Election Day in Canada. The Real Michael Ignatieff: An American View by Adrienne Redd

Posted on May 2, 2011


During the last US election, I knew Canadians who were jealous that Americans had the chance to vote for Barack Obama. As an American who has studied the work of Michael Ignatieff I find myself wishing that I had the chance to vote for the man who I believe is the most important public intellectual in politics today.
If Ignatieff is elected, I think he will take his place in history alongside leaders like Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and what Benazir Bhutto could have been.
I’ve been following Ignatieff’s work for the last eight years, I’ve studied his books and articles and have come away convinced that he is deeply authentic and does something vital that almost no one else does. Ignatieff walks the line between being a scholar, a thinker and someone who’s not afraid to take action and even be wrong.
In 2002, as Donald Rumsfeld and other influencers in U.S. politics began to manufacture consent from the American public in invading Iraq, I embarked on a research project that would take more than seven years and would result in a doctorate examining how public discourse can reveal something about trends in global order.
In the subsequent book based in part on my dissertation, I examined writing and speeches by 16 public intellectuals on issues such as when to intervene in internal affairs of nations, human needs and rights, sustainability, and other questions central to how world society is re-shaping itself. The title of the book is Fallen Walls and Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World. You can read excerpts at http://www.fallenwallsfallentowers.com and order the book from Amazon.
Ignatieff was one of the most important thinkers whose work I read in trying to visualize a path of stability and justice for nation-states caught in the maelstrom of eroding boundaries, questions about whether ethnic identity should be part of nation politics, and the role of constitutionalism in international affairs. His thinking constitutes a bridge between political advocacy and scholarship. In my own writing, I considered his reconceptualization of sovereignty, nation-state boundedness, national unity and modernity in six of his books, four texts produced for the public sphere (including the one in which he reverses his opinion on whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003), and a chapter on human rights and when states should intervene in other states experiencing humanitarian crises.
Ignatieff is one of the most important politico-intellectual leaders in the world today because of how he has conducted both theory and practice. He takes scholarship seriously and he takes action seriously. He has not hidden in an ivory tower, being co-opted like those who complain about the way of the world but barely set foot into it. He has put his hands to the sausage-making of politics having first given a great deal of thought to doing so.  
In his public and remorseful reversal on the invasion of Iraq, he wrote, “In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources. An intellectual’s responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead. A politician’s responsibility is to master those consequences and prevent them from doing harm.” (Ignatieff, Michael. 2007. “Getting Iraq wrong.” New York Times Magazine, Aug. 5.)
Making States Work: State Failure and the Crisis of Governance (2006), in particular, Ignatieff’s essay, “Human rights, power and the state” had the deepest impact on my own book because in it Ignatieff tries to understand the mistake of advocating more broadly for intervention, that is, of violating sovereignty in times of crisis. I believe that his essay begins a new chapter for an already formidable thinker—a chapter on how to strike the balance between ideals and humane practice. Such a balance is not possible through absolutist statements. Every leader needs principles but needs also to pay attention to what is happening to people at any given moment. Sometimes well-intentioned policies have unintended consequences and politicians need to see this and respond. I believe that Ignatieff has done and will continue to do this.
Perhaps what I like most about Ignatieff is that he has had conversations with himself and with the world about social well-being for nearly 30 years. His book, The Needs of Strangers (1984) examines the tension of modernity versus social cohesion, including questions about where we belong in a dizzyingly mobile society.
As I have considered whether sovereignty is still a useful concept, how countries can fairly treat pluralistic societies, the extent to which the state should support human welfare, and other flashpoints fueled by globalization, Ignatieff has seemed to me to be the most consistently honest and soul-searching of scholar-leaders alive today. That he changed his mind about the U.S. invasion of Iraq shows that he is neither a resolution-through-surrender peacenik nor a hawk. He believes in action and is willing to re-chart his course if necessary. He is exactly what Canada, but more importantly what the world needs, a caring and careful statesman who takes the responsibilities of public morality as central to leadership.
I have a lot of confidence in Michael Ignatieff.  I would love to see him become Prime Minister. I think he would be good for Canada, and for the rest of the world.
Adrienne Redd, author of Fallen Walls and Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World (2010) Nimble Books, LLC. http://www.fallenwallsfallentowers.com
Editor and lead author of Sowing Stability in the Fertile Crescent (2011 forthcoming) Nimble Books, LLC.
How Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and other countries of the Middle East and Africa can implement constitutional democracy after recent and imminent regime changes.
Creator of “Understanding Global News” at Arcadia University, recognized by Foreign Affairs in 2009.
Blog: Justice, Race, War, Peace and Pennsylvania https://adrienneredd.wordpress.com

Twitter: “follow” on http://twitter.com/Adrienne_Redd   

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