“I don’t think that I ever managed real philosophy,” Michael Walzer says in the interview that forms the last chapter of “Thinking Politically” (Yale University Press, 333 pages, $30), the stimulating new collection of his essays. This may sound like false modesty coming from Mr. Walzer, who is one of America’s leading political philosophers. But in fact, by forswearing the name of philosopher, he is merely trying to give a more precise definition of the kind of thinking he does. “I couldn’t breathe easily at the high level of abstraction that philosophy seemed to require,” he explains. “I quickly got impatient with the playful extension of hypothetical cases, moving farther and farther away from the world we all lived in.” Mr. Walzer’s essays take exactly the opposite approach: They set up camp in the midst of the world we all live in bringing the rigor of political theory to the messiness of political debate. It makes sense that Mr. Walzer is both a professor at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and an editor of Dissent, the left-liberal journal: His theories are always also interventions.
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