‘Intellectuals do well in Canadian politics’


Britain’s Prospect magazine publishes a consideration of Michael Ignatieff’s career, this one written by a television producer who worked him during the 1980s and 90s.

Helpfully, Prospect has made all of Ignatieff’s writing for the magazine available for free online.

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‘Intellectuals do well in Canadian politics’

  1. To me, this is exactly the kind of press Iggy doesn’t want. The article makes it sound like he was bored at Harvard, had nothing better to do, so he let a few Libs he didn’t know persuade him to come back to Canada and grace us with his presence.

    Would also dispute that intellectuals do well here in Canada. When I think of ‘intellectual’, I imagine an egghead who thinks he, and a few technocrats, have all the answers to what ails us and all that’s needed is some clever policy. Dion, and Trudeau, are the only ones that come to mind and I would argue neither can considered a huge success. But Iggy doesn’t come across as a know-it-all in his media appearances, tho he might be like that in private, so I don’t think he should be called an intellectual.

    • There’s nothing wrong with being an intellectual in the public realm. As long as the idividual can demonstrate botn leadership and basic horse sense, common sense, whatever! Trudeau, many would say met these conditions, Dion much less so! Ignatieff – we’ll have to see.

    • Yes, Ignatieff certainly could use less newspaper and magazine articles praising his career. Someone might get the impression he’s an impressive figure.

      Also, here’s a list of unsuccessful intellectuals in Canada:
      1. John A. Macdonald: Lawyer
      2. Alexander Mackenzie: Building Contractor, Architect, Engineer, Writer
      3. John Abbott: Lawyer, Professor
      4. John Sparrow David Thompson: Lawyer
      5. Mackenzie Bowell: Newspaperman
      6. Charles Tupper: Medical Doctor
      7. Wilfrid Laurier: Lawyer
      8. Robert Borden: Lawyer, Teacher, Businessman
      9. Arthur Meighen: Lawyer
      10. William Lyon Mackenzie King: Lawyer, Professor, Civil Servant, Journalist
      11. R. B. Bennett: Lawyer
      12. Louis St. Laurent: Lawyer
      13. John Diefenbaker: Soldier, Lawyer
      14. Lester B. Pearson: Doctor
      15. Pierre Trudeau: Lawyer, Academic, Professor, Author, Journalist
      16. Joe Clark: Journalist, Businessman, Professor
      17. John Turner: Lawyer
      18. Brian Mulroney: Lawyer, Businessman
      19. Kim Campbell: Lawyer, Academic
      20. Jean Chrétien: Lawyer
      21. Paul Martin: Lawyer, Businessman

      And here’s a list of successful non-intellectuals:
      1.. Stephen Harper: Economist

      • Harper isn’t an economist. He’s a politician and lobbyist.

        • *swoosh*

    • I think it’s a little hard to argue that Trudeau wasn’t a success on any objective level. You may not like everything he did, nor do I, but the guy got elected four times and succeeded in implementing a massive agenda from bilingualism to the war measures act, from social programs to the repatriation of the Constitution. That’s got to count as a huge success from any objective stand point. I’d also argue that it ‘s hard to dismiss Pearson and MacKenzie King as not being intellectuals.

      On your larger points, however, I agree.

      Michael Ignatieff annouced was running to become Prime Minister just eight months after moving back to Canada–that after spending 30 years AND most of his childhood living outside the country. And politically speaking Ignatieff has abandoned the major policies ideas he advocated in the years leading up to his return to Canada. It really does seem as though he got into politics as some sort of ego trip. How arogant. Canada is not some developing nation where we expect our noble-born leaders to prove themselves in the “important” countries abroad before coming home to rule us.

      On the other hand I’m not worry by eggheads and technocrats coming up with clever policies. I’m worried about the combination of Ignatieff’s desire to “be part of the larger world”–that’s is to be recognized as a public figure, not “just” an academic–with his seeming inability to relate his intellectual ideas to the realities of that larger world. That tendency is captured quite well in several lines this article:

      -“Ignatieff wasn’t interested in legislation and policy, but … a larger cultural context”
      (in this case in a book he wrote about prisons)

      -“The article was actually as critical of Thatcher as it was of Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader. But in 1984, on the left, you were either for or against the miners.”

      -“The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has condemned the political judgment of a president. But it has also condemned the judgment of many others, myself included, who as commentators supported the invasion.”

      -“I’m not here to tell you something new. I’m here to remind you of something you’ve always known: the fundamentals of Liberal belief. I’m not going to talk about programmes and policies. We talk too much about them, frankly, and not enough about the fundamentals.”

      • I think Johnny was being sarcastic.

      • And politically speaking Ignatieff has abandoned the major policies (sic) ideas he advocated in the years leading up to his return to Canada.

        Thank goodness we have a principled Prime Minister who’s stuck to the policies he’s been advocating for years: balanced budgets, an elected Senate, fixed election dates, smaller government, open and accountable government, and firewalls around Alberta.

        Actually, let me drop the sarcasm for a moment.

        It doesn’t bother me when a politican changes his or her position (a.k.a. flip-flopping) on an issue, particularly on issues that are years removed from today (see: Harper’s firewall comments). To hold someone to account for something they said 10 years ago out of a inane desire for consistancy is ridiculous. Surely we should allow our politicans the room to grow intellectually (uh oh, the i-word!)?

        No one holds the exact same opinions they believed even a year ago–our opinions and biases generally evolve gradually over time–so why should be expect any different from our politicians? As their opinions are formed upon evidence and reason, I don’t see why we should be so critical for them being, you know, human.

        (Of course, there’s a difference between a politician changing their opinion to suit public opinion, and a politican changing their opinion out of intellectual growth. We should, of course, still criticize our politicans for the former.)

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