* Fine Print: This is not actually Niall Ferguson. If it were, it would have been dominated with awkward internet metaphors (“this train is like a series of tubes and some of you people are using non-western file transfer protocals”). I understand it is politically incorrect to call the “defenders of Western Civilization” racist, but if there is one thing this sort is right about it is that we shouldn’t blindly submit to political correctness. I don’t agree with everything Noah Smith says here, but it is an excellent attack on the racism of Ferguson’s anxieties. It is important to be clear that this has ZERO to do with political correctness. People like Ferguson and his defenders speak as if the liberal academy categorically denounces and ignores the West, and any intellectual who dares say a nice thing about a European is denounced as racist. This has nothing to do with reality. When people outside the academy make such claims they are misinformed. When intellectuals make such claims they are liars. Obviously, if you respond to historical cases of ethnic cleansing by pointing out nice new roads to export natural resources people will challenge you, but this is basic human decency.
Ferguson assumes he is called a racist because it is impossible to defend his precious West without being called a racist. On the contrary, it is precisely because it is so easy, and commonplace amongst intellectuals, to value certain aspects of this tradition without resorting to racism, that Ferguson’s preference to do otherwise is remarkable.
It is also ironic that Ferguson’s defense of the West shares something with extreme anti-Western thought. For example, Brad Delong resorts to the F-word to distance himself from the Western Civilization Ferguson defends. Now Delong is not afraid to speak bluntly, but he doesn’t resort to swearing on his blog very often. Why so touchy? Well Ferguson’s defense of colonialism is to conflate the entire apparatus (the murderers, the biological terrorists, doctors, teachers, etc.) into one thing (a singular West). Therefore, however brutal colonialism was, these people were not Nazi’s because in some cases life expectancy improved. It is very important to see how this defense of the West hurts people who actually do want to defend the positive elements of Western Civilization (i.e. Delong). The easiest way to defend these positives is to argue that they can be isolated from the negatives. For example, a defender of John Locke would want to say, “despite the fact that he supported abhorrent things, there are still valuable insights in his work.” The easy way to truly defend the West’s philosophers, doctors, etc. is to refuse to conflate them its barbarians.
None of this fine print clarification is meant to protect myself from a lawsuit. In all honesty I am not 100% certain Ferguson is a racist – he might be deeply deeply confused – there is always an element of probability. It is possible we are currently living in the Matrix and the individual we know as Niall Ferguson is just a rogue program. Nonetheless, I welcome any legal challengers from Niall Ferguson.
As a final note, it is important to remember who Ferguson is. He is an intellectual. He spends his life thinking about the world. Standards are high for him. He is not some random unemployed white guy who is told by all the voices on the radio that muslims are instituting sharia law. He knows better.