Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Ironic Pitfalls of a Public Intellectual: Niall Ferguson on the the Blight of Divorce and Illegitimacy

Niall Ferguson and Hirsi Ali
(Image from Daily Mail)

Some readers will recall the above photo from my snarky post from March 2, 2010 that parodied Ferguson's chaos theory on foreign affairs by applying it to the chaotic breakup of his own marriage, but I'll let you read that on your own.

I draw attention to that post now only because I see from William Skidelsky's Guardian article of a year later, "Niall Ferguson: 'Westerners don't understand how vulnerable freedom is'" (February 20, 2011), that Ferguson dislikes public attention focused on his private life:
I ask whether Ferguson has been surprised by the reaction their relationship provoked, the gossipy articles and so forth. His tone changes again and he suddenly sounds angry. "I was nauseated. Just nauseated. It makes me quite ashamed to be part of a culture that regards the private life of a professor as something that should be in the paper. It's just so tawdry . . . . making public things that should be private. It's a prurience that I've never understood. I don't give a monkey's about the so-called celebrities that they write about. But the idea that my private life should be the subject of articles I find deeply, deeply infuriating. Because there's absolutely no way to control or resist that process unless you're very rich, which I'm not.

Given his dislike of such attention, I'm relieved that Ferguson isn't rich! But as a public figure of such prominence, he has to expect attention. Moreover, marriage and divorce are not merely private affairs, as he himself knows, for these issues come up in a recent Newsweek article by Ferguson, "Rich America, Poor America" (January 16, 2012), in which he calls upon Americans to harken back to the traditional American values:
[W]e should pin our faith on the four traditional pillars of the American way of life: family, vocation, community, and faith . . . . But can there really be a way back to an America in which divorce and illegitimacy are almost unknown and wholly deplored? An America in which nearly everyone can find fulfillment in hard work? An America in which whole neighborhoods are bound together by ties of trust and voluntary association? An America in which half the population goes to church every Sunday?

In writing such words, Ferguson surely cannot be unaware of their irony in his case, for his own marriage broke up over his affair with Hirsi Ali, with whom he has just recently had a child (December 2011), a baby boy who only barely escaped illegitimacy because Ferguson married Ali in September 2011, when she would have been five or six months pregnant. Divorce or illegitimacy . . . sometimes, one has to choose, I guess.

I'm not judging, merely noting the irony, given Ferguson's own words. In general, I'm an admirer of the views espoused by both him and Ali, and I wish them happiness in what I hope will be a long, successful life together.

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At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irony or hypocrisy? The latter seems more fitting as public figures often believe they are above the standards they preach to the masses. He's an intellectual, you know. It's different. Marriage and fidelity are for the 99%.


At 8:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, maybe he'll play Fido now that he's married to Ms. Ali.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't bother too much with hypocrite Ferguson's cover of Charles Murray's work; rather, I went straight to the source, a surprisingly good read, not wallowing in stereotyping or coded language. As someone who grew up in a working poor home and now teaches at a Title I school serving many poor families, my personal and professional experiences and observations support Murray's thesis about a growing cultural gap between the permanent upper class and the permanent lower class that has emerged over the past thirty years.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the link. I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, Charles Murray is the author of the infamous "Bell Curve."

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I thought his name rang a bell.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hehe, does your family chuckle or groan at your endless puns?

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Both. They groan. I chuckle.

Jeffery Hodges

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