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: What should we be doing?
Ferguson: We should not glorify war. We should glorify peace and the complex procedures – sometimes somewhat demeaning procedures – of diplomacy,and all the techniques that make peace more likely than war.
War is sexy and peace is not. But peace is far preferable. And those who have never experienced war firsthand, as I have not, and I was lucky, unlike my grandfathers, should at least immerse themselves in the study of it to understand better what it means. So that would be the first thing.
The second thing would be to be content with modest rates in material growth; not to crave an exponential growth in one’s individual wealth or national wealth. One has to temper one’s greed in a world of finite resources in which the population grows ever larger. And that’s an extremely important, but again unsexy, word of counsel.
I like people to do boring things. I like them to read books. I like them to study. I like them to garden, to swim. And if human beings could focus on those low risk, non-destructive activities, then we have a chance of preserving civilization for another couple of millennia. But those who thirst after action and instant riches, who prefer jet skis, to swimming to take just one example, those are the people who propel us closer and closer to the abyss.
So we must restrain ourselves. We must live modestly.
Recorded on: Oct 15 2008
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...