I wish Niall Ferguson would shut up with his pro colonial, pro slave trade, pro genocide, pro explotation and pro ignorance views
I do not know what is wrong with The Guardian. It is getting more and more middle class with every article. Now it is responsible for allowing right wing, inaccurate and hateful rhetoric to be promoted in its pages.
Never before have I read comments that make the title of this blog so apt.
Fergusons new book is called Civilization: The West and the Rest. He thinks young people in this country are not taught history properly. “They don’t have the big picture”, he moans. “They get given these chunks, usually about Adolf Hitler, so I wanted to write a book that would be really accessible to them”.
Niall is going to inform the ‘youtdem’ of the big picture by presenting the development of the modern world using youth speak. To a professor who does not know much about young people, this amounts to explaining the triumph of the ‘west’ over the ‘rest’ through the possession of ‘killer apps’. Killer apps are character traits like ‘work ethic’ and ‘science’ – things he claims Europeans inherently have in abundance over the rest of the world.
He should have thought of a better name than ‘killer apps’ – unless he literally wants to refer to the millions globally that died at the hands of violent and aggressive European expansion.
Ferguson is obsessed with western power and white supremacy (let’s not beat around the bush, this is what he thinks should be fundamentally acknowledged by history books).
“Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?” he asks. He does not answer this question by looking at the world before 1500. Instead, he focuses on absolutely everything that happened afterwards.
Before 1500 Chinese states ruled the world through science, mathematics and literature. Before them, Islamic states ruled the world through science, mathematics and literature. Before them came another Chinese dynasty, preceded by Barbarians, Romans, Greeks, Africans – all excelling in and advancing knowledge at their time.
But this is not part of the big picture Ferguson thinks our young people should learn. Native Americans should be remembered for ‘killing a lot of buffalo’ and Britain should proud of ‘civilising’ the planet. Apparently it was not civil enough until we got involved.
His attempts to create a big picture for people only serve to shrink the picture even further. He contracts history to fit his ‘us and them’ philosophy. His history draws a line in the sand that puts Europe on an ‘advanced’ side and everyone else on what he clearly considers to be the ‘backwards’ side.
“I think it’s hard to make the case, which implicitly the left makes, that somehow the world would have been better off if the Europeans had stayed home”, he says. I have never heard anyone, left or right leaning, say people and nations should reject their natural urges to divide and conquer. Only Neo conservatives want to halt history.
I have heard the left say that the costs of colonialism needs to be acknowledged. That the suffering whole of generations needs to be accounted for. That much inequality in the world can trace its roots, not down to western nations being better, but having an unrelenting sense of entitlement, an inability to recognise difference without wielding cruelty and an insatiable appetite for sugar.
Ferguson is a self confessed ‘materialist’ and measures the benefits and disadvantages of everything by measuring what is tangible – what can be counted, catalogued and claimed as an asset. His intepretation of history refuses to incorporate humanity. Funny, that is exactly how the 17th century Europeans interpreted the world, too. I repeat: they had no humanity.
The study of history is plagued by an inability of people like Ferguson to study and interpret more than one kind of history. It is ignorant to say Europeans are ‘better’ than Native Americans because now the former have been erradicated and replaced with new buildings, roads and iPhones. He neglects to ponder the fact that Europeans failed to build these in every country they plundered.
He also neglects proportionality; he dismisses civilisations that ruled for many centuries more than the British Empire managed or the United States is yet to manage. Neo conservatives love protesting that Africans were complicit in the slave trade as well as Europeans – it’s a trite arguement. Participation was never on the same scale (Europeans literally repopulated countries with blacks!) and without freedom or choice, it mostly through coercion and manipulation. His claims for European supremacy do not fit with the current economic and developmental trends of the BRIC nations.
If he could comprehend social and anthropological ideas I would ask him to ponder better questions than ‘why are Europeans so fantastic?’ My suggestions:
If the British Empire was so great, why did it crumble?
If 18th century Liberals were so ‘liberal’ why did they scientifically conclude people of African descent were less than human?
If colonialists left countries in a better state than they were found in, why do we have to put up with Comic Relief every other year?
If China was left so far behind, why are American and British leaders now crawling to China, cap in hand?
Countries can economically conquer the world and still be really thick, they can steal the wealth of other nations and call themselves ‘rich’ and they can start wars in a quest for peace. This is not power, it is privilege. This the history that should be taught in schools, not facts and figures devoid of morality and debate.
“Something that’s seldom appreciated about me,” he declares, “is that I am in sympathy with a great deal of what Marx wrote, except that I’m on the side of the bourgeoisie”. What a wanker.