Authors: Michael Ignatieff,Michael Ignatieff
Tags: #History, #Non-Fiction
ALSO BY MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial
Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the
(co-edited with Istvan Hont)
The Needs of Strangers
Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism
The Russian Album
The Warrior’s Honour: Ethnic War and the Modern
Isaiah Berlin: A Life
The Rights Revolution
Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry
Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and
The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror
American Exceptionalism and Human Rights
Charlie Johnson in the Flames
FOUR GENERATIONS IN
SEARCH OF CANADA
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2009
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (RRD)
Copyright © Michael Ignatieff, 2009
Author representation: Westwood Creative Artists
94 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1G6
All rights reserved.
The photos on pages 1, 31, and 71 are from the Ignatieff family’s personal collection.
The photo of George Parkin Grant on page 117 was taken by William Christian.
The photo of Michael Ignatieff on page 155 was taken by Michael Stuparyk/Toronto Star.
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For my wife, Zsuzsanna, as always
n 2000, when I began working on this book, I was a private citizen. When I finished it in 2009, I had become a politician. The intentions I had at the beginning—to tell the story of my mother’s people and their vision of Canada—were the intentions that carried me through to the end. It is a tribute to my mother, Alison Grant Ignatieff, and is offered to the granddaughter she never got the chance to know, Sophie Turia Ignatieff.
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
(FROM “O CANADA!,” THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF CANADA)
oving a country is an act of the imagination. We start from what we know—the street where we grew up, the brightly lit skating rinks at night, the tingle of the lake water when we first plunge in, the feeling when we set our feet back on native soil—and we make these parts stand for the whole. What we know is only a fragment of what is there. We have to imagine the expanse we have not seen. We have to imagine the ties that bind us to our fellow citizens, many of whom may not even speak the same language. We reason out from the rituals we share, the rights
we enjoy, the traditions we hold in common—and we imagine belonging to a place we can call home. Our political system, the leaders, the laws, the symbols and anthems matter to us because, when they work as they should, they give us the feeling that we share a life in common with the strangers we call fellow citizens.
We engage in this act of imagination because we need to. The lives we live alone do not make sense to us unless we share some public dimension with others. We need a public life in common, some set of reference points and allegiances to give us a way to relate to the strangers among whom we live. Without this feeling of belonging, even if only imagined, we would live in fear and dread of each other. When we can call the strangers citizens, we can feel at home with them and with ourselves. Isaiah Berlin described this sense of belonging well. He said that to feel at home is to feel that people understand not only what you say, but also what you mean. You love the country because it gives you the possibility of feeling at home. You cannot feel this alone. Your emotions must be shared with others in order for them to make any sense at all. A solitary patriot is a contradiction in terms. Love of country is an emotion shared in the imagination across time, shared with the dead, the living and the yet to be born.
Love of country, being imagined, is not a natural feeling like hunger. Human beings invented the complex emotions we feel for nations only in the eighteenth
century. What we imagine we can forget. What we dream we can lose. Countries, being human creations, can experience both birth and death.
A country begins to die when people think life is elsewhere and begin to leave. It begins to die when order disintegrates, when people cease to trust their fellow citizens or their government. In a country that is truly alive, the laws hold us in obedience, not just through fear of punishment but also through attachment to the values and traditions the laws protect. If this attachment wanes, if obedience is reduced to fear, either chaos or tyranny beckons.
While love of country has to be shared, the feelings that are shared are not necessarily the same for every citizen. Patriotism is a contested emotion because countries are contested places. Citizens disagree with each other about what the country should stand for, what its traditions mean and what path it should take in the future. These disagreements are intrinsic to the life of any country that calls itself free. If such disagreements weren’t a necessary part of public life, we wouldn’t need politics. But we do. Politics is how we manage public disagreement without resorting to violence. If our politics is good enough, we can keep our disagreements civil, but that’s not to say free of anger. Some of the best patriots I have met have been the angriest. Their love of country expressed itself in fury at some act—a wrongful war, a terrible decision—that they believed betrayed the country’s best ideals.
To be a citizen is to belong but also to argue. People will even argue about love of country itself. Some citizens, often the most thoughtful ones, don’t love their country and don’t believe you should love it either. They don’t believe in the emotion itself. They will tell you it is false or made up, even a kind of collective delusion. They will tell you that love of country is old-fashioned and out of style. The world has moved on. Borders are porous. National traditions are no longer self-contained. Cultures are no longer closed to the outside world. Besides, the old national passions brought war and intolerance in their wake. The right emotions to have, they say, are global and cosmopolitan. Why should I feel more for my native land, they say, than I do for Paris, London or New York? These places are the centre of my world. Don’t talk to me about your love of country and, whatever you do, don’t ram it down my throat.