Niall Ferguson

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Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson - Chatham House 2011.jpg
Niall Campbell Ferguson

(1964-04-18) 18 April 1964 (age 55)
Glasgow, Scotland
Residence Washington, D.C., U.S.
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
Known forEmpire: How Britain Made the Modern World, Civilisation: the West and the Rest
Scientific career
Fields International history, economic and financial history, American and British imperial history
Influences Norman Stone, A. J. P. Taylor, Kenneth Clark, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, David Landes
Website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

Niall Campbell Ferguson ( /ˈnl/ ; born 18 April 1964) [1] is a Scottish historian and works as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Previously, he was a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities, and also taught at Harvard University and New York University.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace is an American public policy think tank and research institution located at Stanford University in California. It began as a library founded in 1919 by Republican and Stanford alumnus Herbert Hoover, before he became President of the United States. The library, known as the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, houses multiple archives related to Hoover, World War I, World War II, and other world history. According to the 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, Hoover is No. 18 in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".

Jesus College, Oxford College of the University of Oxford in England

Jesus College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is in the centre of the city, on a site between Turl Street, Ship Street, Cornmarket Street and Market Street. The college was founded by Elizabeth I on 27 June 1571 for the education of clergy, though students now study a broad range of secular subjects. A major driving force behind the establishment of the college was Hugh Price, a churchman from Brecon in Wales. The oldest buildings, in the first quadrangle, date from the 16th and early 17th centuries; a second quadrangle was added between about 1640 and about 1713, and a third quadrangle was built in about 1906. Further accommodation was built on the main site to mark the 400th anniversary of the college, in 1971, and student flats have been constructed at sites in north and east Oxford.


Ferguson writes and speaks about international history, economic and financial history and British and American imperialism. [2] He is known for his contrarian views and his defence of the British empire. [3] He once called himself "a fully paid-up member of the neo-imperialist gang" following the invasion of Iraq. [4]

Imperialism Policy or ideology of extending a nations rule over foreign nations

Imperialism is a policy or ideology of extending a nation's rule over foreign nations, often by military force or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Imperialism was both normal and common worldwide throughout recorded history, the earliest examples dating from the mid-third millennium BC, diminishing only in the late 20th century. In recent times, it has been considered morally reprehensible and prohibited by international law. Therefore, the term is used in international propaganda to denounce an opponent's foreign policy.

Ferguson has been a contributing editor for Bloomberg Television [5] and a columnist for Newsweek . He was an advisor to John McCain's U.S. presidential campaign in 2008, supported Mitt Romney in 2012 and was a vocal critic of Barack Obama. [6] [7]

Bloomberg Television Financial and business cable news channel

Bloomberg Television is an American-based pay television network centred towards business and capital market programming, owned by Bloomberg L.P. It is distributed globally, reaching over 310 million homes worldwide. It is headquartered in New York City, with European headquarters in London and Asian headquarters in Hong Kong.

Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine founded in 1933.

John McCain American politician

John Sidney McCain III was an American politician and military officer, who served as a United States senator from Arizona from January 1987 until his death. He previously served two terms in the United States House of Representatives and was the Republican nominee for president of the United States in the 2008 election, which he lost to Barack Obama.

Ferguson has written and presented numerous television documentary series, including The Ascent of Money, which won an International Emmy award for Best Documentary in 2009. [8] In 2004, he was named as one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. [9]

Early life

Ferguson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 18 April 1964 to James Campbell Ferguson, a doctor, and Molly Archibald Hamilton, a physics teacher. [10] [11] He attended The Glasgow Academy. [12] He was brought up as, and remains, an atheist, though he has encouraged his children to study religion and attends church occasionally. [13]

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. It is the fifth most visited city in the UK.

The Glasgow Academy school in Glasgow, Scotland

The Glasgow Academy is a coeducational independent day school for pupils aged 3–18 in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2016, it was the third best secondary school in Scotland according to its Higher exam results. Founded in 1845, it is the oldest continuously fully independent school in Glasgow, Scotland.

Ferguson cites his father as instilling in him a strong sense of self-discipline and of the moral value of work, while his mother encouraged his creative side. [14] His journalist maternal grandfather encouraged him to write. [14] Ferguson ascribes his decision to read History at University instead of English Literature to two main factors: Leo Tolstoy's reflections on History at the end of War and Peace (which he read at the age of fifteen), and his great admiration of historian A. J. P. Taylor.

Leo Tolstoy Russian writer, author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received multiple nominations for Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906, and nominations for Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1910, and his miss of the prize is a major Nobel prize controversy.

<i>War and Peace</i> Novel by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published serially, then in its entirety in 1869. It is regarded as a central work of world literature and one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements.

A. J. P. Taylor English historian

Alan John Percivale Taylor was a British historian who specialised in 19th- and 20th-century European diplomacy. Both a journalist and a broadcaster, he became well known to millions through his television lectures. His combination of academic rigour and popular appeal led the historian Richard Overy to describe him as "the Macaulay of our age".

University of Oxford

Ferguson received a demyship (highest scholarship) at Magdalen College, Oxford. [15] While there he wrote the 90-minute student film The Labours of Hercules Sprote, played double bass in the jazz band Night in Tunisia, edited the student magazine Tributary, and befriended Andrew Sullivan, who shared his interest in right-wing politics and punk music. [16] He had become a Thatcherite by 1982. He graduated with a first-class honours degree in history in 1985. [15]

Ferguson studied in 1987 and 1988 as a Hanseatic Scholar in Hamburg and Berlin. He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Magdalen College in 1989, and his dissertation was titled "Business and Politics in the German Inflation: Hamburg 1914–1924". [17]


Academic career

In 1989, Ferguson worked as a research fellow at Christ's College, Cambridge. From 1990 to 1992 he was an official fellow and lecturer at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He then became a fellow and tutor in modern history at Jesus College, Oxford, where in 2000 he was named a professor of political and financial history. In 2002 Ferguson became the John Herzog Professor in Financial History at New York University Stern School of Business, and in 2004 he became the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. From 2010 to 2011, Ferguson held the Philippe Roman Chair in history and international affairs at the London School of Economics. [18] In 2016 Ferguson left Harvard [19] to become a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he had been an adjunct fellow since 2005.

Ferguson has received honorary degrees from the University of Buckingham (UK), Macquarie University (Australia), and the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (Chile). In May 2010, Michael Gove, education secretary, asked Ferguson to advise on the development of a new history syllabus, to be entitled "history as a connected narrative", for schools in England and Wales. [20] [21] In June 2011, he joined other academics to set up the New College of the Humanities, a private college in London. [22]

In 2018, Ferguson apologized after fellow historians criticized him for only inviting white men as speakers to a Stanford conference on applied history. [23]

Also in 2018, emails documenting Ferguson's attempts to discredit a progressive activist student at Stanford University who had been critical of Ferguson's choices of speakers invited to the Cardinal Conversations free speech initiative were released to the public and University administrators. [24] He teamed with a Republican student group to find information that might discredit the student. Ferguson resigned from leadership of the program once university administrators became aware of his actions. [24] [25] Ferguson responded in his column [26] saying, "Re-reading my emails now, I am struck by their juvenile, jocular tone. “A famous victory,” I wrote the morning after the Murray event. “Now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Then I added: “Some opposition research on Mr O might also be worthwhile” — a reference to the leader of the protests. None of this happened. The meetings of the student committee were repeatedly postponed. No one ever did any digging on “Mr O”. The spring vacation arrived. The only thing that came of the emails was that their circulation led to my stepping down."

Business career

In 2000, Ferguson was a founding director of Boxmind, [27] an Oxford-based educational technology company.

In 2006, he set up Chimerica Media Ltd., [28] a London based television production company.

In 2007, Ferguson was appointed as an investment management consultant by GLG Partners, to advise on geopolitical risk as well as current structural issues in economic behaviour relating to investment decisions. [29] GLG is a UK-based hedge fund management firm headed by Noam Gottesman. [30] Ferguson was also an adviser to Morgan Stanley, the investment bank.

In 2011, he set up Greenmantle LLC, an advisory business specializing in macroeconomics and geopolitics.

He also serves as a non-executive director on the board of Affiliated Managers Group.

Non-profit organisation

Ferguson is a trustee of the New York Historical Society and the London-based Centre for Policy Studies.

Career as a commentator, documentarian and public intellectual

Ferguson has written regularly for British newspapers and magazines since the mid 1980s. At that time, he was a leader writer for The Daily Telegraph and a regular book reviewer for The Daily Mail.

In the summer on 1989, while travelling in Berlin, he wrote an article for a British newspaper with the provisional headline “The Berlin Wall is Crumbling,” but it was not published. [31]

In the early 2000s he wrote a weekly column for  The Sunday Telegraph and Los Angeles Times, [32] leaving in 2007 to become a contributing editor to the Financial Times . [33] [34] Between 2008 and 2012 he wrote regularly for Newsweek . [20] Since 2015 he has written a weekly column for The Sunday Times and The Boston Globe, which also appears in numerous papers around the world.

Ferguson's television series The Ascent of Money [35] won the 2009 International Emmy award for Best Documentary. [8] In 2011 his film company Chimerica Media released its first feature-length documentary, Kissinger, which won the New York Film Festival's prize for Best Documentary.

Television documentaries

BBC Reith Lectures

Niall Ferguson recording the third of his 2012 BBC Reith Lecture at Gresham College Niall Ferguson recording the BBC Reith Lecture at Gresham College.jpg
Niall Ferguson recording the third of his 2012 BBC Reith Lecture at Gresham College

In May 2012, the BBC announced Niall Ferguson was to present its annual Reith Lectures  – a prestigious series of radio lectures which were first broadcast in 1948. These four lectures, titled The Rule of Law and its Enemies, examine the role man-made institutions have played in the economic and political spheres. [36]

In the first lecture, held at the London School of Economics, titled The Human Hive, Ferguson argues for greater openness from governments, saying they should publish accounts which clearly state all assets and liabilities. Governments, he said, should also follow the lead of business and adopt the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and, above all, generational accounts should be prepared on a regular basis to make absolutely clear the inter-generational implications of current fiscal policy. In the lecture, Ferguson says young voters should be more supportive of government austerity measures if they do not wish to pay further down the line for the profligacy of the baby boomer generation. [37]

In the second lecture, The Darwinian Economy, Ferguson reflects on the causes of the global financial crisis, and erroneous conclusions that many people have drawn from it about the role of regulation, and asks whether regulation is in fact "the disease of which it purports to be the cure".

The Landscape of Law was the third lecture, delivered at Gresham College. It examines the rule of law in comparative terms, asking how far the common law's claims to superiority over other systems are credible, and whether we are living through a time of 'creeping legal degeneration' in the English-speaking world.

The fourth and final lecture, Civil and Uncivil Societies, focuses on institutions (outside the political, economic and legal realms) designed to preserve and transmit particular knowledge and values. Ferguson asks whether the modern state is quietly killing civil society in the Western world, and what non-Western societies can do to build a vibrant civil society.

The first lecture was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service on Tuesday, 19 June 2012. [38] The series is available as a BBC podcast. [39]


The Cash Nexus

In his 2001 book, The Cash Nexus, which he wrote following a year as Houblon-Norman Fellow at the Bank of England, [34] Ferguson argues that the popular saying, "money makes the world go 'round", is wrong; instead he presented a case for human actions in history motivated by far more than just economic concerns.

Colossus and Empire

In his books Colossus and Empire, Ferguson presents a reinterpretation of the history of the British Empire and in conclusion proposes that the modern policies of the United Kingdom and the United States, in taking a more active role in resolving conflict arising from the failure of states, are analogous to the "Anglicization" policies adopted by the British Empire throughout the 19th century. [40] [41] In Colossus, Ferguson explores the United States' hegemony in foreign affairs and its future role in the world. [42] [43] The American writer Michael Lind, responding to Ferguson's advocation of an enlarged American military through conscription, accused Ferguson of engaging in apocalyptic alarmism about the possibility of a world without the United States as the dominant power and of a casual disregard for the value of human life. [44]

War of the World

In War of the World, published in 2006, Ferguson argued that a combination of economic volatility, decaying empires, psychopathic dictators, racially/ethnically motivated and institutionalised violence resulted in the wars and genocides of what he calls "History's Age of Hatred". The New York Times Book Review named War of the World one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year in 2006, while the International Herald Tribune called it "one of the most intriguing attempts by an historian to explain man's inhumanity to man". [45] Ferguson addresses the paradox that, though the 20th century was "so bloody", it was also "a time of unparalleled [economic] progress". As with his earlier work Empire, War of the World was accompanied by a Channel 4 television series presented by Ferguson. [46]

The Ascent of Money

Published in 2008, The Ascent of Money examines the history of money, credit, and banking. In it Ferguson predicts a financial crisis as a result of the world economy and in particular the United States using too much credit. He cites the ChinaAmerica dynamic which he refers to as Chimerica where an Asian "savings glut" helped create the subprime mortgage crisis with an influx of easy money. [47] While researching this book, in early 2007, Ferguson attended a session at a conference in Las Vegas at which a hedge fund manager stated there would never be another recession. Ferguson challenged this, and later the two agreed on a $14,000, 7 to 1 bet, that there would be a recession within five years. Ferguson collected $98,000. [48]


Published in 2011, Civilization: The West and the Rest examines what Ferguson calls the most "interesting question" of our day: "Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?" The Economist in a review wrote:

Mr Ferguson starts with the overwhelming success of European civilisation. In 1500 Europe's future imperial powers controlled 10% of the world's territories and generated just over 40% of its wealth. By 1913, at the height of empire, the West controlled almost 60% of the territories, which together generated almost 80% of the wealth. This stunning fact is lost, he regrets, on a generation that has supplanted history's sweep with a feeble-minded relativism that holds "all civilisations as somehow equal. [49]

Ferguson attributes this divergence to the West's development of six "killer apps", which he claims are largely missing elsewhere in the world – "competition, science, the rule of law, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic". [20] Ferguson compared and contrasted how the West's "killer apps" allowed the West to triumph over "the Rest". [49] Thus, Ferguson argued the rowdy and savage competition between European merchants created far more wealth than did the static and ordered society of Qing China; that the tolerance extended to thinkers like Sir Isaac Newton in Stuart England had no counterpart in the Ottoman Empire where Takiyuddin's "blasphemous" observatory was demolished for contradicting the teachings of Islam which ensured that Western civilization was capable of making scientific advances that Islamic civilization never could; and because respect for private property was far stronger in British America than it ever was in Spanish America, which led to the United States and Canada becoming prosperous societies while Latin America was and remains mired in poverty. [49] However, Ferguson also argued that the modern West had lost its edge and the future belongs to the nations of Asia, especially China, which has adopted the West's "killer apps". [49] Ferguson argues that in the coming years will see a steady decline of the West and China and the rest of the Asian nations will be the rising powers. [49] A related documentary Civilization: Is the West History? was broadcast as a six-part series on Channel 4 in March and April 2011. [50]

Kissinger: 1923–1968: The Idealist

Kissinger The Idealist, Volume I, published in September 2015, is the first part of a planned two-part biography of Henry Kissinger based on his private papers. The book starts with a quote from a letter which Kissinger wrote in 1972. The book examines Kissinger's life from being a refugee and fleeing Germany in 1938, to serving in the US army as a "free man" in World War II, to studying at Harvard. The book also explores the history of Kissinger joining the Kennedy administration and later becoming critical of its foreign policy, to supporting Nelson Rockefeller on three failed presidential bids, to finally joining the Nixon administration. The book also includes Kissinger's early evaluation of the Vietnam war and his efforts to negotiate with the North Vietnamese in Paris. The Economist wrote in a review about The Idealist: "Mr Ferguson, a British historian also at Harvard, has in the past sometimes produced work that is rushed and uneven. Not here. Like Mr Kissinger or loathe him, this is a work of engrossing scholarship." [51] In a negative review of The Idealist, the American journalist Michael O'Donnell questioned Ferguson's interpretation of Kissinger's actions leading up to Nixon's election as President. [52] Andrew Roberts praised the book in The New York Times, [53] concluding: "Niall Ferguson already has many important, scholarly and controversial books to his credit. But if the second volume of 'Kissinger' is anywhere near as comprehensive, well written and riveting as the first, this will be his masterpiece."

The Square and the Tower

Ferguson proposed a modified version of group selection that history can be explained by the evolution of human networks. He wrote, "Man, with his unrivaled neural network, was born to network." [54] The title refers to a transition from hierarchical, "tower" networks to flatter, "square" network connections between individuals. John Gray in a review of the book was not convinced. He wrote, "He offers a mix of metaphor and what purports to be a new science." [55] "Niall Ferguson has again written a brilliant book," wrote Deirdre McCloskey in The Wall Street Journal, [56] "this time in defence of traditional top-down principles of governing the wild market and the wilder international order. The Square and the Tower raises the question of just how much the unruly world should be governed—and by whom. Not everyone will agree, but everyone will be charmed and educated. … 'The Square and the Tower' is always readable, intelligent, original. You can swallow a chapter a night before sleep and your dreams will overflow with scenes of Stendhal's 'The Red and the Black,' Napoleon, Kissinger. In 400 pages you will have restocked your mind. Do it."

Opinions and research

World War I

In 1998, Ferguson published The Pity of War: Explaining World War One, which with the help of research assistants he was able to write in just five months. [15] [16] This is an analytic account of what Ferguson considered to be the ten great myths of the Great War. The book generated much controversy, particularly Ferguson's suggestion that it might have proved more beneficial for Europe if Britain had stayed out of the First World War in 1914, thereby allowing Germany to win. [57] Ferguson has argued that the British decision to intervene was what stopped a German victory in 1914–15. Furthermore, Ferguson expressed disagreement with the Sonderweg interpretation of German history championed by some German historians such as Fritz Fischer, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Hans Mommsen and Wolfgang Mommsen, who argued that the German Empire deliberately started an aggressive war in 1914. Likewise, Ferguson has often attacked the work of the German historian Michael Stürmer, who argued that it was Germany's geographical situation in Central Europe that determined the course of German history.

On the contrary, Ferguson maintained that Germany waged a preventive war in 1914, a war largely forced on the Germans by reckless and irresponsible British diplomacy. In particular, Ferguson accused the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey of maintaining an ambiguous attitude to the question of whether Britain would enter the war or not, and thus confusing Berlin over just what was the British attitude towards the question of intervention in the war. [58] Ferguson accused London of unnecessarily allowing a regional war in Europe to escalate into a world war. Moreover, Ferguson denied that the origins of National Socialism could be traced back to Imperial Germany; instead Ferguson asserted the origins of Nazism could only be traced back to the First World War and its aftermath.

Ferguson attacked a number of ideas that he called "myths" in the book. They are listed here (with his counter-arguments in parentheses):

Another controversial aspect of The Pity of War is Ferguson's use of counterfactual history also known as "speculative" or "hypothetical" history. In the book, Ferguson presents a hypothetical version of Europe being, under Imperial German domination, a peaceful, prosperous, democratic continent, without ideologies like communism or fascism. [70] In Ferguson's view, had Germany won World War I, then the lives of millions would have been saved, something like the European Union would have been founded in 1914, and Britain would have remained an empire as well as the world's dominant financial power. [70]

The French historians Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker were dubious about much of Ferguson's methodology and conclusions in The Pity of War, but praised him for the chapter dealing with the executions of POWs, arguing that Ferguson had exposed a dark side of the war that until then had been ignored. [71] The American writer Michael Lind wrote about The Pity of War:

Like the historian John Charmley, who expressed the same wish in the case of World War II, Ferguson belongs to the fringe element of British conservatism that regrets the absence of a German-British deal in the first half of the 20th century that would have marginalized the United States and might have allowed the British Empire to survive to this day. According to Ferguson, Britain should have stayed out of World War I and allowed Imperial Germany to smash France and Russia and create a continental empire from the Atlantic to the Middle East. The joke is on Ferguson's American conservative admirers, inasmuch as he laments the defeat of the Kaiser's Germany because it accelerated the replacement of the British Empire by the United States of America and the eclipse of the City of London by Wall Street. [44]

The American historian Gerhard Weinberg in a review of The Pity of War strongly criticized Ferguson for advancing the thesis that it was idiotic for Britain to have fought a Germany that posed no danger. [72] Weinberg accused Ferguson of completely ignoring the chief foreign policy aim of Wilhelm II from 1897 onwards, namely Weltpolitik ("World Politics") and argued it was absurd for Ferguson to claim that allowing Germany to defeat France and Russia would have posed no danger to Britain. [72] Weinberg wrote that Ferguson was wrong to claim that Germany's interests were limited only to Europe, and maintained that if the Reich did defeat France in 1914, then Germany would have taken over the French colonies in Asia and Africa which would have definitely affected the balance of power all over the world, not just in Europe. [72] Finally, Weinberg attacked Ferguson for claiming that the Tirpitz Plan was not a danger to Britain and that Britain had no reason to fear Germany's naval ambitions, sarcastically asking if that was really the case, then why did the British redeploy so much of their fleet from around the world to the North Sea and spend so much money building warships in the Anglo-German naval arms race? [72] Weinberg accused Ferguson of distorting both German and British history and ignoring any evidence that did not fit with his thesis that Britain should never have fought Germany, stating that The Pity of War was interesting as a historical provocation, but was not persuasive as history. [73]


Ferguson wrote two volumes about the prominent Rothschild family: The House of Rothschild: Volume 1: Money's Prophets: 1798–1848 and The House of Rothschild: Volume 2: The World's Banker: 1849–1999. These books were the result of original archival research. [74] The books won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and were also short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award. [34]

The books were widely acclaimed by some historians, [74] although they did receive some criticism. John Lewis Gaddis, a Cold War–era historian, praised Ferguson's "unrivaled range, productivity and visibility", while criticising the book as unpersuasive and containing contradictory claims. [75] Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm had praised Ferguson as an excellent historian, but criticised him as a "nostalgist for empire". [76] [77] In a mixed review of a later book by Ferguson, The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred, a reviewer for The Economist described how many regard Ferguson's two books on the Rothschilds "as one of the finest studies of its kind." [78]

Writing in The New York Review of Books, Robert Skidelsky praised Ferguson: [79] "Taken together, Ferguson's two volumes are a stupendous achievement, a triumph of historical research and imagination. No serious historian can write about the connection between the politics, diplomacy, and economics of the nineteenth century in the same way again. And, as any good work of history should do, it constantly prompts us to ask questions about our own age, when once again we have embarked on the grand experiment of a world economy without a world government."

Counterfactual history

Ferguson sometimes champions counterfactual history, also known as "speculative" or "hypothetical" history, and edited a collection of essays, titled Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (1997), exploring the subject. Ferguson likes to imagine alternative outcomes as a way of stressing the contingent aspects of history. For Ferguson, great forces don't make history; individuals do, and nothing is predetermined. Thus, for Ferguson, there are no paths in history that will determine how things will work out. The world is neither progressing nor regressing; only the actions of individuals determine whether we will live in a better or worse world. His championing of the method has been controversial within the field. [80] In a 2011 review of Ferguson's book Civilization: The West and the Rest, Noel Malcolm (Senior Research Fellow in History at All Souls College at Oxford University) stated that: "Students may find this an intriguing introduction to a wide range of human history; but they will get an odd idea of how historical argument is to be conducted, if they learn it from this book." [81]

Henry Kissinger

In 2003, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger provided Ferguson with access to his White House diaries, letters, and archives for what Ferguson calls a "warts-and-all biography" of Kissinger. [82] In 2015, he published the first volume in a two-part biography titled Kissinger: 1923–1968: The Idealist from Penguin Press.

The thesis of this first volume was that Kissinger was very much influenced in his academic and political development by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and especially by an interpretation of Kant that he learned from a mentor at Harvard University, William Yandell Elliott.

British Empire

Ferguson has defended the British Empire, many historians and commentators have considered his views both "audacious" and "wrong", [83] "informative", [84] "ambitious" and "troubling". [85] Ferguson is critical of what he calls the "self-flagellation" that he says characterises modern European thought. [20]

The moral simplification urge is an extraordinarily powerful one, especially in this country, where imperial guilt can lead to self-flagellation," he told a reporter. "And it leads to very simplistic judgments. The rulers of western Africa prior to the European empires were not running some kind of scout camp. They were engaged in the slave trade. They showed zero sign of developing the country's economic resources. Did Senegal ultimately benefit from French rule? Yes, it's clear. And the counterfactual idea that somehow the indigenous rulers would have been more successful in economic development doesn't have any credibility at all.

In the related TV documentary of 2003, Empire Ferguson argued that the mantle of the British Empire as the world's foremost power was passed on to the United States during the Second World War, which led to Ferguson favorably reciting Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden"—written in 1898 to praise the United States for becoming an imperial power by conquering the Philippines from Spain—as just as relevant today as it was in 1898. [86] Ferguson argues that the United States should celebrate being an imperial power comparable to Britain, conquering other people's countries for what Ferguson insists is their own good, and complains that far too often Americans refuse to accept that nation has an imperialist role to play in the modern world. [86]

Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at the University of London, has stated that it was correct of Seumas Milne to associate "Ferguson with an attempt to "rehabilitate empire" in the service of contemporary great power interests". [87] [88]

Bernard Porter attacked Empire in The London Review of Books as a "panegyric to British colonialism". [89] Ferguson, in response to this, drew Porter's attention to the conclusion of the book, where he writes: "No one would claim that the record of the British Empire was unblemished. On the contrary, I have tried to show how often it failed to live up to its own ideal of individual liberty, particularly in the early era of enslavement, transportation and the 'ethnic cleansing' of indigenous peoples." Ferguson argues however that the British Empire was preferable to the alternatives:

The 19th-century empire undeniably pioneered free trade, free capital movements and, with the abolition of slavery, free labour. It invested immense sums in developing a global network of modern communications. It spread and enforced the rule of law over vast areas. Though it fought many small wars, the empire maintained a global peace unmatched before or since. In the 20th century too the empire more than justified its own existence. For the alternatives to British rule represented by the German and Japanese empires were clearly – and they admitted it themselves – far worse. And without its empire, it is inconceivable that Britain could have withstood them. [89]

In November 2011 Pankaj Mishra reviewed Civilisation: The West and the Rest unfavourably in the London Review of Books. [90] Ferguson demanded an apology and threatened to sue Mishra on charges of libel due to allegations of racism. [91]

Islam and "Eurabia"

Matthew Carr wrote in Race & Class that "Niall Ferguson, the conservative English [sic] historian and enthusiastic advocate of a new American empire, has also embraced the Eurabian idea in a widely reproduced article entitled 'Eurabia?', [92] in which he laments the 'de-Christianization of Europe' and the secularism of the continent that leaves it 'weak in the face of fanaticism'." Carr adds that "Ferguson sees the recent establishment of a department of Islamic studies in his (Oxford college) as another symptom of 'the creeping Islamicization of a decadent Christendom'," and in a 2004 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute entitled 'The End of Europe?', [93]

Ferguson struck a similarly Spenglerian note, conjuring the term 'impire' to depict a process in which a 'political entity, instead of expanding outwards towards its periphery, exporting power, implodes – when the energies come from outside into that entity'. In Ferguson's opinion, this process was already under way in a decadent 'post-Christian' Europe that was drifting inexorably towards the dark denouement of a vanquished civilisation and the fatal embrace of Islam. [94]

In 2015, Ferguson deplored the Paris attacks committed by Islamic State terrorists, but stated he was not going to "stand" with the French as he argued that France was a lost cause, a declining state faced with an unstoppable Islamic wave that would sweep away everything that tried to oppose it. [95] Ferguson compared the modern European Union to the Western Roman Empire, describing modern Europe as not that different from the world depicted by Edward Gibbon in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire . [95] Ferguson wrote that:

Uncannily similar processes are destroying the European Union today...Let us be clear about what is happening. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith. [95]

Ferguson wrote the mass influx of refugees into Europe from Syria was a modern version of the Völkerwanderung when the Huns burst out of Asia and invaded Europe, causing millions of the Germanic peoples to flee into the presumed safety of the Roman Empire, smashing their way in as the Romans attempted unsuccessfully to stop the Germans from entering the empire. [95] Ferguson writes that Gibbon was wrong to claim the Roman Empire collapsed slowly and argues that the view among a growing number of modern scholars is that the collapse of the Roman empire was swift and violent; unforeseeable by Romans of the day, just as the collapse of modern European civilization would likewise be for modern Europeans. [95]

Iraq War

Ferguson supported the 2003 Iraq War, and he is on record as not necessarily opposed to future western incursions around the world.

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. [20]

Trump election

On the rise of Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, Ferguson was quoted in early 2016: "If you bother to read some of the serious analysis of Trump's support, you realize that it's a very fragile thing and highly unlikely to deliver what he needs in the crucial first phase of the primaries ... By the time we get to March–April, it's all over. I think there's going to be a wonderful catharsis, I'm really looking forward to it: Trump's humiliation. Bring it on." [96] Trump eventually won the nomination.

Three weeks before the 2016 United States presidential election, Ferguson said in an interview that it "was over for Donald Trump"; that "Trump had flamed out in all three Presidential debates"; that, "I don't think there can be any last minute surprise to rescue him [Trump]"; that there was no hope of Donald Trump winning Independent voters and that Trump was "gone as a candidate", adding that "it seems to me clear that she [Hillary Clinton] is going to be the first female President of the United States. The only question is how bad does his [Trump's] flaming out affect candidates for the Senate, candidates for the House, further down on the ballot." [97] However after Brexit, Ferguson stated that Trump could win via the Electoral College if certain demographics turned out to vote in key swing states. [98] Trump was elected president and the Republican Party, while losing seats, retained control of both houses of Congress.

Trump's "New World Order"

In an article from November 2016 in The Boston Globe, Ferguson advised that Trump should support the efforts of Prime Minister Theresa May to have Britain leave the European Union as the best way of breaking up the EU, and sign a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom once Brexit is complete. [99] Ferguson advised that Trump should give recognition to Russia as a Great Power, and work with President Vladimir Putin by giving Russia a sphere of influence in Eurasia. [99] In the same column, Ferguson advised Trump not to engage in a trade war with China, and work with President Xi Jinping to create a US-Chinese partnership. [99] Ferguson argued that Trump and Putin should work for the victory of Marine Le Pen (who wants France to leave the EU) and the Front national in the 2017 French elections, arguing that Le Pen was the French politician most congenial to the Trump administration. [99] Ferguson argued that a quintumvirate of Trump, Putin, Xi, May and Le Pen was the world's best hope for peace and prosperity. [99]

Economic policy

In its edition of 15 August 2005, The New Republic published "The New New Deal", an essay by Ferguson and Laurence J. Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University. The two scholars called for the following changes to the American government's fiscal and income security policies: [100]

In November 2012, Ferguson stated in a video with CNN that the U.S. has enough energy resources to move towards energy independence and could possibly enter a new economic golden age due to the related socio-economic growth—coming out of the post-world economic recession doldrums. [101]

Ferguson was an attendee of the 2012 Bilderberg Group meeting, where he was a speaker on economic policy. [102]

Ferguson was highly critical of Britain's vote to leave the European Union, warning that "the economic consequences will be dire". [103] Later, after backing the Remain campaign during the referendum, Ferguson changed his mind and came out in support of Britain's exit from the EU.

Exchanges with Paul Krugman

In May 2009, Ferguson became involved in a high-profile exchange of views with economist Paul Krugman arising out of a panel discussion hosted by PEN/ New York Review on 30 April 2009, regarding the U.S. economy. Ferguson contended that the Obama administration's policies are simultaneously Keynesian and monetarist, in an "incoherent" mix, and specifically claimed that the government's issuance of a multitude of new bonds would cause an increase in interest rates. [104]

Krugman argued that Ferguson's view is "resurrecting 75-year old fallacies" and full of "basic errors". He also stated that Ferguson is a "poseur" who "hasn't bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It's all style, no comprehension of substance." [105] [106] [107]

In 2012, Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said that subsequent events had shown Ferguson to be wrong: "As we all know, since then both the US and UK have had deficits running at historically extremely high levels, and long-term interest rates at historic lows: as Krugman has repeatedly pointed out, the (IS-LM) textbook has been spot on." [108]

Later in 2012, after Ferguson wrote a cover story for Newsweek arguing that Mitt Romney should be elected in the upcoming US presidential election, Krugman wrote that there were multiple errors and misrepresentations in the story, concluding "We're not talking about ideology or even economic analysis here – just a plain misrepresentation of the facts, with an august publication letting itself be used to misinform readers. The Times would require an abject correction if something like that slipped through. Will Newsweek?" [109] Ferguson denied that he had misrepresented the facts in an online rebuttal. [110] Matthew O'Brien countered that Ferguson was still distorting the meaning of the Congressional Budget Office report being discussed, and that the entire piece could be read as an effort to deceive. [111]

In 2013, Ferguson, naming Dean Baker, Josh Barro, Brad DeLong, Matthew O'Brien, Noah Smith, Matthew Yglesias and Justin Wolfers, attacked "Krugman and his acolytes," in his three-part essay on why he dislikes Paul Krugman. [112] The essay title ('Krugtron the Invincible') originally comes from a post by Noah Smith. [113]

Remarks on Keynes' sexual orientation

At a May 2013 investment conference in Carlsbad, California, Ferguson was asked about his views on economist John Maynard Keynes's quotation that "in the long run we are all dead." Ferguson stated that Keynes was indifferent to the future because he was gay and did not have children. [114] The remarks were widely criticised for being offensive, factually inaccurate, and a distortion of Keynes' ideas. [115] [116]

Ferguson posted an apology for these statements shortly after reports of his words were widely disseminated, saying his comments were "as stupid as they were insensitive". [117] [118] In the apology, Ferguson stated: "My disagreements with Keynes's economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation. It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life." [119]


In Spring of 2018, Professor Ferguson was involved with College Republican leaders at Stanford to oppose a Left-leaning student take over of the Cardinal Conversations initiative. In leaked emails, he was quoted as asking for opposition research on the student involved. He later apologized and resigned from the said initiative when emails were leaked revealing his involvement in the events. "I very much regret the publication of these emails. I also regret having written them," Ferguson wrote in a statement to The Daily. [120]


Ferguson was an early skeptic of cryptocurrencies, famously dismissing his teenage son’s recommendation to buy Bitcoin in 2014. By 2017, he’d changed his mind on Bitcoin’s utility, saying it had established itself as a form of “digital gold: a store of value for wealthy investors, especially those located in countries with weak rule of law and high political risk.” [121] In February 2019, Ferguson became an advisor for digital asset protocol firm Ampleforth Protocol, saying he was attracted by the firm’s plan to “reinvent money in a way that protects individual freedom and to create a payments system that treats everyone equally.” [122] In March 2019, Ferguson spoke at an Australian Financial Review Business Summit, where he admitted to being “wrong to think there was no … use for a form of currency based on blockchain technology… I don’t think this will turn out to be a complete delusion." [123]

Personal life

Ferguson married journalist Susan Douglas, whom he met in 1987 when she was his editor at The Sunday Times . They have three children: Felix, Freya, and Lachlan. [124]

In February 2010, news media reported that Ferguson had separated from Douglas and started dating former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali. [125] [126] [127] Ferguson and Douglas divorced in 2011. Ferguson married Hirsi Ali on 10 September 2011 [128] [129] and Hirsi Ali gave birth to their son Thomas in December 2011. [130] [131] [132] In an interview in April 2011, Ferguson complained about the media coverage of his relationship with Ali, stating: "No, I never read their shitty coverage of people's private lives. I don't care about the sex lives of celebrities, so I was a little unprepared for having my private life all over the country. So yeah, I was naive, yeah. Because you have to stoop to conquer," – but will never write for The Daily Mail again. "That's because I'm a vendetta person. Yes, absolutely. Implacable." [133]

Ferguson dedicated his book Civilization to "Ayaan". In an interview with The Guardian , Ferguson spoke about his love for Ali, who, he writes in the preface, "understands better than anyone I know what Western civilisation really means – and what it still has to offer the world". [20]

Ferguson's self confessed workaholism has placed strains on his personal relations in the past. Ferguson has commented that:

...from 2002, the combination of making TV programmes and teaching at Harvard took me away from my children too much. You don't get those years back. You have to ask yourself: "Was it a smart decision to do those things?" I think the success I have enjoyed since then has been bought at a significant price. In hindsight, there would have been a bunch of things that I would have said no to. [14]

In an interview, Ferguson described his relationship with the left: "No, they love being provoked by me! Honestly, it makes them feel so much better about their lives to think that I'm a reactionary; it's a substitute for thought. 'Imperialist scumbag' and all that. Oh dear, we're back in a 1980s student union debate." [133]

Ferguson was the inspiration for Alan Bennett's play The History Boys (2004), particularly the character of Irwin, a history teacher who urges his pupils to find a counterintuitive angle, and goes on to become a television historian. [10] Bennett's character "Irwin", writes David Smith of The Observer, gives the impression that "an entire career can be built on the trick of contrariness." [10]

In 2018 Ferguson naturalised as a United States citizen. [134]


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  136. "Brad DeLong : Keynesian Economics: The Gay Science?". 7 May 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2013.

General references