Niall Ferguson is a Scottish-born historian, political commentator, and public intellectual. He is also the Lawrence Tisch Professor of History at Harvard. Ferguson graduated from Magdalen College and studied for two years as a Hanseatic Scholar in Hamburg and Berlin. Before joining the Harvard faculty, Ferguson taught at Oxford University and New York University.
A prolific commentator on contemporary politics and economics—he came out in favor of the Iraq War in 2003—Ferguson is a contributing editor for the Financial Times and publishes regularly elsewhere in the British and American press. In 2004, Time magazine named him one of the world's hundred most influential people. Ferguson is the bestselling author of the popular histories The Pity of War: Explaining World War One, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, and The War of the World. Ferguson splits his time between the United Kingdom and the United States.
Question: Have we reached the end of history?
Niall Ferguson: Well there is an end of civilization that isn’t difficult to imagine because civilization hasn’t lasted that long in the great scheme of this planet’s history. And it is a fragile thing which is constantly pushing the earth’s resources to their limits as the population rises toward the 9 billion mark; as the challenges of energy utilization become ever more daunting; as the risks of climate change grow; and more importantly as the risks of war grow larger, larger in the sense that weaponry has never been more destructive than it is today. Then we certainly now have the capability to destroy human civilization. And if we destroy human civilization, we certainly destroy history.
So the end of history is conceivable, but it didn’t happen in 1989 as Francis Fukuyama famously suggested. Because what he meant by the end of history was the triumph of one model of social organization – namely the model of western, liberal, capitalist democracy.
Well I think even then it was a pretty heroic assumption that that model was going to prevail and become the only model in town. It’s become an even less credible hypothesis since 1989. Clashing civilizations have come along and spot the story. But it seems to me that this is a use of language. Though it made for a great article title, the end of history can only really happen when civilization ends, and men and women cease to be able to record their deeds because that really is the sine qua non for history.
Recorded on: Oct 31 2007
Niall Ferguson: I’m constantly struck by the levels of historical ignorance that I encounter. In rooms full of very well-paid financial professionals, nobody appears to have read any of the major works of...