Moral Order in a Divided World

Michael Ignatieff has been on a moral journey around the world. From the favelas of Rio to the townships of South Africa, he went on a three year trip of discovery around the world to understand the moral language and the everyday virtues of human existence.

The result of his travels is his latest book, The Ordinary Virtues. He believes that in an age of social media and heightened global awareness, the world can seem like a small place. For Ignatieff, this technological development has awakened people and allowed them to envisage a better life for themselves.

“People are hungry to be treated with respect,” he said, sharing tales of some of the most impoverished societies in the world in which people feel that, despite their circumstance, they are valued and important. He described their expectations as ‘one of the most explosive engines of change in our world’.

The problem, however, he said, is that when a moral revolution is on a global scale, there are always those that are left behind and ignored. For some, according to Ignatieff, equality is ‘always just out of reach.’

For a generation facing a global migrant crisis, Ignatieff has firm ideas on the possible solutions. “This challenge is going to be with us for the 21st century,” he said.  Hw believes a migration policy needs to limit the number of people a country can accept for practicality reasons. He also said that border control and repatriation are essential. “You have to show citizens that this is a humane system.”

He outlined how the narrative of human rights comes into stark contrast with the reality of the ordinary virtues we learn locally. He talked of how we want to help people but for many, their own native citizens must come first. For Ignatieff, this contradiction is ‘at the root of our political problems’.  He sees the solution as a rule-based system that works for as many people as possible. 

He discussed a wide range of moral issues from immigration and environmental change to the current situation in Burma, touching on the devastating outcome of disillusioned citizens in an austerity-filled world. “Our politics is in this kind of downward spiral,” he said, touching on the rupture of confidence and the wave of populism that is spreading across the globe. “We are all struggling to understand what’s happened to our politics.”

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