Michael Ignatieff’s status as an academic jumps the shark

ignatieff“Do you kiss your mother with those lips?”

Many individuals have employed the arresting retort “do you kiss your mother with those lips” when faced with ribald, sexually inappropriate comments or otherwise offensive or insulting statements.

A variation of this expression should be developed for Michael Ignatieff in light of his new work (if one could generously stretch the term) entitled True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada published by Viking Press.  In light of this platitude-filled simplistic book and in light of Mr. Ignatieff’s only putative qualification for the Prime Ministership of Canada — namely his much vaunted career as an intellectual and an academic — the variation for Mr. Ignatieff should be: “Did you write your dissertation with that pen?”

To the portion of the public who do not hail from a political science academic background, Mr. Ignatieff’s stature in academia has perhaps been somewhat artificially inflated. One can speculate as to why this is: maybe it is due to his years in the UK on the BBC or perhaps through his shrewd tailoring of academic publications for both academic and public consumption. But regardless of the merits of the arguments he made within academia or how intensely they have been critiqued by both the left and the right, Ignatieff was not too long ago a legitimate and serious academic.

untitledFor all its faults and much maligned “ivory tower” status, the one thing that is genuinely different and unique in academic political science discourse is that regardless of the position being argued, it cannot be argued merely on empty platitudes or trite, meaningless verbiage. Any academic who tried to publish such a piece in a peer-reviewed journal would find herself or himself laughed out the door and then not-so-subtly mocked behind his or her back. This is not to say that all of the arguments coming out of academia are either strong or convincing. Perish the thought! But the academic’s pen has always been considered, at least within academia, as too meaningful to sully with the kind of empty and meaningless soundbites that usually characterize the political discourse of camera-crazed politicians.

Robert Fulford’s excellent piece in today’s National Post beautifully illustrates how Michael Ignatieff’s academic status has perhaps jumped the shark with his latest book.

An excerpt from Fulford:

Enthusiastic flag-waving and empty generalizations, the daily bread of politics, apparently no longer bother Ignatieff. At one point, mentioning certain failures of Canadian life, he says: “Despite these challenges, or because of them, most of us [Canadians] are quietly but intensely patriotic.” How the hell can he know that? Did he do a poll? And if someone’s patriotism happens to be quiet, how can he know it’s also intense? He can’t, of course, and probably wouldn’t even try to defend that sentence if challenged in public.

A few pages later political enthusiasm carries him into the realm of ersatz poetry: “We [Canadians] are still a band of incorrigible romantics. We still believe in that imagined Canada, just beyond the horizon, which one day we could make our own.” Those lines are for reading to a willing mob of power-starved Liberals, desperate for a reason to leap to their feet in applause.

On this point all thinking individuals, be they of the more conservative persuasion like Fulford or be they on the left, can agree.

7 Responses to “Michael Ignatieff’s status as an academic jumps the shark”


  1. 1 Stephen 21 April, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Whatever _The Lesser Evil_ and _Empire Lite_ were, they weren’t academic texts in any meaningful sense of the word.

    Both were full of “empty generalizations” and sloppy thinking.

  2. 2 paulitics 22 April, 2009 at 6:00 am

    I fully agree Stephen. During my graduate degree at a liberal school, even the liberal professors treated The Lesser Evil as the intellectually light-weight piece of pseudo-academic crap that it was. But, on the other hand, even in The Lesser Evil, I don’t remember ever reading anything as banal and meaningless as:

    “We [Canadians] are still a band of incorrigible romantics. We still believe in that imagined Canada, just beyond the horizon, which one day we could make our own.”

    I mean, that hits new lows, doesn’t it?

  3. 3 joe 22 April, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I think Iggy meant to say:

    “We (Liberal Party of Canada members) are still a band of incorrigible romantics. We still believe in that imagined Canada, just beyond the horizon, which one day we could make our one.”

  4. 4 Ken Furber 22 April, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Hey Paul:
    Interesting piece and equally interesting comments. However, I think you’re comparing apples and oranges here. However intellectual Mr. Ignatieff’s former career might have been, his new job is nothing of the sort. Perhaps he’ll be ridiculed by intellectual elites, but what does he care? I haven’t read the book and won’t. I don’t care what he thinks actually. But he didn’t write the book for me, or you, or his former university colleagues. He wrote it mainly to boost his current career. It is intended to impress the masses, who won’t read it either. But they’ll eat up the quotes intellectuals will use to make fun of him. The two you mention above are great examples. Perfect, political promotion. As for the left and right slamming him, well that’s just playing into his hands. You can’t use last fall’s election as a guide to what’s happening politically now. Things have changed — Dion’s gone, the recession’s here big time and both Harper and Layton have F’d up big time in the past few months. That shift has done wonders for the Liberals’ immediate political fortunes. And Ignatieff senses that. Remember, when the Liberal Party is weak, the right and left flourish. However, when the Liberals are strong — well, remember the 1993 election. The next election may not be that dramatic but it won’t be far off methinks. And all the sqawking from the left and right will do nothing but fuel the fire.

  5. 5 RPJ 22 April, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Right on Joe!!!

  6. 6 John Wright 27 June, 2009 at 1:14 am

    So, what’s your e-mail? What’s your phone number? What’s your address??

    What, you aren’t a coward are you???? Show us where you are…you have to have more than that “Paul Bernardo” lookalike picture, don’t you???

    C’mon, fess up…


  1. 1 Blue Like You » Blog Archive » A perplexing question Trackback on 23 April, 2009 at 9:58 pm

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