Niall Ferguson On Economic Determinism, OR, The Worst Thirty Minutes In The History Of Social Theory

Democracy, the devolution of political, social and economic power directly into the hands of the people, will occur but moments after the bond of credulity and trust that shackles citizen to government is finally broken. The elite know this, consequently they spare neither effort nor expense in keeping us awash in enfeebling absurdities. One of the ruling class’ chief practitioners of this black art of perception management is the celebrity historian Niall Ferguson. His job, as he surely knows, is to obscure the truth at all costs, to  keep the public in a torpid state of reflexive acquiescence. It pains to admit that he performs his task with verve and skill.

If you follow this link and scroll down to the program entitled “Money,” you will hear Mr. Ferguson say the most amazing things. His mission, as ever, is to refute, with as much brio as he can feign, the materialist (i.e. Marxist) view of history. What makes this broadcast noteworthy is the lengths to which he is willing to go in furtherance of this end. In it he offers a theory for the advent of democratic institutions which has to be heard to be believed.

The host and other guests are there to lose every argument to the brilliant and charismatic young propagandist; foil and fodder both.

Some lowlights:

1, After glibly (if not entirely inaccurately) dismissing Marx’ magnus opus, Das Kapital, as soporific, he states that Marx based his idea of dialectical materialism on David Ricardo’s assertion that there were three ways of earning income: rent, profit, and wages (aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and proletariat respectively). While Ricardo’s work is essential to Marx’s critique of political economy, it is grossly distortive to assign such definitive centrality to Ricardo’s rather obvious and inconsequential observation. Marx’ ideas, whatever one might think of them, are trenchant and complex, and rest on a much broader foundation than Ferguson would have us believe.

2, Ferguson asserts that Marx didn’t understand financial markets. This statement is inaccurate at many levels. Even if one disagrees with his analysis, perhaps nobody had studied markets more extensively than Marx.

3, Ferguson says that Marx was “out of touch” with the captains of industry and their perspectives.

Now that is just hysterical!

4, Ferguson concludes that historians, at least those amenable to Marxist ideas, were “attracted by [Marx’] biblical authority.” This follows from an earlier discussion of the biblical injunction that money was the root of all evil, but this in no way detracts from the oafish character of Ferguson’s comment.

5, Fiercely resisting the generally accepted theory that democratic institutions have developed as a result of technological advances and the corresponding demands of working people (i.e. that the political follows upon the economic), Ferguson offers an alternative interpretation: Democratic institutions arose as a result of royal warfare! (Yes!). These battles required funding, which led to increased taxation. Democratic institutions, like parliaments, were a good way of getting people to pay these taxes as they participated in these institutions. So the extension of the franchise was a means of widening and pacifying the tax base.

Wow! Just, wow! This was a clever ( if desperate) explanation, but in hopeless opposition to the facts. As a rule monarchs resented parliaments, and only convoked them in times of crisis when all other potential remedies had been exhausted. And extending the franchise to commoners was (and is) always a dicey prospect for any ruling class. Democratic gains have resulted from struggle, mostly workers’ struggle. They were not granted to us by our overlords, but rather they were taken from them by force, and usually at the cost of no small amount of blood. And Ferguson knows this only too well.

It follows from Ferguson’s novel theory that to enhance our democratic institutions it would behoove us to revert to feudalism and do everything we can to encourage war. Now that’s a winning strategy.

The reality is that those societies in which the working class has the most political power are the ones which are the most democratic, as any number of economic studies have indicated. The relationship is inescapable, so is the conclusion to be drawn.

Another guest chimed in by adding that there is no correlation between industrialization and democracy.

6, Ferguson, in a flourish of mendacity, insists that not only wasn’t WW1 caused by capital, but that the bankers and industrialists were “panic-stricken” as they” had the most to lose.” He continues: The capitalists were “out of the loop” and the decision to go to war was made by generals and monarchs and diplomats–people who are blind to economic realities and who have only the vaguest notions of the economic consequences of war.

Here we see a vulgar propagandist doing his worst. Ferguson knows that there isn’t a grain of truth, a homeopathic residue of truth, in any of the above. He is the servant of capital, one of their factota, whose task is to keep the gates of knowledge firmly closed to the public. Henry Ford once said that if the average man ever understood the extent to which he is being abused that there would be a revolution in the morning. Ford understood, so do Ferguson and his masters.

So why does Ferguson prostitute himself in this way? He gets compensated handsomely for his propaganda books so long as he writes the right things; he gets generous speaking fees so long as he keeps saying the right things. There’s a good quid to be made in the disinformation business. Ye takes the king’s shilling, ye do the king’s work.

An academic has a choice: Tell the truth and suffer the consequences, or play ball and prosper. Ferguson has made his choice, he is what he is–a disgrace.

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