Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,695,004 articles and books

Arrogant prophet or quintessential Canadian? Could Michael Ignatieff be both?

Ignatieff 's World: A Liberal Leader for the 21st Century? Denis Smith Denis Smith may refer to:
  • Denis Smith (cricketer), who played Test cricket for England.
  • Denis Smith (footballer), an English footballer and football manager
 James Lorimer Lor´i`mer

n. 1. A maker of bits, spurs, and metal mounting for bridles and saddles; hence, a saddler.
 & Company 168 pages, softcover ISBN-10: 1550289624 ISBN-13: 9781550289626

You can't judge a book by its cover, but its title should tell you something about what is inside, and the title of Denis Denis, king of Portugal: see Diniz.  Smith's latest work--his sixth--is problematic. To my eye, it is ungrammatical un·gram·mat·i·cal  
adj.
1. Not in accord with the rules of grammar.

2. Not in accord with standard or socially prestigious linguistic usage.



un
. How could someone's "world" lead a political party, in this century, or any other? The two parts of the title simply don't mesh. This may be more appropriate than meets the eye, however, because the core of the book--a sober, critical essay on how Michael Ignatieff This page is currently protected from editing until (UTC) or until disputes have been resolved.  came, in Smith's view, to embrace a new American imperialism--seems out of whack with the stinging polemical conclusion foreshadowed in the subtitle.

Denis Smith is a retired Canadian professor of Canadian politics with five other books to his credit: an analysis of the October crisis (Bleeding Hearts ... Bleeding Country), a biography of Walter Gordon Walter Gordon is the name of:
  • Walter A. Gordon - African-American political figure.
  • Walter L. Gordon - Canadian politician and cabinet minister.
  • Walter Gordon - a physicist active in the 1920s
 (The Gentle Patriot), a study of Canada and the early Cold War period (Diplomacy of Fear), a portrait of John Diefenbaker (Rogue Tory) and The Prisoners of Cabrera: Napoleon's Forgotten Soldiers, 1809-1814. There's not a bum title in the lot.

He begins this book on Ignatieff by setting up an odd and almost disdainful dis·dain·ful  
adj.
Expressive of disdain; scornful and contemptuous. See Synonyms at proud.



dis·dainful·ly adv.
 distance between himself and his subject. He had long had "concerns" about Ignatieff 's views, he says, but had kept them to himself, presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
adj.
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 because he believed they were "of no public significance." Until this April, that is, when Ignatieff, having first won a seat in Parliament in January's general election, announced he was running for the Liberal leadership. Suddenly, Smith writes, "his face, his voice, and his articulate views were ... thrust upon the nation." His ideas were now relevant to the Canadian electorate, and it was time for Smith to go public with his concerns.

By all accounts, Smith's included, Michael Ignatieff 's entree into Canadian politics was carefully engineered. The broad outlines will be familiar to most readers: his arrival was heralded in a breathless article in Maclean's by Peter C. Newman Peter Charles Newman, C.C., C.D., M.Comm., LL.D (born May 10 1929) is a Canadian journalist.

Born in Vienna, Austria, he emigrated from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to Canada in 1940 as a Jewish refugee. His father, Peter, was a wealthy factory owner.
 in April 2004. Then, when Prime Minister Paul Martin called the election in November 2005, Ignatieff, backed by major players in the Liberal party, was parachuted into the safe Liberal riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore over the objections of the predominantly Ukrainian Canadian A Ukrainian Canadian is a person of Ukrainian descent or origin who was born in or immigrated to Canada. In 2001 there were an estimated 1,071,060 persons residing in Canada (mainly Canadian citizens) of Ukrainian origin, making them Canada's eighth largest ethnic group, and  riding association executive. It was a noisy but well-orchestrated inauguration, one in which an easily resolvable dispute (many Ukrainian Canadians on the riding executive claimed to be upset at what they said were Ignatieff 's anti-Ukrainian sentiments in his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging) got most of the press and drowned out Drowned Out is a 2002 documentary by Franny Armstrong about the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project. It closely follows a family that is unwilling to leave its village home as the water levels of the Narmada River, mostly because the government provides them no viable  more serious concerns about how the nomination had been conducted.

Throughout the campaign, Ignatieff frequently faced hostile audiences, some of whom challenged him in the same way Smith does in this book--on his support for the war in Iraq, and his endorsement of "coercive interrogation interrogation

In criminal law, process of formally and systematically questioning a suspect in order to elicit incriminating responses. The process is largely outside the governance of law, though in the U.S.
" and targeted political assassination Assassination
See also Murder.

assassins

Fanatical Moslem sect that smoked hashish and murdered Crusaders (11th—12th centuries). [Islamic Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 52]

Brutus

conspirator and assassin of Julius Caesar. [Br.
. (The hecklers may have been helped by a brochure of uncertain origin circulating around the riding, containing several of Ignatieff 's most controversial statements, for handy reference.) But the 59-year-old "rookie candidate," as the press took to calling him, stood up well to this blooding ritual and emerged victorious. By late August, he had a war chest second only to his closest rival for the leadership, Bob Rae This page is currently protected from editing until disputes have been resolved. , and today looks to remain one of the front runners until the poll in December.

Rather than taking a closer look at the way Ignatieff launched his political career, however, Smith begins his inquiry by looking at the "anti-Ukrainian" quote in Blood and Belonging that had so upset the riding committee, and then moving from there to examine Ignatieff 's later books--and especially his two most recent ones, Empire Lite Empire lite is a form of imperialism in which major powers shape world affairs using diplomacy and short-term military intervention rather than conquest, colonialism or direct governance of other countries. : Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan and The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in the Age of Terror. It is a deliberately limited objective, not a survey of all of Ignatieff 's prolific output (twelve non-fiction books and three novels) but one that focuses on "his decade-long inquiry into the sources of ethnic strife, the breakdown of states, and the means of bringing peace and order to their unfortunate victims."

The early part of Smith's study is at times tinged with sympathy and even admiration for the young Ignatieff as he sets off from Canada, imbued with the values of "liberal internationalism Liberal internationalism is a foreign policy doctrine that argues that liberal states should intervene in other sovereign states in order to pursue liberal objectives. Such intervention includes military intervention and humanitarian aid. ," which, at the time, Smith says, was the dominant Canadian world view. He bypasses Ignatieff 's early career--his years as a student at Harvard, his stint teaching at the University of British Columbia Locations
Vancouver
The Vancouver campus is located at Point Grey, a twenty-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. It is near several beaches and has views of the North Shore mountains. The 7.
 and then his move to England at the end of 1970s, where he wrote his first book, on penitentiaries during the industrial revolution (A Just Measure of Pain), and his moving study of human sympathy and politics, The Needs of Strangers, from 1984. These early works reveal a young man fascinated by the political organization of human societies and struggling to reconcile public policy and the human heart, and there is a direct link between this and Ignatieff 's later work. "Is there a form of society," he asks in The Needs of Strangers, "which could reconcile freedom and solidarity? Is there a society which would allow each of us to choose our needs as we see fit, while providing us with the necessary means to make these choices?"

Smith picks up Ignatieff 's story as he sets off in the early 1990s on a BBC BBC
 in full British Broadcasting Corp.

Publicly financed broadcasting system in Britain. A private company at its founding in 1922, it was replaced by a public corporation under royal charter in 1927.
 project to revisit six different places where nationalism played a powerful role: to a Yugoslavia rapidly descending into war; to a Germany rapidly reunifying; to Ukraine, Quebec, the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and, finally, to Northern Ireland Northern Ireland: see Ireland, Northern.
Northern Ireland

Part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland occupying the northeastern portion of the island of Ireland. Area: 5,461 sq mi (14,144 sq km). Population (2001): 1,685,267.
. Trying to make sense of it all, Ignatieff concluded that in the "wastelands of the new world order ... you feel stunned into silence by a deficit of moral explanation." The experience taught him that "liberal civilization--the rule of laws not men, of argument in place of force, of compromise in place of violence--runs deeply against the human grain and is only achieved and sustained by the most unremitting struggle against human nature. The liberal virtues--tolerance, compromise, reason--remain as valuable as ever, but they cannot be preached to those who are mad with fear or mad with vengeance. In any case, preaching always rings hollow. We must be prepared to defend them by force." Already, you can see the outlines of Ignatieff 's more hawkish future positions.

From there, Smith follows him as he moves through more "wastelands," reporting on what he sees, continually refining his ideas. After a trip in 1998 to Eastern and Central Africa, Ignatieff saw it as "the moment when liberal internationalism reached the end of its tether tether

to tie an animal up by the head or neck so that it can graze but not move away. See also barton tether.
. The twin catastrophes of Srebrenica and Rwanda brought to a close a brief period of hope that had opened up in 1989."

Smith deals at some length with the crisis in Kosovo in 1999 and what he considers Ignatieff 's wrong-headed support for the bombing of Serbia, which was intended to force the Serb dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, to withdraw. It eventually worked, but afterward, Ignatieff reflected on the "unintended effects of moralizing mor·al·ize  
v. mor·al·ized, mor·al·iz·ing, mor·al·iz·es

v.intr.
To think about or express moral judgments or reflections.

v.tr.
1. To interpret or explain the moral meaning of.
 the use of violence." There is a danger, he wrote, that "moral abstractions" such as human rights can lead us to treat violators as "barbarians" and thus can be used to legitimize le·git·i·mize  
tr.v. le·git·i·mized, le·git·i·miz·ing, le·git·i·miz·es
To legitimate.



le·git
 any kind of response, even a barbaric one.

A pattern is emerging here in Ignatieff 's thinking, an obsession with balancing acts Balancing Acts is a documentary by Donna Schatz that chronicles the lives of Chinese acrobat Man-Fong Tong and his wife Magda Schweitzer, a Jewish acrobat from Budapest, Hungary. The two met in Europe on the eve of World War II.  and hard decisions, with weighing the willingness to dirty one's hands by using lethal force in defence of liberal values, against the essential "goodness" of one's motivations and the virtue of one's goals: to bring democracy and the rule of law to dysfunctional states. Ignatieff 's thinking is a kind of moral high-wire act, one that makes Smith increasingly uneasy and skeptical.

In 2000, Ignatieff moved to the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  to take up a position at Harvard, becoming director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy the following year. And in early 2003, as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq, he published Empire Lite, a collection of essays that argues for the return of "empire" as a temporary means of ensuring the stability of failed states until they find their feet. "Those who imagine a world beyond empire imagine rightly," he wrote, "but they have not seen how prostrate pros·trate  
tr.v. pros·trat·ed, pros·trat·ing, pros·trates
1. To put or throw flat with the face down, as in submission or adoration:
 societies actually are when nation-building fails, when civil war has torn them apart. Then and only then is there a case for temporary imperial rule, to provide the force and will necessary to bring order out of chaos."

Writing about Empire Lite finally provokes Smith into issuing his first extended critique: he calls Ignatieff 's vision "utopian," one that rivals Marxism or Christianity in the grandness of its scope. He accuses him of "prophetic arrogance" and of failing to see (with hindsight, of course) that the Americans were preparing to move against Iraq for reasons that were anything but humanitarian. Lost in all this, Smith says, "will be many more modest goals that are achievable, if they are not caught up in the train of such majestic and destructive fantasy." Here we have the first outlines of a real argument: that Ignatieff 's grand vision destroys more "achievable" goals. But Smith never tells us what those goals are.

Ignatieff 's biggest single gaffe--and the one that has caused the greatest concern among his critics (Smith is only the most recent)--has been his support for the Iraq war Iraq War: see under Persian Gulf Wars.
Iraq War
 or Second Persian Gulf War

Brief conflict in 2003 between Iraq and a combined force of troops largely from the U.S. and Great Britain; and a subsequent U.S.
. What led him to it? Smith's explanation, that Ignatieff 's thinking was by now bordering on the ideological, is probably as good as any. Ideological thinking is a bit like a runaway train: you decide that force is a legitimate instrument of change and that the United States is the only entity capable of delivering it; you believe that regime change in Iraq is vital to your security interests, and to the welfare of Iraqis; and, finally, you argue that force worked in Kosovo. But you forget, conveniently, that Iraq was not by any sober definition a failed state, except in the sense that all long-standing tyrannies are failed states in waiting, their people utterly unprepared for self-government, especially when it rains down upon them from above.

Even by his own lights, Ignatieff was wrong about Iraq, but he has been backtracking (algorithm) backtracking - A scheme for solving a series of sub-problems each of which may have multiple possible solutions and where the solution chosen for one sub-problem may affect the possible solutions of later sub-problems. , by degrees. Two years ago, when he was on the Charlie Rose show talking about The Lesser Evil, he told Rose: "If ... we collapse into civil war [in Iraq] ... then someone like me ought to have the guts to say, I was wrong. And I will say I was wrong ... Clearly those like me who supported it for human rights reasons will have made, let's be honest, the most serious political mistake of our adult lives." At the time, Ignatieff told Rose he didn't think there was a civil war in Iraq Parameter not given Error...
''Template needs its first parameter as beg[in], mid[dle], or end. Parameter not given Error...
, yet. What would he say now? Is it time for the big mea culpa?

And if he did plead guilty, would that exonerate him in Smith's eyes? I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party.
. Smith did not set out to engage Ignatieff in an argument, but to present him to the world as an unsuitable future prime minister. His intellectual portrait of Ignatieff is impressively detailed, if partisan, but as a book that would have us weigh the man's suitability to lead the Liberals, and possibly the country, it falls short. The Liberal party needs a leader who has more than just intellectual credentials, experience of the world, personal courage and ambition; it needs someone who can also reunite the party, rebuild it and turn it into an effective and aggressive parliamentary opposition, one that is ready to make a serious bid for government. Does Ignatieff have the skills and the experience and the leadership qualities to be able to do this? I would like to have had Smith weigh in on that aspect of the man, too.

In the final pages of Ignatieff 's World, Smith abruptly switches from a tone of even-handed academic criticism to a polemical and almost angry summation of Ignatieff 's alleged sins. Ignatieff 's views on British and American policy are "confused and accommodating." Ignatieff "writes as a courtier in the antechambers of power," tailoring his pronouncements to keep the ear of Blair and Bush. Ignatieff has swallowed the notion of an everlasting "war on terror This article is about U.S. actions, and those of other states, after September 11, 2001. For other conflicts, see Terrorism.

The War on Terror (also known as the War on Terrorism
" without making much effort to understand Islamic terrorism. Ignatieff sees Canada as a "handmaiden hand·maid   also hand·maid·en
n.
1. A woman attendant or servant.

2. often handmaiden Something that accompanies or is attendant on another:
 to the American military" and has "embraced the American monolith as a benefactor" even as Bush "demolishes the rule of law at home and abroad." Ignatieff sees the world from "within the cocoon cocoon: see pupa.  of American power." He demonstrates "no comprehension that Canada's history and character could possibly lead us in different directions from the United States or even that there can be any direction to take in the modern world apart from those America has divined."

It is almost impossible to argue against such a barrage, which amounts to an accusation that Ignatieff is "un-Canadian" and the likely architect of an unacceptably pro-American foreign policy, except to mention two remarkable things about Ignatieff 's thinking, obvious in his articles and books, but also in Smith's extended essay. The first is how rapidly Ignatieff 's ideas evolve, how subtle his thinking is and how willing he is to change his mind in the face of new evidence. And the second is how quintessentially Canadian his ideas are. Ignatieff 's notion of "civic nationalism" echoes the notion first put forward, I believe, by Sir Wilfrid Laurier--that Canada is a "political nation," one based on allegiance to political institutions rather than to ethnic nationality or religion. Ignatieff has said that he believes strongly in the values of "peace, order and good government In Canada, the phrase "peace, order and good government" (in French, "paix, ordre et bon gouvernement"), often abbreviated POGG, is often used to describe the principles upon which that country's Confederation took place. ," which most Canadians endorse, and he also believes that they are worthy exports, which fewer may support, although it is by no means the same thing as exporting American democracy. His reports on the plight of the weary and heavy-laden in the failed states of the new world order carry with them a whiff of the missionary zeal common in this country as late as half a century ago. Ignatieff is an interventionist--yes--but unlike so many Canadians who tolerate, and sometimes even advocate, conditions and policies abroad they would never tolerate or advocate at home, he appears to believe that the values we espouse at home ought to be the ones we advocate for others.

Denis Smith's book ends rather abruptly, with a plea to the Liberal convention "for the sake of the party, for the sake of the country," not to choose Ignatieff as leader. But who, then, would be a better choice? On that matter, as with so much else on this subject, Smith is silent.

Paul Wilson is a freelance writer, editor and translator. His most recent book is 57 Hours: A Survivor's Account of the Moscow Hostage Drama (Viking, 2003). He is currently translating Vaclav Havel's memoirs.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Literary Review of Canada, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion

Title:

Comment:



 

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Ignatieff 's World: A Liberal Leader for the 21st Century?
Author:Wilson, Paul
Publication:Literary Review of Canada
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:2496
Previous Article:Under thunder and cordite: a Canadian novelist from Beirut describes life in the maelstrom of civil war.
Next Article:Challenge to the West: how the Chinese examination system created the modern world.
Topics:



Related Articles
The Warrior's Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience.
Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century.
America's impatient imperialism.
Torture; does it make us safer? is it forever ok?; a human rights perspective.
The development of political thought in Canada; an anthology.
Empire a la carte: mostly American thinkers dish out hegemonic wisdom in a Canadian restaurant.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters