- Save 10% on selected children’s books, compliments of Amazon Family Promotion exclusive for Prime members .
Lesser Evil, Must we fight terrorism with terror ... [Paperback] Paperback
Special offers and product promotions
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Top customer reviews
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This is no easy task, for a Human Rights professor to admit that some atrocities must be committed in the defense of a nation, but what are they? He is hardly an apologist for sadistic and unethical treatment of suspects though. This point must be clear before you read this book; he is no Dershowitz and argues against him here.
Ignatieff often tells how democracies may be tempted to fight their enemies with an "eye for an eye" mentality, but sinking down to their level is a bigger threat that some terrorists are aiming for as a goal.
He uses history as a guide and notes that democracies tend to overreact to terrorist threats. He even notes that civil liberties may be suspended TEMPORARIRLY in times of emergency, (which he notes would outrage many civil libertarians) but this would be an example of a lesser evil. However, he writes as a person admitting some measures may need to happen, but it will leave a bad taste in all of our mouths, and the longer it goes on the more bitter. Its "lack of permanence" is necessary.
Yes, he talks of torture (before it came out in the media in Iraq) "They (national leaders) need results from their security services, and in the pressure of the moment, they may not care overmuch about how these results are obtained. A culture of silent complicity may develop between civilian political leaders and their security chiefs, in which both sides know that extralegal means are being used but each has an interest in keeping quiet about it." -p. 135 Hello Mr. Rumsfeld.
He goes on to say why torture is especially bad for a democracy, "a moral hazard."
Finally, of great importance in this book is he looks at six different types of terrorism, explains them and then talks about how they can be confronted, though sometimes his answers fall short (you hope he gives a workable solution to all these problems, though you realize it isn't possible).
He finishes with a chapter on the possibility of terrorists possessing a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon. History, which served as his guide in earlier chapters, would no longer apply to this scenario. He suggests that a society that is truthful to its citizens and will engage in dialogue with other countries, international organizations, while also placing responsibility on itself and other stable nations not to let unstable ones divulge into chaos is essential.
Rarely has terrorism been able to topple a whole nation alone, and when it has happened, it was because of additional political circumstances that it occurred (Tsarist Russia and WW I). But if democracies are self-questioning and honest on their ethical reactions to terrorism, than the more civil liberties will be preserved and tangible victories will result. Ignatieff has no doubt that liberal democracies will succeed in the war on terror, by defeating our enemies and also preserving the civil liberties of our minorities.
What Ignatieff is concerned about is how democracies avoid political repression at home while fighting brutal wars abroad. Ignatieff's political ethics of the lesser evil charts a midway course between a pure civil libertarianism and cynical pragmatism (antiterrorist measures should be judged by only their effectiveness).
In a nutshell Ignatieff's book discusses how emergencies such as 9/11 can be used to abandon civil rights, how he believes that democracies usually overreact to terror, how he believes terrorism is a response to injustice and blocked political means of redress, how terrorist and anti-terrorists may start with high ideals but end up in a vicious cycle of violence for its own sake, and the challenges to liberal democracies posed when weapons of mass destruction pass into the hands of small terrorist cells rather than states. Ignatieff bases his lesser evil approach to political ethics on novels and Greek plays and the political philosophy of the 15th Century Italian diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince, The Discourses).
Ignatieff's implication that the Iraq war is an overreaction to terrorism is inconsistent with his own ethical criteria that force should only be used as a last resort. He contends that 9/11 did not endanger the social order of the U.S. and likens the U.S. response to 9/11 to that of the Red Scare of the 1950's. Here Ignatieff's reasoned book deteriorates into mush. Ignatieff ignores the encroaching steps of terrorism going back to the 1970's beginning with the Iran hostage crisis, the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt, the bombing of 200 U.S. Marines in Lebanon, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole, all leading up to 9/11. Considering the totality of these terrorist acts, it would seem the U.S. has not been easily prone to provocation and thus met Ignatieff's last resort ethical criteria.
Where Ignatieff is at his best is when he points out that the strategy of insurrectionary terrorism employed by Russian revolutionaries is similar to that of current Islamic terrorists: to provoke ruling governments into atrocities on the battlefield and political repression at home that will weaken the grip of the allegiance of their citizens and allied nations. If this is so, Ignatieff offers us no insights as to what is the lesser evil: domestic civil rights violations incited by anti-war activists or the horrific mass murder and destruction of legal institutions of revolutionaries once they are in power. Ignatieff prefers to confine his discussion of the lesser evil to domestic civil liberties rather than the more difficult question of what was the lesser evil in Vietnam for example - political repression at home such as the Kent State tragedy provoked by the burning down of the campus ROTC building by anti-war activists, or the killing fields of Pol Pot and tragedies of the boat people that resulted after the war? One is left with the impression that to Ignatieff the genocides of post-war Vietnam and Cambodia were just another big Red Scare and that Kent State was the greater evil? To be fair, I'm sure Ignatieff doesn't believe this but he leaves the reader with this ethical dilemma without resolving it.
Ignatieff quotes Machiavelli that during emergencies constitutional safeguards shouldn't be abandoned. But Ignatieff conveniently ignores the political advice of Machiavelli on pre-emptive wars. Machiavelli wrote when trouble is sensed well in advance it can easily be remedied; if you wait for it to show itself any medicine will be too late because the disease will have become incurable. He also wrote that political disorders can be quickly healed if they are seen well in advance; but, for lack of proper diagnosis if they are allowed to grow in such a way that everyone can recognize them, remedies are too late.
Believing that liberty at home can only be achieved by a strong outward military defense, Machiavelli wrote a book The Art of War that outlined the strategy and tactics necessary to win wars. The world would be beholden to a modern day Machiavelli who could similarly outline a strategy for combating terrorism that would avoid political repression and wartime abuses. Ignatieff's book is no such primer. It might have also been helpful if Ignatieff had provided an overview of the wartime civil rights abuses of Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and Nixon.
Using Ignatieff's lesser evil criteria for example, what would be the lesser evil if the U.S. was faced with a choice of a war of preemption in Iraq or a disastrous world-wide economic depression? Islamic political destabilization of Saudi Arabia for example could likely result in a sudden spike in oil prices that would likely cause massive unemployment and suffering. Here Ignatieff is strangely silent.
Nonetheless this is a good book that poses many of the right questions, even if it offers only partial answers. I recommend reading it but perhaps also reading Gil Merom's How Democracies Lose Small Wars and Lee Harris' Civilization and its Enemies as a counter balance. I nevertheless rate this book a 5 because the civil rights issues the author raises are very important whether you agree with his argument or not.