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Michael Ignatieff: Success and Failure in Politics Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: May 30th, 2020

The book was written by Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff was a professor at Harvard University, an American university, before returning to Canada to try his luck in politics (Ignatieff, 2013). The author organized his book into ten chapters: Hubris, Ambition, Fortuna, Reading the Room, Money, and Language, Responsibility, and Representation, Standing, Enemies, and Adversaries, What the Taxi Driver Said and the Calling. In each of these chapters, the author tried to tell the reader about his experience in the political field (Ignatieff, 2013). This paper reviews this book by Michael Ignatieff in general. It does not evaluate each chapter separately. The review will analyze the intentions of Michael Ignatieff to vie for a parliamentary seat, whether this was his own decision or he was coerced into it, how he responded, the involvement of the elections, the challenges he faced, what opponents said about him and the eventual turn out of the elections.

The Idea to Run

To begin with, the author presents the book, just like a memoir. Ignatieff has chronologically presented his experience during the 2011 elections in Canada. The author begins by admitting that the idea to venture into politics was not his own idea, but he was requested to give it a try (Ignatieff, 2013). According to him, one night, while still working at Harvard University, three people who were dressed in black approached him and urged him to give up the teaching profession for politics. They even spiced their idea by offering him a position in the Liberal Party. Other intellectuals who had successfully joined politics also acted as an encouragement. According to Ignatieff, some of them include the Mexican politician known as Carlos Fuentes and Václav Havel, a politician from the Czech Republic (Ignatieff, 2013).

In the last chapters, the author has also given reasons behind his intentions to vie. According to Ignatieff, he wanted to help move his country in the right direction, just like the US, where he had spent most of his life working. Ignatieff argues that Conservative leaders had messed up the country by misusing its resources. On top of this, they failed to keep to the promises made to the ordinary people. Because of this, people were very much disappointed with incompetent Conservative leaders as well as insufficient services offered by the government (Ignatieff, 2013). As the author indicates, such problems need to be surmounted by politicians who are highly skilled and experienced at delivering on the promises made. That is why they should be in the position to claim genuine understanding and, where possible, should be very strong and steadfast. The author finally ends his writing by taking examples from famous political philosophers like Max Weber.


In the first chapter, Hubris, the author admits that although he accepted the offer, he was “green” on matters to do with politics. Ignatieff had never participated in any political activity in his lifetime. In this chapter, the author openly admits his naivety both in the field of politics and at the helm of the Liberal party. Ignatieff indicates that when he agreed to leave Harvard University, the worst mistake he ever did was to begin by over-estimating his abilities and underestimating his opponents, on the other hand. He indicates that he did not know anything about his party and anything touching on the dynamics of Canadian politics (Ignatieff, 2013). In fact, this is the main reason why he under-estimated the strength and preparedness of the Conservative party. However, he learned this through experience. The opponents knew him very well and prepared to take him down. They labeled him as someone who was not with the people of Canada and someone who was “just visiting” (Ignatieff, 2013).

In the last sections of this book, Ignatieff indicates that the Conservatives used many negative adverts that attacked his character. Ignatieff indicates that during the elections, the Liberal party was defeated terribly (Ignatieff, 2013). Accordingly, the party lost more than half of its parliamentary seats. Ignatieff blames himself for costing the party so much. In fact, in this book, which also looks like a self-reflection or confession, Ignatieff reflects on the worst performance of his party with just a pity to let people know how it really hurts. Ignatieff admits that during the campaigns, big crowds used to turn out an aspect that made him think his message was reaching them, but it seems people were only interested in other things.

Self Discovery

In this book, Ignatieff seems to hold the view that democratic politics involves not just compromise, but also other issues of pretense such as wearing a sinister smile and malpractices in the society. Writing his book, Ignatieff has done exactly what every other defeated politician does; he set the record straight regarding his political failure. To achieve this, the author has enumerated some of the ways used by both the Conservatives and the Liberals, as well as the way the Liberals managed to push the Conservatives into adopting an economic policy that prevented the Canadian economy from falling into recession (Ignatieff, 2013). He also mentions how the ruling Conservatives were channeling little resources into state or public services.

The author concentrates on advising young people to consider politics like any other career (Ignatieff, 2013). On his part, Ignatieff indicates that he lost the parliamentary seat because he lacked experience. For instance, in the final chapter, Ignatieff remembers when he used a poem to appeal to his audience, something that only served to alienate him from the ordinary people. It simply served to pass a perturbing signal that common people did not have a space in politics.

Anomalies in Nominations

Some of the things that Liberals did not do right were faked nominations, and Ignatieff admits that he was one of the beneficiaries. In fact, he indicates that despite the protests from party members, he was just given the nomination certificate by the Liberal party. Ignatieff admits that he was given direct nomination because of family connection and not merit. That is why he also got resistance from his party members.

In fact, it is indicated that, even though he did not have natural political intuition, Ignatieff had managed to become one of the top leaders of the Liberal Party in a remarkably short period. In the book, it also emerges that when the Liberal party was in government, it was characterized by the scandals and that partly contributed to its terrible defeat.

Politics as a Demanding Field

Ignatieff also discovered that politics is highly demanding and involving. Apart from numerous endless trips and indoor meetings, he also needed some extra time to meet his campaign team physically. The point here is that, even with the Internet, politics is never complete without meeting people face to face to deliberate on what is in store and the way forward (Ignatieff, 2013). Ignatieff admits that he was not good at this. That is, he found it hard dealing with people he did not know. He also had a predisposition of literally telling them his own ideas but did not have time to listen to theirs. Even though he tried hard to remedy all these challenges, it was not easy for him as people had already prejudged him.

In general, Ignatieff draws some petite consolation from the fact that he had made a debut in politics and, as such, he had successfully entered the league of other renowned writers who had also been unsuccessful in joining politics (Ignatieff, 2013).

In fact, Ignatieff makes it well known that it was very hard to ignore such people in his memoir. Throughout the book, it can be seen that Ignatieff is also having a feeling of rejection. In fact, his experience of rejection seems to have left him completely undecided in his attitude towards politics. This is depicted in the way he defines politics. He compares the life of a contemporary politician to someone who is taking part in a reality show. He also ends up his writing by providing a solution (Ignatieff, 2013). To be precise, people must think of politics as a calling that inspires them to move on and not fall back. The author finishes by saying that it was worth learning experience.


Ignatieff, M. (2013). Fire and ashes:success and failure in politics. Toronto: Random House. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Michael Ignatieff: Success and Failure in Politics'. 30 May.

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