Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ignatieff and judgement

Michael Ignatieff has a (lengthy, naturally) article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine which is reprinted in the Globe and Mail today. He talks about the difference between academic and political speech - and it's interesting that someone who taught political science admits floundering when confronted with actual politics.
I've learned that good judgment in politics looks different from good judgment in intellectual life. Among intellectuals, judgment is about generalizing and interpreting particular facts as instances of some big idea. In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing. Specifics matter more than generalities. Theory gets in the way.
He quotes Burke who in 1774 told the electors of Bristol that he would never submit his judgement to their opinion. Like most who quote Burke he neglects to mention that Burke did not retain his seat in 1780 due to his (unpopular) support of Catholic emancipation and free trade, and the rest of his parliamentary life was spent in a rotten borough.

He also offers an interesting take on Bush's apparently lack of doubt in his agenda:
It was not merely that the president did not take the care to understand Iraq. He also did not take the care to understand himself. The sense of reality that might have saved him from catastrophe would have taken the form of some warning bell sounding inside, alerting him that he did not know what he was doing. But then, it is doubtful that warning bells had ever sounded in him before. He had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound.
Steve V discusses the article further at Far and Wide.

Edit: here's the Star's rather bitter take, which I can't believe is entirely unrelated to the Globe landing the exclusive Canadian rights to the piece. Certainly its characterisation of Ignatieff's regret as "tardy" is cheap, given that Ignatieff is on previous record as having regretted his stance. The article goes into why he adopted that stance and certainly strikes a personal chord since he, like me, saw the 1992 Halabja massacre as a point where the Saddam Hussein regime crossed a line and unlike me had visited the area and seen the aftermath. Certainly we all have acquaintances to various conflicts who colour our view of them and Ignatieff is no different.

It also claims that Americans have no interest in hearing where he regrets his choices, but earlier notes how "a cynic" (Linda McQuaig?) "might suggest Ignatieff continues to look reflexively toward the United States, and where nothing prevents his eventual return. "
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