Another neocon weathervane

niall_fergusonMy book Democracy as a Neocon Trick was published in 2014, but the elasticity of the neoconservative conscience continues to fascinate me.

Neocons think like apparatchiks mouthing the party line: all that matters to them is knowing the wind direction. Their answer is always blowin’ in the wind, which makes their writing look as if it all came from the same author.

Their arguments, treatment of facts, conclusions are as identical as those of the party apparatchiks from my Soviet childhood. Even the British authors, nice gentlemen sporting bespoke suits and expensive accents, are indistinguishable from their American Parteigenossen.

Like any apparatchik, a neocon will change his mind whenever the wind changes. For example, a hack may be sputtering venom at the very mention of Trump’s name until the very moment the election result has been announced – and then, with nary a blush, proclaim the very next day that the result is cordially welcomed.

Considering this collective propensity, it’s astonishing that Niall Ferguson has waited almost six months to do an about-face on Brexit. Such tardiness testifies to his self-restraint: the temptation must have been strong not to wait even six minutes. It doesn’t, however, testify to his honesty.

Yesterday he tweeted his change of heart by listing EU failures: “1 Monetary union 2 Foreign policy (MENA, Ukraine) 3 Migration policy 4 Radical Islam policy. EU deserved Brexit.”

Now which of these failures weren’t evident six months ago? The EU’s monetary union was then as disastrous, foreign policy as craven, migration policy as catastrophic, radical Islam policy as supine. Nevertheless Ferguson was then responding to the clarion call of compulsive internationalism that neocons hear in every tonal detail.

In his mea culpa, Ferguson adds: “My mistake was uncritically defending Cameron and Osborne instead of listening to people in pubs. Issue was not GDP but future migration.”

The issue was neither GDP nor even future migration, but political sovereignty and upholding the constitution of the realm. All else is strictly derivative. If a professional historian and commentator doesn’t realise that, he should take a remedial class in his chosen disciplines or, better still, abandon them altogether.

I know this may come as a surprise to Ferguson, but one doesn’t have to choose between poodle-like loyalty to the neocon cause and heeding boozy rants in pubs. Another epistemological expedient exists: it’s called intellectual integrity and sound judgement. But then what do you expect from a paid-up neocon apparatchik?

During the run-up to the referendum, Ferguson was true to the Trotskyist genesis of neoconservatism. In that good tradition, he eschewed rational argument, opting instead for vile invective.

Words like ‘morons’ happily rolled off his pen whenever that implement made contact with paper. His articles Fog in Channel: Brexiteers Isolated from Britain’s Duty to Save Europe and Brexit’s Happy Morons Don’t give a Damn About the Costs of Leaving were filled with vituperative diatribes, masking the crepuscular thinking in the background.

His stock in trade was rhetorical fallacies, such as argumentum ad populum: the belief that a proposition is true because many people support it. Thus Ferguson took a roll-call of “leading historians” and found out that more of them supported Remain. Specifically, “70 historians gathered at 11 Downing Street to affirm their support for EU membership.”

The remote possibility that historians who think differently weren’t invited to George Osborne’s home didn’t occur to Ferguson – he forged right ahead, undeterred by elementary demands of intellectual honesty.

He then switched from fallacy to sycophancy: “US administrations since the heyday of Henry Kissinger have consistently favoured UK membership in the EU.” True. So what?

Recent US administrations may indeed have believed that such a development would be in American interests, but Ferguson’s argument is meaningless – unless of course he thinks, as he probably does, that our interests are always identical with American ones, especially as seen by US neocons.

Then came the clincher: “the president of the United States… advised against Brexit”. That argument relied on the universal agreement that Obama is blessed with near-papal infallibility. Since little in his record supports that belief, this was yet another infantile rhetorical so-what.

“No one can seriously deny,” continued Ferguson, “that the process of European integration has brought an end to centuries of Franco-German conflict and has settled the German question for good.”

QED. If you dare deny, you aren’t serious. Ferguson must have attended the Trotsky class in polemic techniques. He certainly skipped the Aristotle one in logic.

What “settled the German question for good” was the military castration imposed on Germany by the victorious allies in 1945 and since then enforced by Nato. France, whose belonging to the victorious alliance wasn’t entirely unequivocal, is consequently stronger than Germany militarily, if weaker in every other respect.

On and on he then went, bristling with effrontery, mouthing platitudes that any moderately intelligent man knew to be not only clichéd but also false. Nothing presaged the about-face to come.

Now Ferguson has performed his pirouette, many of those “happy morons” who campaigned for Brexit all along are welcoming him as one of their own. I’d happily do the same if only I could contain the emetic impulse. Alas I can’t, and my wife disapproves of throwing up on the floor.


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