New Book, "The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World" by Carnegie-Uehiro Centennial Chair Michael Ignatieff

September 19, 2017

Michael Ignatieff. CREDIT: Radey Barrack (CC)

What moral values do human beings hold in common? As globalization draws us together economically, are our values converging or diverging? In particular, are human rights becoming a global ethic? These were the questions that led Michael Ignatieff to embark on a three-year, eight-nation journey in search of answers. The Ordinary Virtues, published on September 18 by Harvard University Press, presents Ignatieff’s discoveries and his interpretation of what globalization—and resistance to it—is doing to our conscience and our moral understanding.

Michael Ignatieff is president of Central European University in Budapest and was Carnegie-Uehiro Centennial Chair from 2012-2014. "We were honored to have Michael Ignatieff as our Centennial Chair," said Joel Rosenthal, president of Carnegie Council. "This important book is the culmination of his Centennial project, Global Ethical Dialogues, a multi-year initiative that engaged societies across the world in the quest for a global ethic—shared values with which to tackle problems that transcend national boundaries."

The project took Ignatieff and his team to Latin America, North America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. Through dialogues with favela dwellers in Brazil, South Africans and Zimbabweans living in shacks, Japanese farmers, gang leaders in Los Angeles, and monks in Myanmar, he found that while human rights may be the language of states and liberal elites, the moral language that resonates with most people is that of everyday virtues: tolerance, forgiveness, trust, and resilience.

These ordinary virtues are the moral operating system in global cities and obscure shantytowns alike, the glue that makes the multicultural experiment work. Ignatieff seeks to understand the moral structure and psychology of these core values, which privilege the local over the universal, and citizens’ claims over those of strangers.

Michael Ignatieff will present his book on Monday, September 25 at 6PM ET, in a special event hosted by Carnegie Corporation of New York and Carnegie Council, in collaboration with Bard College Center for Civic Engagement. Watch it live at https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/live. 

Note added September 27: Watch the video of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgXUYeQQRHg .

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Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1914, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an educational, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces lectures, publications, and multimedia materials on the ethical challenges of living in a globalized world.