While flying home, I finished Micheal Ignatieff’s Blood and Belonging. The main subject of the book is the examination of a number of contemporary examples of ethnic nationalism, both more and less violent in character. As he intended, it is a fairly chilling depiction of some of the uglier elements of human relations, in the more disputed parts of the world today. His description of the use of chemical weapons against the people of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq makes his initial support for the American led invasion more comprehensible.
At the same time as this book makes one fearful about the kind of world we will inhabit in twenty years, it also provides some hope. While I have not personally visited Quebec or Northern Ireland, it seems, on the basis of the coverage I have seen, that things are not as bad as they were when this book was written in the early nineties. Economic prosperity and civic forms of nationalism have the capacity, at least in theory, to slowly erode the bases of hatred and violence. Let us hope that this trend can win out in the long run over the one that seeks to define nation by something as arbitrary and damaging as an ethnic notion of identity.
I started reading this book in order to get a better sense of Ignatieff as a thinker and as a prospective leader. While my new sense is not sturdy enough to be definitive, I definitely think more of the man than I did in the period before I had read any of his writing. His understanding of difficult issues seems to have a subtlety and a compassion that is definitely not the mark of your standard politician. I will have to read more of his thinking, however, before I can issue or withhold a final endorsement.