Michael Walzer on Identity and Cultural Subjectivity

How does one judge other cultures?

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How do we identify ourselves?

Transcript: Well, we are complicated people, so, in no particular order, I am an American and a Jew and a professor and in Easterner and a fan of the New York Mets, and I had many, and very committed family man. I have many identities, and the United States has been for most of its inhabitants, a place where multiple identities are accepted and even accommodated, with some exceptions for race, I think most crucially. But for the immigrants it has been a place where you could be hyphenated American, so you could be Italian in many aspects of your cultural life; you could be an American in your citizenship and in your economic life, and the same thing is being true for Slavs and Jews and even those greater difficulty for Asian immigrants. So you want that we need a society--this is why I think of myself is a soft multi-culturist--we need a society that accommodates difference, without drawing hard boundaries for all of the different groups, so we don’t carry identity cards and the government doesn’t decide whether you are an Italian American either or Sicilian or something more complicated, because your mother was Italian American and your father was Polish American and then… The boundaries are fluid; these different identities are sustained by a core of--think of them as the core of activists, of committed people--and then there is a spreading periphery of people who identify more or less with the core and the periphery has no boundaries and it overlaps with other peripheries of other cores and that’s the way I think a decent society ought to function. And so we don’t have corporate identities and we don’t we aren’t represented exclusively as Jews or Italians or Swedes or Catholics or protestants or whatever. We don’t have corporate identities, but we can when we decide on how to vote. We can vote for a fellow Protestant if we want to or a fellow Catholic or the Italian American or not, or we can vote our ideology rather than our ethnicity or our religion and we have those options and nothing is required of us by the state.