Iggy, Philosopher King
The Globe has a really, really great profile of Michael Ignatieff online at the moment. It illustrates quite a bit of why he is the Liberal leadership frontrunner, perhaps as much as anything because no one seems capable of not talking about him. The article’s great. If you don’t have the time, here are my thoughts.
Ignatieff is the product of elevated status, both politically and intellectually. On his father’s side, he is two generations shy of Russian aristocracy, were it not for the Bolsheviks. On his mother’s side, he is descended from homegrown Canadian intellectuals. His blind, potentially amoral political ambition is as much a commonality with Nixon as with Trudeau.
As a political aristocrat in a fairly classical sense, however, he reminds me as much as anything of a would-be philosopher king. I spend too much of yesterday (for unrelated reasons) picking through Plato’s Republic. Might just be my immersion in both this and the Globe piece at the same time, but the similarity is striking. The impulse to intellectual leadership, the high-mindedness, the remarkably well-rounded education away from home, the dispassionate willingness to judge and praise or condemn—all of these either implicitly or explicitly typify Plato’s ideal ruler.
Regardless of what you think of Plato’s political scheme (I doubt anyone much takes it seriously these days), what’s interesting about the comparison is where it doesn’t measure up. The biographical cracks in Ignatieff include a cold aloofness, a palpable personal ambition, and an all too visible history of ruthlessness. Quite a bit of this is apparently typified in his poor treatment of his younger brother (the first to bear the nickname Iggy) as a child. His disowned his brother at boarding school and, later, wrote him entirely out of a magazine article about their family.
All this is belied by a social conscience—Ignatieff volunteered for years at a
No one questions Ignatieff’s general brilliance or breadth of achievement. Never mind that he’s the only candidate to be a journalist, novelist, academic and filmmaker—he’d likely be the only Prime Minister to be all of these. His intellectual achievements might well outstrip Trudeau. His political waverings can largely be couched as an innate moral-political ambivalence. This is something with which I sympathize, frankly, and that I admire as a quality in a policymaker. I also share his preference for liberalism over socialism.
Nonetheless, for all his pragmatism and ambivalence, Ignatieff show a propensity for grand, extreme policies (like the war in