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The Lesser Evil$
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Michael Ignatieff

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780748618729

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748618729.001.0001

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The Weakness of the Strong

The Weakness of the Strong

(p.54) Chapter Three The Weakness of the Strong
The Lesser Evil

Gifford Lectures

Edinburgh University Press

One of the recurring difficulties in thinking clearly about terrorism is how to evaluate the threat it actually poses. This chapter reviews the historical evidence about how seriously terrorism has threatened liberal democracy since the mid-nineteenth century, explains why liberal democracies have often exaggerated the threat, and suggests what we can do to get risk and reaction into a better balance. The historical record suggests that majorities care less about deprivations of liberty which harm minorities than they do about their own security. This historical tendency to value majority interests over individual rights has weakened liberal democracies. They usually survive the political challenge presented by terrorism, but in the process of doing so they have inflicted enduring damage to their own rights framework. Far from being an incidental menace, terrorism has warped democracy's institutional development, strengthening secret government at the expense of open adversarial review.

Keywords:   terrorist threat, terrorism, liberal democracy, majority interest, individual rights

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