April 15, 2021
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Watch These Men

Watch These Men


First came a review by Pankaj Mishra of Niall Ferguson's Civilisation: The West and the Rest under the title, Watch this man, in the London Review of Books, which he concluded thus:

‘Western hard power,’ Ferguson blurts out in Civilisation, ‘seems to be struggling’; and the book exemplifies a mood, at once swaggering, frustrated, vengeful and despairing, among men of a certain age, class and education on the Upper East Side and the West End. Western Civilisation is unlikely to go out of business any time soon, but the neoimperialist gang might well face redundancy. In that sense, Ferguson’s metamorphoses in the last decade – from cheerleader, successively, of empire, Anglobalisation and Chimerica to exponent of collapse-theory and retailer of emollient tales about the glorious past – have highlighted broad political and cultural shifts more accurately than his writings. His next move shouldn’t be missed.

Niall Ferguson responded, as he put it, because it was not his "habit to reply to hostile book reviews, but a personal attack that amounts to libel is another matter":

...in reality his review is a crude attempt at character assassination, which not only mendaciously misrepresents my work but also strongly implies that I am a racist...

Mishra also writes, gratuitously, that I am ‘immune to … humour and irony’...

The London Review of Books is notorious for its left-leaning politics. I do not expect to find warm affection in its pages. Much of what I write is simply too threatening to the ideological biases of your coterie. Nevertheless, this journal used, once, to have a reputation for intellectual integrity and serious scholarship. Pankaj Mishra’s libellous and dishonest article brings the LRB as well as himself into grave disrepute.

I am, I repeat, owed an apology.

Pankaj Mishra, in response, says:

[Ferguson's] writings, heralding an American imperium in 2003, Chimerica in 2006, and the ‘Chinese Century’ in 2011, manifest a wider pathology among intellectuals once identified by Orwell: ‘the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible’.

Read the full exchange at the London Review of Books

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