If last year the award went to a historian, the French Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, this year’s Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences once again looks at History in capital letters: its winner is the Canadian Michael Ignatieff (Toronto, 1947 ), an analyst of the rise of nationalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall and one of the great exponents of contemporary liberalism. So much so that he dared to be part of the list of intellectuals who has tried Plato’s old dream of the philosopher king: he was a deputy and led the Canadian Liberal Party, but after the failure of his candidacy he left the position, which would be occupied by Justin Trudeau.

However, politics, and contemporary history, would not abandon Ignatieff. Appointed in 2016 as rector of the Central European University – founded by George Soros in Budapest to promote open societies in Eastern Europe – he experienced the turbulent and traumatic process of expulsion from the institution from the Hungary of the illiberal populist Viktor Orban. He would leave the leadership of the institution in 2021 after installing its headquarters in Vienna.

Son of George Ignatieff, a Canadian diplomat born in Saint Petersburg into a noble family – his mother was a princess and his father a count who was minister of education in Russia during the First World War – little Michael would continually travel around his father’s job, but back in Toronto, he would soon have clear political ideas: at the age of 18 he was already a volunteer for the Liberal Party and would collaborate in the campaign for the election of the legendary Pierre Trudeau. After studying in Toronto, he would end up at the University of Oxford, where he would meet and be strongly influenced by one of the great names of 20th century liberalism: Sir Isaiah Berlin, about whom he would write a book, Isaiah Berlin. The life of him (Taurus).

He would even be a journalist for the Globe and Mail, The Observer and the BBC, in which his series Blood and Belonging: Journeys to the New Nationalism, about the dangers represented by the nationalist rise after the fall of the wall would be awarded and the subject would no longer interest him. I would abandon At the same time, he would be a professor at Oxford, the London School of Economics and the University of California, until in 2000 he accepted the position of director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, where he studied the attitude of the international community towards catastrophes. of Rwanda and Kosovo and defended a framework for intervention in humanitarian crises.

A framework that led him to also defend the invasion of Iraq, of which he later recognized the error of “intellectuals who get carried away by great ideas.” From 2006 to 2011 he would be a Canadian MP and from 2009 leader of his Liberal Party until the heavy electoral defeat in which he even lost his own seat.

After the populist rise of recent years, Ignatieff sees a global campaign against liberalism, which is in danger. “We are surprised because we told ourselves a lie: that history favors freedom and democracy, and it has never been true. We can lose democracy without anyone lifting a finger. We do not understand what democracy is: we think they are elections and majority rule, but democracy is control of power, keeping people free, democracy is La Vanguardia, the press, the universities, the supreme courts, power for the people on the streets. “Majority government balanced by countermajority power,” he stated in an interview last year.

An interview that the author of The Warrior’s Honor: Ethnic Warfare and Modern Conscience, The Lesser Evil: Ethics, Politics in an Age of Terror, Fire and Ashes and Everyday Virtues gave for his latest book, In Search of Consolation (Taurus) , in which he explores how religions, philosophers and artists have created a language of consolation in the most difficult moments. From Job and Saint Paul to the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius. Going through Montaigne, Marx or Camus. “It seems that today we are abandoned in the present facing a dark future. But there is a continued human tradition to connect with. The only way to have faith in the future is to have faith in the past. We are not the first to be afraid of losses,” he noted. And he said that societies that seek success are not interested in consolation. “It has fallen from our language, we think that suffering, pain, is an illness from which we can recover. The process of accepting grief and loss is what I call comfort. It is very important and we hardly talk about it.”