Niall Ferguson (R-London) has "trashed" Keynes for his homosexuality. His argument is that because queers don't have children, none of us could possibly be concerned about the future. This should explain why all of us LGBT folks are climate deniers. You'll take our SUVs when you pry the steering wheels from our cold, dead hands.
Like much of he's written in the past seven or eight years, Niall's attack follows his standard "Trolling for fun and profit" plan:
Step 1: Make shit up.
Step 2: Insult everyone who disagrees with you.
Step 3: Pretend to be an important thinker who is above plebian insults, and that you were merely British and joking.
Step 4: Profit.
These days Niall Ferguson's main concern is not so much economic history, but whether people are talking about Niall Ferguson. I've made a habit of ignoring professional trolls, but his most recent comments about Keynes were so absolutely odious that I thought I might break that silence simply to say that it may be time for an intervention.
Niall Ferguson is the bush-league Ann Coulter of the British intelligentsia. He assumes that we ignorant yanks don't get his lofty and enlightened British sense of "humour" which in Ferguson's case is snide gasconade with an air of posh London foppery.
And it is with a fawning love of Tory London, or Reaganite America that Ferguson views the world. He sees Maggie Thatcher's England as a shining achievement. When he looks at us here in the states he does not see us as we are, but rather sees Sarah Palin's "real America." To Scots like myself, he is the king of cringe, who sees his own culture and history as provincial and sad while with the same pen strokes writes of of England and America with a nauseous sycophancy. The Uncle Reekie to Aaron McGruder's Uncle Ruckus, or to steal a phrase from Cymraeg, a Scottish Dic Sion Dafydd.
When academics attack other academics on a personal level in the way that Niall Ferguson attacked Keynes, the attackers make it clear that they lack the cerebral chops to engage their opponent on an intellectual level. This isn't the first time that Ferguson has proved himself an academic welterweight. His attack on Scottish Nationalism was as vacuous as his attack on Keynes.
Let me say that I generally approve of self-criticism, and national self criticism. It's important to view one's own culture with a critical eye. I'm not educated enough about the current problems in Scotland to be able to write in depth on the topics, but Scotland does have deep problems in regards to things like sexism and rape culture, anti-catholic bigotry, and a working class that has been so beaten-down by generational unemployment that seems to lack a sense of spirit and direction. Criticism and national criticism is a great thing. But self examination is not what Ferguson does.
In his 2006 article "Happy Hogmanay! And to celebrate let's put Scotland into liquidation," Ferguson responded to the independence movement with a factually vacant string of insults.
But he wasn't anti-scottish, oh no! And he wasn't expressing the old Scottish Cringe (which isn't a real thing anyway!) No, Ferguson loved Scotland!
For two decades I consistently and tiresomely corrected any Englishman or woman, my wife included, who dared to confuse the terms "English" and "British". I banged on incessantly and tediously about the superiority of Scottish education, Scottish law, Scottish rugby, Scottish water, Scottish tweed, Scottish holidays - you name it. I quoted Burns. I quoted Carlyle. I quoted the statistics that showed that Scottish regiments were the ones that did the real fighting in the First World War.Yes, Ferguson was PROUD to be Scottish! Proud! Which is why in every single recorded interview, such as this one where he praises Margaret Thatcher, Ferguson affects a painfully fake English accent.
Now, you might be thinking that perhaps Ferguson has a Scottish name, but grew up or went to School in England, so that he has one of those hybrid accents that globalization is creating. I always automatically believe this about a Scottish person who lacks a Scottish accent. Except that in Ferguson's case, he was born and raised in Glasgow. Except as the Spring Forum speaker in 2006 at Emory and Henry college, I listened as he told us from the podium that he intentionally affects an English accent. He's afraid that no one would be able to understand him if he spoke naturally, despite America's love affair with Scottish comedians and actors like Craig Ferguson, Sean Connery, David Tennant, and Kelly MacDonald.
So when Niall Ferguson tells me that he was once proud of his heritage and where he comes from, I don't have any real reason to believe him. He loves Scotland so much that he is afraid of his own voice. As he continues to write about Scotland, he says that Scotland
... is a small, sparsely populated appendage of England. Those who called it 'North Britain' in the 18th century had it right...
...lost its political independence 300 years ago and the creation of a Scottish Parliament, a glorified county council housed in a risible and over-priced folly of a building, has not restored it...
... is the Belarus of the West...
... should go into liquidation. The assets, such as they are, should be broken up, sold off and the proceeds (which won't fetch much) distributed to the creditors and, if anything remains, to the shareholders ...
...The Scottish Parliament should be wound up and its ridiculous building turned into a multiplex cinema or a shopping mall...
... the idea that Scotland might one day "be a nation again" should simply be dropped...Et cetera ad nauseum. And then he made a (now hilarious) go at the old economic crystal ball:
It's over. Over the way countries are sometimes just over. Over the way Prussia is over. Over the way Piedmont is over. Over the way the Papal States are over. Or, if you prefer, over the way General Motors will soon be over.Ferguson thinks himself prescient, but his rash proclamations have proven that when it comes to data, Ferguson is like Mitt Romney looking at poll numbers: he sees only what he wishes to see. It's no surprise that a man with such a mind has made a media career of attempting to disparage his opposition with faltering witticism.
Ferguson is a case study for what we might call the conservative intelligentsia. He's a floundering poseur. He wishes to be prescient, and is simply not. He wishes to be English or American, and cannot be. His worldview is built on a foundation of insecurity, and self-loathing, which he attempts to dissipate with a uniquely conservative brand of pseudo-cynical gullibility.
I know what threatens him about Scotland: that no matter what he does, he will always be a child of Glasgow's darkest era.
But the question I'm asking myself now is: what threatens Ferguson so about a dead economist's homosexuality? Is Ferguson simply a bigot, or is the genesis of his bigotry the same self hatred that fuels his hatred for the nation of his birth?
I'm not sure. But I can say with certainty that Ferguson is no intellectual giant. He's a deeply wounded, deeply pathetic man, plagued with insecurity and self-hatred. He deserves not our ire, but our pity. And like a friend that engages in self-destruction for attention, the best thing we can do for Niall is to ignore him until he seeks the help he so desperately needs.
12:12 PM PT: H/t to Black Max who has pointed out that Ferguson has apologized. To his credit, it's a real apology, rather than the non-apologies we often see. I still think Niall has a lot of issues to work out, and I tend to agree with Black Max that Ferguson should resign, or perhaps take a leave of absence until he can work out his issues..
12:27 PM PT: For the sake of balance, I think it's important to be clear on what Ferguson said.
H/t to annieli for the Forbes quotation:
[I]n front of a group of more than 500 investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes' famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of "poetry" rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive. ..