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The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terrorism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2005

Jeanne Morefield
Affiliation:
Whitman College

Extract

The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terrorism. By Michael Ignatieff. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. 160p. $29.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.

While Michael Ignatieff was no doubt motivated to write this book by the civil and human rights abuses justified by the Patriot Act and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the framing question of it is decidedly more abstract: How can liberal democracies defend themselves against terrorism without violating their most sacred principles? The book is to be commended for the forthright way it confronts the uncomfortable moral dilemmas posed by democracy's encounter with terrorism, but Ignatieff is less successful in his attempt to articulate a coherent “lesser evil” approach to these encounters. More disconcerting, however, is the way the formal qualities of his argument potentially silence the kind of self-reflection and historical scrutiny that ought also to play a vital role in any democratic state's—much less a superpower's—response to terrorism.

Type
BOOK REVIEWS: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Copyright
© 2005 American Political Science Association

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