James Turner Johnson, one of the preeminent just war theorists of our time, reviews Michael Ignatieff’s book, The Lesser Evil. Recall Ignatieff is being touted as possible leadership material for the Liberal Party of Canada.
Johnson does a masterful job slicing and dicing Ignatieff’s arguments. He focuses on Ignatieff’s deficient category of “lesser evil,” which gets him bogged down in trying to distinguish “lesser” from “greater” evils, and wondering whether liberal democracy itself is one of those evils. The crux of the problem is Ignatieff’s undefended assertion that any and all forms of violence are evil:
But are these two examples of violenceÃ¢â‚¬???that inflicted by terrorism on democracy and that used by democracy to fight terrorismÃ¢â‚¬???inherently equivalent? When Ignatieff quickly adds that in a liberal democracy all use of force is a lesser evil, something has, it seems to me, gone wildly astray. Not only is the initial equivalence between the two forms of violence wrong, but IgnatieffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s position wrongly disconnects the use of force and coercion from the pursuit of justice. When used justlyÃ¢â‚¬???and in the American system this means at its basis to protect the essential goods of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at which American democracy aimsÃ¢â‚¬???coercive force is not an evil at all but an instrument of good.
He elides the distinction between the protection of good political order and the protection of the state against harm, and he makes even the defense of democracy (which he clearly regards as good) a matter of a choice among evils. He nods in the direction of traditional just war criteria, but none of his lists of limiting conditions include all of these indispensable criteria. Most basically, by beginning with the notion that all violence is evil he insures that his major concerns focus on the jus ad bellum choice to use forceful or coercive means, not with what the jus in bello principles of discrimination and proportionality may tell us with regard to right conduct in the war on terror. And despite his effort to nuance and limit the means used in the anti-terrorist struggle, his moral paradigm casts this struggle as doing evil that good may come of itÃ¢â‚¬???a morally problematic idea.
So liberal democracy itself is a kind of necessary evil. Combine that with Ignatieff’s internationalism, which, Jeremy Rabkin observes, undermines the distinction between citizen and foreigner, and you have an argument that makes it impossible for Ignatieff to defend his own land.
Not exactly PM material. Then again, in Canada it probably is.