Straus Public Lecture:
"Global and Local Justice"

Straus Public Lecture: Michael Walzer - Photo Gallery

On November 16, 2010, Michael Walzer delivered the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Public Lecture, “Global and Local Justice,” in which he tackled the question of whether a single unified theory could implement both global and local justice in a universally acceptable way.

“Global justice would seem to require a global theory—a single philosophically grounded account of what justice is that explains why it ought to be realized in exactly this way everywhere,” Walzer said in his lecture.

But there are practical difficulties in formulating such a theory, Walzer continued. “The diversity of cultures and the plurality of states make it unlikely that a single account of justice, even if it were the single true account, could ever be persuasive across the globe or enforceable in everyday practice.” Even if that account were possible, he added, no universally recognized global agent of justice exists to put it into action.

Yet fundamental global problems, such as the vast gulf between poverty and wealth and the particular vulnerability of the disadvantaged to natural disasters and political violence, point to the possibility of a universally applicable critique based on “the simple wrongness of human suffering,” Walzer argued.

Walzer articulated what he called a “minimalist account of justice” that might be widely implemented. “What we require is minimalist in character: the recognition of people like ourselves, concern for their suffering, and a few widely-shared moral principles. If these three amount to a theory, it is, so to speak, a little theory, one that is incomplete in much the same way that global society is incomplete.”

“If men and women everywhere were protected against the common disasters of nature and social life,” Walzer said, “if the predatory versions of politics and business were under control, it seems to me that we could let cultural difference, political struggle, and economic competition work their ways and produce whatever they produce.”

This article was originally posted on the NYU Law School website here.