Niall ferguson

Letters | 19 October 2017

The great divider Sir: Niall Ferguson (‘Tech vs Trump’, 14 October) draws a parallel between the Reformation — powered by the printing press — and today’s social networks — powered by the internet — in their influence on the established hierarchy. Ferguson astutely observes that the consequence of the Reformation was not a hoped-for harmony but ‘polarisation and conflict’. The difference was then, and is now, between collectivism and individualism. Collectivists always saw the internet as a vehicle for the universal consciousness: the blending of minds. Individualists always saw the internet as an integrator: establishing facts using the principle of non-contradiction. The first is mystical. The second is a demonstration of

In defence of cultural history

Why study history? It’s a question which often gets asked, and the historian R. G. Collingwood’s answer – that history should enable us to ‘see more clearly into the situation in which we are compelled to act’- is one of the best responses. The idea that the study of the past should be applicable to the present has directed the career of Niall Ferguson, who was recently bemoaning the degradation of the subject. Discussing the current focus on race, class and gender in history faculties in a recent speech, Ferguson argued that undergraduates are being robbed of the chance to study events of real significance. Faced with a list of politicised options,

Are there any useful parallels between the EU referendum and religious history?

Niall Ferguson got me thinking about this in his Sunday Times piece, in which he rejected the allure of Brexit and declared himself an ‘Anglosceptic’. He concluded: ‘In the days before empire, Henry VIII’s version of Brexit was to renounce Roman Catholicism and divorce Catherine of Aragon. A true sceptic in those days would have advised him to Bremain — and unite against the Turk.’ It’s an odd choice of illustration, because in that case Brexit did work, it paved the way for a stronger braver England, then Britain. It was the making of us. Tudor history is surely a precedent in the Brexiters’ favour. So can Boris dress up

Jonathan Portes fired as NIESR director

So farewell, then, Jonathan Portes. As CoffeeHousers may know, he was chief economist in the Cabinet Office under Gordon Brown but in recent years he has been director of the NIESR, an economic research institute, which he used as a platform to continue leftist attacks against conservatives. He pretty much lives on Twitter, when he’s not bothering press regulators with nit-picking complaints against people with whom he disagrees. The NIESR seems to have finally had enough of being hijacked for his partisan purposes. It has announced his departure ‘by mutual consent and with immediate effect’. Okay, maybe ‘announced’ is overstating things: it has inserted a sly paragraph in the ‘about us’ section of

Right to reply – Jonathan Portes on Niall Ferguson

Two weeks ago I was too ‘obscure to bother with‘ for Professor Niall Ferguson. He’s changed his mind, dedicating an entire article in The Spectator to me. In particular, he is very upset that, after I complained, the FT was obliged to correct his recent article about the UK economy. Professor Ferguson’s article contained one undisputed factual error (about UK business confidence) and one statement which the FT’s independent complaints commissioner found to be misleading, but which Professor Ferguson argues is composed of two ‘true statements’. This was: ‘Weekly earnings are up by more than 8 per cent; in the private sector, the figure is above 10 per cent. Inflation is

History is the art of making things up. Why pretend otherwise?

In a recent interview, the celebrity historian and Tudor expert David Starkey described Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as a ‘deliberate perversion of fact’. The novel, he said, is ‘a magnificent, wonderful fiction’. listen to ‘David Starkey on Wolf Hall’ on audioBoom But if Oxford has taught me one thing, it’s that all the best history is. Starkey is a Cambridge man, and maybe they do things differently there. But any perceptive Oxford undergraduate will soon realise that a little bit of fiction is the surest way to a First. What the admissions material opaquely describes as ‘historical imagination’ turns out to be an irregular verb: I imagine, you pervert the

America is not facing a debt crisis. Why pretend otherwise?

The maths of America’s financial problems are fairly simple. Every year the federal government spends more than it brings in so must borrow to fill the gap. This is fine when you’re young and healthy, with great prospects and you are borrowing to invest. But one day your lenders look at you and realise you’re not young and growing any more. You’re middle-aged and knackered. You are borrowing simply to spend and time is running out for you to pay back your debts. It’s an ugly moment for anyone, especially the most powerful country in the world. There are economists like Paul Krugman who argue that America is not like

Niall Ferguson’s enemies can’t accuse him of racism, so they hope the homophobe charge will work its poison.

Is it homophobic to argue that it’s mainly gay men who keep the flame of popular culture alive? If so, then Simon Napier Bell has some grovelling to do. Napier Bell, as I’m sure you all know, is the rock impresario who has managed everyone from the Yardbirds to Wham!, and who a few years ago wrote an excellent book on the music business called Black Vinyl, White Powder. At least I thought it was excellent at the time. What I realise with hindsight, though, is that the book was in fact deeply offensive in its reductive and stereotypical view of homosexual behaviour. It argued that gay men — unburdened

More Niallism: Keynes opposed Versailles because he was a screaming queen

When I heard that Niall Ferguson had said that JM Keynes advocated reckless economic policies because he was gay and childless, and hence had no concern for the future, I wrote: ‘If true, this represents Ferguson’s degeneration from historian to shock jock’. The reports were true, but I was wrong. There has been no degeneration. Ferguson has always been this crass and crassly inaccurate. Donald Markwell, Warden of Rhodes House until last year, pointed me to his John Maynard Keynes and International Relations for the gruesome details. Markwell had to devote time and space to the ugly task of dissecting an attack on Keynes by Ferguson in a 1995 edition

Yes, my remarks on Keynes were stupid. But I’m no homophobe, and here’s why

Last week I said something stupid about John Maynard Keynes. Asked to comment on Keynes’s famous observation ‘In the long run we are all dead,’ I suggested that Keynes was perhaps indifferent to the long run because he had no children, and that he had no children because he was gay. This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’s wife Lydia miscarried. I was duly attacked for my remarks and offered an immediate and unqualified apology. But this did not suffice for some critics, who insisted that I was guilty not just

Douglas Murray

In defence of Niall Ferguson

One of the most striking divides in the left/right political debate is this. Those on the right disagree with people on the left. They find left-wing opinions misguided, incorrect or otherwise wrong. But they tend not to assume that their opponents are evil. This favour is rarely reciprocated. The Harvard professor and historian Niall Ferguson is the latest to suffer from this. In a discussion in California last week, he was invited to comment on John Maynard Keynes’ notorious observation, ‘In the long run we are all dead’. Ferguson mentioned somewhat flippantly that Keynes may have been more indifferent to the future because he had no children, because he was

Across the literary pages: Pankaj Mishra

An easy, sure-fire way of generating a bit of publicity is picking a fight with a provocative public intellectual. Rather than criticising Bernard-Henri Lévy’s blow-dry, or kicking David Starkey in either of his legs, Pankaj Mishra memorably attacked Niall Ferguson in his review of Civilisation in the LRB last November. So the threat of a lawsuit from Ferguson now means we all vaguely know who Mishra is. (And that he’s married to David Cameron’s cousin.) His latest book From the Ruins of Empire – part biography of three prominent Eastern thinkers and part historical analysis – tackles the difficult relationship between East and West taking the Japanese destruction of the Russian warship

Why reason doesn’t apply to the Eurozone

The Eurozone is a kind of lunacy if you look at it as an economic project. But this isn’t about economics, or rationality — it’s about emotion, as the leader in today’s Telegraph says. The Brits and Americans often fail to understand this fully because we judge a currency union in terms of its economic merits. But many European nations see it as part of another, wider, agenda. For the Spanish and Portuguese it’s about not going back to dictatorship. For Greece it’s about being Western rather than Eastern (and not being run by the military). As John O’Sullivan wrote for The Spectator recently, Eastern European states still — even

Britain and isolation

The word ‘isolation’ is used a lot in today’s newspapers, as if Cameron walking away from the ongoing EU implosion were a self-evident disaster. Pick up the Guardian and you see Britain cast as a leper, a status conferred on her thanks to a tragic miscalculation by a Prime Minister whose sole aim was to assuage his swivel-eyed Tory MPs and get back on Bill Cash’s Christmas card list. Orwell would have great fun with the language that accompanies the Euro project: trying to suck up to its tiny elite is seen as a country being outward looking. A PM more focused on the people who sent him to office is

The vanguard of the universities revolution?

One new institution does not a revolution make. But there’s still something a little revolutionary about the New College of the Humanities that is set to open, in London, in September 2012. Perhaps it’s the idea behind it: a private university that charges fees of £18,000 a year (with bursaries available to those who can’t afford that). Or perhaps it’s the names who are fronting it: AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, etc. They will, apparently, be conducting tutorials themselves. The public academics, it seems, are pitching their tents on the private sector. Mary Beard lists some reasons no to get too excited here. This is, she says, little more

Ferguson’s triumph

The last episode of Niall Ferguson’s documentary series, Civilization, has just been aired — and for those who missed it, it’s time to buy the DVD box set. Or, better still, read the book. Ferguson is, for my money, one of the most compelling, readable and original historians writing today. His books stand out for throwaway lines which can change the way you think about what’s happening now. Understanding of history shapes our politics, whether we admit it or not. And myths about history also fuel political myths. How often do we hear it said that the Great Depression came about because government didn’t borrow in the hard times? A

How the West became so dominant

Niall Ferguson has a zippy essay in The Times today previewing his forthcoming TV series and book on why the West became so dominant over the past 600 years. He argues that there are six features of the Western system that gave it its edge: “1. Competition: a decentralisation of political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation states and capitalism. 2. Science: a way of understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest. 3. Property rights: the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between