Monday, May 28, 2012

The West and the Rest

I have admitted to my secret pleasure of reading and enjoying the writings of Nial Ferguson, despite his conservative bent and his hostility to Arabs and Muslims, and his fanatic devotion to Israeli militarism.  But his last book, Civilization: The West and the Rest" is a shoddy piece of work that qualifies as a weak polemics against progressive ideas and movements.  Ferguson is a terrific writer who has an amazing ability to handle so much data without allowing the text or the narrative to be overwhelmed with it (just consult his book The World's Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild).  He is even careless in the book: his attack on the French Revolution is, well, silly.  Look how he talks about the guillotine for example.  He says that the Revolution's adoption of the guillotine was "a characteristically rationalist solution to the problem of how most efficiently to terminate a human life". (p. 152)  He is here extrapolating the Nazi calculations and mindset on the French Revolution.  This reference by Ferguson so disregards the fact.  The French Revolutionary Assembly in fact debated for months about the death penalty and only reached a conclusion (in favor) after agreeing to look for humane AND egalitarian methods of execution.  Prior to the guillotine, notables were killed with an ax, while the commoners were executed with most savage methods (wheels, hanging, burning at the stake, etc).  The Guillotine was NOT invented to allow for efficiency of execution as Furguson falsely claims but to make killing more humane and less painful--from the standpoint of those who debated the issue at the time.  He then talks about the violence of the French revolution but bizarrely ads the casualties of the Napoleonic wars to his count (p. 155).  French revolution was not as violent as is often assumed and its casualty figures (a few thousands) should be compared not to the American "Revolution" as Ferguson does, but to the American Civil War.  

PS You have to read the propaganda piece on Jerusalem in this book on page 93.  For him, Jerusalem was "liberated" by Israeli occupation forces and talks about how Israel is even threatened by Saudi Arabia.  When people invoke their Zionism advocacy in their writings (like Lewis and Ajami and others) they lose it completely and forget about the scientific method or even basic logic.