Episode MDVII of The American Political Melodrama: R2P Zealot Michael Ignatieff scolds ISIS ‘Fellow Traveler’ Pankaj Mishra in The New York Review of Books. A comment by Philosophical Apprentice

Mr. Ignatieff reviews Mr Pankaj Mishra’s latest book ‘Age of Anger: A History of the Present’. Some quotations from this review reflects both Mr. Ignatieff’s elite western prejudices and his status as apologist, in fact as agent for  Western Imperialism/Capitalism.

The reader might just make the connection between the practice of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) of the acolytes of Isaiah Berlin , like Mr Ignatieff and Samantha Power and their natural political allies the perpetually bellicose Neo-Conservatives: the one invades other countries in the name of ‘Human Rights’ the other in the name of American hegemony.

‘There’s a lot of anger in this age of ours, but not all anger is the same and not all anger has equal justification. To describe terrorism as an act of anger, for example, may seem to imply that it has a justifying cause. In lumping together the anger of workers left high and dry by plant shutdowns, young people unable to find a secure job, and jihadi killers, Mishra fails to distinguish an anger that results in indiscriminate slaughter and has no justification whatever.’

The collapse of the Neo-Liberal Dispensation in the ‘West’ in 2008 and the subsequent economic privation of the working classes, while the elites continue to flourish has eluded the attention of Mr.Ignatieff.  The Occupy Wall Street movement, although crushed by Mayor Bloomberg, in New York City, captured the debate with its telling descriptor of  1% vs. 99%: the plutocrats were rhetorically routed by the Great Unwashed. Yet the myth of the Self-Correcting Market has yet to manifest itself. The barista with a Masters or PhD has reached the commonplace. Mr.Ignatieff  doesn’t seem to understand that those ‘jihadi killers’ are a manifestation against American Imperialism and its allies, Islamic autocracies. On the question of justification for anger Mr. Ignatieff misses the point, for ideological reasons.

Mishra doesn’t bother with such distinctions, it seems, because he sympathizes with the anger of jihadists and believes it has some justification. At one point, for example, he says of the ISIS terrorists that they have “aimed at exterminating a world of soul-killing mediocrity, cowardice, opportunism and immoral deal-making.” Never, so far as I know, has a free and freedom-loving intellectual handed a gang of killers such a lofty worldview. Mishra would not justify terrorist acts—he would recoil at the very idea—yet in seeing its perpetrators as holy warriors against “modernity” he justifies their arguments.

Mr. Ignatieff then attempts to shame, to defame Mishra as a fellow traveler of ISIS with this fragment: “aimed at exterminating a world of soul-killing mediocrity, cowardice, opportunism and immoral deal-making.” the jihadis are anti-imperial, anti-Neo-Liberal, anti-American,  in a world where Afghanistan and Iraq are still the subject to American invasion, occupation, warfare. With the Drone War waged at the whim of America and its ‘allies’,  its dwindling ‘Coalition Partners’. The Syrian debacle is still evolving. Yet the rage of the ever expanding, ever morphing Islamic Fundamentalism- the anger of the invaded and occupied, and their sisters and brothers, viewing the carnage from distances thought to be unimaginable to Mr. Ignatieff, simply confirms the failure to win ‘hearts and minds’. The ever expanding American remit of ‘The War on Terror’ is a failure that continues to make more enemies than friends. This state of Perpetual war, only confirms the WASP paranoia of American National Security State operative Samuel P. Huntington, whose Vietnam crime still manifests itself in birth defects caused by the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange. Compare this to the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorous in Iraq.

For some insights into Mr. Ignatieff ‘s  particular brand of Liberal Moralizing, the reader can review his May 2, 2004 essay in the New York Times Magazine titled ‘Lesser Evils’. It offers some insight on the very questions asked by Mr. Ignatieff  of  Mr.Mishra:

‘But thinking about lesser evils is unavoidable. Sticking too firmly to the rule of law simply allows terrorists too much leeway to exploit our freedoms. Abandoning the rule of law altogether betrays our most valued institutions. To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war. These are evils because each strays from national and international law and because they kill people or deprive them of freedom without due process. They can be justified only because they prevent the greater evil. The question is not whether we should be trafficking in lesser evils but whether we can keep lesser evils under the control of free institutions. If we can’t, any victories we gain in the war on terror will be Pyrrhic ones.’

‘They were at war with us, and we convinced ourselves that we were not at war with them. Post-Church, we may have betrayed a fatal preference for clean hands in a dark world of terror in which only dirty hands can get the job done.

But dirty hands need not be lawless.’

Also for some insights into the ‘Responsibility to Protect'(R2P) construct see this essay by Sarah de Geest – Research Assistant for the Human Security Center, in her essay titled ‘Russian Intervention in Ukraine: R2P Limits and reclaiming the Concept and Narrative’. In her essay Ms. de Geest describes and quotes from Mr. Ignatieff’s position on Ukraine:

Michael Ignatieff is one of the scholars that helped articulate the R2P principle at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001[5]. Later, in a 2014 address at Chatham House, he touched upon the different ways[6] in which Mr. Putin has mangled R2P’s imminent (and not so imminent) purposes:

  • Who do we protect: we should protect everyone, not just ethnic Russians or citizens who identify themselves as Russian. For example, this protection should have extended to the victims of February 18th in Kiev where 25 demonstrators died and more than a thousand were wounded in the violent clashes with the police[7],
  • The threat itself: it is pertinent that the threat embodies serious mental and bodily harm, for example ethnic massacre and genocide. In Ukraine there was no known threat that amounted to this “just cause threshold”[8],
  • How do we protect: What are the limits that are both legally and practically implied? Should unilateral action be allowed? Should Russia be allowed to essentially lead Crimea on a fast track unilateral secession?


Given Mr. Ignatieff ‘s position on ‘dirty hands’ and its servant ‘lawfulness’ in his May 2, 2004 essay in the New York Times Magazine titled ‘Lesser Evils’, he manages to echo the  legal pasticheur John Yoo. Given the moral/rhetorical  intervention and his R2P stance on Ukraine, the glaringly obvious question arises : what is the difference between the R2P Interventionist and the Neo-Conservative’s unslakable bellicosity? Is it simply a question of the rationalization used, to invade and subjugate, or simply to use the cudgel of power, to blackmail these lesser beings into submission, to the political will of a ruthless Empire? Yet this Empire can’t seem to win any of it’s Wars of Choice!

Notice that Mr. Ignatieff’s essay appears in the New York Review of Books, the ideological center of the ‘Cult of  Isaiah Berlin,‘ and its creature the R2P Public Intellectual.  And that Mr. Mishra is a regular contributor to this publication, indeed, he is a favorite. Yet he is now guilty of deviationism, and the good grey Mr.Ignatieff is assigned the task of publicly shaming this political nonconformist. Yet Mr. Ignatieff’s  book chat is just the most pedestrian kind of literary journalism, it doesn’t even qualify as polemic, just an unimaginative political scolding by a literary/political hack.

Philosophical Apprentice


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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