What is your counsel?
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: 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
Glorify peace, not war.
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