A Brief Response to Michael Ignatieff

| March 2012
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In his elegant essay on the tension between a singular global ethic and global ethics in the plural, Michael Ignatieff invites us to “think harder about the conflicts of principle between them.” He is certainly right that harder thinking is needed: advocates of both versions of a global ethic sometimes seem locked into mutual self-righteousness. What we might call singular, or universal, ethicists often accuse pluralists of parochial atavism, while the partisans of plural, usually national, ethics think that the universalists are naive at best, arrogant at worst. Both are utterly convinced that they are right.

Ignatieff is surely correct when he points out that the philosophical success of the singular universalists, who have so skillfully outlined persuasive positions on global justice from the “view from nowhere,” has not been matched in the political arena. Indeed, the American election process seems peculiarly designed to work against the acceptance of the responsibilities of a truly global ethic. The Republican Party today seems determined both to deny the science of climate change and to insist on the superiority of its singular version of ethics—global or national. And the democratic electoral processes in states all over the world place advocates of a singular global ethic at a permanent disadvantage. In elections, if not ethics, the view from a specific somewhere almost always blocks the view from nowhere.

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Category: Essay, Global Governance, Issue 26.1, Symposium: In Search of a Global Ethic

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