posted March 19, 2002 at 10:10 AM MDT
"There are just some things that should never be done to human beings" ... that's the kind of bottom line thinking that is characteristic of Micheal Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and author of "Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry". Interestingly, with that sort of slant on the foundations of civility (one of Ignatieff's lines is "The naked creature at the barbed wire fence is us" ... and this is from a man who lectures at military colleges on such as the need for constant ethical vigilance), the center's motto reads: "The yawning gap between the apparent attractiveness of human rights ideals and their realization has prompted the Carr Center to focus on the tools and techniques for realizing existing norms."
While Ignatieff's position is that we will need combat-ready troops to defend human rights ("peace making", distinct from "peace keeping" ... which was my attitude as a soldier up until the overthrow of Salvadore Allende's democratically elected Chilean government, by the American backed fascist Pinochet), he stresses that the short term gains of security over human rights are going to be costly in the long run. As evidence of what I'd call his even-handedness, consider just this line of argument from his article in the New York Times: "The question after Sept. 11 is whether the era of human rights has come and gone. If that sounds alarmist, consider some of the evidence."
Ignatieff walks the line. While adopting a logic that alams me with its similarity to commodity thinking (I've come to regard cost - benefit analysis as the sign of evil) he inevitably uses the human rights standards of "freedom from" to draw that line. Consequently, when he focus on what he calls "the failure of states" in sub-Saharan Africa, he talks about the need for responsible African representative to draw a virtuous circle and attend to the real and pressing needs of the people.
I'm thinking that those who are more inclined to lobby government officials than to defy plastic bullets while rattling perimeter fences would do well to consider Ignatieff's book, "Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry". I might not reconsider the decision I made, post-Chile, to oppose military interventions, but I certainly do appreciate his approach ... we the people need to demand our rights not to be commoditized, our freedom from intentional empoverishment.
BTW there is RealAudio of a recent interview from NPR's "The Connection".