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