Niall Ferguson, fully Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson

Ferguson, fully Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson

British Historian, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

Author Quotes

I'm over-industrious, so I don't feel quite such a deviant in America as I did in England.

Over time, the welfare state has become dysfunctional in a surprising way. But in a way it became a victim of its own success: It became so successful at prolonging life, that it becomes financially unsustainable, unless you make major changes to things like retirement ages.

As a financial historian, I was quite isolated in Oxford - British historians are supposed to write about kings - so the quality of intellectual life in my field is much higher at Harvard. The students work harder there.

I don?t think running away is an option, I think regardless of who is president, we are still going to have a military presence in Iraq by 2012. It?s not like Vietnam; you can?t just walk away, leaving it to go to hell, with everybody killing one another. As bad as that was, it had no geopolitical cost at all for Americans; the costs of failure were zero. Whereas the geopolitical cost of running away here is almost unimaginable. Not only would a full-scale regional civil war create all sorts of opportunities for Iran. It creates all sorts of opportunities for the Iranian-backed Shi?ah and the wildest Sunni radicals who are behind al Qaeda. It makes your most important ally in the region, Israel, desperately vulnerable.

In general, I have felt more at home in the U.S. than I ever felt in England.

President Obama's biggest weakness is weakness.

As a teacher, my strategy is to encourage questioning. I'm the least authoritarian professor you'll ever meet.

I don't envy the historians of the current period. You have a disappearing decision trail in politics. It's likely that databases of emails won't be preserved, and if they are there will be so many that it will be extremely hard to use them. Plus, in investment banks they downgraded the use of email and switched to voicemail for key decisions, because of legal issues.

It is not easy to explain so profound a change in the ethics of a people. It used to be argued that slavery was abolished simply because it had ceased to be profitable, but all the evidence points the other way: in fact, it was abolished despite the fact that it was still profitable. What we need to understand, then, is a collective change of heart.

Risk models are a substitute for historical knowledge, because they tend to work with just three years' worth of data. But three years is not a long time in financial history.

As in Bosnia, the United States should hand over some of the dirty work?.But that will only be possible if the Europeans get what they want: the semblance of an imminent U.S. handover of power in Iraq. Note the word semblance. As the British showed in Egypt, you can keep up this kind of hypocrisy for quite a long time before you actually have to restore self-government for real.

I grew up as a teenager in late 70s Glasgow. The main industries were sectarianism and strike action. We lived near Ibrox Park for a while, and I can remember the rats in the street when the dustbin men struck, and the sirens on Old Firm match days.

It was an idea that made the crucial difference between British and Iberian America ? an idea about the way people should govern themselves. Some people make the mistake of calling that idea ?democracy? and imagining that any country can adopt it merely by holding elections. In reality, democracy was the capstone of an edifice that had as its foundation the rule of law ? to be precise, the sanctity of individual freedom and the security of private property rights, ensured by representative, constitutional government.

Scottish Calvinism gave rise to impulses comparable to those we associate with Jews in the modern period. A high regard for literacy. An emphasis on education as a route to social mobility. An aptitude for finance and for science.? Whatever the reason, he says with a laugh, ?through it all, I have become a thorough philo-Semite.

Ask me not, 'Are you rightwing,' but ask me 'Are you a committed believer in individual freedom, the values of the enlightenment?' Then, yeah, if being rightwing means believing Adam Smith was right, both in the 'Wealth of Nations' and the 'Theory of Moral Sentiments,' then I'm rightwing.

I have three kids in Britain, and I am there at least once a month.

It?s our generation that is witnessing the end of Western predominance. The average American used to be more than 20 times richer than the average Chinese. Now it?s just five times, and soon it will be 2.5 times.

But there was another story which was not new to me. I?d always understood its importance. This was the story of the German Jews and their predicament. I was gripped by the most important and certainly the most perplexing tragedy of modern history, which was the tragedy of the Jews. The Jews?tremendously successful, not only in economic life, but also in cultural life, the standard-bearers of modernity in the arts and in political innovations of the modern period, and of course the ultimate victims of the backlash against it in the 1930s and ?40s. That really started my interest in German-Jewish history,? he continues. ?And it wasn?t long after finishing my book, Paper and Iron, in which the Warburgs were central figures, that I was asked to look at the Rothschild archives, with a view to writing a substantial work on the history of the Rothschilds. It was an opportunity I seized with both hands, and I spent five years practically living in the Rothschild archives in London, with visits to important stuff in Russia and Frankfurt. By the time I was done, I think I was about as deeply immersed in German-Jewish history as it?s possible for a non-Jew to be; after all, it was ironic that somebody with my background was asked to write this book.

I opted for history after reading War and Peace. "What is the power that moves nations?" I always remember that quote.

It's all very well for us to sit here in the west with our high incomes and cushy lives, and say it's immoral to violate the sovereignty of another state. But if the effect of that is to bring people in that country economic and political freedom, to raise their standard of living, to increase their life expectancy, then don't rule it out.

By 1982 I was a young Thatcherite. The Thatcherite position had a lot in common with the Sex Pistols' position in 1977: it was a rebellion against the stuffy corporatism of the 70s.

I sent off an article making that point, and it came back with a referee?s report from one of the grand old men of German economic history, denouncing the very notion that an historian could ask a what-if question. I thought about this damning report, and I decided that he was wrong, and in a sense Virtual History was born at that moment. My feeling was, and I?m still very committed to the notion, that we need to ask this stuff. We can?t duck these questions. There?s a reluctance among mainstream historians to engage what seems to me a philosophically irrefutable point: that if we?re going to propose anything of a causal nature, we?ve got to make explicit the counterfactual that statement implies. I think it?s almost fraudulent not to make your counterfactual explicit. You?re cheating your readers and your students. If you really do think that, let?s say, the Fed was responsible for the Great Depression, then you have to show how a different monetary policy would have avoided it.

It's great to see countries like China and India lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by essentially copying Western ways of doing things.

Civilization is partly about restraining the male of the species from engaging in the violence of the hunter-gatherer period. But it doesn't take an awful lot to unleash it. Bridgend on a Saturday night has its temporary inflatable hospitals for the stabbings and glassings.

I think that it is important to be gregarious, and that friendships are not just a leisure pursuit, that they are an integral part of what it is to be human, and one does better work if one has a circle of friends that is active.

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British Historian, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford