Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson, Harvard Professor, has a new work out---War of the World: 20th Century Conflict and the Descent of the West.

Ferguson's website--complete with smashing photo on the front.

Here he is on ForeignExchange with Fareed Zakaria (if you are wanting to skip ahead, though the other pieces are excellent, minute 10 or so).

And on RadioOpenSource.

Ferguson, you'll note criticizes some of the thinkers/policies I've recommended in this blog. To me its a trialogue with Thomas Barnett, John Robb (Global Guerillas), and Niall Ferguson. Staying with these three has really, I feel, sharpened my thinking around global order.

Ferguson's last book was Empire--which essentially argued that the US is acting like an Empire, needs to admit it, and go about doing it well. That didn't exactly happen, so this book is considered likely his masterpiece.

Ferguson is easily dismissed by some as a colonial imperialist, wishing for the glorious days of yesteryear (he is Scot-British). But that's a little too easy.

What War of the World does is track the main instigators behind the brutality of the 20th century. Ferguson identifies three "e"s for "easy" (sorry) reference: economics, empire, and ethnicities. [If you remember nothing else, remember these three].

Empire. Or more properly the dis-integration of them. The British empire's collapse. But more imporantly the falling of the Hapsburgs and the Ottoman Empire. The bulk of violence in the 20th century resided in Central and Eastern Europe.

Ethnicities. The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Emipres were the empires par excellence of multiple ethnicities/religions/cultures. When Empires fall, the vacuumn leaves political jockeying, often violent.

Economics. When a market-middle class has not truly emerged and democracy is introduced...as it was by President Wison after WWI into the attempt to create nation-state, then democracies can ignite sectarian conflict. As groups vote according to religion-culture-ethnicity.

Now think Iraq and the 21st century across the Middle East. Volatile economics (check), ethnicities (check), and dying Empires (check).

Ferguson also sharply criticizes the Biden plan (tripartite division of Iraq). While I think he is generally right that such a division will cause mass killing, but truth be told I think it is happening anyway and the US can't really do much about it.

I think Iraq is becoming the Balkans to an exponential power.

The subtitle of the book is the Descent of the West. Which means as the West descends, the East rises. We have too often, and Ferguson is right one here, seen the 20th century as the victory of the West liberal democracy etc. Except that the Old Core, Old Europe is moribund. See the 20th century as the release of Asia/Africa from Western control--India, de-colonialization, the rise of China, etc.

The US, as Ferguson argues, is not built for imperial adventures--they will have to fight the Global Guerillas and need the SysAdmin of Barnett to do so. Here Ferguson sees only a more frightening future, with no empire to step up to the plate. China with its traditional Middle Kingdom notion not interested in political exportation/interference with other nations around the globe.

This is why Ferguson sees more bloodshed not less in the 21st. I see his work as the projection of what will likely happen if the US does follow a Barnett-like transfer to new connections, partnerships with New Rising powers (China, India, Brazil, etc.).


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