Michael Walzer examines five "regimes of toleration" - from multinational empires to immigrant societies - and describes the strengths and weaknesses of each regime, as well as the varying forms of toleration and exclusion each fosters. Walzer shows how power, class, and gender interact with religion, race, and ethnicity in the different regimes and discusses how toleration works - and how it should work - in multicultural societies like the United States. Walzer offers an eloquent defense of toleration, group differences, and pluralism, moving quickly from theory to practical issues, concrete examples, and hard questions. His concluding argument is focused on the contemporary United States and represents an effort to join and advance the debates about "culture war," the "politics of difference," and the "disuniting of America." Although he takes a grim view of contemporary politics, he is optimistic about the possibility of coexistence: cultural pluralism and a common citizenship can go together, he suggests, in a strong and egalitarian democracy.
Political philosopher (Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study; The Spheres of Justice, 1983, etc.) and social critic Walzer delivers elegantly turned, highly nuanced reflections on what it takes in a democratic society for different groups to live together in peace.
Walzer regards tolerationmaking room in society for people whose beliefs and practices you don't shareas the principal work of democratic citizens. Toleration embraces a continuum of attitudes, from simple indifference to differences; resigned acceptance of them; principled recognition of the right to be different; to curiosity and even enthusiasm about human variation. Walzer identifies five historical models or regimes that encourage toleration and ultimately presents an analysis and defense of the approach that he believes works best for a multicultural US on the threshhold of the 21st century. Unlike other multiethnic models, such as multinational empires (like the USSR, which could be repressive but ruled more evenhandedly than local majorities were likely to do) or nation-states (in which one group shapes national life but tolerates members of minority groups as individual citizens), ours is an immigrant society, and Walzer explores the distinctive qualities that tend to keep the manifold parts of America's "dispersed diversity" cohesive, despite recent contentious assertions of various group identities in public life. Since contemporary American society is not only a pluralism of groups, but also a pluralism of individuals, there's a synergy between the pull of associational life and radical individualism that functions to knit us together.
Walzer speaks of the paradoxes of power in democratic society with clarity and eloquence. He not only maintains that the US has become socially (though not economically) more egalitarian over the last 50 years, but he also confirms its capacity for further evolution, while conceding that this process may not always be harmonious.