Blood and Belonging


in Bombs and rockets, Books and literature, Canada, Politics

Sasha Ilnyckyj in Deep Cove

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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben September 24, 2006 at 10:11 pm

Is Ignatieff involved in ‘real politics’ in Canada then?

Milan September 24, 2006 at 10:16 pm


He is running for Liberal Party leader. If he wins, and the Liberals win the next federal election, he will be PM. Pretty involved, I’d say.

R.K. September 24, 2006 at 10:57 pm

I take it the familial photo is meant to reinforce the ‘blood and belonging’ theme?

. December 6, 2007 at 11:50 am

Perhaps the best passage from this book:

“I began the journey as a liberal, and I end as one, but I cannot help thinking that liberal civilization — the rule of laws, not men, of argument in place of force, of compromise in place of violence — runs deeply against the human grain and is achieved and sustained only by the most unremitting struggle against human nature. The liberal virtues — tolerance, compromise, reason — remain as valuable as ever, but they cannot be preached to those who are mad with fear or mad with vengeance. In any case, preaching always rings hollow. We must be prepared to defend them by force, and the failure of the sated, cosmopolitan nations to do so has left the hungry nations sick with contempt for us.”

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