The collapse of political order around the world is now seen as a major threat, and a new international order is emerging, one that is crafted to suit American imperial objectives. This presents humanitarian agencies with the dilemma of how to keep their programs from being suborned to imperial interests. Yet they know that it was American air-power that made an uneasy peace and humanitarian reconstruction possible, first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo, and finally in Afghanistan.
This is the new world of geopolitics we live in and must try to grasp. The vivid, cogent essays in this book attempt to understand the phenomenon of state collapse and state failure in the world's zones of danger and the gradual emergence of an American led humanitarian empire. Focussing on nation building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, Ignatieff reveals how American military power, European money and humanitarian motive have combined to produce a form of imperial rule for a post-imperial age.
Drawing on his own experiences of war zones, and with an extraordinary account of life in Afghanistan, Ignatieff identifies the illusions that make a genuine act of solidarity so difficult and asks what can be done to help people in war-torn societies enjoy the essential right to rule themselves.
Ignatieff begins by examining the politics of human rights, assessing when it is appropriate to use the fact of human rights abuse to justify intervention in other countries. He then explores the ideas that underpin human rights, warning that human rights must not become an idolatry. In the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, he argues that human rights can command universal assent only if they are designed to protect and enhance the capacity of individuals to lead the lives they wish. By embracing this approach and recognizing that state sovereignty is the best guarantee against chaos, Ignatieff concludes, Western nations will have a better chance of extending the real progress of the past fifty years. Throughout, Ignatieff balances idealism with a sure sense of practical reality earned from his years of travel in zones of war and political turmoil around the globe.
Based on the Tanner Lectures that Ignatieff delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2000, the book includes two chapters by Ignatieff, an introduction by Amy Gutmann, comments by four leading scholars--K. Anthony Appiah, David A. Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur, and Diane F. Orentlicher--and a response by Ignatieff.
Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, rights have become the dominant language of the public good around the globe. Indeed, rights have become the trump card in every argument. Long-standing fights for aboriginal rights, the issue of preserving the linguistic heritage of minorities, and same-sex marriage have steered our society into a full-blown rights revolution. This revolution is not only deeply controversial in North America, but is being watched around the world. Are group rights jeopardizing individual rights? When everyone asserts their rights, what happens to responsibilities? Can families survive and prosper when each member has rights? Is rights language empowering individuals while weakening community?
Michael Ignatieff confronts these controversial questions head-on in The Rights Revolution, defending the supposed individualism of rights language against all comers. For Ignatieff, believing in rights means believing in politics, believing in deliberation rather than confrontation, compromise rather than violence.
In the age of terrorism, the temptations of ruthlessness can be overwhelming. But we are pulled in the other direction too by 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 terror without losing our democratic souls. Michael Ignatieff confronts this challenge head-on, with the combination of hard-headed idealism, historical sensitivity, and political judgment that has made him one of the most influential voices in international affairs today.
Ignatieff argues that we must not shrink from the use of violence--that far from undermining liberal democracy, force can be necessary for its survival. But its use must be measured, not a program of torture and revenge. And we must not fool ourselves that whatever we do in the name of freedom and democracy is good. We may need to kill to fight the greater evil of terrorism, but we must never pretend that doing so is anything better than a lesser evil.
In making this case, 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 the unprecedented menace of Al Qaeda, with its suicidal agents bent on mass destruction. He shows how the most potent response to terror has been force, decisive and direct, but--just as important--restrained. The public scrutiny and political ethics that motivate restraint also give democracy its strongest weapon: the moral power to endure when the furies of vengeance and hatred are spent.
The book is based on the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2003.