Jacob T. Levy is a valued visitor to this blog, even though I have long recognized that he and I have very different opinions on important matters, so I am very troubled by his response to some comments I made about the necessity in this life of choosing one's comrades and identifying one's enemies. I am afraid I spoke too hastily about a matter that is bound to raise the hackles on some readers. So let me explain.
I began my philosophical career persuaded that it was possible to find objective moral principles that could be established by rational argument alone. Call it my Kantian moment. I devoted a good many years to the study of Kant's moral philosophy, and finally concluded that no such rationally establishable principles exist. Instead, following the advice of a young Columbia University student in one of my classes, I concluded that in life it is necessary to decide whom to make common cause with -- in short, whom one's comrades are.
It was my experience in South Africa that convinced me that it is also necessary to recognize that there are men and women so fundamentally opposed to everything I value that reasoned discourse with them is fruitless. The defining experience for me was a dinner in Pretoria one evening with a defender of the South African system of apartheid. This man, Koos Pauw, was at that time  the number three figure in the Ministry of Education, a professor of philosophy with a first-class education. Talking with him was like talking to a really smooth, sophisticated, educated Nazi. It was obvious to me that there could be no via media for us. I was utterly committed to ending this man's way of life, and he was as committed to preserving it. I would have the same response to an encounter with a sophisticated defender of slavery -- say Thomas Jefferson.
Now, it is not necessary to take up arms against anyone with whom one has utterly irreconcilable differences about matters of the most fundamental importance. Indeed, the evils of war are so great that peaceful resolutions are always to be preferred if they are at all possible. But it would be rank hypocrisy, and quite inauthentic, for me to say that when it comes to apartheid or slavery or the equal rights of women, I can simply live and let live with those on the other side of the divide.
My guess is that Jacob T. Levy and I do not in fact disagree about these sorts of questions on which there really can be no compromise. I would like to think that our disagreements are over matters of economic and political theory, where a tactful modesty in the assertion of one's views is always to be desired. But there are people out there who are committed to racial oppression or the consigning of women to second-class status, or to denying gay men and women equal legal and social rights in contemporary America, and those people, however genial and engaging they may be in conversation, really are my enemies. I make no apology for that.