The Limits of Courage and Principle
The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. By Michael Ignatieff. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. 2004. Pp. vi, 212. $29.95.
Michael Ignatieff, the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is not a lawyer. His work, however, treats issues of core concern to lawyers: nation-building, human rights, the ethics of warfare, and now, in his latest book, the proper relationship between liberty and security. The Lesser Evil is, in part, a book a legal scholar might have written: a normative framework for lawmaking in the face of the terror threat. It is also something more unusual: an exercise in an older type of jurisprudence. Ignatieff discusses law in the light of moral psychology and a general view about the nature of value, but in a way that respects the concrete, practical character of legal decisions and does not make law hostage to philosophy. The book should thus be read on two levels: as a contribution to current legal debates about balancing liberty and security and as an object lesson in the value and limitations of Ignatieff’s heterodox approach to law.