Niall Ferguson: Hack
We’re on record for being con on war-mongering pro-colonialist Harvard biz school prof Niall Ferguson, but here is a substantial accounting of Fergusonianism and his Civilization: The West and the Rest. (Warning: green type on black background!) It’s pretty choice.
The vaguely controversial/edgy thing about Civilization (which, btw, devalues both the Sid Meier game and the classic BBC series of the same name by Kenneth Clark, art historian and earlier generation of televisual don) is it outs and says supposedly un-P.C. things like Asia was decadent and colonization — specifically British colonization — was good for all! Snore. What’s offensive is the tone of all this — not that he hates the “East,” whatever that is, but that he despises his audience enough to ham through big metonymic set pieces comparing the Ottoman sultan’s harem and Frederick the Great’s enlightenment palace with the smirked assurance that, because he’s pumping out discrete facts they probably don’t know, the rubes watching will surely assume that what he’s saying means something. He calls the distinctive western values of, um, “work,” “competition,” et al. — wait for it — “killer aps.” (In the first scene, he asks a multihued class of kids what they think distinguishes the West, and the kids pretty much respond, “guns,” “germs,” “steel,” which he ignores as, apparently, obvi.) Also, eighteenth-century Prussians have much nicer handwriting than eighteenth-century Turks. (“I don’t read Ottoman, but I know what good penmanship is.”)