In This Review

Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad
Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad
By Michael Walzer
University Of Notre Dame Press, 1994, 108 pp

This volume by one of America's foremost moralists makes the case for distinguishing between "minimalist" moral principles, which can be applied between cultures and across national boundaries, and "maximalist" principles, which can only apply within a given culture. Walzer argues that a scheme for a just social distribution of goods is a "thick" argument that can only be made within a single culture; opposition to genocide and tyranny are more universal moral rules. The distinction between thick and thin is particularly important in wrestling with the rights and wrongs of national, ethnic, or tribalist assertions of cultural rights such as in the former communist world. As in previous works, the rules he suggests are very useful. However, his compartmentalization of "maximalist" critiques may be an unnecessary concession to relativism given the degree of cultural homogenization that is going on in the world alongside cultural differentiation.