A review of Walzer on War and Humanitarian Intervention

In n + 1, Isaac Scarborough reviews Michael Walzer’s Arguing About War.

“When an American president sends soldiers into battle, Walzer is arguing, he is doing more than asking them to defend American interests. He is asking them to be the representatives of the United State’s general will—of its moral calculus. ‘The assertion or presumption is that they have chosen or will choose, and also that they can choose, to live like citizens.’

Thus to act justly, the US should act not only in the interests of its soldiers, but should also take into consideration all the lives involved, be they civilians on the ground, or even opposing combatants. This is not to say that opposing soldiers cannot be killed. It is to say that we treat them justly by creating a moral calculus in which human life is valued equitably.

This understanding of the ‘general will’ and its significance in foreign policy underpins a great deal of Walzer’s thinking. If war itself should be seen as an extension of the moral life of a nation, then intervention on the behalf of oppressed peoples is ethically required.”