Monday, November 14, 2011

A Literary Spat: Pankaj Mishra and Niall Ferguson

Literary spats are bloody businesses, as businesses go. This one attracted my attention as being especially so. The one between Pankaj Mishra and Niall Ferguson about the latter's book, "Civilisation: The West and the Rest" may lay claim to that adjective.
'If one adds together the illegal immigrants, the jobless and the convicts,' he argued, 'there is surely ample raw material for a larger American army.' 

Americans were overweight, while Europeans, turning their back on Christianity and warfare and sponging on the welfare state, were degenerate idlers. 'Endlessly gaming, chatting and chilling with their iPods,' Ferguson wrote, 'the next generation already has a more tenuous connection to "Western civilisation" than most parents appreciate.'

The talk is about the West and the Rest, pitting the supposedly superior West with the rag-tag Rest. The west has technology, they have culture, they have art, they have religion. Jim Morrison sang in his beautiful song "The End":

The West is the Best
Get here we will do the rest.

As a rebuttal Niall Ferguson writes with a pen dipped in equal amount of vitriol:

It is not my habit to reply to hostile book reviews, but a personal attack that amounts to libel is another matter. Pankaj Mishra purports to discuss my book Civilisation: The West and the Rest, but in reality his review is a crude attempt at character assassination, which not only mendaciously misrepresents my work but also strongly implies that I am a racist (LRB, 3 November).

The London Review of Books is notorious for its left-leaning politics. I do not expect to find warm affection in its pages. Much of what I write is simply too threatening to the ideological biases of your coterie. Nevertheless, this journal used, once, to have a reputation for intellectual integrity and serious scholarship. Pankaj Mishra's libellous and dishonest article brings the LRB as well as himself into grave disrepute.

Wait, there's more. Browse to the end of the page and you will find more. Pankaj Mishra writes a rebuttal of the rebuttal. God. These guys have the stamina, must admit.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

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