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Yesterday, I posted a diary about Michael Ignatieff being parachuted into my district for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Canada.  This is a guy who is being touted as a future leader of the Liberal Party.  Too many Canadians fawn all over Ignatieff because he is a Harvard professor but don't know anything about what he has written, his defence of the Iraq War and George Bush, and his musings on defining torture.  Paul Martin, the Prime Minister, was actually forced to restate the Party's position on the Iraq War because Ignatieff's views are so much at odds with the present policy of Canada.

Well, two articles today tear a stripe out of the "star" candidate.  More after the fold...

The first is Rick Salutin's devastating critique of Ignatieff, "Speaking Power to Truth".  This should be of interest to anyone who has had serious qualms about the direction that George Bush has taken the country in.

[Ignatieff] tends to accept U.S. claims at face value.  George Bush "risked his presidency on the premise that Jefferson might be right" about spreading democracy around the world.  And "the promotion of democracy by the United States has proved to be a dependently good idea."  Look, every empire says its motives are noble (the British "white man's burden", the French mission civilisatrice.  It must be checked against the facts...Americans helped overthrow democracy: Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1973, Haiti twice in the past 10 years.  I'm not America-bashing, I'm saying the record shows that the United States follows its national interest, full stop, in imposing or demolishing democratic regimes.  But taking that evidence and suppressing or bending it to reflect the agenda of those in power is what I mean by speaking power to the truth of the facts

It gets even better:

He tends to accept the main premises of U.S. policy and propaganda, then quibble over details. That's not speaking truth to power, it's whispering mild disagreement in the corridors while never really challenging. So he endorses "preventive war" as part of the "war on terror," then supports invading Iraq in that context. Yet he never asks whether a literal war makes sense in response to a problem like terror. It's the way adults present troublesome kids with two choices, making sure they obey at least one. Similarly, he assumes that democracy means what U.S. policy says it means: elections, free markets etc. So the matter of whether it is stupid nonsense to "impose" a democracy at all doesn't arise.

Now comes the zinger:

Of course, you need massive power to even bother your head with elegant dilemmas of whether you should inflict freedom on others. Haiti wouldn't fuss about whether to spread democracy to the U.S., even if it felt elections there were as badly flawed as the Americans claim they are in Haiti. Our candidate says, "America has power and should use it," responsibly, one assumes, like Spider-Man. Yet he sounds to me a bit delighted by power and its proximity. Intellectuals can do that, too: speak power as truth.

Then there's this pretty bad misstep for an aspiring politician who hasn't lived in Canada for 30 years and hasn't moved there yet.

Michael Ignatieff's path into politics took another luckless bounce yesterday with the publication of an article in Harvard's student newspaper quoting him as saying he would ask the U.S. university to take him back if he didn't get elected to Parliament.
The statement had "Oh-Oh" written all over it, given that the distinguished academic and celebrity Liberal candidate has made much of being committed to re-engaging in Canadian life and is scheduled next month to take up a University of Toronto post.
Mr. Ignatieff quickly explained in a telephone interview from Boston that the comment was a joke. "I was talking in my customary way, with a lack of care," he said ruefully. "It was meant in a light-hearted humourous way . . . a kind of joke, like I was begging them to take me back."
The Harvard Crimson quoted him deadpan as saying: "If I am not elected, I imagine that I will ask Harvard to take me back. I love teaching here, and I hope I'll be back in some shape or form."

Originally posted to Night Runner on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 06:55 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips (4.00)
    will be appreciated.  But I'm still looking for material on Ignatieff too.
  •  I'm also in Etobicoke - Lakeshore (none)
    I'm actually looking forward to having him come to my door.  I am definitely not fawning over him.  I want to hear him explain to me his positions on the Iraq war and on torture.  

    I am really unsure of how I am going to vote.  Normally, I would vote Liberal.  But I can't see myself voting for Ignatieff solely because of his views on those two issues.  The whole nomination process stinks too.

    •  I'm Debating (none)
      Between voting for the Green Party candidate or the NDP. Every vote cast for the Greens across the country adds money for the next elections.  For me this is the time and place to send a message to the Liberal Party.  The fear tactics won't work this time.
      •  Those are likely my options too (none)
        I was thinking that one of the rejected Liberal nominees should run as an independent.  Basically run on a Liberal platform, but without the party affiliation.  Given the strong Eastern European community in the riding, there could be a significant grassroots campaign.

        I don't even know if it would be possible at this late date (either feasibly or legally).  

  •  Night Runner, (none)
    Can you point me to any stuff that Ignatieff's written about the Iraq war specifically?  I have this general sense that he's one of these guys who got exicited about America running of to fight Tom Friedman's War, which to my mind shows spectacularly poor judgement on his part, but I can't think of anything specific I've read.  Also, what kinds of mea culpas has he been offering more recently?

    Putting those (very serious!) worries aside for the moment, and in partial answer to some of what you were saying in the comments under your previous post, his non-Iraq-related writings give some reason to be optimistic about the guy.  The Rights Revolution was a solid little piece of pop political philosophy, even though in some ways it dodged all the hard questions.  And Blood and Belonging is a solid, solid peice of thinking.  (I haven't read the Empire Lite book, which is probably most germane to my concerns about his Iraq views, so I can't comment on that.)

    Something that shouldn't be overlooked is that his politcal philosophy is very Canadian.  His stuff on nationalism and identity issues is stuff that Canadians are on the cutting edge of.  (There's a reason he wouldn't fit into the philosophy dept of his current institution.  That dept is has to be considered the main guilty party in keeping American political philosophy centered, one way or another, around the question of whether poor people should have enough money not to starve to death.  Canadians--as Ignatieff shows, even as barely Canadian as he is--answered with a decisive "yes", and then moved onto other things in the late 70s.)  All of which is my overly-long way of saying that he's got some ideas about some things that smart, distinctively Canadian, and very relevent to contemporary Canadian concerns.

    And that's at least one reason to think there might be a place for the guy in parliament.

    •  Barely Canadian is Exactly the Issue (none)
      He's really engaged in an American discourse and that's the problem. He's an interpreter of Canada for Americans.

      I can suggest "Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread?" (New York Times Magazine, 26 June, and - in a shorter version - The Observer, 3 July 2005).

      •  Thanks for the tip on that NYT Mag piece. (none)
        And while I think I see your complaint about Ignatieff being an interpreter of Canada for Americnas on certain issues--esp, the WoT, Iraq, etc.--I can't say the same for some of the other issues he's dealth with in writing.  

        I'm thinking in particular of his stuff on religion, ethnicity, and national identity.  Those aren't issues that Americans really care about at all: they have their "melting-pot" metaphor, and as nonsensical as it may be, they seem to be mostly happy with.  Canadians, though, need to worry about how to make a persuasive, intellectually grounded case that Canada, as nation, does not need to be based on any particular ethnic identity--i.e., that even without any such single ethnic identity it is nevertheless very much a "real country".  I like Igantieff on those issues.

        That said, I agree that the foreign policy stuff is a real problem.

        •  But that idea isn't new or startling (none)
          Canadians long ago rejected the notion of a melting pot.  He's not adding anything new to that discussion.

          My favorite Canadian story (true).  The CBC ran a contest to finish the sentence "As Canadian as....".  The winner, no kidding, was "As Canadian as possible under the circumstances."  That's who we are...

          •  Okay. (none)
            I'm getting the sense that you're not really familiar with the Ignatieff writings that I'm talking about.  So, yes, Canadians long ago rejected the melting pot.

            But rejected it for what?  Well, in lots of parts of the  country, and especially in cities, it was rejected in favour of some or another form of multiculturalism.  In all parts of the country?  No, decidedly not.  There is at least one province that is still very much domninated by a politics that takes linguistic and ethnic identity to be constitutive of national identity.  

            I am talking about Quebec, where the politcal leaders get drunk and talk about "us" in distinction from the ethnic and racial minorities who vote differently than the intended "us", and where political leaders claim that Canada--because it's not founded on any particual ethnic identity--is "not a real country".

            Is Ignatieff some late-comer to a national discussion that's already completely persuaded Quebecers that a nation can be composed of many peoples?  No, he obviously is not.  He is, rather, someone who has written at length about this problem, as it plays out in Canada as well as other countries, and has written at length about the dangers of insisting--as many seperatists do--that nations can be founded only on linguistic or ethnic or racial identities.

            Whether you like the guy or not, there can't be any serious question that he's made substantial contributions to political discussions that have an unmistakably Canadian flavour, and that are very, very, very relevent to present day Canada.

            •  Reply (none)
              Sorry, I was in a hurry, and that was a throw-away comment.  To elaborate on why I don't think Ignatieff really brings anything much new or substantive to the Canadian discourse:

              1)    Ignatieff's talks about Canadian unity as though it is some fresh, bright new idea.  Good grief, that's the very core issue at the level of federal politics and has been for decades.  The whole sponsorship scandal that ultimately brought the Liberal government down was about money being funneled to promote the Canada logo in Quebec.  
              2)    Similarly, Ignatieff likes to say that he's not a Russian-Canadian or a Scottish-Canadian, he's a Canadian.  Well, the Conservative Party has been saying this for many years.  His position on the Iraq War and the defence-missile shield is, similarly, the Conservative position.  The only thing "new" her is that it is a member of the Liberal Party--I guess he might have finally gotten around to joining the Party sometime last week--saying these things.  In effect, he is the Joe Lieberman of the Liberals.
              3)    He talks about the balance of individual rights vs. group rights but there is a deep-seated mistrust and often hostility towards group rights in his writings. Although in typical slippery ambivalent Ignatieff fashion, he "celebrates" that which helps people to believe in causes larger than themselves.  Yet he often conflates self-determination with "tyranny of an ethnic majority".  

              As a historian he should know better.   Civic nationalism rarely is divorced from questions of language, culture, and history; much of what passes for ethnic nationalism does not espouse primordialism or ethnic exclusivity . And, most importantly, political projects change over time.   The Polish national movement of the 19th c.  is a good example of project that was, at times, "civic" and, at others, "ethnic", and sometimes both at the same time.  Spectrums and mixes, not well-defined categories and crystallized ideologies are the reality of most movements and societies.  

              In that respect, it is decidedly not helpful for someone who aspires to assume a leading political role in Canada to talk about the Parti Quebecois as "malevolent".  It does nothing to win over those for whom calibrating the degree of Quebec sovereignty is the issue.    

              2)    Having been out of the country for nearly 30 years, he may see Canada as the best living experiment in "civic nationalism" (which was a "new and fresh" academic concept about 15 years ago) but he really looks like a latecomer to the party.  There is something weirdly colonial  and patronizing about a middle-aged white man, scion of an old aristocratic family,  pushing aside the only black woman in parliament and elbowing his way past local candidates in order to "help Chinese, Ukrainian, and Italian Canadians achieve power".   These people are perfectly capable of representing themselves without intermediaries and have been doing so for decades.

  •  Ignatieff seems guilty (none)
    ...of opportunism and attention-seeking with his qualified defense of the US action in Iraq, that deposing Saddam and trying to set the stage for democracy was an arguably noble cause. This was a departure from his previous neoliberal-globalist stance, although he's always hinted at "enlightened" interventionism in the past.

    I predict that his future public statements and writing will support the gradual withdrawal of troops; he'll return to the safe centre.

    I wish I could more specifically cite past articles and writings, but my humble opinion is based on general impressions of Ignatieff's work over quite a few years in Harper's, the Atlantic, Canadian op-ed pages and a recent defense of his pro-war stance on TVOntario's Big Ideas lecture series.

    I admire his intellect, but I question his motivation. He's just too much of a Council on Foreign Relations-IMF type for me to trust... but then again, so is Prime Minister Martin.

    Don't know how that Toronto riding will go if the NDP puts up a strong candidate... anti-Ignatieff votes going to the NDP could just produce a Tory win, so it might even be worth giving Ignatieff a chance. (Ducking.)

    What will survive of us is love

    by howth of murph on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 08:42:35 AM PST

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