@FT Janan Ganesh on ‘The West’s Enemies’

The Reader of Mr. Ganesh’s impersonations of the world weary flaneur, searching for that something, that will address the void -his one true calling, recording for his readership, his thoughts on the surfaces of the World, not its deeper meanings, but those surfaces, that hold his wrapped attention. Sometimes glittering, sometimes utterly mundane. He combines the self-promoting skill of Beau Brummel and the burning literary/political ambition of Benjamin Disraeli of ‘Vivian Grey’. (Disraeli’s book lost my interest when Vivian went on his European travels.) All this accented by his admiration for Tom Wolfe, of the utterly vacuous exercise, of an American version of the The Silver Fork Novel: The Bonfire of The Vanities!

The first paragraph of his latest enunciation:

An oligarch-free London and Côte d’Azur, a more militarised Germany, a Finnish public with eyes for Nato: these are the novelties that have been set in motion over the past week. The ethical rigour of Fifa, which has barred Russia from a World Cup four years after it hosted one, nearly tops the list of surprises.

‘The List of surprises’ !

That comes to nearly journalistic life. Let me take the liberty of reducing portions of this ‘essay’ to its most compelling literary/political apercus, almost:

But not quite. For real exotica, consider the spectacle of a united Washington. No world event since the attacks of September 11 has rallied the west’s most divided capital more than the invasion of Ukraine.


A DC-to-Berlin show of unity and resolve is not the same thing as ultimate victory. There is no guarantee it will even last. But it does expose the central glitch in so much anti-western thought.

Just at the telling moment Mr. Ganesh presents his ‘would be thesis’ featuring ‘Napoleon crossing the Alps and it is Jane Fonda in Hanoi.’

In the telling of its most devoted enemies, the west is an all-powerful oppressor, and a decadent pushover. It foists its values on other parts of the world with violent certitude, and fails to stand up for its way of life due to a fog of post-Christian self-doubt. It is a monolith — the west — and a paper tiger that will come apart at the folds any minute now. It is arrogantly universalist and cringing in its relativism. It is Napoleon crossing the Alps and it is Jane Fonda in Hanoi.

Mr. Ganesh returns to his ‘thesis’ :

True, the US made commitments in Syria a decade ago that it didn’t keep. Europe was weak and incoherent over the Balkans in the 1990s. But the main follies of the west since the second world war — Suez, Vietnam, Iraq — were examples of too much zeal, not too much timidity.

The west “contained” the Soviet Union so tenaciously as to alarm the author of that policy, George Kennan.


Not that this misapprehension is new. In 2004’s Occidentalism, one of those rare works of nonfiction that should be longer, Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit trace the history of the idea that a westerner is a “timid, soft bourgeois”. It was there in Imperial Japan and in al-Qaeda. It simmers away on the wilder edges of American and French conservatism. It is an argument that would almost be worth entertaining if it wasn’t so often paired with its exact inverse: a gripe that the west rides roughshod over the interests of non-liberal powers.

The Reader notes that Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ is the strategically disappeared political quantity, in the World re-described by Mr. Ganesh: his political place holders Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit, both of these political operatives of ‘Liberalism’ , in its state of agonizing slow motion fissuring.

The Patient Reader is treated to more ‘History Made to Measure’ that ends with this paragraph featuring ‘the wests’ enemies’ – The Reader feels the presence of the etiolated remainder of Samuel P. Huntington’s xenophobia in its World Historical paranoia, that has been Ganeshed!

The latest version of this self-blame is the idea that Ukraine would have been safe had Donald Trump still occupied the White House. It is a notion both perverse (he was impeached, in part, for not making free with armed support for Ukraine) and weirdly messianic. The west’s enemies need no help in misunderstanding it.

Political Observer

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.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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