The Lesser Evil

The Lesser Evil

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r21k3
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  • Book Info
    The Lesser Evil
    Book Description:

    Must we fight terrorism with terror and torture with torture? Must we sacrifice civil liberty to protect public safety?In the age of terrorism Michael Ignatieff argues that we must not shrink from the use of violence. But its use - in a liberal democracy - must be measured. 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. He shows how the most potent response to terror has been force, decisive and direct, yet restrained. The public scrutiny and political ethics that motivate restraint also give democracy its strongest weapon: the moral power to endure when vengeance and hatred are spent.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7969-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE DEMOCRACY AND THE LESSER EVIL
    (pp. 1-24)

    What lesser evils may a society commit when it believes it faces the greater evil of its own destruction? This is one of the oldest questions in politics and one of the hardest to answer. The old Roman adage—the safety of the people is the first law—set few limits to the claims of security over liberty. In the name of the people’s safety, the Roman republic was prepared to sacrifice all other laws. For what laws would survive if Rome itself perished? The suspension of civil liberties, the detention of aliens, the secret assassination of enemies: all this...

  5. CHAPTER TWO THE ETHICS OF EMERGENCY
    (pp. 25-53)

    Terrorist states of emergency raise fundamental questions about the nature of the rule of law.¹ If laws can be abridged and liberties suspended in an emergency, what remains of their legitimacy in times of peace? If laws are rules, and emergencies make exceptions to these rules, how can their authority survive once exceptions are made? In this chapter, I consider the impact of emergency suspensions of civil liberties on the idea of the rule of law, and I ask a related question: what remains of the status of human rights if they can be abridged in times of public danger?...

  6. CHAPTER THREE THE WEAKNESS OF THE STRONG
    (pp. 54-81)

    One of the recurring difficulties in thinking clearly about terrorism is how to evaluate the threat it actually poses. In this chapter, I review the historical evidence about how seriously terrorism has threatened liberal democracy since the mid–nineteenth century, explain why liberal democracies have often exaggerated the threat, and suggest what we can do to get risk and reaction into a better balance.

    When terrorist emergencies are proclaimed, abridgments of liberty are justified in terms which assert that “the life of a nation” is at risk.¹ When political leaders declare a “war on terror,” they imply that terrorism poses...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR THE STRENGTH OF THE WEAK
    (pp. 82-111)

    Terrorism is a violent form of politics, and it is because terrorism is political that it is dangerous. Terrorists represent causes and grievances and claim to speak in the name of millions.¹ If terrorism is a form of politics, it needs to be fought with the force of argument and not just with the force of arms. A war on terror that is not guided by a clear political strategy, to win support for democratic government and drain support from terror, is bound to fail. Indeed, it is a mistake to evaluate the effectiveness of military or police actions apart...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE THE TEMPTATIONS OF NIHILISM
    (pp. 112-144)

    In Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, written under the impact of anarchist terrorist incidents in London and Paris in the 1890s, there is a character called the Professor who walks about the streets of London, one hand clutching a detonating switch attached to a supply of explosive in his coat.¹ He can blow himself up at any moment if the police try to arrest him. Conrad imagined the Professor as having been an assistant demonstrator at a technical institute and then a lab technician for a dye manufacturer, who after being dismissed, conceives a grudge against the world. As Conrad...

  9. CHAPTER SIX LIBERTY AND ARMAGEDDON
    (pp. 145-170)

    Terrorism requires us to think carefully about who we are as free peoples and what we need to do in order to remain so. When we are confronted with terrorist violence, we cannot allow the claims of national security to trump the claims of liberty, since what we are trying to defend is our continued existence as a free people. Freedom must set a limit to the measures we employ to maintain it. But this is not the only limit that our political and moral identity imposes. We must preserve ourselves and our freedom, but we cannot do so by...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 171-204)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 205-212)