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Opposing super-statism does not make one a ‘nationalist’

Yesterday I happened to see the Sunday Telegraph and Niall Fergusson’s contribution was ‘interesting’ (in the sense of the old Chinese curse).

Niall Fergusson is a Scottish conservative who sold out and got a high paid job at Harvard (perhaps he just went along with the leftist stereotype of the conservative as someone who puts his personal financial interest above everything else). He sometimes still writes decent stuff, but normally his writings are designed to not offend his new ‘liberal’ friends (and employers) and today was no exception.

Professor Fergusson was not writing in support of Islamic terrorists in Somalia (which he has done in the past), or declaring that the West should submit to (sorry engage in ‘diplomacy’ only with) the Iranian regime (regardless of how many British and American people this regime kills in Afghanistan, Iraq and the streets of Western cities). No today he had a different subject – the European Union (remember in establishment circles in the United States wanting to take powers away from the EU is considered as wicked as it is in establishment circles here).

The great historian has decided to put his support behind the superstate and denounce its evil ‘nationalist’ foes.

Supposedly 30% of the population of the United Kingdom think membership of the EU has been harmful. I think it is rather more that 30%, but perhaps Professor Fergusson is correct.

What were Professor Fergusson’s arguments against those people who think that the tidal wave of EU regulations has been harmful?

He presented no arguments at all. It was just taken as obvious that anyone who opposed this layer of government was both stupid and evil.

Professor Fergusson is clearly a true establishment man and no doubt will continue to be welcome at all the social events in Harvard.

31 comments to Opposing super-statism does not make one a ‘nationalist’

  • Rob

    Ferguson was good when he was putting forward the controversial argument that the British Empire was of benefit to the world. Trying to defend that position forced him to be intellectually rigorous.

    Sadly, being part of the consensus will by definition encourage people to be less rigorous in supporting their contentions, as this piece by Ferguson demonstrates.

    I do agree with some of his arguments – notably that Britain needs to be part of something bigger. I just think it should be the UK/US/Canada/Australia/New Zealand.

  • MarkE

    I do agree with some of his arguments – notably that Britain needs to be part of something bigger

    I can understand that politicians get some sort of gratification from being part of something bigger – they get tickets to G8 and similar junkets and photos appear in their domestic press with them standing beside someone else who, we’re told, is “important”, but I don’t feel any more important if the PM is at an international junket or not. I’d feel more important if he was at home sorting out my commute, reducing my taxes and restoring my rights to live my life as I please.

    According to the CIA world factbook, 9 of the 10 wealthiest countries in the world (2006 per capita GDP) had populations less than about 15m (I saw another calculation a while back where 10/10 were small, having relegated the USA to 11th, but can’t find it now). There was also a survey which found that 9 of the 10 “happiest” countries were also small (The exception was 33m Canucks – hardly India or China).

    What do the people of a country gain if it is part of something bigger, and what do they lose if it is not?

  • cirby

    I’ve had a similar question on my mind for a very long time:

    What is the largest practical size for a country?

    It seems to be tied to communications speed (how long does it take for information to get from any one person to any other person) and control speed (how long does it take for new rules and info to become effective and accepted).

    Right now, for the “civilized” parts of the world, communications speed is effectively instantaneous – you can get a message from anyone to anyone in real time.

    The problem is (and will remain) how fast will people accept the new practices and new info that comes from other people? False acceptance (taking for granted something that is effectively false) and false rejection (refusing to believe in true new data) seem to be the major limiters, along with the general refusal to even consider new information. There’s also the “human filters” issue – how hard is it to get new info to the People in Charge, past the levels of bureaucracy that tend to limit access.

    Among the people who have accepted the new rules (fast data flow, fast acceptance of “new” truth due to easier fact-checking), you have, effectively, a separate society, with slow leakage into the “infowont” society – the folks who refuse or are psychologically unable to use the new technologies that allow for this.

  • Anyone who promotes any extra layers of government or increases in it’s size is stupid or evil.
    Anyone who doesn’t support a reduction in the size and scope of government just doesn’t understand what government really is.

  • Rob

    What do the people of a country gain if it is part of something bigger, and what do they lose if it is not?

    Extra economic safety, in that small markets are more at risk of marginalisation than large markets. Quite possibly more resilience too, although one would have to look at the scenario in which resilience was being discussed to make the case for that.

    Britain joining the NAFTA, and NAFTA working to harmonise markets, would not necessarily result in a government that was bigger in any meaningful way. And leaving the EU would, one hopes, result in a huge government downsizing. Although I’m fairly convinced that libertarianism is a dream that will become more remote as time goes by, not less.

  • Nick M

    Oh this is rot!

    My last holiday was to the USA.

    My wife just bought a new computer case stamped “made in China”.

    The tea I’m drinking is Indian.

    Later, I may buy some Belgian lager or possibly Chilean wine.

    Somehow I manage this globe-trotting despite the likes of the EU.

    Yes, I’m “nationalist” – I think England is a great place. But, and this is a Kylie of a but(t)… I can understand French and Americans and Spaniards saying exactly the same about their countries. This is not universal. It may be possible to make the case for Germany (though I doubt it) but the globe’s assorted ‘stans and People’s Republics are clearly total dives.

    Point being we can get on, trade, go on holiday and generally get stuff done without the likes of Mandy in Brussells calling the shots. All it takes is a Mexican or a Korean having something he or she wants to sell at a price I want to buy at… Sometimes I suspect that economics is the long history of refutations to stuff I knew in my primary schoolyard (and counter-refutations to that, of course).

    We are all part of something much larger than our own countries. Everyday I zing emails around the globe, everyday I buy stuff from foreign parts, everyday I get RSS from unusual climes. I laughed my ass off when I read the BNP agenda for UK defence policy (it all has to be sourced within these islands). Yeah, right. Let’s just hand BAE systems a blank cheque and wait 25 years for something truly dreadful. Every daft sod with broadband is in some sense a global citizen so let’s act like it. Let’s just do it. Apart from during the World Cup, obviously, when it’s acceptable to resort to tribal type.

  • MarkE

    Yes, I’m “nationalist” – I think England is a great place

    “A patriot loves his own country, a nationalist hates other countries”

    On that, I read you as a patriot, which is what I claim to be. The love of my own country (England, not Britain or the UK) does not preclude the respect and affection I feel for some other countries. Sometimes the English test that love!

  • Chris Harper (Counting Cats)

    So where does this leave me?

    Australian by birth, British (not English, my piece of paper says Britain) by choice, Anglospheric by inclination and American by affinity

  • As someone who was lectured at by Ferguson a decade ago (back when he was a Fellow at Jesus), I think it’s desperately unfair to suggest that this is a new strand in his thinking, or one that is distinct from his conservative thought.

    He has an unabashed authority-fetishist, and visibly stiffens at words like ‘strength’, ‘monarch’ and ‘natives’. He argues that the problem with Black and Tans opening fire at Croke Park was that they ‘lacked the stomach for repression’. He approvingly quotes Hitler’s assessment of the British Empire, and why it was worth emulating. He grows red-faced with rage at the suggestion that some of those involved with the Empire might have had the audacity to have been homosexuals*, whilst suggesting that T.E.Lawrence deserved his motorbike accident because he dreamed of being raped by Turks.

    An unavoidable theme in his work is its admiration of strong institutions, no matter how deleterious their effects on the individual. All of the examples I used above were taken from his ‘Empire’, a book which contends, in all seriousness, that the British Empire was good for those countries it governed because it brought with it team sports.

    Ferguson’s wish for a stronger EU is not at odds with his conservatism, or his previous thought. It’s yet another example of a consistent strain of authority-worship that runs through his books.

    * – “A distinction must be drawn carefully here between men whose upbringing and like in almost exclusively male institutions inclined them towards a culture of homoeroticism and condemned them to have difficulties with girls; and those who were practising pederasts.”

  • Paul Marks

    The people who actually created the Empire tended not to have a problem with women – other than liking them too much (in the case of Lugard – who had to leave resign his commission and leave Burma because of an affair, going off on his own was the making of him).

    Real people like Lugard (of East and West Africa and Hong Kong), Raffles (of Singapore) and the rest are a lot more interesting that the imperial sterotypes that Nathaniel Tapley claims that Prof Ferguson likes to talk about. I would adice anyone to read the life history of Lugard, Raffles, Harry Smith (from just down the road from me – sorry about Washington D.C. my American friends).

    Even in India the people who created the Raj were not bureacratic administrators who were up tight about various things. When that sort of person took over things started to go down hill.

    How on Earth can anyone make the history of the British Empire as boring as N.T. seems to be claiming that Prof Ferguson made it? The real history of the creation of the Empire is full of wild ecentrics.

    Even in the dying days they were still about – like “Mad Mitch” in Aden in the 1960’s (the concept of “an order” was something he had a big problem with).

    But (because it is an excuse for a story) I will use the example of “Uncle Bill” (General Slim – 14th Army during World War II, and then Governor General of Australia).

    We were at a river and, to try and cheer everyone up, I said “things could be worse”.

    A junior officer replied “the Japanese have just smashed us, a lot of us are dead or captured, what is left of us are injured, sick, or both, we have lost most of our equipment and the Japanses are hot on our heels – how could things be worse?”

    “Well it could be raining” I said.

    And then it started to …….

    Still, no doubt, the serious Prof would just take the above as move evidence that everyone who is anti E.U. is a live-in-the-past “nationalist” “still fighting the battle of Waterloo” (he actually came out with that claim).

    Of course if there is a British “nationalism” it is about little cottage gardens, cups of tea and lots of cake, and individuals and familes not being messed about by people with “rational” rules and regulations.

    If he has ever read the “Lord of the Rings” I bet that N.F. hates The Shire.

  • To call a ropey, quavering, quivering, angry, frightened cabal of inbreeding crooks ‘the establishment’ vastly overstates their relevance.

  • guy herbert

    … designed to not offend his new ‘liberal’ friends …

    That’s a different Fergusson from the one I’m acquainted with, who goes out of his way to startle received liberal-left opinion, and has built a sparkling career on doing so.

  • Niall Fergusson is a complete idiot. The EU liberal on trade? It is protectionist, always has been, and is about to get worse. Or that the EU is somehow going to be the saviour of the Doha round of trade talks, it was the EU that scuppered them with its refusal to give up the CAP.

  • libertarian

    many eurosceptics are not necessarily isolationists – they would just rather the UK be the bitch of washington rather than brussels.

  • I never understood the foundation of a superstate with the bureaucracy first, then the ineffectual parliment before presenting the people with a reason for the superstate’s existence…

    Our founding identified common principles first then a proposed set of rules that would get us to those principles as well as a system to change directions and players on a regular basis. Our foundation is silent on the need for a bureaucracy.

    Professors find a Catholic fondness for kings, tyrants and dictators. Misery as a recurring human condition provides such a fertile field and so much opportunity… Avoiding disaster, improving conditions and ensuring democracy have a less rich literary or religious tradition.

    Making a living, raising a family, living in peace, dying in old age, have little appeal to those who would be our masters. They must save us from something so that we may worship them…

  • nick g.

    How right you are, AndyJ!
    Just saw a DVD called ‘Kangaroo’, from a book by DH Lawrence, about his time in the Southern colonies. It was set in Sydney of 1922, and the hero, a writer, comes across a would-be Mussolini, called Kangaroo by his followers. Even when he’s dying from a bullet from a riot that he started, this ‘Kangaroo’ still wants the writer to say that he loves him! If he’d lived, he’d have ‘protected’ us from the reds, and wanted a few statues, and towns named after him. (I’m assuming that the novel was inspired by real people whom Lawrence met here.)

  • Kenneth

    It is so odd that we have accumulated (and continue to accumulate) a tremendous body of information about this planet and the biology of the organisms which populate it, including and most importantly ourselves, and although we obviously worship it (sacred towers of learning, etc.), we act as if we don’t believe any of it. We know impressive and useful things about the chemistry which drives and guides our individual bodies, the biology which shapes the fundamentals of ourselves and our inter- and intra-species activities, and the human and animal groupings with their varied resources and social quirks which provide the next layers in the framework of our individual/social personality structures, and although most of the noises that me make are lip-service to the value of knowledge (scientists now know that…, doctors have determined…, psychologists and sociologists suspect that…, ethnologists now know that…), we totally disregard all of it and make our most critical decisions based on the dominant personal emotion of the instant (not necessarily even related to the situation) , or the most infectious crowd sentiment that reaches us (same m.o.).
    Of course he and his peers (in all countries throughout the world) prefer political scenarios which support their, “I could actually rule this entire little globe (or be a big part of the globe ruling crowd)” fantasies. They were socialized into ambition by the aspiring autocrat cult, and are hyper-confident (yet so often intellectually vapid and actually visibly sleazy) modern political based predators in their prime. And all are trying to eat all of the best stuff before a bigger beast gets it, or worse, gets them. They will walk on the bodies of babies to get their next orgasm and why is anyone shocked?

    I find myself craving tremendous storms and think I look forward to the conflict which this level of greed will ultimately initiate: “give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes”, Pablo Neruda.

  • nick g.

    Without the super-state, where will all the bureaurats and pompous twits and sticky-beaks go for jobs? Have you thought about that? Europe gives them (the illusion of) purpose and life!

  • G

    That’s a different Fergusson from the one I’m acquainted with, who goes out of his way to startle received liberal-left opinion, and has built a sparkling career on doing so.

    And then he sold out. It’s been pretty noticeable over the past two years.

    many eurosceptics are not necessarily isolationists – they would just rather the UK be the bitch of washington rather than brussels.

    If that is, indeed, the choice, I’d make it in five seconds flat. When my great-grandparents came to England, they didn’t come to be part of Europe, they came precisely to escape Europe. I’m pretty sure that, had it occurred to them that we’d be subsequently subsumed by those pogromming inveterate totalitarians with inexhaustible reserves of completely unnacountable arrogance in that loathsome continent, they would have paid the double fair to go to America instead.

  • Paul Marks

    I wonder if Guy Herbert is talking about the same Professor Ferguson who supported the “Islamic Courts” (a terrorist front) in Somalia and supports no resistance to the Iranian regime (just job creation schemes for establishment diplomats) no matter how many British and American people it kills.

    I think we are back in the land where most American Democrat politicians (even on the left coast) are not leftists (Guy knows this because he has met them socially) or indeed that the words “statist” and “leftist” have no meaning (in which case, O.K., they are not leftists – because no one is).

    And we are also in the land where various communist comics are good guys because they say they oppose I.D. cards (which they, most likely, do oppose – until when and and if they come to power).

    On the positive side Professor Ferguson does write against such things as credit bubble inflation – as I pointed out in my posting on the Sunday Telegraph (so Guy is quite correct about this – I overegged the pudding by implying that he had totally sold out).

    In conclusion, I judge people on their policy positions, not what they are like socially, Guy could correctly reply that this because (due to my own position in life) I do not know them socially.

    If I did know these people socially, it is quite possible that I would judge them as he does.

  • Martin

    Ferguson has not wrote a good book since his book on WW1. His books on the British and American empires were neocon propaganda rot. If Ferguson is changing his tune, that is hardly surprising considering that Iraq has proven the folly of colonial adventures to save the heathen.

  • guy herbert

    … I judge people on their policy positions…

    And I judge them on their arguments, and their conduct, as well as the rational coherence of their policy prescriptions. Not what they say about themselves. Nor whether they match my views.

    Social contact might be useful in evaluating those things. It isn’t a determinant of whether one finds people’s views acceptable. What most impressed me about my encounter with East Coast liberals, was not their absence of leftism, but a “leftism” hypocritically coexisting with bourgeois capitalist personal conduct and values. That it’s a pose founded on doublethink.

    I’m sure if I were to meet Tony Blair at random, and not recognise him, I’d find him pleasant company. That supposition doesn’t prevent me hating everything he stands for politically.

  • Hmmm … when did Iran attack? It must have been a small invasion, I didn’t notice, and I haven’t left America in years …

    Or did they invade Brittan?

  • Snide

    Hmmm … when did Iran attack? It must have been a small invasion, I didn’t notice,

    I assume you don’t read the papers much. Or let me guess…you think all the off-route mines being used in Afghanistan and Iraq were made by Haliberton.

    and I haven’t left America in years …

    Good. Please stay there.

  • Snide

    Iran is not the only country arming terrorists in Iraq


  • Gabriel

    Martin’s link is actually very worrying and yet more evidence of Bush’s demented myopia (or myopic dementia, whatever) in continually searching for moderate terrorists he can give money to, or, alternately, force Israel to give money to.

    These people need to be killed, as in shot, that is to say with bullets, through the head. All of them. Just because some are less bad than others doesn’t mean we should ally with them, nor would the idea even have the semblance of necessity if we stopped fighting with our hands tied behind our backs (and stopped forcing Israel to do the same to a quite insane degree). I really can’t understand the thought process in the Whitehouse over the past 3 years.

  • Paul Marks

    Guy Herbert first:

    I agreed with everything you said in your last comment – after I read it twice. The first time I was just irritated, then I asked myself “why am I irritated” and made myself read it again.

    Iranian regime.

    Of course it is not just in Afghanistan or Iraq that they have been killing Westerners – they have been doing it all round the world since 1979. If Rich Paul really does not know he should look into the matter. “Well they are not killing people in my town” – so you are going to wait till they are strong enough to do so?

    These things (unlike economics) are not a priori matters. Trying to work out military policy from non empirical first principles will not work (as Ludwig Von Mises understood and Murry Rothbard did not).

    On what Martin and others have said:

    I found N. Ferguson’s pro “American empire” stuff to be absurd. But then the neoconservatives also found this stuff to be absurd (so calling it neo con is wrong).

    Professor Ferguson failed to understand that the first and last American President to be in favour of such an “empire” was T. Roosevelt.

    For example, when President George Walker Bush said he wanted to help the people of Iraq build a democracy he meant it.

    It may or may not have been an absurd idea – but it was NOT a cover for building an American “empire”.

    So Professor Ferguson’s writings and television shows about the rise and decline of the American empire miss the point – there is no “American empire” and people like President Bush never wanted there to be one anyway.

    Fighting communism was just that – fighting communism (wisely or unwisely) nothing to do with an “American empire”.

    And fighting radical Islam (Sunni or Shia) is also (be it wise or unwise) nothing to do with an American empire.

    Perhaps it was when he finally understood that the vast majority of Americans (of all political points of view) were opposed to an empire, that Professor Ferguson changed his position on some matters.

  • Martin

    I don’t these Sunni insurgents that we are now helping ought to be killed. The vast majority of them would never have been fighting alongside Al Qaeda in the first place had Bush and Blair not decided to turn Iraq into an Al Qaeda base.

    No, I think arming the Sunni insurgents shows how much buncombe the whole absolutist rhetoric is regarding the war on terror. Yesterday’s terrorists are today’s allies. Yesterday’s allies our today’s terrorists. In the 80s, Saddam was our ally against Iran, but in the 1990s, he and the Sunni elite became our enemies. As soon as we invaded Iraq, we treat the Shiites as our allies. Now we seem to get on better with Saddam’s old friends and treat the Shiites as Iranian stooges. Sooner or later, Iraq will have another Sunni Saddam Hussein, and we will have put him in power. Tony Blankley even advocates this in the Washington Times:

    ‘Just as Abe Lincoln kept hiring and firing generals until he found a Gen. Grant who could fight and win, President Bush needs to hire and fire Iraqi leaders until he finds a strong man who can get the job done.

    I pray that Mr. Bush has not been so moved by his own “democratic” rhetoric that he has blinded himself to the ruthless, practical demands of the moment.’

    Which begs the questions- why did we(1) overthrow Saddam? and (2) why did we kill him? If there was ever an Arab strongman that could be ruthless in crushing dissent, he was your man. Of course, it means 3500 US troops and rising died for absolutely nothing, but the neocons and their bitches never lived in reality before March 2003 and certainly still don’t know.

    It is just like the phoney WW2 rhetoric. In 1945, the Japanese and germans were incorrigibly wicked races that deserved to be wiped out. Uncle Joe and his people were real swell guys. Three years later, the Germans and Japs were swell guys, and the Russians were the most evil race ever to exist.

  • cerebus

    Ferguson has a point about Brown taking a turn toward nationalism. Seems to be the strategy for shoring up his ‘centrist’ bona fides. Hard line on civil liberties, immigration restrictionism, and mildly left-of-Blair economics anyone? Polly Toynbee’ll be over-the-moon.

  • Paul Marks


    There were plenty of Al Qaeda people in Iraq before 2003. In spite of leading Al Qaeda types denouncing him (in the strongest terms) Saddam was happy to support Al Qaeda people (and many other groups and alliances).

    Nor did “we” kill Saddam. It was an Iraqi court and Iraqi executioners.

    If you take the position that they were “American puppets” you may be interested to learn that the Americans (rather oddly) got rid of the death penality in Iraq and the Iraqis brought it back.

    I say AGAIN that these political matters can not be done a priori (Ron Paul style) one actually has to CHECK THE FACTS .

    Before you denounce me, I would remind you that I opposed the judgment to go into Iraq in 2003 (and was called a “racist” for opposing it), and still think judgement was mistaken.

    Mr Brown on “nationalism”.

    When he takes back power from the E.U. I will take his wrapping himself in the Union Flag serioursly – till then it is a sick joke.