Izzy Iffy on Iggy

Mar 26th, 2010 | By Coco Cabrera | Category: Lead Article

Is Michael Ignatieff the “witless colonial haircut” of Isaiah Berlin’s recently discovered journal?

The private dairies of the legendary intellectual of liberalism, made public last week, contain numerous cryptic mentions of Berlin being hounded by “the dimwit from the Beeb,” a figure also described as “thick as a lumberjack” but who “looks the part”.

There are other indications that the mystery man might be Ignatieff, now leader of Canada’s Liberal Party and head of its official opposition.  The famed Oxford philosopher describes him as writing a book about Berlin and his work, hailing from a former British colony, standing over six feet tall and being “positively Transylvanian” in appearance.

Maurice Atlee, a professor at Oxford who will edit the Berlin journals for publication next year, said it was far from certain that the figure in the diary was Ignatieff.  “Sir Isaiah had a lot of irritating hangers on, and Michael was hardly alone in trading on Berlin’s stature by publishing a fluff book about him.”

Perhaps most telling, however, is a late journal entry from 1997, just before Berlin’s death, in which he admits to feeling guilty over writing letters of recommendation that will land the unnamed man a position at Harvard.  “I feel badly about it, and realize I am writing the letter for selfish reasons – anything to put an ocean between that moron and myself – but there is only so much of him I can endure.  And Harvard might not be a bad home for one so confident in his own fuzzy mind.”

Ignatieff became a popular professor at Harvard in 2000 where he earned international notoriety for his defense of the United States’ invasion of Iraq and use of torture.

There has been no comment from Ignatieff about whether he is the “haircut” in question, but Liberal Party officials appear to be embracing the assertion.  “The Tories have been trying to paint our leader as some sort of aloof brainiac but here’s proof of what we in the party have been saying for months: he is simply not that bright.”

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