Ricardo Duchesne, whose works have been discussed here several times previously (see here, here, and here), has written a wonderfully scathing review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest (see also Anthony Hilton’s review in TOO). Duchesne situates Ferguson squarely in the neoconservative camp, with all the horrible things that implies: Support for big government, rearranging the politics of the Middle East in the name of democracy, and thinking that, since we are all the same, immigration is fine if the newcomers simply embrace the “killer apps” of the West. We’ve all heard the neocon mantra that the US is a proposition nation. In the hands of intellectuals like Ferguson, Western civilization becomes the proposition culture.
In thinking of Ferguson, I am reminded of Duchesne’s comment in his book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, on historians who are “happily ensconced … within a world of like-minded academics, backed by multiple grants and prestigious titles” (pp. 53–54). Ferguson’s Wikipedia page describes him as
the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University as well as William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdalen College, Oxford. … In 2004 he was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. He is currently a contributing editor forBloomberg Television and a columnist for Newsweek. He is currently working on the official biography of Henry Kissinger to whom he has been granted unprecedented access.
Neconservatism definitely has its rewards.
Some tidbits from Duchesne’s review:
The intellectual history of neoconservatism cannot be reduced to Iraq, but calling for aggressive ‘regime change’ is clearly a radical idea in line with France’s Jacobin/imperial efforts to create a ‘universal’ rational human by exporting the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. …
Regrettably, Ferguson’s idea of the West is devoid of any pre-modern past. Less historically literate readers will wrongly think that the West came into existence sometime in the 1600s with the arrival of these apps. He writes early on that the West is merely ‘a set of norms, behaviors, and institutions with borders that are blurred in the extreme’ (p. 15). This idea is consistent with his neoconservative universalism. Westerners are no more than individuals who have managed to download successfully the killer apps – regardless of location, religion, ethnicity, and historical background. The world, after all, has been converging with the West, or so he argues, with only a few bothersome radical Muslims standing in the way.
After cataloging a long list of pre-1600 Western accomplishments, beginning with the Greeks, Duchesne comments “These, and so many other achievements, are exceptionally Western and can never be downloaded by other cultures.” Exactly.
Duchesne is rightly skeptical of the willingness or ability of Muslim immigrants to identify with Western culture.
[Fergunson] is clearly worried by the lack of assimilation by Muslims in Europe, and the key role being played at universities and elsewhere by Islamic centers. He tabulates that if the current Muslim population of the UK continues to grow at the current rate, its share of the total population would pass 50 per cent in 2050 (p. 290). So, it looks like the West needs to show resolve on Muslim immigration and assimilation … by teaching kids Western liberal arts? I doubt a population built on mass migration from non-Western lands would be enthusiastic about Elizabethan England, Homer, Chaucer, Aquinas, or even Shakespeare. He says that ‘mass immigration is not necessarily the solvent of a civilization, if the migrants embrace, and are encouraged to embrace the values of the civilization to which they are moving’ (p. 290). It is worth noting that only westerners are inviting resterners to come to their homelands; there is no ‘reconvergence’ whatsoever in this respect; this is one killer app Asia does not care for. If current trends continue, the West will become a mongrel civilization, whereas China, Japan, and India will remain uniquely native.
This, of course, is the fundamental reality. Only the West has embarked on a voyage in which its ethnic coherence and its culture are completely up for grabs. Asia for the Asians; Africa for the Africans; Western cultures for everyone. Visions of the future West as operating under Sharia law and theocracy are at least as likely as those envisioned by utopian universalists like Ferguson.
Utopian universalism is a very problematic, possibly fatal, tendency among us Westerners—most apparent in the Puritan-derived strand of American culture. Ferguson is squarely in this tradition. As I noted elsewhere,
the radical individualism embodied in the Enlightenment ideal of individual rights is especially problematic as a source of long-term stability in a Western society because of the danger of invasion and domination by group strategies such as Judaism and the possibility of the defection of non-Jewish elites from the ideals represented in the other two models of [historic American civilization; i.e., the “republican” ideal of a cohesive, socially homogeneous society and the “ethnocultural” strand emphasizing the importance of Anglo-Saxon ethnicity]. … The transformations of American society in the post–Civil War era resulted from the “liberal” cultural ideal “that opposed slavery, favored immigration, and encouraged enterprise while protecting property rights” and that posed a severe threat to the collective life at the center of American civilization.
It is this liberal legacy of American civilization that the Jewish intellectual movements reviewed in this volume have exploited in rationalizing unrestricted immigration and the loss of social homogeneity represented by the unifying force of the Christian religion. As Israel Zangwill said in advocating a Jewish strategy for unrestricted immigration, “tell them they are destroying American ideals” (see p. 267). The effect has been to create a new American ideal that is entirely at odds with the historic sources of American identity. (From Chapter 8 of The Culture of Critique.)
Since Jewish intellectuals and activist organizations are not burdened by a devotion to utopian universalism, they are famously disposed to quite different strategies: championing Israel as an ethnostate and simultaneously championing the West as a proposition culture. What’s good for the Jews and all that. Ferguson thus becomes a useful idiot in furthering these goals.