Theses Doctoral

In Socialism's Twilight: Michael Walzer and the politics of the long New Left

Marcus, David

In Socialism’s Twilight is a study of the thought and politics of Michael Walzer and the travails of democratic socialism in the second half of the twentieth century. Using the methods of intellectual and political history, it situates Walzer’s political theory and criticism in the context of what might be called the “long New Left,” the overlapping generations of radicals that stretched from the beginning of the Cold War to its end and that supplemented the left’s traditional commitments to socialism with a politics of national liberation, radical democracy, and liberalism. By doing so, the dissertation hopes to trace the development not only of Walzer’s own commitments but also those of the socialist left. Caught in a period of frequent defeat and bitter controversy, socialists found themselves forced into a state of constant revision, as they moved from the libertarian socialism of the 1950s and 60s to the social democratic coalitions of the 1970s and 80s to the liberalism and humanitarianism of the 1990s and 2000s.

Opening with the collapse of the Popular Front after World War II, the dissertation follows Walzer’s search for a new radicalism with intellectuals around Dissent and through his involvement in civil rights and antiwar activism. Examining his arguments with an older left over the Vietnam War and with a younger left over Israel, it then tracks Walzer’s movement toward the left-liberal politics of the 1970s and it concludes with chapters on his major works of normative theory and his later humanitarian interventionism. By revisiting his career, In Socialism’s Twilight seeks to identify some of the competing impulses of socialists in the second half of the twentieth century and explore the sometimes creative, sometimes unsatisfying ways they engaged with them. It also hopes to ask some questions facing the left today: How did these socialists reconcile their early commitment to radical democracy with their later one to the welfare state? How did they pair their socialism with a politics of national liberation? How did a figure like Walzer, in part radicalized by the Vietnam War, end up with a more positive view of American force? And how do the often conflicting ideals of the long New Left sit with the socialism of a new generation?

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Blake, Casey N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 9, 2019