Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[FORUM] What do you do when the public intellectuals you like go astray?

British/American historian Niall Ferguson is a very smart and deservedly well-recognized man who has written many things worth paying attention to because they are wise about globalization, and many things that will be paid attention to on account of their potentially terrible consequences in the direction of imperialisms past and present. Ferguson's explicit invocation of "Eurabia", for instance, lent that poisonous concept mainstream credibility. Writing at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Scott Lemieux made the case that Ferguson's latest Newsweek column, "Israel and Iran on the Eve of Destruction in a New Six-Day War", is another example of this type.

It probably felt a bit like this in the months before the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel launched its hugely successful preemptive strike against Egypt and its allies. Forty-five years later, the little country that is the most easterly outpost of Western civilization has Iran in its sights.

Beginning his essay defending an Israeli attack on Iran by explicitly defining Israel as "the most easterly outpost of Western civilization" is a dog whistle to a certain subset of his readers, right?

Anyhow. The central point of Lemieux's analysis, that Ferguson's arguments are unserious in that his conclusions (an attack on Iran would be a good thing) could be made to suit any number of interpretations. (Writes Lemieux, "One can start with his inability to decide whether a war would create a massive spike in oil prices or not (whether a “Saudi spike” will mostly cover things depends on what argument he’s making at the time.)") I find Ferguson's argument that the Iranian government isn't an adherent to realpolitik and is uninterested in the survival of the Iranian nation-state more problematic, resting on a partial and inaccurate view of Iranian actions; Ferguson would have done much better to question the viability of an Iranian-Israeli nuclear standoff, given that other nuclear-armed dyads of states (India and Pakistan, for one) have come quite close to nuclear war.

And then, there's Ferguson's final sentence: "It feels like the eve of some creative destruction." Surely the time to joke about potential military catastrophe in the Middle East is not our time?

Yes, yes, Ferguson wrote all this in an article for The Daily Beast. One can legitimately question whether anything written there on foreign policy, or anything else, should be taken seriously. But then one should also wonder why someone wanting to be taken seriously would publish there.

Despite all this, I still like Ferguson. He writes well on many subjects of interest to me. It's just, well, why is he doing this?

This weekend's [FORUM] question I put to you: what do you do when the public intellectuals you like, for their style and/or their content, go and make arguments or political statements or demonstrate a terrible lack of judgment? Do you, like me, try to find ways to engage selectively? Is it enough to trigger a break?

Tags: clash of ideologies, forums, geopolitics, iran, israel, middle east, nuclear war, writing
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