Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Rights Revolution

As a Dion supporter, I found it easy get a personal feel for the man.  What pundits described as mulishness, I saw as sticking to principle.  What others saw as confirmation of being "dorky", I saw as a man comfortable in his own skin.  When the media described him as a poor public speaker, I admired his ability to relate to people across the country on a one to one basis.  Often in his second language.  That to me spoke of a more genuine person than someone who is part of a managed high budget campaign.

Once the Liberal Leadership contest ended in a fait d'accompli, I realized that I found Michael Ignatieff to be a harder man to get the measure of.  For this reason, I have been reading what I see as some of his key offerings to fill this gap.  I thought I would share some my impressions of the ouevre.

I do not see these as full blown reviews.  There are plenty of those available on the Internet. This series is intended to provide a feel for the man I hope is our next Prime Minister.  (Even if he is no better, he can't be any worse than You Know Who.)

First impression: What struck me right away was that the title was in quite small white type off to the left hand side.  The cover is a brown colour of variable intensity.  The title was set amongst the lightest shade if brown on the page. 

The author's name is significantly larger than the title and placed an a region so dark brown as to be almost black.  This causes his name to stand out much more so than the title.  If the medium is the message so to speak, then the medium is Michael Ignatieff and the message of the impact of a rights culture on our society is less important.

The impression is that the Ignatieff star power over rides the topic itself.  In short, this book is partly intended as a way to show people on the bus or in the newsroom that you have read a Michael Ignatieff book.

Stephane Dion
Regardless of the way events over the course of Dion's leadership played out, it is interesting to read this passage:
It is even possible to speak of a distinctively Canadian school of rights philosophy that includes Klymicka, Charles Taylor, James Tully, Peter Russell, Stephane Dion, and Guy Laforest. These thinkers are making a theory out of the elemental experience of Canadian politics: the adjudication of rights claims between national minorities, aboriginal groups and individuals.
That is a prestigious group for Mr. Dion to be included in.  The implications of the compliment paid to Dion during the course of the past 3 years are interesting to reflect upon given the following events from Dion's Convention win to the election and the questioned support by Ignatieff and the premature ouster of Dion last December.

Overview of the discussion of "Rights Culture"
While it was a masterful summation of the issue, I did not find any thoughts that I did not have a recollection of having heard before.  I agreed with the theses set forth and find very little to quibble with but there was not an epiphany inducing page of the book.  Maybe this was his intention but it did seem like ploughing old ground.

One chapter, "Human Rights And Human Differences" contains the outline of the reasons that Ignatieff cited for his support for the Iraq invasion and occupation.  These are (my emphasis in bold):
That's the first condition that must be met if interventions are justified: victims must be demanding our help. Other conditions follow: the abuses must be gross and systematic; they must be spilling over into other countries,causing refugee flows and instability in nearby states; and intervention must stand a genuine chance of stopping the abuses. Intervention has no justification as punishment; its only purpose is to protect.  Another condition is that intervention must be a last resort.
Those who intervene must also seek the consent of the international community, preferably the UN'S Security Council. We don't want a world in which human-rights principles end up justifying unilateral military interventions by single states
Finally, human-rights principles can never justify a permanent military occupation of another people's territory. If we intervene, we have to get out once the job is done, once victims have been returned to their homes, once the killing has stopped.
That is very well put but I do not have the impression that this was put into practice in Mr. Ignatieff's support for the Iraq invasion and occupation.  And this is a concern.  Having the ability to clearly see and enunciate the principles at stake are not worth much if you don't stand by them at the crucial times.  I know that Mr. Ignatieff has recanted and apologized for this past mistake.  But has he learned the lesson?

I will look into this in more detail when I discuss his essays regarding the Iraq war and occupation.

Next: "If Torture Works..."

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penlan said...

Excellent! Looking forward to more assessment from you. I miss Dion & all I can see with Ignatieff is *SELF*. Self before country, self before the needs of the people.

I wanted the coalition - Ignatieff killed it & by accepting Harper's budget I lost any respect I had for the man.

Constant Vigilance said...

Thanks Penlan. I have been wrestling with similar concerns. As with a lot of worthwhile journeys, I am not sure where it will take me but I expect it to be a rewarding experience.