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Michael Ignatieff, philosopher and essayist, Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2024 | Culture

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Michael Ignatieff, in September 2019 in Madrid.Julian Rojas

The Canadian philosopher and writer Michael Ignatieff, known above all for his essays on nationalism, liberalism and human rights, has won the 2024 Princess of Asturias Prize for Social Sciences, as reported this Wednesday by the foundation that grants the awards. The 77-year-old intellectual gave the conference just yesterday in Madrid Democracy at the polls: when the system becomes the problem, at the Areces Foundation.

A staunch defender of liberalism, Ignatieff has nearly half a century of intellectual activity, between the classrooms of Oxford and Harvard, several recognized and celebrated essays, journalism or politics in the Canadian Parliament, as a member and candidate of the Liberal Party for almost a decade. . Some of the most recent analyzes of him have focused on the moral orientation of individuals, on virtues such as tolerance and trust, on how great figures in history found relief after moments of crisis or on the risks faced by democratic systems. . Among his best-known essays are The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, Blood and Belonging: Journeys to the New Nationalism (which tells how it re-emerged strongly at the end of the 20th century), The everyday virtues o In search of comfort. A polyglot and great fan of hockey and baseball, he has also published three works of fiction.

A few days ago he told this newspaper that he is preparing a book about the historical events that his generation, that of the baby boomers. And he also believed, regarding the Catalan elections, that Spain needs to develop a complex and pluralistic conception of the nation. “On the other hand, I fervently oppose secession, since it is very clear that it would be a violation of the Constitution,” he added. More generally, the mechanisms behind the forms of coexistence and conflict are considered one of the main threads that run through all of his work.

Ignatieff was born in 1947 into a wealthy family, with a long tradition in diplomacy and intellectuality. His parents’ work led him to spend his youth between Canada and many of the main European capitals. He graduated in History from the University of Toronto, earning a PhD from Harvard and, after attending the universities of British Columbia, Oxford and Cambridge, he returned to Harvard to direct the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. In his youth he declared himself an admirer of John F. Kennedy and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (former Prime Minister of Canada and father of the country’s current Prime Minister).

In another European capital, Budapest, he experienced one of the most difficult experiences of his career: between 2016 and 2021 he served as rector of the Central European University, financed by George Soros. The institution was finally forced to move to Vienna, due to the incessant attacks of the Hungarian Government of Viktor Orbán. “It was an atrocious attack on academic freedom,” he told EL PAÍS days ago. “The European Union does not have robust means to defend this freedom.”

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