Maybe where the Hidden Imam lives?

by Kieran Healy on April 28, 2007

Via “3QD”:, Ernest Lefever “writes”: about Africa and irritates my inner copyeditor:

bq. BECAUSE OF AND in spite of Hollywood films like The African Queen and television shows like Tarzan, tropical Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Zambezi is terra incognito for most Americans.

I imagine a giant moustache on top of the Central African Republic. The CIA engages in the war on terra incognito.

bq. Others accept the opposing myth promulgated by Thomas Hobbs that in a “State of Nature,” there are “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worse of all, persistent fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Maybe he’s confusing him with “Russell Hobbs”: I know, I know … this is just nit-picking. But then, a classic:

bq. Unduly critical of the European colonists, they seemed unaware that the British, for example, had ended slavery 79 years before Lincoln signed the Emaciation Proclamation. …


bq. Back to Hobbs. If it took a thousand years for the barbarian tribes of Europe to become democratic and prosperous states, how long will it take African tribes that missed the Renaissance, Reformation, Magna Carta, and Industrial Revolution? … And brutal demagogues like Mobutu in the Congo, Adi Amin in Uganda, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe have ravaged their countries to enjoy the fruits of unbridled power.

Mmmm. Adi enjoyed unbridled fruit.

bq. [Rhodesia] was conquered by explorer-entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes in 1897 and eventually established as a self-governing British colony. Determined to make the country safe and prosperous, Rhoades established the world’s first national park there, insisting that it be open to all races.

I’ll leave Tim Burke to deal with the content, as needed.

{ 1 trackback }

Easily Distracted » Blog Archive » Standards, Weekly and Otherwise
05.03.07 at 7:07 pm



Randy Paul 04.28.07 at 8:30 pm

That’s the same Ernest Lefever who, when nominated by Reagan in 1981 to be Under Secretary of State for Human Rights, dismissed the torture issues taking place in Chile and Argentina as “residual Iberian practices.”


Matt Weiner 04.28.07 at 9:19 pm

I remember (not from the time) a cartoon of Reagan’s cabinet: secretary of sheep, a wolf in a suit; secretary of chickens, a fox in a suit; secretary of mice, a cat in a suit; human rights, Lefever.

(At least I think it was Lefever. Could’ve been a lot of others.)


Nicholas Whyte 04.28.07 at 9:19 pm

Ow ow ow!


eugene 04.28.07 at 9:26 pm

Don’t cut and run from the War on Terra Incognito!


abb1 04.28.07 at 9:36 pm

This “white man’s burden” thing is incredibly resilient, I must say. Unbridled too.


FL 04.28.07 at 10:15 pm

What is it about poor Hobbes? I just got a paper that misspelled his name throughout. You don’t even have to open the damn book; it’s on the cover, in big font. So brutish.


dsquared 04.28.07 at 10:16 pm

I have a vision of a minority Shia sect that due to various typographical confusions spends its time searching through the DVD box set of “Are You Being Served?” looking for the Hidden Inman.


dearieme 04.28.07 at 11:31 pm

“Terra Incognito” is properly called Las Malregardas, and is, and always has been, Argentinian Territory.


josh 04.29.07 at 12:58 am

Le Fever’s (wasn’t he a Bond villain?) grasp of facts isn’t much better than the copyediting. Britain abolished the slave *trade* in 1807, and slavery in the British dominions only in 1833. Neither of these dates, it shouldn’t need saying, were 79 years before Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. (slavery was declared to be illegal on British soil, according to Common Law, by Lord Mansfield in 1772 — also not 79 years before the E.P., though getting closer to the mark — but this didn’t apply to the colonies, where the vast majority of the slaves living within British jurisdiction were held).
I also rather like the argument that this statement was meant to support — that those ungrateful natives should have welcomed their British overlords because the British abolished slavery earlier than the US did! Talk about setting the moral bar low … (Also the interchangeable use of ‘British’ and ‘European’ here … and one could go on, and on, and on …)


Gene O'Grady 04.29.07 at 1:17 am

If Rhodes was active after 1897 it couldn’t have been the world’s first national park, since Yellowstone and Yosemite at least were national parks in the US before that date.


Colin 04.29.07 at 1:26 am

Rang a faint bell… Ah, yes, the Nestle infant formula apologist:

A cold-war academic. I think there are more Africa connections.


Kieran Healy 04.29.07 at 2:14 am

Matt — I’ve seen that cartoon too, but it’s not of this guy. It’s about James Watt as Secretary of the Interior. I remember buying a book of American political cartoons called The Gang of Eight (people like Jules Feiffer, Tony Auth, Jeff MacNelly, others. I must have bought it around 1987 or so, and it gave me this semi-education in American political life even though I didn’t understand half the cartoons because they were about people (like Watt, or Ed Meese or what have you) I had no knowledge of.


P O'Neill 04.29.07 at 3:14 am

I think he gets special audacity points for presenting Ian Smith’s UDI regime as “eventually established as a self-governing British colony”.


Matt Weiner 04.29.07 at 4:20 am

Kieran—The Gang of Eight! That’s where I saw it.

I do have a pretty vivid memory of the fourth one being “human rights,” though; and I think I’d be less likely to remember a cartoon about Watt as about Lefever than vice versa, because Watt loomed pretty large on the landscape in the ’80s* and basically I’ve only heard of Lefever twice, when I read that cartoon and when I read this post. My mom told me about a philological principle (lectio difficilior lectio potior, apparently) that the less likely reeading is probably the original one. This would make it more likely that it is Lefever; though it wouldn’t account for why you think it’s Watt, since you never heard of the guy.

So, hum. I give Lefever a p of 0.6 on my current evidence. If I’m wrong, which I could well be, there must have been some other cartoon about Lefever in there.

*The Beach Boys! The plaster foot with the hole in it! “A black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple!” There was definitely a Bloom County cartoon about that one.


Kieran Healy 04.29.07 at 4:27 am

I could easily be wrong. I also remember Watt in another cartoon in that book, I think attaching a pricetag to a mountain and saying “Because it is there.” So maybe I’m mislabeling.


Fats Durston 04.29.07 at 4:43 am

Dammit, I go on break from grading student essays here in finals week, to do a bit of pleasure reading online, and here I’m reading the same goddam thing. A paper what’s written between 2:14 a.m. and 3:43 a.m. the night before it’s due.

Lefever’s screed has all the characteristics: random order of paragraphs; sharp transitions like “Back to Hobbs.”; elided subjects; observations from the 1960s serving as evidence for the present; the inability to look up even the simplest dates on Wikipedia, for crying out loud; self-contradictions*.

I enjoy knowing now about the democratic and prosperous European states from 1476, that the Second Chimurenga consisted of “seven years of turbulence,” or that there’s “something new out of Africa” in an essay that brings us up to 2002. I especially like learning the fact that Africans haven’t experienced the Reformation. No Protestant missionaries ever got themselves to the Dark Continent, did they? (And plus Africans didn’t have a delightful century-and-a-half of sectarian violence.)

Note to Lefever: Africans experienced the industrial revolution as, say, enslaved sugar producers, as commodities exchanged for the cheap cloth, as rubber gatherers who lost their hands, and as palm oil traders who lost their business to British gunboats.

You’d think a publication(?!) with the word “standard” in its name might actually have some, no?

*People are wrong to see Africa as a perpetual Hobb[e]sian state. So let me tell you about how it’s always been Hobb[e]sian when Europeans weren’t dictating the terms.


Peter 04.29.07 at 12:33 pm

The piece is riddled with so many errors, one wonders which planet Lefever’s Africa is on.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF was not Soviet supported, but by the Chinese. “Seven years of turbulence” for an armed liberation struggle that began officially in 1967 and ended in 1979? In fact, violent resistance to white colonial rule in Rhodesia had existed since the first white settlers arrived in 1890.

Ian Smith’s political actions were so inimical to the interests of his own electors, his own race and his own class, not to mention to the country as a whole and to the region, that to call him a statesman is laughable. Just because the present Mugabe regime is an evil tyranny does not bless post-hoc goodness on Ian Smith’s illegal, immoral and murderous government.

And, not all African colonies were fully supportive of the Allied side in WW II. Indeed, the very first action of the Rhodesian Government in September 1939 on hearing that Britain had declared war on Germany was to send troops to the border with South Africa! The Rhodesians feared that the South Africans would join the war on the Nazi side and invade them.

One is reminded of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s opposing sanctions on South Africa on the grounds that the country had been allies of the USA in WW II, at a time when South Africa was governed by a party (the National Party) whose leaders had spent that war in internment camps, so strong were their pro-Nazi sentiments.

And Lefever quotes, of all people, Kempton Makamure, someone who denounced the Mugabe Government all through the 1980s for not being sufficiently Stalinist, for not rounding up and deporting white farmers (“kulaks” he called them), along with their black brethren and the black comprador bourgeouisie.


Matt Weiner 04.29.07 at 1:36 pm

I think it’s pretty astonishing that both of us remember the cartoon at all. (Actually I’m not sure about “secretary of mice” either.)


Kenny Easwaran 04.29.07 at 10:47 pm

I assumed this was just an exercise in dumpster diving – but I guess if this guy was nominated for a cabinet post then it’s not really so laughable any more.


Helen 04.30.07 at 2:22 am

they seemed unaware that the British, for example, had ended slavery 79 years before Lincoln signed the Emaciation Proclamation…

Never heard of that one. Pretty thin argument, eh? (arf, arf…)

Renders satire redundant, doesn’t he?


Timothy Burke 04.30.07 at 4:09 am

Head go splodey. One more big pile of turds on top of an Augean pile to clean out, but this one warrants a bit of special treatment tomorrow when I get a spot of time.


magistra 04.30.07 at 6:53 am

For a recent English take on the White Man’s Burden, see this Daily Telegraph leader, which appears to have been written by someone escaped from the 1950s, if not the 1850s.


Hogan 04.30.07 at 5:15 pm

I especially like learning the fact that Africans haven’t experienced the Reformation.

A classic. I would also like to note that the US never had a Hellenistic period, and China never had a Victorian era. Explains a lot when you think about it. No, wait, not “think about it.” What’s the other thing? Oh yeah, “hit yourself on the head repeatedly with the works of H. Rider Haggard.”

Comments on this entry are closed.