chapter  9
21 Pages

Ignatieff, Ireland and the ‘lesser evil’: Some problems with the lessons learnt

ByMARK MCGOVERN

In writing The Lesser Evil Michael Ignatieff states that his purpose is to answer the question as to what means democracies can employ to defeat ‘terrorism’ without ‘destroying the values for which they stand’.1 To do so, Ignatieff sought to learn from other terrorist emergencies, including the actions and policies employed by successive British Governments, over three decades, in conducting counter-insurgency strategies in Northern Ireland. The aim of this chapter is critically to analyse Ignatieff’s reading of what policies the British State employed during the Northern Ireland conflict and the lessons Ignatieff appears to have learnt as a result. Ignatieff’s method is one in which he argues for a particular approach to political ethics today, based upon examples from the past, such as that of Northern Ireland.