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The Lies of Niall Ferguson

Eoghan O’Suilleabhain • May 2003


Speaking of enthusiasm for counter-factual speculation, one has to wonder what else was lost in Matthew Price’s review of Niall Ferguson’s book which claims that the British Empire “…was ultimately a beneficent phenomenon.” (“Selling Empire” Ideas article, April 27, 2003). What if Samuel Adams, among others, were to rise from the dead and actually read this avid Anglophile cant? What would he do? What would he say?

Price quotes Ferguson: “The British actually used much less coercion than any other empire. At no point in the British Empire was there a Rape of Nanking.” Oh really, then what was Oliver Cromwell’s Massacre of Drogheda all about - just heavy petting?

And what was the whole point of British Gun Boat Diplomacy? And how was that less coerce than say Spanish Gun Boat Diplomacy? And what was the likelihood of an Irish Catholic becoming King of England anymore than say an American Native becoming King of France? And how did the British Opium Wars benefit the Chinese? And why should the Irish now be thankful for An Gorta Mor as engineered by the British? And besides temperature, what was the difference between Russia’s penal colonies in Siberia and Britain’s penal colonies in Australia and Georgia? And why did Winston Churchill gas the Kurds during WWI?

And if as Ferguson claims “…that concerned authorities in London tried to restrain the settlers’ ‘ruthless impulses.’” during their Tasmania Genocide, then which British Government authority was it that paid the bounties for Tasmanians’ scalps?

The only anti-imperialist tendencies in British culture that caused their empire’s liquidation (like all empires) were moral and financial bankruptcy. The fact that Ferguson does not believe that the British should be held accountable for all that suffering ought to be an implicit admission that they should at least be held liable for all of the suffering they did directly and indirectly cause and could have easily prevented by just leaving other people and their property well enough alone. Now let us all hope that becomes the bedside thinking in the West Wing.





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