Lesser Evil: Political Ethics In An Age Of Terror

Paperback | May 18, 2004

byMichael Ignatieff

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In the age of terrorism, the temptations of ruthlessness can be overwhelming. But there is also the anxiety that a violent response to violence makes us morally indistinguishable from our enemies.

There is perhaps no greater political challenge today than trying to win the war against terrorism without losing our democratic souls. Michael Ignatieff confronts this challenge head-on with a combination of pragmatic idealism, historical sensitivity, and astute political judgment.

Ignatieff traces the modern history of terrorism and counter-terrorism from the nihilists of Czarist Russia and the militias of Weimar Germany to the IRA and Al Qaeda. He shows how the most potent response to terror has been force, decisive and direct, but—just as important—restrained. Restraint also gives democracy its strongest weapon: the moral power to endure when the furies of vengeance and hatred are spent.

Finalist for the 2004 Lionel Gelber Award

"An impeccably argued case for how to balance security and liberty in the face of the new kind of threat posed by today's terrorists…"—Publishers Weekly

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From Our Editors

There is perhaps no greater political challenge today than trying to win the war against terror without losing our democratic souls, according to Michael Ignatieff, who confronts this challenge head-on in "The Lesser Evil."

From the Publisher

In the age of terrorism, the temptations of ruthlessness can be overwhelming. But there is also the anxiety that a violent response to violence makes us morally indistinguishable from our enemies. There is perhaps no greater political challenge today than trying to win the war against terrorism without losing our democratic souls. Mich...

Michael Ignatieff is a distinguished author of both fiction and non-fiction. His novel Scar Tissue was short-listed for the Booker Prize, while The Russian Album, a family memoir, won the Governor General’s Award and the Heinemann Prize from Britain’s Royal Society of Literature. His work on ethnic nationalism in the 1990s resulted in ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 8.25 × 5.25 × 0.49 inPublished:May 18, 2004Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143017357

ISBN - 13:9780143017356

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Customer Reviews of Lesser Evil: Political Ethics In An Age Of Terror

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from No practical solution, but very documented theory I am a fan of Michael Ignatieff since the Berlin biography and I find him to be a true LIBERAL as opposed to 90% of the memebers of the party with the same name (why is it called that anyway ? at least in the US they call it Democratic ). Back to the subject, as usual a very well documented book, at some points I thought the solution to the global terorism is in the next paragraph or page, but than it was not. Here are some brief ideas : The way to meet the challenge of terrorism, is to ensure that the oppressed always have peacefull political means of redress at their disposal. Like Ullyses tying himself to the mast so that he will hear but nit succumb to the Sirens’ song, democratic states precommit themselves to respecting rights, knowing that they will be sorely tempted to abridge them in times of danger. Democracies are not intrinsically self-sustaining; rather, as the Romans thought, their executives recurrently need dictatorial prerogative to cope with crisis (eq. Roosevelt, Churchill) but with limits. Presidents should never have the power to prolong the selves in office, to suspend elections, to disband political competition, to alter the constitution itself, or to dissolve legislatures permanently. Carl Schmitt (Weimar legal theorist) thinks that in times of crisis “Ullyses must untie himself, raly the crew and fight back”, no regime can afford to tie its hands. Art. 48 of the Weimar constitution vested the president with dictatorial powers to repel terrorist political violence. By granting its president so much power, the constitution enabled an unscrupulous leader like Hitler to maneuver into dictatorship by constitutional means. Yet without these executive powers Weimar would never have survived as long as it did. Political costs of underreaction are always going to be higher than the cost of overreaction. Marxists always understood that where mass popular support for revolution was lacking, the pace of change could be accelerated by acts of indiscriminate violence designed to provoke the constitutional system to “throw off the mask of burgeois legality” and reveal itself to the peasants and workers as a system of organized violence. Political terror is unlikely to crack a regime unless economic crisis or military defeat simultaneously causes its material pillars to crumble. There is no necessary reason to suppose that those who defend a democracy do so out of any convinced belief in its values. Their chief motivation may only be the thrill of the chase and the glamour of licensed violence. The dilemma of forcing the police to comply to democratic rules or risk loosing the fight. Counterterror forces might come to believe that hey are asked to fight with one hand tied behind their back Torture, when commited by a state, expresses the state’s ultimate view that human beings ar expandable. This view is antithetical to the spirit of any constitutional society whose raison d’etre is the control of violence and coercion in the name of human dignity and freedom.
Date published: 2006-06-02

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From Our Editors

There is perhaps no greater political challenge today than trying to win the war against terror without losing our democratic souls, according to Michael Ignatieff, who confronts this challenge head-on in "The Lesser Evil."

Editorial Reviews

"It is not a criticism but the highest praise to say that The Lesser Evil, Michael Ignatieff's new book, takes the difficult middle ground.....Many thanks to him for encouraging us so wisely and so well." - Globe and Mail