Swans Commentary » swans.com November 21, 2011  



The Michael Walzer Affair
A Scandal at Belgrade University


by Aleksandar Jokic and Milan Brdar


Book Excerpt



[Note from the authors: This is an excerpt from our book devoted to the "Walzer Affair," Unjust Honoris Causa: Chronicle of a Most Peculiar Academic Dishonor (Kragujevac-Belgrade: Freedom Activities Centre, 2011; ISBN 978-86-87863-20-0). The book can be ordered though the Web site of its publisher, Biblioteka Libertarium.]


(Swans - November 21, 2011)  

1. Introduction


The just war theory made its unlikely comeback in large part due to Michael Walzer's popularizing efforts. One of its most remarkable achievements was its application in the form of "humanitarian intervention" to absolve the US-led NATO aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999. Yet on June 17, 2010, Walzer -- a proponent not only of NATO bombings against then-Yugoslavia, but also of the military invasion by land troops -- was decorated with an honorary doctorate from Belgrade University. The ceremony took place not far from the remains of buildings destroyed by NATO in the center of the city. One may, then, rightly contemplate the meaning of gestures of this sort: What could tempt people, particularly the intellectual elites, to even consider honoring those who advocate aggression against their own country? Why honor someone hailing from a hegemonic power in a weak state that witnessed and directly felt the fury of that power, which left behind thousands dead and the whole country in physical, psychological, and economic devastation? These are complicated questions to answer fully, hence in this article we propose to shed some light on the sequence of events involving deception, inaction, and indifference that led to Michael Walzer becoming the most implausible laureate of an honoris causa, which in the end was not revoked despite nearly universal realization among the Serbian academic community of what had happened and despite continued public demands that the honorary doctorate be rescinded.


2. A Brief Chronology of the Scandal


On June 12, 2010, we first learned from the media that an ILECS (International Law and Ethics Conference Series) conference would take place on the topic of "Asymmetric Wars, International Relations, and Just War Theory" in the Festival Hall of the Rectorate of Belgrade University on June 17-19, and that 14 foreign presenters were to participate, while a single scholar from our University had been invited. Of particular interest to the academic public are the following two details: first, three participants at the conference had advocated the bombing of Serbia in 1999 (Michael Walzer, David Luban, and Igor Primorac), and second, Michael Walzer was unveiled as a key guest who was to be awarded a doctorate honoris causa of Belgrade University.

Following this announcement in the press, we critically examined the conference and opposed the idea of awarding an honorary doctorate to Michael Walzer on the Atlantis radio show, broadcast by Radio Beograd.

Further to our remarks to the media, we drafted a Protest against the participation at the conference of people who had advocated the bombing of Serbia as well as the decision to award Michael Walzer an honorary doctorate. Our Protest was published on June 15th in the daily Pravda. Walzer was, in the end, and as planned, awarded an honorary doctorate from Belgrade University -- a decision he himself stated had surprised him, presumably given his publicly-held positions supporting the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, as well as his support for the secession of Kosovo-Metohija -- and following this event, we sent a demand to the Rector of Belgrade University, Professor Branko Kovacevic, to submit his resignation as a result.

On the same day in the weekly Pecat, apropos the conference on "Asymmetric Wars" and the honorary doctorate given to Michael Walzer, we published a critical text titled "Downfall by Philosophy," in which we showed the moral and academic collapse of the administration of Belgrade University for having awarded an honorary doctorate to a person who advocated the bombing and ground invasion against Serbia.

On June 20, we participated in another installment of the Atlantis show on Belgrade Radio, further articulating philosophical, political, and academic critiques of what we were now referring to as the Walzer affair. We demonstrated the historical significance -- as well as precedents -- for Belgrade University's stunning behavior.

A subsequent critical commentary about the honorary doctorate given to Michael Walzer, criticizing the intellectual elite at Belgrade University, was published in the weekly Nedeljni Telegraf on July 23rd. The following day, we persisted, composing a summary commentary regarding the events concerning the honorary doctorate: from the opening of the conference on "Asymmetric Wars," and the award ceremony in the Rectorate, to the Rector's explanations to the press on the matter, made on June 18th.

Our targeted and repeated public interventions ultimately had an effect on the academic community. On June 28th -- not quite two weeks after Walzer received Serbia's highest academic honor -- a group of university professors sent the University Senate a demand that the honorary doctorate be revoked. Over the course of the summer of 2010, over 250 professors, Ph.Ds, and assistants signed this demand. It became clear that expressions of discomfort -- if not outright outrage -- regarding the University's actions had begun to be heard.

As the affair gathered steam in the public, the weekly Svedok published the text of the Recommendation, originating from the Faculty of Political Sciences that an honorary doctorate be awarded to Michael Walzer, as well as our accompanying analysis of this text, entitled "Dirty Morals and Clean Hands" (reproduced here).

On July 15, the Senate of Belgrade University established a Working Group of the Committee on University Honors, tasked with examining all the circumstances that led to awarding the honorary doctorate to Michael Walzer. It was to issue a report on its findings in September 2010, upon return from the summer break.

On September 22nd, the Working Group of the Committee on University Honors concluded "that the Faculty of Political Sciences has offered in its recommendation inaccurate and incomplete information, for it did not point out that Professor Walzer was calling for a land invasion of our country." This report was adopted by the Senate of Belgrade University on September 27th. Significant is the report's finding that the honorary doctorate was awarded on the basis of deception, and the recognition by the Senate acknowledges that it had committed an error. No action, however, was taken as a result. By the time of this Senate meeting, the above-mentioned Petition of the university professors had already gathered 260 signatures. This was not deemed a sufficient reason for the Senate to take it into serious consideration at its meeting.


3. Dirty Morals and Clean Hands


In this segment we provide the text of the Recommendation from the Faculty of Political Sciences at Belgrade University to the University Senate proposing that an honorary doctorate be awarded to Michael Walzer. In our initial published reactions regarding the honorary doctorate given to the American Professor Michael Walzer and in our other reactions with respect to this affair, we had not considered the matters of competence and expertise of either the laureate or the nominating party. However, the reactions to our engagement by the official nominating organization, the Faculty of Political Sciences, compelled us to also take these aspects into consideration. This is what we are undertaking in this text by critically examining the contents of the official Recommendation submitted by this Faculty to the University Senate providing an explanation of why in their minds Walzer merits such an important recognition.

In what follows, we focus on the quality, factual underpinnings, and scholarly value of the argumentation contained in the Recommendation. The original text of the Recommendation is reproduced in the italics and it is "interrupted" by our analytical commentaries. We end with a general conclusion.




On the occasion of his participation at the ILECS conference

Could this really be a legitimate reason? In our Protest of June 14th we pointed out that the conference itself is problematic. In our text from Pecat of June 18th we explained to what extent Walzer and ILECS (in its original conception) (1) are incompatible. However, none of this is known to those making the recommendation as they had never taken part in the conference nor could they then recognize the discontinuity in the nature of ILECS that emerged.

and visit to the Faculty of Political Sciences at the Belgrade University, it is recommended to the Instructional-Scientific Council and the University Senate that professor Michael Walzer be awarded the title Doctor Honoris Causa, honorary doctor.

The text of this Recommendation, as we can see, was adopted by the Instructional-Scientific Council of the Faculty of Political Sciences, which gave it credibility so the University Senate could receive it on good faith. We shall soon see how much consideration the recommending party from the Faculty of Political Sciences gave to this trust.

Michael Walzer is Professor emeritus at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA.

Professor of what, exactly? Why is this information omitted? What did he teach before becoming emeritus? Is this not mentioned because he lacks a specific specialization or is it due to some other "unpleasant" facts?

Why is the mentioned Institute "prestigious"? Is it because it is situated in Princeton? That wouldn't necessarily follow. Such institutes exist at many universities in the US, and this one isn't particularly significant for the research that goes on there. The Institute was initially conceived as a sanctuary for scientists who on the eve of WWII were escaping from Hitler's Germany, but were not considered suitable by mandarin academia to work with students because they had socialist or communist leanings. Anti-Semitism was still a shameful reality in universities as well. Along with Albert Einstein, the Institute welcomed Johann von Neumann, Kurt Gödel, Paul Dirac, Edward Vitel, Robert Oppenheimer, and others; a colorful crowd on the spectrum from physics and mathematics to philosophy and arts. It was because of these great minds -- trained in the very scientific tradition that we will not accept to see demeaned at the University of Belgrade -- that the institute acquired its prestige: from these brilliant exiles, targeted for death at home, and viewed with a shameful suspicion in their new land.

Professor Walzer is one of the most influential living political philosophers

Here comes a "pleasant fact"! But where did the authors of the Recommendation get the idea that Walzer is a philosopher, when he isn't a philosopher even by profession? This is also in contradiction with the text below where it is stated that he obtained a degree in political science (which is also false since his Ph.D. is in Government, and before that he received a BA in History). And if he is a philosopher, why isn't the Philosophy Faculty recommending him? Should we ask colleagues from there if they would recommend "the greatest living philosopher"? Of course they would, but this most certainly would not be Walzer. And if, for example, Richard Falk were to come to attend ILECS (he had, in fact, expressed the desire to attend the Belgrade sessions, but due to scheduling conflicts, provided written contributions instead) should he, as a leading theoretician of international relations, be recommended for honoris causa by the Philosophy Faculty? Why was it necessary for the Faculty of Political Sciences to dress up a political theorist as a philosopher? Even Walzer's Wikipedia page states that his most important contribution is to "communitarianism" in political theory, and political theory in the U.S., as it is the case here in Serbia, is not philosophy but is studied in political science, government studies, or public administration and policy schools.

and activist critical intellectuals

Now, what would that be? And what would a university have to do with it? A critical intellectual, if it is someone who has thinking as a "general vocation," has an opinion about everything and writes about it -- what sort of importance could that have from the perspective of a criterion for awarding such a high recognition by Belgrade University? How was it that this critical intellectual was selected and not another who would actually have made a contribution to cultural connections between his country and Serbia? What important thing did he criticize in order to be nominated, and is it important that it be significant also for this country and its highest academic institution? We shall see that no such thing exists -- nothing, but this is of no concern to the recommending party. In connection to the program of the critical intellectual as a thinker of "general vocation" it is further stated:

He has wide ranging interests and has written about a wide variety of topics: economic justice and the welfare state, toleration, political obligation, revolutions, just and unjust war, political radicalism, nationalism, etc.

This is taken from his Wikipedia page and could indicate that he is not a first-class author. The latter type of author focuses on a single area and works at it for years. And the issue of the criterion emerges: Why should Walzer's apparent indiscriminate writing practices be anything positive from the perspective of the Belgrade University? Could it be that he in fact is not a new Renaissance man, but perhaps just a glorified academic jack-of-all-trades and master of none? In any event, it means little whether this reflects legitimate eclecticism or hyperactivity. What matters is again the lack of connection to the purposes and academic goals of Belgrade University.

Besides academic work he is well known for his intellectual activism and leftist orientation.

Mystifications continue. This statement is meaningless unless a distinction is made between the understandings of the left here (in Serbia) and in the U.S. First, have we not left behind the (communist) times when leftist orientation was the crucial argument for having an academic career? What significance does that have today from the perspective of Belgrade University, and does this mean that the quality of his research is better if he is a leftist? Besides, what could the emphasis on the leftist orientation really mean when it is made by a Faculty that used to be a bastion of socialist self-management, and after the structural change (in the time of "democracy") has been known for years now as a domestic bastion of neoliberalism? And while they would look at a local leftist only with resentment and ridicule, they appear ready to fawning in front of a foreign one, a Western at that. In the farcical fusion of these two attitudes we end up with a recommendation by a Faculty at the University of Belgrade promoting an impenitent proponent of neoliberal imperialism while for domestic purposes they are masking him as a leftist. Clever it is, perhaps. But also deceptive!

But what does leftist orientation mean in the U.S.? (That it is something entirely different over there: see in Neil Jumonville, Critical Crossing, Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1990.) If leftist orientation in a minimalist sense demands opposition to imperialism, then Walzer is a right-winger par excellence, for he supported every war that was started by a democratic administration in the U.S. and every Israeli war. What sort of leftist is one who supports "democratic" wars (those waged by the Democratic party in the U.S.) for the sake of spreading the power of American corporations? In addition, Walzer's is an endowed professorship, one established by a global corporation, the UPS. If that fails to strike us as very leftist we should be forgiven (and we should know, we were both raised in a communist country). However, should we leave aside the above characterization as inaccurate or meaningless, the question of the criterion appears again: Why should that be important or positive from the point of view of the Belgrade University?

His name is on the list of one hundred most influential world intellectuals voted for by the readers of the journal Foreign Affairs and the British Prospect Magazine.

Did those readers vote for this list or did they vote for the intellectuals whose name will appear on it? Sloppy formulations like this and silly praises of this kind are incompatible with a prose by responsible scholars who are serious about the task of justifying a recommendation that a foreign colleague should be recognized with a honoris causa. What is, after all, the scientific reputation of these two publications so that opinions of their readers would hold any significance for Belgrade University? Foreign Affairs is a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This is a private club formed in New York in 1921 with the purpose of promoting "understanding of foreign policy and America's role in the world." (By deploying activist intellectuals like Walzer the promotion of CFR propaganda -- or in their terminology "understanding" -- goes quite smoothly.) Carroll Quigley, Professor of History at Georgetown University, stated, "The Council of Foreign Relations is the American Branch of a society which originated in England and believes national boundaries should be obliterated and one-world rule established." (2) CFR is one of the three most influential organizations in the West, founded and financed by David Rockefeller. Now, who are those "readers" referred to in the Recommendation and why exactly are they, the so-called CFRians, relevant for any academic institution, such as Belgrade University?

As for the Prospect Magazine, it is an unserious publication when assessed from any academic standard: It is broadly centre-left and pro-European, but perhaps its strongest leaning is "contrarian" -- it devotes much space to articles debunking the "popular wisdom," on topics from economics to political terrorism. Hence, it is a publication without any recognizable academic merit in order to be of any importance whatsoever to Belgrade University.

Michael Walzer was born in 1935. In 1956 he graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History. He then studied at the University of Cambridge (1956-1957) and Harvard. He completed his doctoral work at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in Government in 1961.

Consequently, Walzer neither studied philosophy as an undergraduate nor was he trained in philosophy in his doctoral work; he is untutored in philosophy. The claim in the Recommendation that this is the "greatest political philosopher" is that much more surprising since Walzer, as a political scientist, is only known as a "professor of social sciences" at the Institute for Advanced Studies. That he never graduated in Philosophy would not be of crucial importance had he shown in his work a philosophical nerve. However, Walzer himself acknowledges that philosophical writing about politics was not something he could successfully do, for, as he put it, philosophical "thought experiments" get on his nerves. And this can only mean that he has no understanding of the essence of philosophical thinking and argumentation. Here is the offending quote: "But I did make an effort to write about politics in a more philosophical way. I don't think that I ever managed real philosophy. I couldn't breathe easily at the high level of abstraction that philosophy seemed to require, where my friends in the group were entirely comfortable. And I quickly got impatient with the playful extension of hypothetical cases, moving farther and farther away from the world we all lived in." (3) Truth be told, these are words characteristic of a person with not a grain of talent for philosophy. And this is why Walzer went on to reviving medieval Jesuit casuistry as his "methodology," i.e., something for which no one should be rewarded in Serbia (or anywhere else outside the Vatican).

Walzer was first employed as a professor in (1961-1966) by Princeton University, Harvard (1966-1980), and since 1980 he has been a Permanent Faculty Member in the School of Social Science at the IAS. At Harvard, Walzer taught a celebrated semester-long course with Robert Nozick in 1971 called "Capitalism and Socialism." The course was a debate between the two about their views on social justice.

This is copy-pasted straight from Wikipedia, except for the added word: "celebrated." What could that mean? Internet searches bring no evidence that this was a course in any way "celebrated," except that Walzer mentions it in his interviews and in the Introduction to his book Spheres of Justice. Here again we are forced to wonder about the criterion of importance for Belgrade University: What about the fact that Walzer co-taught some course with Nozick at Harvard in 1971? Since Robert Nozick is, of course, a hugely important political philosopher, this looks like a desperate ploy to increase Walzer's rating by hanging his name to Nozick's. And why not hook his wagon to the genuinely celebrated course taught by Nozick and John Rawls?

He taught at universities around the world and he is a member of the Board of Heidelberg University. He is a long-term editor of the journal Dissent, and editorial member of Philosophy and Public Affairs, Political Theory, and The New Republic. Professor Walzer is the recipient of prestigious international awards, including Spinoza Lens, a bi-annual prize for ethics in The Netherlands, and the German Dr. Leopold Lucas prize.

Another segment in the Recommendation largely taken from Wikipedia, but it is interesting for what is omitted. Why is there no mention that Walzer holds an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University? Is this in order to suggest that the Belgrade University would be the first honorary doctorate for him? That makes things even worse, perhaps, suggesting that we might be the first to have noticed his greatness.

To date, he has written 27 books and published over 300 articles. Among the most noted are Just and Unjust Wars (1977), Spheres of Justice (1983), Interpretation and Social Criticism (1987), On Toleration (1997), Arguing About War (2004). Professor Walzer was one of the editors of the big edition of The Jewish Political Tradition. His books (about 15 translated titles) are translated in more than twenty languages. His books translated into Serbian are Spheres of Justice and What It Means to Be an American.

What is the significance from the perspective of Belgrade University of this second title, and to what genre does it belong? Is it psychiatry, pedagogy, or a self-help manual on the theme "how to become (un)desirable in the contemporary world"? Whatever it might be, it has no apparent significance in the current context.

The secondary literature includes more than a thousand titles, and a great number of distinguished journals in political theory including Ethics and International Affairs, Polity, Philosophy and Social Criticism have published thematic issues about his works.

The position of Michael Walzer has been differently described.

What position? In political theory or politics? Those who were composing the Recommendation appear to have lost their train of thought.

Usually as a communitarian, but also as radical democratic, social-democratic or liberal. The reason for that clearly is the originality and multi layered character of his works that resist simplistic classification and labeling.

Why is a theorist automatically "original" when confusions exist even with respect to the characterization of the position in favor of which he is supposedly arguing? Within the "big tent" of liberalism -- that broad strain of thought originating in the Enlightenment and now perhaps distorted to the point of parody, in say, the starkly anti-humanist neoliberalism -- there do exist variants, and of course, internal disputes and refinements. Walzer's commitments suggest "originality" to the extent that the general compatibility between most tenets of liberalism and the cultural relativism inherent in communitarianism is far from obvious. Perhaps it is less of a stretch to find communitarianism consistent with democracy in the U.S. than it is in Europe, where it is often seen as contrary to secular, republican, and yes, democratic political values. This was not lost on at least one American political theorist, Judith Shklar (another brilliant Jewish émigrée the U.S. won as a result of the Hitler's bellicose expansionism), who in a presidential address to the American Political Science Association, sharply criticized Walzer's conception of democracy as exemplified by groups and clubs, his love of "Athens," and his conception of moral judgment as based on citizens' "shared understandings." Walzer's groups and clubs, Shklar argued, were not the idealized, virtuous collectivities he imagined, but rather closer, in reality, to the "Teamsters Union, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Anti-Saloon League." (4) Have the authors of the Recommendation ever heard of Judith Shklar?, we would like to ask.

The reason why Walzer, along with Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre, is identified as one of the leading proponents of communitarianism is because he believes that political theory must be grounded in the traditions and culture of particular societies.

Why is this "belief" even worth mentioning? It represents such a basic point that it is well known to any senior in sociology. How such trivial belief could be the reason why someone emerges as "one of the leading proponents of communitarianism"? Perhaps it can be so only in case the claim is news for the authors of the Recommendation. And what about the traditions and culture of Serbia, Belgrade, and Belgrade University?

For this reason one should be careful regarding interventionist policies and accept a degree of cultural relativism.

This sentence means nothing. Who in the name of caution should accept cultural relativism: the interventionist politic makers or the communitarian theorist? If at stake is a policy, why the empty normativism (the "should")? Will this caution make the policy less interventionist and gentler? What is the point of this fusion of "apples and oranges"?

However, Walzer also accepts that a certain minimal non-relativist moral core valid for all societies must exist, and that it includes prohibitions of slavery, genocide, and serious crimes committed by the state.

What is evident from this remark about what Walzer "accepts" is that neither Walzer nor the authors of the claim are philosophers, for they fail to recognize a well understood point: the statement trivially follows from the universality of morality. And when one emphasizes what should be common knowledge, this appears like a rediscovery of the wheel.

For this reason Walzer's solution is atypical for the communitarian authors, it recognizes political and cultural specificities and the preservation of state sovereignty as the best means for protecting small and less powerful states from imperial policies, but it demands minimal respect of human rights as the condition for the recognition of the right to self determination of communities.

Confusion abounds in this passage. First, the recognition of political and cultural particularities is in fact typical for all communitarian authors. Secondly, how is it possible to claim that Walzer favors respect for sovereignty of small and weak states when he urged interventions all around the globe, such as bombing of Yugoslavia, and the wrestling away a part of its territory: Kosovo and Metohija? Isn't Walzer in contradiction with himself when he advocates both respect for human rights, including the right of self-determination for minority communities, which inevitably leads to violations of state sovereignty, and also favors respect of that sovereignty? And in any event, how exactly does he think that sovereignty will protect a small or weak state from the imperialist policies of powerful states? Doesn't this paragraph appear like a dog's breakfast of ideas that entirely lack in clarity?

Because of the importance he gives to the right of self-determination many have considered his theory to be radically-democratic.

In one sense this it true and makes his theory extremely functional from the perspective of American imperial and interventionist policies based on the "sovereignty of citizen" as "endangered minorities." But, it is also a sign of a contradiction in it, for sovereignty cannot be defended as a value while at the same time viewing positively the fracturing of the state by supporting any "self-determination."

Walzer's most important intellectual contributions include his theory of "complex equality," and revitalization of just war theory. The theory of "complex equality," he presented in the book Spheres of Justice as a response to the celebrated A Theory of Justice by Rawls holds that the metric of just equality is not some single material or moral good, but rather that egalitarian justice demands that each good be distributed according to its social meaning, and that no good (like money or political power) be allowed to dominate or distort the distribution of goods in other spheres; and an argument that justice is primarily a moral standard within particular nations and societies, not one that can be developed in a universalized abstraction. This book presents one of three most influential theories of justice in the last decades of the twentieth century.

Again with help from Wikipedia we see the authors of the Recommendation make an irresponsible claim. It is indefensible to place an original thinker like Rawls on a par with some critic, commentator, and opponent of his, like Walzer. Rawls is today an American classic who is compared to Hobbes in significance (as Americans like to say to us Europeans: "You have Hobbes, we have Rawls"), a stature that Walzer will never attain, because there is no basis for that. With his book Spheres of Justice he can only have secondary importance and will remain as such, just like the legions of critics (and apologists) who in the 1970s flooded the pages of journals and built their careers criticizing Rawls.

Professor Walzer is also credited with compelling revitalization of just war theory that was abandoned in the name of humanitarian law and the theory of humanitarian intervention.

This is scandalous! The authors of the Recommendation are suggesting that the narrative about "just war" goes against the idea of "humanitarian intervention." We are supposed to believe that Walzer with his story of "just wars" is opposing the idea of justified "humanitarian interventions." While this would be good news, it is simply false as Walzer is a proponent of humanitarian interventions and since he dislikes "abstract philosophical experiments" he was very concretely in favor of bombing Yugoslavia as precisely an example of justified humanitarian intervention or "just" war. A just war for Walzer is an aggression of a powerful state against a weak one that takes advantage of a rebellion by minorities in order to destroy and colonize the weak state, but with the alibi of there being "as little casualties and suffering as possible." To moralize about just war is to put things on their head. Similarly, the distortions by the authors of the Recommendation can deceive only those who don't have a duty to be familiar with this "great thinker," but are in the position to judge the wisdom of the recommendation.

He believes that it is necessary to weigh both the reasons for waging the war and the way it is conducted, and not only the means used by the warring parties.

Here again the lack of understanding by the authors of the Recommendation is glaring. What is the difference between the "way a war is conducted" and the "means used"? How the authors would explain this is mysterious, for it is a meaningless distinction without difference.

Principal rules are the rule of proportionality and absolute noncombatant immunity from war.

Sounds seductive, but the trouble is that Walzer himself opposed all proportionality-based arguments when he wrote about Israel's attack on Gaza. This is detailed in Jokic's "Michael Walzer's Sense Of Proportionality: Another Casualty In Israel's Offensive Against Gaza?" (5)

Not to mention the difficulties that "immunization of non-combatants" presents, however, during the NATO aggression, the only concern appears to have been "immunization" of the pilots dropping deadly ordinances from the dangers of combat, which is evidently why they flew above ten thousand feet.

His theory insists on the importance of ethics in wartime while eschewing pacifism as an untenable position. Hence his ambivalent attitude towards NATO intervention in Serbia and sharp opposition to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is the biggest lie in the Recommendation. Walzer never had an "ambivalent attitude," which he confirmed during his visit to Belgrade admitting he was surprised to hear that he would receive the honoris causa "because of his support for the NATO intervention." What is more, in 1999 Walzer was in agreement with then Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark, when he lauded "the not-so-efficient air assault as ultimately just." (6) This is a case of prostituting the so-called theory of "just" war. It is precisely Walzer's own use of the "theory" in this way (and in more than one case) that signifies the moral and intellectual dishonor of the academic community, as one of those who have done the most to destroy whatever value the theory might have had by turning it into a means of political apologetics. (7)

This is why the formulation by the authors of the Recommendation -- presumably written by someone with an academic title -- is so shocking (as something that was done in Belgrade). At the very least Belgrade must be the place where it is perfectly clear that the events of 1999 were an illegal aggression on a state that did not attack anyone, and those with academic titles who wish to recommend someone for an honorary doctorate have the obligation to be informed about the views of the one who they are in this way promoting.

He was in the group of 58 intellectuals who signed the Manifesto against war campaigns of the US President George Bush in the wake of terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

And what about it? This is yet another reason in support of giving him the honorary doctorate? What is the value or relevance of Walzer's signature against the Bush wars for Belgrade University? Why didn't he demonstrate against the bombing of Yugoslavia -- so that the nomination of Walzer for this honor would make at least some sense -- but, instead, he was a loud proponent of that bombing, yet this did not mitigate against nominating him as it obviously should have (even apparently in his mind). It is not difficult, however, to answer why Walzer was not demonstrating against the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999: In the U.S., "critical public intellectuals" are partisan opinion makers whose role is to offer high brow or low brow support (as the case might be) to the policies of the political party that implements them when in power. Michael Walzer is close to "democratic" policies (which, of course, does not make him a leftist, for the Democratic party in the U.S. is equally right wing as the Republican party). As a "democrat," in the sense that refers to political parties in the U.S., and not a "democrat" in the usual sense, Walzer defended Clinton wars and his bombings of Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but opposed the Bush wars (until he learned to accept, then embrace them as post bellum occupations). The opposite is done by "talking heads" that are ostensibly from the right, who attacked the Clinton wars but defended those started by Bush. That both groups, however, are at hand when serving apologia for American imperialism is of critical importance to move the public to support any war (regardless of which party is in power that is starting it). (8) Thus, we could predict that in case of a combined US and Israeli attack on Iran (or some such place in the Arab world rich in oil) under the Obama administration, Walzer would support it using some version of his adaptable (hence morally suspect) story about "just" war. (9) Such is the nature of his casuistic "methodology," perfect for institutionalizing hypocrisy.

Secondly, we must point that the alleged Manifesto against Bush wars, supposedly signed by Walzer, may not exist. If the authors of the Recommendation are referring to the so-called "Euston Manifesto" (10) it is in no way against Bush wars. In fact, it supports the US occupation of Iraq, as one commenter sums it up perfectly: "Translation: the signers proclaim that the Left should be helping, not opposing, the US occupation of Iraq. After all, teaching the backward natives the art of self-government is part of the White Man's Burden!" (11) But, there is a document that more closely resembles a "Manifesto Against Bush Wars" composed by Walzer's colleagues, political scientists. (12) The awkward truth here, however, is that Walzer did not sign it, perhaps because he does not want to be seen as an international relations scholar or political scientist, but as a philosopher.

His academic and public engagement Professor Walzer directs towards spreading the idea of social justice, democracy, and the establishment of a tolerant regime of international regime.

Strictly speaking this is yet another untruth. The statement is defensible only if the method for spreading the said values is taken into account: by way of "humanitarian interventions" or "just" wars that the Sixth fleet conducts here and there around the globe, in order to "protect citizens from their undemocratic regimes." Walzer supports such interventions (13) while believing that they bring about justice, democracy, and cessation of suffering. However, he is yet to draw an ex post facto critical lesson of the price of such support, in light of massive casualties and suffering "interventions" inevitably cause.

His great contribution is to have shown that concrete problems of our time can be addressed with the apparatus of political theory and political philosophy that used to be considered abstract disciplines removed from political reality.

What is going on here? Had somebody written this about a local colleague he would be ridiculed for decades. Will someone really think that the world had to wait for Walzer to reveal that the concepts of political theory and political philosophy can be applied to concrete problems? This is indicative of a total intellectual impotence by the authors of the Recommendation as they struggle to formulate something impressive about their nominee. But they only manage to degrade the "great thinker" as this suggests that in reality he lacks the great contribution that would recommend him. If he had made such a contribution, it would be easy to point to it concretely.

As to what concerns the application of normative philosophical ideas to the problems of our time (i.e., applied ethics) this was originated in the 1970s with James Rachels's work on euthanasia and Judith Jarvis Thompson's paper on abortion, for what they have done involves precisely the application of abstract philosophical concepts -- deploying famous philosophical thought experiments that Walzer so deplores -- to concrete problems. Since that time it was entirely unnecessary for Walzer to contribute anything to philosophy, something he never even attempted since, as he put it, he never "managed real philosophy." Hence, this paragraph consists of only trivialities and untruths. And even if what is stated here were completely true, why should anyone at the Faculty of Political Sciences care about it?

What is necessary in order to gain an adequate understanding and appraisal of the political conditions in the world of today is a complex theoretical mechanism and careful assessment or arguments and counterarguments without moral arrogance and self-confidence that leads to a simplified black and white picture of the world.

Who is it that in contrast to Walzer sees the world in black and white? These are generic and trivial claims without serious justification. When did the counterarguments of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan have any merit for Walzer? Never! At issue are in fact the orchestrated counterarguments at conferences where groupthink happens and "just" war is discussed in an atmosphere of scholastic debate on subtleties.

Decades long editing of the journal Dissent which fosters a leftist and anti-imperialist orientation testifies to such an attempt.

This is simply hilarious! Dissent magazine was founded in 1954 by Irving Howe, Lewis A. Coser, Henry Pachter, and Meyer Schapiro. (14) This group together with Sidney Hook (the only philosopher among them and a rabid anti-communist), Irving Kristol, and Norman Podhoretz (the latter was a leading neoconservative in the last Bush administration) were part of the so-called Congress for Cultural Freedom. This Congress was organized and lavishly funded by the C.I.A. with the aim of controlling what is publicized by alleged "leftist" intellectual circles and in reality fake leftist magazines. (15) Today this is so well known that on the C.I.A.'s own Web site it features an article that proudly details this construction of the fake left. (16) In any case, it is no longer an unknown fact that the C.I.A. controls all enduring leftist circles in the U.S., which makes the left in the new world a deception, more like a pop-culture pose than anything. (17) It is hardly engaging in polemics to recommend that readers not be satisfied by the self-identification of publications (or individuals, for that matter) -- in particular if they were established or gained prominence during the Cold War and in even more so if they advertise their leftist credentials -- it was the local and Western European left that was the prize in the Cold War propaganda battles, and it is now known that the ideological battlefield extended to almost every discipline in Western academia, but in particular in faculties of Political Science. (18) In other words, it is imprudent to take "left" on faith: caveat emptor!

Consequently, the claim by the authors of the Recommendation that Dissent magazine is a leftist and anti-imperialist publication reveals cluelessness, and ignorance of elementary facts. Leaving this lack of minimal due diligence aside, yet again the question about the criterion of importance for Belgrade University must be raised: Suppose Dissent is a leftist and anti-imperialist magazine, what did that bring us, did they speak out against the bombing of Yugoslavia? They did not, quite to the contrary. Dissent magazine since a good while ago hasn't been, if indeed it ever was, critical towards American hegemony, but it serves as a platform for attacking true anti-imperialist intellectuals. (19) It practices dissent in name alone.

An attempt strongly inspired by the ideals of justice an international tolerance, to actively influence in a theoretically demanding way the practical politics. It is a promotion of the culture of dialogue, which distinguishes violence and dominance from an exchange of arguments.

Walzer's editing of Dissent magazine influences "practical politics"? That is completely unrealistic. What is more likely is that it serves to justify what Democrats are doing in international relations and attack what Republicans are doing (even though in reality both are doing the same thing: developing Pax Americana) in order to create an illusion of influence and justify policies put in place by Democrats as being allegedly a result of fruitful dialog.

As a leading political philosopher of today

No sentence in this Recommendation supports this claim, while almost every paragraph exhibits only contrary evidence: that the claim is in fact completely groundless.

Professor Walzer will on June 17 open the international conference on international law and ethics, The International Law and Ethics Conference Series (ILECS). These conferences have since 1996 attracted leading moral, legal, and political philosophers in the organization by Professor Jovan Babic and Dr. Petar Bojanic

At the Faculty of Political Sciences until this scandal they knew nothing about ILECS. This is why it is unsurprising that the authors of this document are writing elementary falsehoods about the history of this project (for more on this, see Pecat of June 18, 2010).

with support from Serbian Philosophical society and the department of Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy. On this occasion translations into Serbian of two books by Michael Walzer will be published (Just and Unjust Wars, published by Sluzbeni Glasnik, and Politics and Philosophy published by Albatros Plus) and Professor Walzer will give a lecture at the Faculty of Political Sciences, as part of the graduate course on "Theories of Justice." At the Faculty of Political Sciences several graduating theses were written dealing with the Walzer's theory of justice, and a number of Master and Ph.D. dissertations have been devoted to his contributions to political philosophy of communitarianism. Walzer's theory about spheres of justices is studied in several courses at the Faculty of Political Sciences ("The History of Political Theories," "Theories of Justice," and "The Politics of Resistance and Civil Disobedience").

All of this is of secondary importance and testifies to the crudeness and sloppiness of the authors of this text. The second book is improperly cited, the title is Morality and Dirty Hands: Philosophy, Politics, and War and it isn't a translation of an existing book by Walzer but a selection of his essays on the problem of dirty hands. But even if everything stated in this paragraph were correct the question would have to be asked: All right, but why should he be given an honorary doctorate for any of this? There are dozens of authors whose work is the subject of graduate theses and whose books are translated into Serbian, and none of them were recommended for this recognition.

We believe that recognizing Michael Walzer by giving him the honorary doctorate would contribute to the affirmation of the university in the world and would be an incentive for international cooperation.

The Recommendation, as can be seen from our analysis, is without basis. None of the presented claims can amount to a set of sufficient reasons that would support a nomination for this high honor. As far as the work of Michael Walzer is concerned, our intention was not to negate its value, but to point out that at best it cannot be set apart from dozens of other authors who will never be nominated for the recognition in question. As we have emphasized before, the work by itself cannot be sufficient for the award. This Recommendation fails to show that Walzer has made any contribution to the scholarly cooperation between Belgrade University that awards the honor and any segment of American culture or academic community. The only kind of cooperation that can be recognized is one with the official Washington, whose policies are framed within Walzer's theory of "just" war. But, then, the partner cannot be Belgrade University, nor even the state of Serbia, which is in this respect forced into a delicate balancing act, but only a perverted ILECS -- entirely deprived of its original conception and purpose (20) -- which is explicitly singled out as the occasion for awarding this high honor to Walzer. Hence, even after our detailed analysis, we only know the occasion, but not the reason for honoris causa.

Consequently, speaking of a contribution to the "affirmation of the university in the world" (which is the line repeatedly heard during this scandal from the Faculty of Political Sciences), as a result of recognizing the kind of zealous laborer like the laureate in question can only be a form of dilettantism and cynicism.

The Recommendation from the Faculty of Political sciences ends with the date:

In Belgrade, March 29, 2010 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - No signatures by authors


4. General Conclusion


Our textual analysis of the Recommendation demonstrates that it is unsound; it contains falsehoods and dangerously misleading claims, many of its assertions are ungrounded, revealing ignorance, unbefitting university professors. It looks to redeem itself by relying on political claims with no scholarly merit, it is composed on an ideological propagandistic model, structured in a sloppy way, and at times it is even ungrammatical (possibly because of too direct translation from English, English Wikipedia at that or only English-speaking handlers). When we take into account that despite the utter poverty of this document, it nonetheless served as a sufficient basis for actually awarding the honorary doctorate to Michael Walzer, then the scandal acquires an entirely unexpected dimension. For we can rightly conclude that the procedure that led to a successful award ceremony had involved a twofold deception. The authors of the Recommendation deserve to be sanctioned by their institution because they deceived the Instructional-Scientific Council of the Faculty of the Political Sciences, while this Faculty deserves reprobation for betraying the Senate of Belgrade University and its Rector.

It stands to reason that nominations for such high honors are received on the basis of trust in the judgments coming from the nominating Faculty as a competent institution, that the members of the Senate, whose decision is final, and the Rector himself, are not obligated to be experts in a given field as a precondition for being able to follow a procedure resulting in an informed decision. To that extent the actor most responsible for this scandal is the Faculty of Political Sciences, primarily for approving at its Council meeting of April 22, 2010, a recommendation like this one, which by itself is an example of academic outrage. Additionally scandalous is the fact that the document representing an official "recommendation" was printed on paper without the letterhead and without the signature of its authors. Hence, to this day it remains unknown who actually authored it. Is it really possible that such a document actually made it all the way to the University Senate?

As for the candidate, now already laureate, we have seen that what sets this political scientist apart is not the quality of his scholarship (at least a dozen scholars exist who are in that domain stronger than him) but his intellectual activism; he operates as an "expert publicist" specialized in promoting American interventionism nicely wrapped into the theories about "just" war and "humanitarian interventions," that is bombing of everyone who stands in the way of this neoimperialism (assuming they are too weak to mount a "counter blow"). What remains especially enigmatic is why did the nominating party choose to conceal the fact that Walzer was a proponent of the bombing of Serbia and a supporter of suppressing Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo and Metohija, when he himself did not conceal it at the award ceremony?

What we have presented here offers yet another reason for the University to react, rescind the bestowed recognition, revoke the honorary doctorate, and sanction the Faculty of Political Sciences for its irresponsible act. If this is not done, there would be no reason not to continue with this practice, and award other similar candidates, like Xavier Solana, Bill Clinton, or General Clark, and other heroes of 1999, including numerous "laptop killers," foreign and domestic "antiwar profiteers," who are proud of their similar activism and who probably applaud this candidacy but understand that it is still not the right time to say it publicly.


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About the Author

Aleksandar Jokic is a professor at Portland State University where he teaches courses in moral philosophy and international justice. Milan Brdar is a professor of philosophical methodology and social science at Novi Sad University, Serbia.   (back)


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1.  The start of ILECS can be considered a pair of conferences on "War Crimes and Collective Responsibility" that took place at Belgrade University on June 21, 1997, and the University of California, Santa Barbara on November 14-16, 1997. The conference series, therefore, was begun (by Professor Jokic and Professor Babic) in the period of fierce, comprehensive sanctions against Yugoslavia, which included barriers for Serbian scholars to participate at international events. The idea, hence, was for ILECS to consist of a conference that brings international scholars every June to Belgrade, with a follow-up conference in the U.S. in the fall of the same year that would include some participants from Serbia. The main objective was to soften the blow of sanctions while respecting the law that might frustrate to some degree the "civilized and democratic" attempt by the Western powers to crush everything of value, including science and philosophy, in Yugoslavia.  (back)

2.  See, Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, G. S. G. & Associates, Inc., 1975.  (back)

3.  http://jeffweintraub.blogspot.com/2003_08_01archive.html  (back)

4.  Judith Shklar, "The Work of Michael Walzer," in Political Thought and Political Thinkers, Stanley Hoffman, ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 381.  (back)

5.  http://www.swans.com/library/art15/ajokic05.html  (back)

6.  http://www. tikkun.org/article.php/Tikkun-TheAgonyofDefeat  (back)

7.  Richard Falk recognized instantly as soon as Walzer appeared on the scene as is evident already from Falk's title of his review of Walzer's notorious book: "The Moral Argument as Apologia."  (back)

8.  On this see more in Aleksandar Jokic "Get This: Imperialism Is Bipartisan" at http://www.swans.com/library/art12/aJokic01.html.  (back)

9.  Since the writing of this article in 2010, the Obama administration has indeed attacked (at least one) oil-rich Arab nation. That Walzer, with a tone halfway between the disappointed professor and the irritated prophet, chided the U.S. for its recent participation in the disastrous "R2P" project in Libya, hardly contradicts our claim regarding the untenable variability of his just war theory: indeed, Walzer's reasons for opposing the Libyan action -- in particular the lack of extreme repression worthy of humanitarian intervention -- are no more than suggested, while instead he points out which cases would have received his imprimatur. What is significant in Walzer's "just war analysis" of the Libya case is how little there is there that could be universalized by others. What we have, from a philosophical and political perspective, is what ultimately amounts to an idiosyncratic pronouncement, of the kind that only the anointed may make. Thus, Walzer's position here, as elsewhere, is that of the prophet -- as Judith Shklar has put it -- and not, sadly, although we can agree with his preference, that of a scholar, as the scholar's preference, absent justification that can be evaluated by others, is absolutely useless. Of note, finally, is that Walzer -- perhaps he is above this? -- does not deign to discuss the Security Council (and the Obama administration's) determination that in fact humanitarian motives existed to justify intervention in Libya pursuant to the new Responsibility to Protect doctrine. Where Walzer's contribution might have been of some use would have been had he had the interest to address this, but alas, his lack of practical engagement with his preferred administration's incorrect decision must speak to our initial (and constant) point. For Walzer's position on Libya, see: http://dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=462  (back)

10.  http://eustonmanifesto.org/the-euston-manifesto/  (back)

11.  http://www.counterpunch.org/farley05272006.html  (back)

12.  "Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy -- An Open Letter to the American People" (http://www.counterpunch.org/security10122004.html)  (back)

13.  See http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=740  (back)

14.  Dissent's initial funding was assured by Muriel Gardiner. Her husband, Joseph Buttinger, active in the International Rescue Committee -- once a small organization devoted to saving Jews from Germany and occupied Europe that quickly became co-opted with American intelligence agencies -- was a member of Dissent's editorial board, and signed articles supporting the US war in Vietnam in its pages. The cooption of both the left and the right by US intelligence for the pursuit of a "broad foreign policy consensus" is the object of an increasing number of detailed historical accounts. On Dissent and Buttinger, see Eric Thomas Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee and the CIA, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), 202.  (back)

15.  See: Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, (New York: New Press, 2000).  (back)

16.  See: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/95unclass/Warner.html  (back)

17.  More about this in Frances S. Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press, New York (2000), see: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000OVLNK6/sr=1-1/qid=1277568674/ref =sr_11_oe_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277568674&sr=1-1  (back)

18.  See Ido Oren, Our Enemies and US: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).  (back)

19.  See http://louisproyect.Wordpress.com/category/liberalism/  (back)

20.  In the early 1990s with the first signs of the forthcoming dismantlement of Yugoslavia from without, one of us had the opportunity to scrutinize the role that foreign money was to play, infused into the country through "nongovernmental" organizations such as Soros's "Open Society" or American quasi-independent bodies such as USAID, etc. The goal was ideological cooption of the Serbian intellectual elite that would, when the moment came (as it did in October 2000), facilitate from within the accomplishment of the goals of outside influence. For this reason, without scruples funds for organizing ILECS events were requested (through grant proposals) precisely from those organizations. The calculation was that the more money goes to projects like ILECS -- whose specific purpose was to engage in scholarly deliberation to uncover the ideological bases of the newly crafted "globalist" discourse for the sake of solidifying the US hegemony -- the less is spent on cooption.  (back)


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Published November 21, 2011