If Jefferson’s vision were only an ideology of self-congratulation, it would never have inspired Americans to do the hard work of reducing the gap between dream and reality.
I know it is redundant to say that the things Ignatieff says do not make sense, but this one stood out for me as exceptionally poor.
Ideologies of self-congratulation are the ones that win support and paint flattering pictures of the people who adhere to them. That is an essential part of any ideology, and if Ignatieff is going to insult Thomas Jefferson by attributing an ideology to him he should at least recognise that “ideologies of self-congratulation” are the kind that spread, endure and, yes, inspire better than any others. By planting supposedly high-minded, abstract notions in the minds of adherents, modern ideology typically reassures its followers that they are on the cutting edge of progress, the pioneers of a new world and a new age or in some other way superior and unbeatable. This then gives them the confidence to go forth and do things to make these abstractions reality, which frequently involve destroying a great many things and killing many people, which they might have shrunk from doing before they had been told that they were simply part of the direction of history. Ideologies of self-congratulation are precisely the kinds that inspire people to action and discourage the kind of sane humility and self-criticism that is necessary for a stable, humane society. This is why they are dangerous.