THE LESSER EVIL: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror

Michael Ignatieff, Author . Princeton Univ. $22.95 (212p) ISBN 978-0-691-11751-5

Ignatieff, a leading liberal thinker on human rights issues, offers an impeccably (if often redundantly) argued case for how to balance security and liberty in the face of the new kind of threat posed by today's terrorists. His basic principle is that neither security nor liberty trumps the other—a middle-of-the-road position—but the more security-minded will no doubt find the author leans more to the civil libertarian side as he insists that, while the president may have prerogatives in terms of, say, limiting civil liberties, these actions must always be subject to legislative and judicial review. In the course of his discussion, Ignatieff, director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, touches on key and troubling issues, such as how a democracy fighting nihilistic terrorists can avoid falling into the nihilistic trap itself, and why (according to Ignatieff) there is no moral equivalence between the violence perpetrated by a Palestinian suicide bomber and that of Israel's military retaliations. On the question of torture, Ignatieff argues, against Alan Dershowitz, that even in "ticking-bomb" cases torture must be abjured. Equally controversial but forcefully argued is his contention that a liberal democracy must respect the human rights of its enemies, however inhumane their own actions have been. The bottom line for Ignatieff is, in the end, commonsensical: a moral response to terrorism, while advancing security, must respect the equality and dignity of all and "make the fewest possible changes to our tried and tested standards of due process." This is an essential starting point for liberals and civil libertarians in grappling with the difficult moral and political challenges posed by the war on terror. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/19/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 212 pages - 978-0-7486-2224-5
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-14-301735-6
Hardcover - 212 pages - 978-0-7486-1872-9
Open Ebook - 232 pages - 978-1-4008-5068-6
Open Ebook - 978-1-306-13667-9
Paperback - 232 pages - 978-0-691-12393-6
Show other formats
Discover what to read next