The Ignatieff Revolution

Simon Hayter, Getty Images).    

Ignatieff at the November 2006 Liberal leadership convention (credit: Simon Hayter, Getty Images).

On the occasion of Michael Ignatieff’s ascension to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, I thought I would repost a review I wrote in 2000 of The Rights Revolution. Ignatieff and his party inevitably divide people, and my own faith in him as a leader is more tempered than it once was (I would have preferred that he assume the leadership after a contest, not before). The Rights Revolution, by contrast, is a well-written and thoughtful book that deserves to be more widely appreciated. It is surprising how little the vision of Canadian political life it offers has figured in the debate about Ignatieff the politician.–A.M.

In his 1993 book Blood & Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Michael Ignatieff took a trip to LG-2 (“Le Grande Two”), a massive hydro project 1,600 kilometres north of Montreal. Ignatieff’s guide explained that the engineering project was a point of national pride for the Quebecois, but Ignatieff had a slightly different reaction. He stressed how the dam made life miserable for the equally nationalistic Cree of northern Quebec, and that its chief illustration was that “the rights of two nations are in conflict.” Ignatieff spoke on behalf of a cosmopolitan, tough-guy liberalism that was uneasy about nationalists of all stripes: “Cree and Quebecois both argue their demand for national survival in terms of cultural survival. This link between survival and self- determination is central to nationalist claims everywhere, but it deserves skeptical examination.”

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