05 April 2006

Cere on Ignatieff

It seems McGill University's Daniel Cere has come to the same conclusion about Michael Ignatieff as yours truly, as indicated here: Not much new in Ignatieff's vision of liberalism, which is in fact virtually identical to that of the late Pierre Trudeau. Cere writes:

[F]or Mr. Ignatieff the basic institutions of civil society - family and religion - present serious threats to human freedom. His brand of liberalism tears down the firewall between the state and civil society. "Rights," Mr. Ignatieff argues, "are meaningful only if they confer entitlements and immunities on individuals; they are worth having only if they can be enforced against institutions like the family, the state and the church." Rights are to be used as swords against core spheres of civil society, not shields to protect them.

But here's the rub. Who gets to wield this powerful sword of rights against family and religion? Who else, but the righteous Liberal state through its courts and legislatures? In short, individuals are to be liberated by the coercive power of the state. The aggressive implications of this approach are outlined in Mr. Ignatieff's discussion of family culture in "The Rights Revolution," part of the Massey Lectures series. Mr. Ignatieff argues that we need to bring "rights talk" into the bedrooms of the nation. Rights, he insists, must be used to re-engineer society's most basic social relationships between women and men, parents and children.

This brand of liberalism wants to use the state to impose its own social vision on society: to create a society composed of autonomous individuals, freely forging, dissolving and reforging their relationships. In this view, the state must be constantly working to weaken those civil society institutions that get in the way of this free-wheeling individualism.

Although I cannot share Cere's apparent enthusiasm for John Locke and John Rawls, I believe he is correct to alert Canadians to the possible negative ramifications of an Ignatieff premiership.

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