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Niall Ferguson's Pathetic Attempt to Defend Himself

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | We must understand why racist belief systems persist

Please read the comments underneath. Some are very informed and reveal the ludicrousness of his ideas.

For example:

Unfortunately, the usual tendentious nonsense from Ferguson. Certainly, human beings tend to coalesce in groups of various kinds, and may be some of this can be explained by evolutionary biology and anthropology. But the question that Feguson does not address (deliberately?) is: why do these differences have to coalesce around race, and not some other (biological) difference. The example he gives of different tribes is completely unconvincing. After all, different tribes are not (or don't have to be) different races. And surely not all differences of biology are "racial" differences. (This is of course leaving aside for the moment the other idea that race is wholly a social category that has little if anything to do with biology to begin with.)

Incidentally, it is somewhat amusing that a professor at Harvard can make an argument so deviod of basic logic and reasoning. But then Harvard also employs Dershowitz - oh well.

The post-colonial theorists are helpful because they show that organizing human differences around race (i.e. racism) was a political choice that was made at a certain point in history to justify imperialism of a certain kind. By historicizing the various uses of the concept of race, broadly defined, throughout human history, post-colonial theorists show how in the 19th century Western European empires were quite unique in employing scientific racism to organize self-other differences as a dominant political and social ideology. (To be perfectly clear, what I am suggesting is that for instance the Roman Empire too had certain ideas about who was included and who was excluded and to what degree, but these ideas were not informed by an "idea of race" with anywhere the same intensity as British imperialism for example. The Romans used other categories.)

This is obviously a problem for Ferguson who wants to celebrate these 19th century European empires and wants to reintroduce them as a viable option for organizing 21st century global politics. As such, empire as a form of political organization should certainly not be dismissed out of hand. The problem that Ferguson faces is that he does not want to celebrate just any empire - he certainly does not want a revival of the various Chinese, Indian, or Islamic empires. He is strangely only fond of empires with the palest hue. How then to convince the world (or is it just the American plutocracy) that these Western European empires are a great inspiration for our future given the central role that race played in their constitution and perpetuation. Hence, the completely convoluted argument he makes above - who is he trying to kid? He is a racist - he's just in denial or being disingenuous. One can't push the British empire as a model and brush its racism aside by arguing that race can be neutrally deployed concept.


Ferguson is playing with an extremely dangerous pseudo-logic. He says the "reality" is that race is insignificant to fundamental human capacities. Yet, he goes on to directly undo this by claiming that we naturally attach importance to these differences which can provoke conflict: we are "designed" to "fight "the Other"".

Where do go from here?? "Sorry you dirty Arab it's my nature", says the US soldier in Iraq as he fires. "Sorry you white yankee *&^*" says the insurgent as he pulls the pin "it's my nature". If we accept that tribalism based on physical characteristics is "designed" then we are pulled into a world in which we have either a justified endless conflict between "civilisations" or we live in a state of "tolerance" in which we say "I could fight you, but no, I choose to tolerate you" > the kind of logic the fuels apartheid.

Forget concepts like class and nation, Ferguson's logic tells us, they are only the side effects of biological mechanisms.

Here's an idea: why not go back to the reality of the insignifiance of race and think of humanity, therefore, as one group > why the need to ponder this splinter.

Ferguson has only confirmed the accusations that Dr Gopal made.