Niall Ferguson, on the events of January 6, 2021. Publius comments.

Niall Ferguson in his search for historical analogies to the events of January 6, 2021, and the political phenomenon of Trump and Trumpism leads to – his rambling essay is chock-a-block with these examples: Plague and political irrationalism are twin political phenomenon

“History of the Peloponnesian War,” by Thucydides and the plague of 430 and 426 & the Oligarchy in 411

The Black Death in 1340 , Cross-Bearers, Flagellant Brethren or Brethren of the Cross,

The Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks, (with walk-on by Winston Churchill and Herbert Hoover) explicitly referred to the “plague of Bolshevism.”

The plague metaphor still remains but ‘evolves’ into the biological .

Adolf Hitler — used similar biological metaphors (“racial tuberculosis”) 

Hitler had “saved all Europe from the red plague of Bolshevism,” in the words of the German-American poet George Sylvester Viereck.

This search for analogies is interrupted by three paragraphs of his own observations on the events of January 6, 2021. To speak bluntly, nothing like what might be considered insightful. Ferguson returns to the subject of historical analogies:

 Cromwell’s dissolution of England’s Long Parliament in 1653?

The dissolution of the French National Assembly by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in 1851? 

How about Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922?

Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923

My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Noah Smith draws a parallel with Japan in the 1930s,

Something similar goes for the Tejerazo, the storming of the Spanish parliament by 200 Civil Guard officers led by Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero in 1981.

Mr. Ferguson appears to have found his rhetorical footing?

There is another reason none of these analogies works: They all omit the peculiar conditions created by a pandemic. It is not coincidental that the nadir of modern American politics was plumbed last week just as the third wave of Covid-19 seemed to near its crest. 

A quotation that hints that Ferguson has given up his search for that ‘perfect historical analogy’? Or a rhetorical feint?

Pandemics, remember, are associated with religious and political extremism. The fear of illness, mutual suspicion, quack theories, hypochondria, hyper-skepticism and general mental dislocation caused by social distancing, lockdowns and unemployment — taken together, these things tend to generate outlandish behavior.

Ferguson is a pedagogue, by nature, so he instructs his readers, constitutive of ‘students’ , who must be shaped, molded by his superior grasp of History. That ‘History’ of the Peloponnesian War, The Black Death, the Spanish Influenza are the most instructive, and in terms of propaganda, more serviceable to his History Made To Measure. Yet there are 979 words left of his polemic, in which he explores, the ‘Left-Wing Mob’s‘ destructive record. While ignoring, that the modes of The American National Security State, in its Wars of Empire, has infected American Police with its toxic Colonial Mentality. That Ferguson is a Neo-Conservative, or at the least a fellow traveler, this stance is not a surprise.

To the historian, it was not altogether surprising back in the summer to see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of mostly white protesters take to the streets in processions of expiation for the sin of racism. The left-wing violence that turned parts of Portland, Seattle and Kenosha, Wisconsin, into no-go zones was more destructive than the right-wing invasion of the Capitol, even if the latter’s political significance was greater. 

Look, if you want evidence of pandemic madness, at the people who ran amok among the legislature last week. The idea that this was a false-flag operation by far-left Antifa in disguise is obviously absurd. Although the mob seems to have included a few retired military members or off-duty police who had the training and the tools for a serious terrorist attack, this was mostly the lunatic fringe of the American far right in an unholy alliance with the QAnon conspiracy cult

Mr. Ferguson can’t let go his pedagogic self, and the thickets that constitute the remainder of his polemic, still awash in those ubiquitous analogies. He tries the patience of this reader, he misses the imperative of propaganda, the exercise of succinctness is its sine qua non. The last two paragraphs of his essay are instructive about Ferguson’s one imperative, the care and maintenance, of a carefully cultivated bourgeoise political respectability.

This, at least, is my earnest hope: That, having once been infected by the virus of antidemocratic politics, Americans have now acquired some resistance to it. The optimistic view of the pandemic is that natural infection plus mass vaccination will get the U.S. to herd immunity by around May. The optimistic view of politics is that we can achieve herd immunity against Trumpism in a roughly similar timeframe. 

Shorn of power, assailed by litigation, his finances tottering and his access to social media abruptly curtailed, Trump may fade as quickly as a virus with a reproduction number below 1 — to become no more than a seasonal malady, threatening only to those with the intellectual equivalent of comorbidities. The lesson of history is that pandemics eventually end — and so do political manias of the sort that briefly seized the Capitol last week.


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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