Curious what this new fellow is all about but haven’t got the time or fortitude to wade through dozens of academic tomes? Me too. Don’t worry, the National Post will do it for you!
This week’s instalment is The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror.
Kelly McParland summarizes Ignatieff’s thesis:
1. Always adopt the lowest level of evil available to do the job (hence the title of this work).
2. Admit that evil is evil and don’t try to dress it up as something else.
3. Direct the evil at specific targets rather than adopting it wholesale.
4. Ensure there is some level of independent oversight of the evil.
5. Try to limit the evil to specified periods and include periodic evaluations and sunset clauses.
6. Try to avoid too much secrecy, even though that may be difficult.
Overall, Ignatieff’s description of the best way to fight terrorism and rogue power is high-minded and well-intentioned — but also repetitive and somewhat windy. The overall impression one gets is of an extremely erudite scholar providing readers with what is essentially middle-of-the-road common sense — mixed in with historical and geopolitical name-dropping.
Which is not to say the book isn’t admirable. Consider: Ignatieff published this thing in 2004, and based it on lectures he delivered in January, 2003, (and presumably wrote in 2002 — just a year or so after 9/11). This was a period when lots of otherwise intelligent conservatives were saying a lot of wild-eyed things about what we had to do to smash the terrorist threat. The Lesser Evil, on the other hand, sounds very much like a voice of reason — and much of it is quite prescient.
This is an interesting read. I suggest you follow the whole discussion.