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Liberal fundamentalist

‘The kind of face you want to punch’

World’s greatest historian Niall Ferguson is in the “news”, ((Thanks to redpesto.)) and the Mail provides some useful background:

He is considered a leading expert on foreign affairs and once described himself as an ‘ardent Thatcherite’ but now calls himself a ‘liberal fundamentalist’.

What is a liberal fundamentalist? Is it someone who encourages a proliferation of different readings of his fundament? Or is it someone whose fundament is itself liberal? Is On Liberty, say, the sacred text, from which no deviation is possible, on which Ferguson’s philosophy is built? Or does he prefer an endless jouissance of individual interpretation of some other set of primary texts, perhaps in the manner of the Taqwacore movement? Does Ferguson encourage liberal use and exploration of his own fundament? Enquiring fans of Niall Ferguson, and of his fundament, want to know.

  1. 1  Leinad  February 8, 2010, 1:57 pm 

    Someone who takes a literal, originalist reading of the state motto of New Hampshire?


  2. 2  shadowfirebird  February 8, 2010, 2:20 pm 

    He’s fundamentally liberal, but he’s rubbish at finding a pithy way of saying it?

    “Fundamental” and “liberal” are, as you hint, two concepts at the extreme ends of a single continuum.

    Perhaps he also considers himself a very short tall person?

  3. 3  aboulien  February 8, 2010, 4:14 pm 

    Unbelievable: Blair and Campbell are monkeying around with child mortality rates. I decided to research their claim of a big fall from the early to late ’00s in Iraq.

    The WHO’s figures for 2003 suggest that Blair (and Campbell) confused The Republic of the Congo, which was not involved in the Second Congo War, with the DRC. Whether the obfuscation was intended I don’t know. Those WHO data are the only source I’ve found for such a high 2003 figure (125, not 130 as Blair and Campbell assert, though Blair describes it as a 2000–02 not a 2003 figure), and the dramatic reduction Blair and Campbell claim is apparent only in concert with a different dataset, that of UNICEF (where the number is 44, not 40 as Blair has it). If they made consistent use of the UNICEF data they would see a trend of gradual decline hardly ruffled since the 1985–’90 period, and if they plotted the WHO number on Google’s World Bank graph they would get a catastrophic blip returning Iraq to the ’70s rate (something a military invasion could account for?). Citing UNICEF in 2008, Save the Children observes ‘No progress’ on Iraq’s Millennium child mortality goal between 1990 and 2006. I’ve poked around for other sources and discovered an oddly high figure of 125 for 2000–05 in the UN’s World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision report which is only projected to fall into the 37–48 range between 2015 and 2025; but in the 2008 Revision the estimates are consonant with UNICEF’s. Note moreover that Afghanistan remains almost at the bottom of the world table.

    What’s purer Unspeak than not meaning the DRC by ‘the Congo’ in this context?

  4. 4  aboulien  February 8, 2010, 4:16 pm 

    Sorry, the relevant Campbell link is http://www.alastaircampbell.or.....038;id=331, and for Blair go to p. 244 of the II’s transcript of his evidence.

  5. 5  des von bladet  February 8, 2010, 7:10 pm 

    A whie back, Timothy Garlic Mash was in Saint-Denis – strickly for the necrology, you understand – and if Google is to be believed (and as an NYRB non-subscriber I can’t check) it was roughly then that he decided to label Ayaan Hirsi Ali, now Ferguson’s official new squeeze, an “Enlightenment fundamentalist”.

    So my assumption is that he meant to at least riff on that, perhaps without exposing himself to the suspicion that he thinks enlightenment shines out of his fundament, which by all accounts would otherwise explain a great deal.

  6. 6  Steven  February 8, 2010, 8:10 pm 

    Ah, thanks for that. There is a pdf of the article here. It does things like contrast “British Muslims [whose] family origins lie in Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh” with “many a true-born native Englishman”.

  7. 7  Alex B  February 8, 2010, 9:54 pm 

    I think Garton-Ash’s use of the phrase “true-born native Englishman” and its contrast with “British Muslims [whose] family origins lie in Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh” can be taken as irony.

    It does come one paragraph after the following sentence, after all:
    “As an inhabitant of Eurabia, I must insist on a few elementary distinctions. For a start, are we talking about Islam, Muslims, Islamists, Arabs, immigrants, darker-skinned people, or terrorists? These are seven different things.”

    The first half of the first sentence, with its mocking use of the word “Eurabia” (repeated a few lines later: “Where I live—in Oxford, Eurabia—…”) makes it clear his intent is parody; and his serious, non-ironic, point is obviously “… I must insist on a few elementary distinctions. For a start, are we talking about Islam, Muslims, Islamists, Arabs, immigrants, darker-skinned people, or terrorists? These are seven different things.”

    His point is not particularly new, I grant you, but it is all-but-unambiguous: “…Muslims, [and] immigrants, [and] dark-skinned people… are …. different things.”

  8. 8  Steven  February 8, 2010, 10:01 pm 

    You are right that he is exercising a discrimination unusual in such discussions, and possibly he is indeed wielding the phrase “true-born native Englishman” ironically, though I’m not sure how complete a get-out irony can be here.

  9. 9  richard  February 9, 2010, 4:57 pm 

    Having skimmed Garton-Ash’s piece I think his ironic tone is firmly in place, but that it displays a particular kind of ethnising lens familiar from accounts of the Sepoy Mutiny – in praising the work ethic of British Muslims whose “family origins lie in Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh,” he’s wielding a version of “they fight like devils, those Gurkhas” – it’s an ethnic epithet, it stereotypes the other and reinscribes their otherness, and it repeats a discourse of (native born, inevitably threatened) English mastery offensive not only to the visibly different children of migrants but also to Scots etc. It’s a tricky one to weed out, this: it’s probably meant quite innocently and as genuine praise, and Garton-Ash might well protest that the alternative is a colour-blindness that is simply fantasy, unhelpful to anyone engaged in actual current relations.

    But it’s still something akin to racism.

  10. 10  dsquared  February 9, 2010, 5:35 pm 

    surely “true born native Englishman” is a reference to Defoe’s poem, or am I missing a further level of irony?

  11. 11  Steven  February 9, 2010, 5:47 pm 

    But what work is the interpolation of “native” into Defoe’s title doing, if not implying that people with foreign “family origins” can never be “native”? Isn’t “native” here being used in exactly Charles Murray’s sense?

  12. 12  richard  February 9, 2010, 7:50 pm 

    ….by the way, I apologise for “something akin to racism” – exactly the sort of weaselly, connotative phrase you regularly disembowel here. I should’ve just bitten the bullet and written “ethnism”, or whatever you call the classification and differential treatment of persons based on their religion and/or their ethnic identity and/or place of origin. Ethno-credism? Loco-sectism? The only extant version of this I can think of is anti-Semitism, but obviously it doesn’t work here.

  13. 13  dsquared  February 10, 2010, 1:16 am 

    Since “native” is a trochee which more or less fits into the line, I suspect that its presence there is basically a result of Gart’n’Ash misremembering the poem (but remembering that it was all ironic and stuff about the concept of a “native” Englishman) and not bothering to look it up.

  14. 14  Steven  February 10, 2010, 1:25 am 

    Maybe, tho’ in that case “many a true-born native Englishman” makes for a rather halting hexameter. But is it actually possible to be ironic while you are using “native” in the Charles Murray/BNP sense?

  15. 15  democracy_grenade  February 10, 2010, 3:04 am 

    Ethno-credism? Loco-sectism?

    Ethnic primordialism?

    I still like “cultural racism”, personally, providing that there is essentialisation going on. It allows for a strong epithet (“racism”), and so avoids the ascription of a cumbersome or jargonistic appellation to ideas that are incredibly noxious. But the “cultural” genuflects to the fact that Enoch Powell was not just reproducing Madison Grant, etc..

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