Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? (Counterblasts)

Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? (Counterblasts)

Derrick O'Keefe

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: B00DPOQ57A

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A forensic critique of influential liberal explores his opposition to fundamental human rights, the extension of democracy and the pursuit of economic equality.

One of the most influential intellectuals in the English-speaking world, Michael Ignatieff’s story is generally understood to be that of an ambitious, accomplished progressive politician and writer, whose work and thought fit within an enlightened political tradition valuing human rights and diversity. Here, journalist Derrick O’Keefe argues otherwise. In this scrupulous assessment of Ignatieff’s life and politics, he reveals that Ignatieff’s human rights discourse has served to mask his identification with political and economic elites.

Tracing the course of his career over the last thirty years, from his involvement with the battles between Thatcher and the coal miners in the 1980s to the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza, O’Keefe proposes that Ignatieff and his political tradition have in fact stood in opposition to the extension of democracy and the pursuit of economic equality. Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? is a timely assessment of the Ignatieff phenomenon, and of what it tells us about the politics of the English-speaking West today.

About the series: Counterblasts is a new Verso series that aims to revive the tradition of polemical writing inaugurated by Puritan and leveller pamphleteers in the seventeenth century, when in the words of one of them, Gerard Winstanley, the old world was “running up like parchment in the fire.” From 1640 to 1663, a leading bookseller and publisher, George Thomason, recorded that his collection alone contained over twenty thousand pamphlets. such polemics reappeared both before and during the French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions of the last century. In a period of conformity where politicians, media barons and their ideological hirelings rarely challenge the basis of existing society, it’s time to revive the tradition. Verso’s Counterblasts will challenge the apologists of Empire and Capital.

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his interest in Freudian psychoanalysis by writing a screenplay, Nineteen Nineteen. For the book version, John Berger contributed an Afterword, praising the work for speaking “directly to what we know about life, composed inextricably of the most intimate movements of the heart, accident, and remorseless movement of history.” The major historical movements in the Britain of the 1980s were driven ahead by a remorseless Conservative government bent on breaking the power of the organized working

“[mistaken] description for endorsement,” adding that “no imperial power can withstand the power of modern nationalism, the desire of people to free themselves from foreign interference.”12 However, even the most cursory of inspections of Empire Lite and Ignatieff’s other subsequent writing on Iraq and empire makes a mockery of the assertion that he was misunderstood. His high-profile support for the war certainly angered many colleagues, and his support for encroachments on civil liberties in

seriously. He warns: “If [the United States] won’t sustain and increase its military presence here, the other internationals will start heading for the exit” (EL, p. 90). The real reason that the US presence was still “lite” in the early years of the Afghan occupation, as Ignatieff should have known, had to do with the necessary hypocrisy of the empire he celebrated. Donald Rumsfeld, then US Secretary of Defense, had insisted on maintaining a minimal number of ground troops, in part because the

and my closest intellectual collaborator—I cannot thank him enough for his support in bringing this project to completion. My thanks also to the always courteous and skilled editorial team at Verso, including Tom Penn, Andrea D’Cruz and Mark Martin. Thanks are due as well to Tariq Ali—a great inspiration and teacher to generations of activists—for encouraging me to pursue this subject. Special thanks to my mother Catherine—on top of everything else she is a talented writer and a supportive and

Atlantic. What is to be learned from Ignatieff’s failed liberal interventions? While working through my twenties as a member of what a dear friend labels the lumpen petty-bourgeoisie—paid work ranged from stints at meatpacking, box and potato chip factories, to a brief turn at teaching and finally to a number of independent media ventures—I imbibed from that great font of cosmopolitanism on the cheap, books. My reading, work experiences, family, friendships, and increasingly active participation

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