, eternal bystanders. There is no special reason for targeting them. The attack is launched indiscriminately against the entire class. Terrorists are like killers on a rampage, except that their rampage is purposeful and programmatic. It aims at a general vulnerability. Kill these people in order to terrify those. A relatively small number of dead victims makes for a very large number of living and frightened hostages. This is the ramifying evil of terrorism: not just the killing of innocent people but also the intrusion of fear into everyday life, the violation of private purposes, the insecurity of public spaces, the endless coerciveness of precaution. A crime wave might produce similar...