The End of History?
Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard, where he served for 12 years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. He is also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.
He is the author of 14 books. His first, Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation 1897-1927, was short-listed for the History Today Book of the Year award, while the collection of essays he edited, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, was a UK bestseller. In 1998 he published to international critical acclaim The Pity of War: Explaining World War One and The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. The latter won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award.
His latest book is The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (2017).
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 believes that if we destroy human civilization, we certainly destroy history.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.
- Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
- Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
- The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.