Battle hymn of the republic

Did Michael Ignatieff really profess his love for “the republic I live in”? Does it matter?

One of the more recent Conservative attack ads includes a short clip of Michael Ignatieff uttering the words, “I love the republic I live in.”

The fine print indicates that Mr. Ignatieff uttered those words on Sept. 16, 2001. A little research shows that specifically those words were uttered as part of a roundtable discussion on CBC radio’s Sunday Edition with Michael Enright.

Now, given the date on which that discussion took place, one can perhaps imagine what the subject of that discussion was. But for the sake of argument (and context), I’ve tracked down an edited transcript of the conversation that was published shortly thereafter and I reprint here the question and answer that resulted in those seven words being committed to the public record.

MICHAEL ENRIGHT: What is the source of the loathing, Michael, of the United States? We see it and hear it and read about it in other parts of the world, this hatred for the US.

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: Some of the hatred is perfectly understandable. As some British commentator said crisply yesterday, the British Empire was hated and loathed, and now it’s the Americans’ turn. A certain loathing and hatred and envy goes toward any country that is deeply successful, that dominates the world in cultural, economic, and political terms. I want to make it clear, there isn’t an anti-American bone in my body. I love the republic I live in. But we just have to accept that success breeds contempt and envy. More to the point, if you look within the Middle East, America is suffering the consequences of a lot of things that aren’t even necessarily America’s fault. One of the things that is horrible about the Middle East is that it’s failed to benefit from democracy, from modernization, from capitalism, from progress. Many Middle Eastern states are ruled by corrupt and unfair elites. Much of the resource wealth of that great part of the world has never been shared with the population. And that entire cauldron of discontent has been channelled towards the Americans, largely because of their support for the state of Israel. But the thing that needs to be very clearly said is that understanding this hatred is one thing, but the proposition that the way to respond is to change American policy to concede to this kind of hatred is simply impossible politically for the United States, and also undesirable morally. The fact that you’re hated doesn’t mean that you should concede to this kind of hatred. And this hatred justifies nothing. That’s the point about nihilism. The people who attacked the Trade Center and the Pentagon did not have defensible rational or discernible political aims that they could possibly hope to achieve with this action. And therefore to respond by saying that America must change its tune seems to me to be fatuous. This is a criminal attack on a great state, and a great state will have to respond.

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