Niall Ferguson: How will this age be remembered?

Niall Ferguson: Well the only ever has been one age of empire, and it began with the dawn of civilization. All of history is the history of empires. There really isn’t much else.

There’s prehistory, and we can try and work out what non-literate hunter-gathers thought, but it’s a tough assignment.

But history is the study of what we sometimes call civilization. It’s the study of life in settlements, very often life in cities. And it doesn’t go much further back than 4,000 years ago. Now for most of the 4,000-year period, the historians concern themselves with when they are writing about civilization, the main political actors are empires, and they dominate the life of the historian. Because empires are so much better at generating evidence, enduring documents, enduring architecture than other politicss. They just last longer, and they build more, and they write more.

So the notion that there is such a thing as a discreet age of empire that isn’t coterminous with the history of civilization is, of course, absurd. There’s no point in the history of civilization when there wasn’t at least one empire, and usually there were more, competing, all coexisting in ignorance of one another’s existence.

In our time there was a wonderful illusion which was generated by thinkers on the left – not only Marxists but also radical liberals – that a thing called imperialism had come into existence quite recently, as recently as the 19th century, and in the 20th century it died, or was going to die. This was the central hypothesis of Jay Hopson of Lenin, and of generations of writers on the left.

But imperialism is something different. Imperialism is a term of abuse that you throw at empires. Empires are always with us. And even when imperialism was proclaimed to be dead, after World War II, both the reigning empires that emerged victorious - the Soviet Union and the United States – carried on behaving like empires. They accused one another of being imperialists, but they themselves both operated very much as empires.

So I don’t think the age of empires is likely to end, unless you think civilization is going to end. And that I wouldn’t rule out.

 

 

Recorded on: October 31, 2007

All of history is the history of empires.

Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Water may be an inevitable result of the process that forms rocky planets

New research identifies an unexpected source for some of earth's water.

Surprising Science
  • A lot of Earth's water is asteroidal in origin, but some of it may come from dissolved solar nebula gas.
  • Our planet hides majority of its water inside: two oceans in the mantle and 4–5 in the core.
  • New reason to suspect that water is abundant throughout the universe.
Keep reading Show less