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Michael Ignatieff

Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2024

Born in Toronto (Canada) on 12th May 1947, Michael Ignatieff graduated in History from the University of Toronto in 1969 and, in 1976, earned a PhD in the same discipline from Harvard University. He furthered his education with a Master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and began working as an assistant professor of history at the University of British Columbia. He has taught at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, at the University of Toronto and at the Central European University in Budapest and Vienna –an institution created by George Soros–, of which he was rector from 2016 to 2021 and where he still works. In addition, he has been a fellow at King's College, Cambridge, and a visiting professor at the University of Oxford and the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. He has also been a television host and columnist for publications such as The Observer and The New York Times Magazine. In 2006, he was elected to the House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament for the Liberal Party of Canada, of which he was deputy leader (2007-2008) and leader (2009-2011) and, as such, served as leader of the country’s opposition.

According to specialists, Michael Ignatieff’s broad-ranging and varied career stands out for his defence of fundamental and universal human rights and values. Through his books, articles and television programmes, he has contributed ideas for overcoming ethnic and religious differences and the search for common values within the context of globalization, the clarification of the consequences of the technological revolution, the analysis of moral conflicts in the face of cultural relativism and opposition to violent nationalisms, among other topics. Ignatieff defines himself as an internationalist and defender of constitutional legality. He has been a key player in international consensus regarding the rights of individuals, and not just states, appealing to international security organizations to defend the former from violence. During the time he lived in the United Kingdom, he achieved great popularity for his articles in The Observer and, above all, for his BBC documentary series, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism. Author of numerous articles and books, his most notable essays include The Needs of Strangers (1984), The Russian Album (1987, republished in 2023), The Warrior's Honor (1998), Isaiah Berlin: A life (1998, republished and updated in 2023), an acclaimed biography of the philosopher based on conversations with the author), Virtual War (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil (2004), The Ordinary Virtues (2017) and On Consolation (2021). Ignatieff has also written plays and novels, including Scar Tissue (1993), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He is a regular contributor to international media outlets such as The Atlantic and Project Syndicate.

Knight of the Order of Academic Palms of France and member of the Order of Canada, Michael Ignatieff holds honorary degrees from thirteen universities, including McGill (Canada), Edinburgh (Scotland) and Maastricht (Netherlands), to name but a few. Outstanding among the numerous awards he has received are the Heinemann Prize of the Royal Society of Literature (UK, 1987), the Orwell Prize (UK, 2001), the Otis Social Justice Award (USA, 2002), the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (Canada, 2012), the Francisco Cerecedo Journalism Award (Spain, 2012) and the Dan David Prize (Israel, 2019).

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