I can’t remember which forum it was, but somebody had suggested that the book Empire -The rise and demise of the British World Order and the lessons for global power, by Niall Ferguson, would cure me of my racism. The claim was that this book contains enough evidence to debunk any notions that racial differences might have played a role in the ascent of the West.
As a matter of fact, Empire is not even remotely a science book, but a history book. Ferguson makes no attempt at all to debunk HBD (human biodiversity – the belief in more than superficial racial differences). The closest he comes to it is (pg. 217-220) a mocking description of some of the racial beliefs held in 19th century Europe, including phrenology and some anecdotal accounts of failed attempts to “civilize the savage.” He writes (pg. 217):
Influenced by, but distorting beyond recognition, the work of Darwin, nineteenth-century pseudo-scientists divided humanity into ‘races’ on the basis of external physical features, ranking them according to inherited differences not just in physique but also in character. Anglo-Saxons were self-evidently at the top, Africans at the bottom. The work of George Combe, author of A System of Phrenology (1825), was typical in two respects: the derogatory way in which it portrayed racial differences and the fraudulent way in which it sought to explain them…
The explanation for this backwardness, according to Combe, was the peculiar shape of ‘the skull of the negro’: ‘The organs of Veneration, Wonder and Hope… are considerable in size. The greatest deficiencies lie in Conscientiousness, Ideality and Reflection’. Such Ideas were influential. The idea of an ineradicable ‘race instinct’ became a staple of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writing – as in Cornelia Sorabji’s tale of the educated Indian lady doctor who willingly (and fatally) submits to the ordeal by fire during a pagan rite; or the account by Lady Mary Anne Barker of how her Zulu nanny reverted to savagery when she returned home to her village; or W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Pool’, in which a hapless Aberdonian businessman tries in vain to Westernize his half-Samoan bride.
Ferguson’s diatribe against 19th century racism segues into what looks like an argument that eugenics must be false, since some members of the “master race” were homosexual. He writes (pg. 220 after quoting a description of the perfect Anglo-Saxon):
Men like this certainly did exist. Yet a remarkably high proportion of them made only the most half-hearted, if any, contribution to the reproduction of the race they exemplified – for the simple reason that they were homosexuals.
It’s hard to say what Ferguson’s own attitudes toward homosexuality are (he brings it up several times in his book), but there’s no doubt that such tendencies were considered shameful in Victorian Britain. To counter an opponent’s opinion by attacking his sexuality is among the lowest of tactics employed by the Left. It’s the Victorian equivalent of the Left’s obsession with penis-size today. In this maneuver, leftist will say (in so many words), “your arguments are vacuous because I accuse you of having a small penis.”
Chapter two, called “White Plague,” describes how the “Britannic exodus changed the world. It turned whole continents white.” Though Ferguson admits that most of the decimation of native populations was caused by pathogens, one almost gets the impression that this was planned. Admittedly, European settlers were far more successful as a result. Though Ferguson recounts British misdeeds, which led to ethnic cleansing and sometimes genocide, he doesn’t turn a blind eye to the shortcomings of others. For example, he points out (pg. 68) that the freed slaves of Jamaica (the “Maroons”) ended up becoming slave-owners themselves. Similarly, he writes (pg. 182):
… there can be little doubt that British rule reduced inequality in India. And even if the British did not greatly increase Indian incomes, things might conceivably have been worse under a restored Mughal regime had the Mutiny succeeded.
Later on, (pg. 284) he goes into grisly detail when describing the Japanese atrocities in Nanking. He writes (ibid.):
The Rape of Nanking reveals precisely what the leading alternative to British rule in Asia stood for…
But it was also the collision between an Empire that had some conception of human rights and one that regarded alien races as no better than swine…
By the 1930s many people in Britain had got into the habit of rubbishing the Empire. But the rise of the Japanese empire in Asia during that decade showed that the alternatives to British rule were not necessarily more benign.
If Australia and North America were turned white, it’s probably partly on account of the fact that these continents were very sparsely inhabited to begin with. Prior to European colonization. According to Ferguson (pg.56), there were “probably around 2 million indigenous people in the territory of the modern United States in 1500. By 1700 the number was 750,000.” Disease and war had taken their toll – but two million, for an area as large as the United States, represents a very low population density. According to Ferguson (pg. 88), in 1788 Australia had only about 300,000 Aboriginals. The continent was practically empty, and as they say, “nature abhors a vacuum.”
There’s no sugar-coating it; the arrival of whites in the New World, and in Australia, was disastrous for the indigenous races. But how would Ferguson’s native country have reacted had he described the current wave of Africans and Asians into Britain as the “Black Plague” or the “Brown Plague?” His book would have been banned and he would have faced serious charges of racism. Is ethnic cleansing to be condemned when it is done by whites against non-whites, but praised when it’s whites who are the victims?
At least, after the natives had suffered the worst of colonial deprivations, they had modern medicine, institutions, science, education and more-or-less just government at their disposal – all courtesy of the white man. What sort of legacy will the brown and black men leave for Europe? Fundamentalist Islam and rampant crime come to mind.
Ferguson attributes Britain’s rise to power to a mix of opportunism, scientific advances, economic progress and a cultural enthusiasm to build and maintain an empire.
In a nutshell, the empire had its start with successful buccaneers such as Henry Morgan and Walter Raleigh. Then it received further impetus from Portuguese naval advances and Dutch innovations in banking. Later still, the empire benefited from an American invention: the Maxim gun. The telegraph also became indispensable in holding the empire together. While the initial motives for empire were gold and other raw resources (such as sugar and fish), over time the British considered themselves duty-bound to spread Christianity to the world – along with the other trappings of British civilization.
In at least one respect British colonialists of old turned out to be right, and Ferguson’s accusations unjustified. He writes (pp. 168,169):
Writing in the same vein to the Madras Mail, a correspondent demanded to know: ‘Are our wives to be torn from our homes on false pretenses [to] be tried by men who do not respect women, and do not understand us, and in many cases hate us?… Fancy, I ask you Britishers, her being taken before a half-clad native, to be tried and perhaps convicted…’ Such language laid bare one of the odder complexes of the Victorian Empire: it’s sexual insecurity. It is no coincidence that the plots of the Raj’s best-known novels -Forster’s A Passage to India and Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown – begin with an alleged sexual assault by an Indian man against an English woman, followed by a trial presided over by an Indian judge.
Ferguson seems to believe that such fears were unfounded. But how many horrific stories have we recently read about vicious gang-rapes in India that go unpunished? Let the reader recall that “India,” in those days, also referred to what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. One wonders if Ferguson is aware of the wholesale grooming, and rape, of British girls by Pakistanis in his own native England. In light of the above, and the fact that British subjects in India were constantly exposed to the culture that produces such crimes, can we blame them for being concerned about the welfare of their women?
For all the sins Ferguson lays at the feet of the British Empire, in the end he questions the premise that the poverty endemic in many former colonies is due to their having been colonized. He writes (pg. 306):
For all these reasons, the notion that British imperialism tended to impoverish colonized countries seems inherently problematic. That is not to say that many former colonies are not exceedingly poor. Today, for example, per capita GDP in Britain is roughly twenty-eight times what it is in Zambia, which means that the average Zambian has to live on something less than two dollars a day. But to blame this on the legacy of colonialism is not very persuasive, when the differential between British and Zambian incomes was so much less at the end of the colonial period. In 1955, British per capita GDP was just seven times greater than Zambian. It has been since independence that the gap between the colonizer and the ex-colony has become a gulf. The same is true of nearly all former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, with the notable exception of Botswana.
He goes on to speculate that a country’s economic fortunes are determined by a combination of natural resources and its human history (I.E. its culture and infrastructure). Not surprisingly, he does not count genetic endowment among these factors.
Regarding multiculturalism and its alternative, smaller countries, Ferguson has this to say (pg. 309):
No fewer than fifty-eight of today’s states have populations less than 2.5 million; thirty-five have less than 500,000 inhabitants. There are two disadvantages to this political fragmentation. Small countries are often formed as a result of civil war within an earlier multiethnic polity – the most common form of conflict since 1945. That in itself is economically disruptive. In addition, they can be economically inefficient even in peacetime, too small to justify all the paraphernalia of statehood they insist on decking themselves out in: border posts, bureaucracies and the rest…
My response to this is that any economic disruption is by choice; these smaller nations (and their larger neighbors) may opt to allow free trade across borders. They may choose to maintain the paraphernalia of statehood – or not. Whatever works for them, they’ll do. In the end, an equilibrium will be reached.
Notwithstanding my above objections, I would highly recommend Empire. I find myself far more educated about the history of the British Empire on account of this book. The fact that the author had traveled to many of the sites described in Empire adds a personal touch, and renders some of his historical notes more tangible. Overall, Ferguson is very objective in his analysis; he’s quick to condemn atrocities perpetrated by his own ancestors – but just as quick to point out their merits, and the fact that much of world as we know it is the result of their endeavors.
Empire concludes by handing the reigns of world empire to the United States. As Ferguson urges Americans to accept our role as the new global empire, and to act accordingly, he seems oblivious to the rot that is spreading within us. He states (pg. 317):
It has a much bigger economy, many more people, a much larger arsenal. But it is an empire that lacks the drive to export its capital, its people and its culture to those backward regions which need them most urgently and which, if they are neglected, will breed the greatest threats to its security. It is an empire, in short, that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial.
Ferguson seems to believe that those “backward regions which need them most urgently” are in Africa, South America or Asia, but these regions are actually in our very own cities. Hence, I would say that Ferguson is the one who is in denial.