Michael Ignatieff’s battle for democratic freedom

September 1st 2017, De Balie in Amsterdam

How should the European community stand up against the rise of authoritarian leaders such as the Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán? Is Europe “saved”, after more pro-European leaders have won in a series of important European elections last year? Or is the future of Europe still at risk? We are very honoured to discuss these current challenges of the European project with the internationally renowned philosopher, author, journalist and former-politician Michael Ignatieff. Join the debate on September 1st 2017 in De Balie, Amsterdam. Bastiaan Rijpkema, legal philsopher and author of the awarded book Weerbare Democratie [militant democracy] will give an introduction. Lennart Booij will be moderating the discussion. 

Currently Michael Ignatieff is Chairman and President of the prestigious, multicultural Central European University in Budapest with students from all over the world. Since April this university – a beacon of democratic values in Central Europe – is under threat as Orbán passed a law that aims to close down the critical and independent institution next year. Passionately defending academic freedom, Ignatieff is a central figure in the battle against Orbán. If Orbán wins, it would be the first time that a member of the European Union dares to legislate an attack on the academic freedom of a university in Europe. What does this fight about the Central University say about the rise of illiberal regimes in Europe? How should Europe react, according to Ignatieff?

Michael Ignatieff is an important present-day thinker in the fields of ethics, nationalism, human rights and international conflicts. He has written influential books such as The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004) and Isaiah Berlin: A Life (1998) and is a regular commentator for, among others, The New York Times, the Guardian and The New Yorker. Between 2006 and 2011 he was the leader for the liberal opposition party in the Parliament of Canada and prepared the way for the present Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

The Dutch translation of his newest book Ordinary Virtues. Moral order in a divided world will be published in September by Uitgeverij Cossee. For this book, Ignatieff visited the Brazilian favela, the South-African and Zimbabwean townships, Japanese farmers, gangs in Los Angeles and monks in Myanmar, to research which moral virtues connects people all over the world. While globalisation connects the world population on an economic level, the question rises if our values correspond as well. Have universal human rights nowadays become a worldwide shared moral system?

On September 2 De Balie is organising a lecture by Michael Ignatieff at 150 Psalms Festival at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, were he will give the age-old themes of the Psalms – leadership, power, oppression and ethical choices – a new meaning in our contemporary society where freedom, democracy and human rights have come under pressure. Click here for tickets.

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