Michael Ignatieff is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author of Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics.
 (December 2015)

The Refugees & the New War

ISIS is trying to provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with the Crusader infidels. We should deny them this opportunity. They want to convince the world of the West’s indifference to the suffering of Muslims; so we should demonstrate the opposite.

Messianic America: Can He Explain it?

Perry Anderson at the Frontiers of Thought conference, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2013
At the age of seventy-seven, Perry Anderson is the most distinguished living member of a generation of British Marxist historians and theorists who dominated intellectual life on the British left from the late 1950s until the 1990s. They included Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Ralph Miliband, Isaac Deutscher, Christopher Hill, Rodney …

Fukushima: The Price of Nuclear Power

Police searching for victims' remains at the site of Namie Elementary School, Fukushima, Japan, June 11, 2014

Four years ago, the Japanese fishing town of Namie lived through an experience of malediction biblical in scope. It was struck by an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale, a fifteen-meter tsunami, and finally, a blanket of radioactivity from the nearby Fukushima reactor. As Japan resumes nuclear power this week, Namie is a reminder of the price we must be prepared to pay.

The Religious Specter Haunting Revolution

David Ben-Gurion at Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the Negev desert, 1966
Michael Walzer turned eighty this year, as vital, productive, and intellectually alive as ever. After twenty-eight books, hundreds of articles, decades of teaching at Princeton and Harvard, editing Dissent as a nonsectarian voice of the democratic left, his work remains an essential reference point in academic and public discussion of …

The New World Disorder

Rescuers searching for bodies at the crash site of flight MH17, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014
When the bodies and belongings of 298 people tumbled out of the sky on July 17, and then lay unhallowed and uncollected in the fields of eastern Ukraine, clarity seemed to follow in the silence. John Ashbery’s lines in “Soonest Mended” came to mind: It was still a shock when, …

Are the Authoritarians Winning?

President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a bilateral meeting in Amsterdam, March 2014
Democracies today are in the middle of a period of envy and despondency. Authoritarian competitors are aglow with arrogant confidence. The Francis Fukuyama moment—when in 1989 Westerners were told that liberal democracy was the final form toward which all political striving was directed—now looks like a quaint artifact of a vanished unipolar moment. For the first time since the end of the cold war, the advance of democratic constitutionalism has stopped

America’s Melancholic Hero

George Kennan en route to Moscow, where he served for five months as US ambassador, May 1952
George Kennan’s life spanned and defined the American century. He was born into a lawyer’s family in Milwaukee in 1904 when Theodore Roosevelt was president. He lived to become the chief intellectual architect of America’s victory in the cold war. He died in 2005, aged 101, in Princeton as another …

The Faith of a Hero

Dag Hammarskjöld (right) and Martin Buber, Jerusalem, January 2, 1959
When Dag Hammarskjöld’s body was recovered from the crash site in Ndola, Zambia, where the Albertina, his chartered DC-6, went down on the night of September 18, 1961, he was lying on his back, propped up against an ant hill, immaculately dressed as always, in neatly pressed trousers and a …

How to Save the Syrians

A man helping a boy through the rubble of a damaged house near Hama, Syria, September 13, 2013

We may be at a turning point in the Syrian agony, when diplomatic action combined with the threat of force moves the Syrian regime toward putting its chemical weapons under international control. If this happens it will be a victory for international law, for the authority of the UN Security Council, and for peace. But it is only too obvious that thus far the peoples of the democratic states have failed in our responsibility to protect the people of Syria.

The Confessions of Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan in Darfur, listening to two women who had suffered at the hands of the Janjaweed militia, May 2005
How do we explain Kofi Annan’s enduring moral prestige? The puzzle is that it has survived failures, both his own and those of the institution he served for fifty years. Personal charisma is only part of the story. In addition to his charm, of which there is plenty, there is the authority that comes from experience. Few people have spent so much time around negotiating tables with thugs, warlords, and dictators. He has made himself the world’s emissary to the dark side.

The Man Who Shaped History

Aryeh Neier giving a talk about the international human rights movement at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, February 2012
When the blind human rights activist and lawyer Chen Guangcheng arrived from Beijing to begin a new life at New York University in mid-May, with the camera flashes ricocheting off his dark glasses, his first moments in freedom recalled the euphoric day in 1986 when the diminutive Anatoly Shcharansky crossed …

How Syria Divided the World

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 18, 2012

The Syrian conflict has triggered something more fundamental than a difference of opinion over intervention, something more than an argument about whether the Security Council should authorize the use of force. Syria is the moment in which the West should see that the world has truly broken into two. A loose alliance of struggling capitalist democracies now finds itself face to face with two authoritarian despotisms—Russia and China—something new in the annals of political science: kleptocracies that mix the market economy and the police state. These regimes will support tyrannies like Syria wherever it is in their interest to do so.

We’re So Exceptional

Widows praying during the dedication ceremonies for a planned memorial to the more than eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys who were massacred in July 1995, during the Bosnian war, by Serb forces in Srebrenica, July 11, 2001. The memorial was completed in 2003.
Since Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership in setting up the United Nations and the Nuremberg trials, the US has promoted universal legal norms and the institutions to enforce them, while seeking by hook or by crook to exempt American citizens, especially soldiers, from their actual application. From Nuremberg onward, no country has invested more in the development of international jurisdiction for atrocity crimes and no country has worked harder to make sure that the law it seeks for others does not apply to itself.

The Election and America’s Future

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors   K. ANTHONY APPIAH Princeton, New Jersey If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a …

Americans Abroad

The debate on the war with Iraq has become a global referendum on American power. The Bush administration wanted to call the attention of the world to the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein’s defiance of UN resolutions only to discover that the world was far more worried about the dangers …

Mission Possible?

In northern Afghanistan earlier this year, the chief of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mazar-e-Sharif complained to me that the “humanitarian space” was shrinking. The local warlords were fighting, and this made it difficult for his teams to deliver food and medicines to the population …

The Rights Stuff

Human rights are under pressure these days. During the cold war, they went from being the insurgent creed of dissidents and activists to something like the ruling ideology of Western governments. Like all official ideologies, it was honored more in the breach than in the observance, but still, it had …

Barbarians at the Gate?

The contemporary situation in global politics has no precedent since the age of the later Roman emperors. It is not just the military domination of the world by a single nation. Nor is it even the awesome reach of its power, for example, having an air command center in Saudi …

Chains of Command

When the general who fought the Kosovo war is fired six weeks after winning it, it’s a safe bet to assume that the Pentagon and the American military establishment never wanted to fight it in the first place. The end came for Wesley Clark when he was having dinner with …

Bush’s First Strike

George W. Bush described the strikes on Iraq on February 16 as a “routine mission.” They were anything but. They struck targets outside the no-fly zones, and in so doing exceeded the authorizing mandate of UN resolutions, as the French government and many Arab states indignantly pointed out. They were …

The New American Way of War

More than a decade after the cold war, America still spends more on defense than all of its NATO allies combined and five to six times more than its rivals. In the coming year, the American defense budget will be close to $300 billion, compared to between $40 and $64 …

The Man Who Was Right

One of the few unalloyed pleasures of old age is living long enough to see yourself vindicated. Robert Conquest is currently enjoying this pleasure. He is eighty-two years old, a British historian, poet, and political writer, and longtime research fellow at Stanford. His best-known works—Kolyma (1978), The Harvest of Sorrow …

Human Rights: The Midlife Crisis

Fifty years after its proclamation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the sacred text of what Elie Wiesel has called a “world-wide secular religion.”[^1] UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called the Declaration the “yardstick by which we measure human progress.” Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer has described it …

Prophet in the Ruins

In the middle of the Bosnian war, I went to see Milovan Djilas at his apartment in Palmoticeva in Belgrade. Years before, my parents had passed a copy of The New Class to some Yugoslav friends during a summer holiday in Dalmatia. Djilas’s book gave me my first encounter with …

On Isaiah Berlin (1909 – 1997)

Michael Ignatieff He was born in the twilight of imperial Russia and he was buried on a grey Friday morning at the end of the century in the Jewish section of Oxford’s Wolvercote cemetery. At the age of seven, he watched the banners of the Russian Revolution waving below the …

The Gods of War

War remains one of the ecstatic activities of mankind, like sport or sex. Why this should be so is the question at the heart of Barbara Ehrenreich’s extraordinarily interesting—and contentious—book. People have always thought they had good reasons for going to war and they always will: they want to acquire …

In the Center of the Earthquake

On Christmas Eve 1918, Lenin was being driven in his Rolls-Royce on the outskirts of Moscow when four men flagged him down, pulled him out at gun point, and searched his pockets. Lenin shouted, “Don’t you know who I am?” “I don’t care,” replied the leader of the gang, one …

Whispers from the Abyss

At the end of the Russian Orthodox service for the dead, the choir and the mourners join together in singing the “Viechnaya Pamyat.” The words mean “Eternal Memory,” and the memory in question is God’s. Human memory may betray, but God never forgets. In the twentieth century, the closest secular …