It’s hard to be patient with Hermione Lee’s review of ‘On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times’ by Michael Ignatieff.

Political Realist…

A brief review of Mr. Ignatieff’s political/moral evolution, adds what is missing from Hermione Lee’s fawning commentary:

Mr. Mr. Ignatieff’s fawning 1995 interview with Isaiah Berlin:

As I watched Berlin seems to mumble, as Ignatieff engages in his act of worship.

Note that Kai Bird, in his ‘The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy: Brothers in Arms’ also mentions Berlin’s admiration of the Bundy brothers.

David Caute offers a more sobering portrait of Berlin, as cowardly Academic Politicker, in his 2015 book:

Two high-voltage scholars engage in a bitter conflict in this irresistible tale of principle and politics in the Cold War years

Rancorous and highly public disagreements between Isaiah Berlin and Isaac Deutscher escalated to the point of cruel betrayal in the mid-1960s, yet surprisingly the details of the episode have escaped historians’ scrutiny. In this gripping account of the ideological clash between two of the most influential scholars of Cold War politics, David Caute uncovers a hidden story of passionate beliefs, unresolved antagonism, and the high cost of reprisal to both victim and perpetrator.

Though Deutscher (1907–1967) and Berlin (1909–1997) had much in common—each arrived in England in flight from totalitarian violence, quickly mastered English, and found entry into the Anglo-American intellectual world of the 1950s—Berlin became one of the presiding voices of Anglo-American liberalism, while Deutscher remained faithful to his Leninist heritage, resolutely defending Soviet conduct despite his rejection of Stalin’s tyranny. Caute combines vivid biographical detail with an acute analysis of the issues that divided these two icons of Cold War politics, and brings to light for the first time the full severity of Berlin’s action against Deutscher.

Here is a short video of Ignatieff on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine of May 26, 2008:

Here is Ignatieff in a video dated May 16, 2013 :

Let this act as the historical frame of Hermione Lee’s review of ‘On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times’. The French mathematician, intellectual, and moderate revolutionary the Marquis de Condorcet at a mere 373 words. Ms. Lee then begins her comments on the ‘consolation business’, in another 230 words:

The consolation business is a crowded market. There are many books out there, presumably of help to many readers, on how to come to terms with suffering and bereavement and how to bear grief, with titles like It’s OK That You’re Not OK and I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye and I’m Grieving as Fast as I Can. Out of the pandemic have come timely aids like This Too Shall Pass and Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. There are books on how to understand your emotions, such as David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words (2015). There are books of intellectual advice, like Alain de Botton’s personal take on “how to become wise through philosophy,” with encouraging thoughts on Epicurus, Montaigne, et al., in The Consolations of Philosophy (2000). 

And there are some notable books by writers who have brought the powers of their imagination and language to bear on the experience of bereavement, among them C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed (1961),Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life (2013), and Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers (2016). Readers respond intensely to such books because they often find their own lives reflected in them, but told in ways that they couldn’t have imagined and that provide their own form of consolation.


Lee has missed some important Actors in this ‘game’ :

C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed (1961), Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life (2013), and Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers (2016)

Then Lee points to Mr. Ignatieff, as different than the list of writers who have attempted to grapple with catastrophic loss. All but one, C.S. Lewis, reeks of the Best Seller list! Nor can this Reader think of any of these writers as being a victimizer on the scale of Mr. Ignatieff, and his ‘R2P’ zealots! ‘R2P’ was a gift to the Neo-Cons, in their war mongering, as muted as the ‘Human Rights’ issue may have been, the resonance of ‘R2P’, added some moral patina to the ‘Liberals’ falling into line with the Neo-Cons.

Lee describes Mr. Ignatieff ‘s ‘Gethsemane’ :

The book starts on a personal note with Ignatieff’s attendance at a choral festival in Utrecht in 2017, where he was giving a talk on “justice and politics” in the Psalms, which were being sung in different musical settings. He was overcome by the emotional effect they had on him, a nonbeliever, and on others like him. How do religious texts and religious music still provide consolation and “tears of recognition” in what he thinks of (though others might disagree) as a largely secular era? The book took shape out of that question, which begged to be asked all the more intensely during the pandemic.

But once the melodrama has been realized, Lee perseveres:

But on the whole he is not autobiographical, though the dismal hospital deaths of his own parents, decades ago, lie behind the book’s affecting final chapter on Cicely Saunders, founder of the palliative care movement. Nor does he tell us where and how we should find solace. His own working life—as a historian of ideas; as the biographer of Isaiah Berlin; as a broadcaster, memoirist, essayist, and novelist; as an unsuccessful Liberal politician in Canada; and as rector, in turbulent times, of Central European University in Hungary—has fed his interest in the intellectual context of ideas of consolation, whether these be Stoic, Hebrew, Catholic, or Protestant, Enlightenment or rationalist, Marxist, liberal, or secular. So the book is historical, proceeding in great jumps from the book of Job to European writers of the twentieth century (and giving sharp and succinct accounts of the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the French Revolution, or the American Civil War).

The Reader has yet to even reach the end of this 3,306 word apologetic for Mr. Ignatieff ! Lee takes her rhetorical cue from the Neo-Cons: who attempt to drown the critical faculties of The Reader, in an avalanche of rhetoric!

Political Realist

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.'
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