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Just And Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations Paperback – Jul 26 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 4 edition (July 26 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465037070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465037070
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 14 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #134,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A magnificent book, an honor to its writer... a book that makes for a return of civilised discussion of the question of the morality of war." New York Review of Books "A passionate defense of the old principle of non-combatant immunity... (He) is both thorough and persuasive in his exploration of a very intricate subject." Washington Post"

About the Author

Michael Walzer is Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, and the author of many widely heralded books, including 'Spheres of Justice, Exodus and Revolution', and 'The Company of Critics', all available from Basic Books. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa0981264) out of 5 stars 45 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa081de4c) out of 5 stars Great insight Jan. 18 2002
By G B - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Michael Walzer examines just war theory in a clear, methodical and rigorous fashion. Concrete examples clarify and flesh out the theory. It covers not just conventional warfare, but also several offshoots that have become much more relevant since the 1950: peacetime reprisals, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism. In addition, he dissects the notions of "war crimes" and official/bureaucrat/citizen responsibility for war. These analyses are especially useful as today's violent conflicts become more fragmented and in some ways "messier". Walzer's viewpoint is definitely from a left-of-center perspective (not *far* left), but I think people of any political persuasion would find reading it to be extremely insightful. He doesn't shy away from controversy yet his arguments are always well-reasoned. Highly recommended to both the layman and political scientist/philosopher, especially as we enter the uncertainty of the post-9/11 world.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa081f294) out of 5 stars Still relevant today (at 27 years old) Dec 3 2004
By Joel Velasco - Published on
Format: Paperback
After reading the Oct 2004 review of Seth J. Frantzman, I feel the need to answer his question of why Walzer does not deal with the question of Sept 11. The simple answer is that the book was first published in 1977. It is true that it is now in its third edition, but even the newest edition is 2000 and it is simply a reprint of the old edition with a new preface added. Granted, the reviewer is correct that Walzer focuses on Western conflicts (though again, the Iran-Iraq conflict also hadn't started yet when Walzer was writing) but I would have to say "Go with what you know." Walzer does a good job of setting the context for the situations that he does discuss.

In fact, the reviewer's comment that "THe question of 'just wars' was obviously aimed at the recent Iraq war" just makes Walzer's case for him. The fact that his text is still clearly relevant today makes his historical points that much more powerful. In our philosophy department there has been a major resurgence in teaching Walzer in the last 3 years for just this reason.

Even though Walzer's opinions on the current US-Iraqi war can be fairly clearly determined from "Just and Unjust Wars", if you want a more explicit version of what he would say, you should pick up "Arguing About War" which is Walzer's 2004 book of recent essays. He discusses the Iraq war explicitly, although books published in May are already a bit dated. Walzer's philosophical arguments are timeless though and need to be thought about and discussed.

I would highly recommend the book and recommend that the reader keep current conflicts in mind while reading the historical episodes of other conflicts to help put Walzer's arguments in perspective.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa081f2e8) out of 5 stars As a cadet at West Point, I read this in 1991 Aug. 8 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book was required reading in philosophy class when I was a sophomore at West Point. I recently pulled the book out of storage to review it. Was our invasion of Afghanistan a "Just War"? Would an invasion of Iraq be a "Just War"? It covers more about war than just these topics (and not specifically these actions), and it reveals that just and unjust war/fighting is not always so easy to define.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa081f468) out of 5 stars Great Book on Just War Theory March 21 2004
By Greg Feirman - Published on
Format: Paperback
Walzer's book is a superb introduction to Just War. It addresses both justice of war and justice in war. Most importantly, it is philosophical and deep while at the same time always clear and well illustrated with concrete examples and historical cases. It really could not be better written. Every chapter is concise, fascinating and provides an excellent overview/introduction to its respected subject.
The main framework for Justice of War is the legalist paradigm/domestic analogy. In society, one is allowed to defend oneself if attacked. Analagously, a country can fight a war in self defense. Similarly, if evidence is uncovered that someone is plotting a murder or robbery, domestic authorities don't have to wait until he actually commits the crime to intervene. When the evidence accumulates to a certain level, beyond reasonable doubt say, they can intervene and pre-empt him. Same thing applies on the international scale: pre-emption is legitimate. Walzer illustrates this with the Six Day War of 1967, a preemptive war initiated by Israel. Of course, the current War on Iraq is supposed to be preemptive as well. But, as Walzer shows, it is in fact preventive. Prevention is when you intervene against a known bad person or country without specific evidence of an imminent attack because one believes that this person or country would harm one if it could and it can't be allowed to gain more power, because then it will attack, even though it won't now. Or roughly that ;) Walzer claims that preventive wars sometimes lead to unnecesary wars, to wars against countries that never would have attacked. Therefore, they are unjustified; we should wait until we have sufficient evidence for plans of a definite attack at some point in the near future. I find if persausive.
The stuff on justice in war is just as good. Non-combatants should be immune since they pose no threat. But, of course, who counts as a non-combatant? What about workers in a munitions factory? What about factories pumping out clothes and supplies that the military depends on? Other rules of conduct in war such as unnecessary suffering, double effect, proportionality and torture are discussed. So is the issue of who is responsible for war: just the political leaders? Citizens, too? Very interesting stuff.
I don't completely agree with Walzer, on things like Humanitarian Intervention and some other things, but this is nevertheless a great book. Read this and "Anarchy, State and Utopia" and you'll have a great foundation for a well reasoned political philosophy.
Greg Feirman (
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa081f87c) out of 5 stars Very good. It defines some concepts which are absolutely essential in wartime and even before someone decides to go to war June 27 2007
By Dimitrios - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the most significant modern restatements of just war thinking and also a passionate defense of the old principle of noncombatant immunity. The author is both thorough and persuasive in his exploration of a very intricate subject, although some times he loses his objectivity, especially when he's treating the Israeli military responses to various challenges from state and non-state actors. Some other times he takes some sharp legalist turns whish are really difficult to follow. Of course there are many points which really impressed me with their clarity, fine logic and moral soundness: "The state that goes to war is, like our own, an enormous state, governed at a great distance from its ordinary citizens by powerful and often arrogant officials. These officials, or at least the leading among them, are chosen through democratic elections, but at the time of the choice very little is known about their programs and commitments. Political participation is occasional, intermittent, limited in its effects, and is mediated by a system for the distribution of news which is partially controlled by those distant officials and which in any case allows for considerable distortion". "Soldiers, it might be said, stand to civilians like a crew of a liner to its passengers". " I have argued that soldiers in combatcannot plead self-preservation when they violate the rules of war. For the dangers of enemy fire are simply the risks of the activity in which they are engaged, and the have no right to reduce those risks at the expense of other people who are not engaged".

In his afterword, Mr Walzer gives a chilling idea of how a population (even an unarmed one) can tear down and defeat an occupying force. "Nonviolence has been practiced (in the face of an invasion) only after violence, or the threat of violence has failed. Then its protagonists aim to deny the victorious army the fruits of its victory through a systematic policy of civilian resistance and noncooperation: they call upon the conquered people to make themselves ungovernable... They treat the aggressor in effect as a domestic tyrant or usurper, and they turn his soldiers into policemen". If you add to this recipe some dozens of IEDs daily, you have the nightmare of Iraq!