Hi everyone! I am Niall Ferguson. I am the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard, where I served for twelve years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. I am 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. I have written fifteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize. I am an award-making filmmaker, too, having won an international Emmy for my PBS series The Ascent of Money. In addition to writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times (London) and the Boston Globe, I am the founder and managing director of Greenmantle LLC, an advisory firm. I also serve on the board of Affiliated Managers Group. My new book, The Square and the Tower, was published in the U.S. in January.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/3chnemwo7ni01.jpg

You can find me online here:

EDIT: And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun!

Comments: 212 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

Chtorrr24 karma

What is the weirdest thing you discovered in your research?

thisisniallferguson37 karma

The strange truth about the Illuminati. After all the crazy conspiracy theories, it was really gripping to read about this weird little South German sect of radical Enlightenment thinkers in the 1770s who thought they could infiltrate the Freemasons and undermine Roman Catholicism.

adjective_username16 karma

In your recent interview with Sam Harris, you seemed to sidestep criticisms of Kissinger by saying that if he's a war criminal, then so is Obama, etc. Since this is not a political question but a legal one, and since many of us are perfectly willing to follow you on your point about Obama, what is an actual substantive argument for your lenient stance on Kissinger's actions?

thisisniallferguson9 karma

I haven't begun writing vol. II, so I wasn't side-stepping Sam's question, just making sure I didn't preempt myself. My argument is for consistency. My hunch is that either there are a lot of war criminals who have led the State Department / U.S. government or none, depending on your definition. What seems highly implausible to me is that there is only one, and that is Kissinger. Remember, the main basis for this claim is a really shoddy little book by my old friend Chris Hitchens. He was many things, but a lawyer wasn't one of them.

Biophysicallove13 karma

In your opinion, are we currently living in the death-rattle of Western civilization? If you believe we aren't, what do you think that would look like? Would we even be able to recognise it?

thisisniallferguson34 karma

After reading Andrew Sullivan on the opioid crisis (in New York magazine this week), I almost feel like saying "Yes." I'm also depressed by the lunacy of intersectionality and intolerance on campuses, which is now seeping into the workplace. The only consolation is that the Western civilization has come through rougher patches than this.

pappaitto12 karma

Hi, Niall. Thanks for the AMA. Do you still think Bitcoin is a bubble, at current levels? Why? Do you own any bitcoin?

thisisniallferguson35 karma

No, the bubble was last year. I said last year that the floor when the bubble burst would be around $10,000, and that's where it is. I think it hovers there for a while. I don't think it goes to zero. I bought a small amount at $10,000 just to test that hypothesis. My 18-year-old son was a buyer at $350. He's smarter than me about crypto.

gabepvf12 karma

How much of your time do you dedicate to reading history?

thisisniallferguson20 karma

A minimum of two hours every day, including the work of my students, manuscripts people send me to read, historical articles. I wish it could be more, but I end up doing stuff like this instead!

danielngullotta11 karma

What advice would you give someone on the academic job market in the humanities, particularly in history? What type of networks did you find helpful as a young scholar in landing a teaching and researching job?

thisisniallferguson30 karma

If you're even slightly right-leaning, keep it secret until you have tenure. These days the degree of ideological conformism is even worse than it was in the 1980s, when I was starting out. Then there were still Tory dons at Oxford and Cambridge, whose support was vital to me: notably Norman Stone, Jack Plumb and Maurice Cowling, as well as Jeremy Catto. That was a wonderful network, as they were both brilliant and fun.

Jonnyaus11 karma

Hi Niall,

You defend Kissingers alleged war crimes by pointing to the crimes of other secretaries of state. Aren't you dodging the question of whether or not Kissinger himself committed war crimes in Indochina?

thisisniallferguson18 karma

Read volume II. First I need to write it. The book will at least have a consistent definition of "war crimes."

cobbs_totem10 karma

Hi Niall, I listened to your interview with Sam Harris on his podcast and really enjoyed the material. One of the things you predicted about the Trump presidency is that you believed conservatism would ultimately serve as the casualty of this administration. How have political ideologies, such as conservatism, transformed in the past under populist presidents? Furthermore, we have groups such as evangelicals that seem to be in a similar network and predicament by throwing their support behind Trump. Do you also believe evangelicals could be a casualty of this administration, as well, and how do you see this transformation as played out by history? Thanks again for your time!

thisisniallferguson25 karma

Yes: Buckley conservatives and Evangelicals risk real contamination from the association with Trump. He's as unprincipled a human being as has ever entered American political life. If he fails, the damage could be generational. Yet there's no certainty that he'll fail. And if he succeeds with the economy and foreign policy -- which I don't rule out -- then the Republican party will find it very hard to disavow him. And those who argued "Anyone who can beat Clinton" will be vindicated. I take Maurice Cowling's view of politics, that at the highest level it's only subliminally about ideology. Trump's real significance is that he's a wrecking ball directed against the established liberal hierarchy in DC.

Pseudo-Sapien10 karma

What is the most important truth that very few people agree with you on?

thisisniallferguson22 karma

  1. Recently: That Angela Merkel has been a disaster for Germany.
  2. For many years: That the benefits of the British Empire outweighed the costs.

AerisLives88 karma

Thank you for doing the AMA! I wrote a term paper on The Pity of War in college and thoroughly enjoyed your challenges to the conventional wisdom about WWI—I’ve even read the book a second time independent of any course work.

Do you consider yourself to be a historical contrarian? If so, at what point in your education and/ or career do you think you realized this? What do you think has led you to view many historical events and phenomena differently from other historians and commentators?

thisisniallferguson17 karma

Worth reading / seeing The History Boys by Alan Bennett on this. I was always taught to challenge conventional wisdom when writing history essays. Otherwise, why bother? So the conventional wisdom on the First World War was just sitting there waiting to be challenged: that the war was a tragedy, but somehow inevitable. The Pity of War is a direct assault on that. Probably teaching the subject at Oxford pushed me further along the contrarian path. Students would come in with essays that said the same old thing, and my job was to ask: "Are you sure about that? What if Britain had simply stayed out?"

lavender_goom8 karma

In "The Square Tower" you show that top-down and bottom-up are simply networks with different topologies. When you think about economic history, it seems evident that some kind of Hayekian combinatorial bottom-up process reigns supreme (i.e. Google in a garage). However, inside many of the most successful technology companies, there is a very deliberate top-down command-and-control style of leadership.

Do you have to specify your "level of analysis" when making the distinction between "top-down" and "bottom-up"? For instance, in my example the economy of Silicon Valley is bottoms-up while at the company level things are top-down.

EDIT: Fixed typo in book title :-)

thisisniallferguson9 karma

That's a great question. The problem in the Valley is now that FANG / GAFA / The Four Horsemen have way too much money and are increasingly hierarchical in structure (an inevitable consequence of their scale). The startups in the garages are now just bidding to get big enough to be bought by them, while trying to avoid just being sucked dry of engineering talent (the more common fate). So the structure of the Valley is very different from the way it was in the 1990s. Moonshots by the Big Four seem to me less likely to produce real breakthroughs than a more distributed network of innovation.

thisisniallferguson7 karma

And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun!

JimmyTheOtherCat7 karma

What is your opinion of the various Rothschild conspiracy theories?

thisisniallferguson11 karma

See introduction to my The House of Rothschild. They're mostly rubbish, and often anti-Semitic rubbish.

bravado6 karma

It seems like so many of our problems and the rapid rise in political and ideological polarization in 2018 comes from a real lack of History in education. How can we make this a priority (in the west, I suppose) and give historians some confidence again?


thisisniallferguson7 karma

I agree 100%. But academic history has to earn public respect, and most history departments seem intent on doing the opposite. That is why I am hosting a conference on Applied History at Stanford tomorrow.

AerisLives85 karma

Can you talk a little bit about your political transition from Glasgow-born to Thatcherite / Romney supporter? In a similar vein, would you ever work for a presidential administration here in the states?

thisisniallferguson4 karma

That happened at Oxford. I was a Labour supporter in 1979. Then I went down South and met English socialists -- boarding school boys who wanted the miners to go on strike -- and I was appalled. I quickly realized the smartest and funniest people at Oxford were Thatcherites (like my old friend Andrew Sullivan). The rest is not quite history. As for working for an American administration, I am not yet a citizen, so can't.

loose_skittles5 karma

With Dodd-Frank repeal or revision an increasing possibility, do you have any thoughts on the value of that legislation? It's hard to find reliably sensible commentary amid the political debate where reps on both sides may be pandering towards special interests in their arguments.

thisisniallferguson15 karma

I am writing an update to the Ascent of Money which will tear into Dodd-Frank as a really badly designed mess that didn't address more than a tenth of the causes of the financial crisis. Should be out in September.

miseducation5 karma

Hi Niall, just got introduced to your work on Sam Harris podcast and I've got a few books in the mail as a result of it. Cheers to that.

As a result of the congressional deadlock of this decade and increasing unpopularity of the American congress, do you think we'll see a major shift in the structure of American politics in our lifetime? Will America ever shift away from the deeply unpopular two parties and is there a historical precedent for that?

And I guess tying that all together, do you think major political change can happen in a prosperous country without a war or major economic disaster?

thisisniallferguson10 karma

Can a new party ever arise in the US? History says yes and I expect to see it in my lifetime. The Independents are out there. They just lack leadership and resources. The good news is that change can come without war, though it generally needs an economic shock to happen. The better news is that we've already had both. I think Trump may prove to be a gateway to the kind of change many of us would welcome. I think that's more likely than the "American Tyranny" scenario of Tim Snyder et al.

abcs264 karma

Thanks for the AMA, Niall. Looking forward to reading the Square and the Tower.

There are two broad views of the future of China, from what I can tell. There's a Graham Allison view, wherein China's meteoric rise as a great power will cause friction and perhaps war with the United States, and a view like Michael Auslin's, wherein China's growth is deceptive and we may see a backslide in the Middle Kingdom's power.

Putting aside the question of which one is right, which view of China's future is more problematic from the view of the United States, or for global security and stability in general? A confident and aggressively growing China, or a backsliding insecure China? Which one do you think is more likely?

thisisniallferguson12 karma

Graham's thesis is looking good as Xi Jinping becomes ever more Kaiser-like and foreign policy ever more Weltpolitik-like. On my last visit to China, I thought how right Kissinger has been to compare our time to the pre-1914 period. There is a new over-confidence in Beijing which is like Berlin circa 1900. But I think Auslin may win in the end. Behind the cult of Xi there's a potential for Gorbachev-like disaster. The worst time for a bad regime is when it tries to reform itself. If they try to deal with their over-leveraged economy, it's going to get interesting. Or if they get drawn into a shooting war, which they're not ready for.

tigerphil34 karma

Hi Niall, thanks for doing this!

Where are you putting your own investment money to work today? Bonds? Stocks? Real estate? EM? ETFs? And why?

thisisniallferguson11 karma

Now they want free investment advice on Reddit! Seriously, you have to have diversification at a time like this. Big inflection point in markets, probably further hits to bonds and stocks are coming. So all of the above except ETFs.

catmeow3214 karma

Will China become the second superpower in our lifetime? I'm 28 years old.

I'm a big fan of all your work. Wish you appeared in news interviews recently more often!

thisisniallferguson4 karma

It's already happened. The question is: Can it get to be #1 before you're my age (53)?

GeraldBrennan4 karma

Niall! Former history undergrad here. (USMA '99.) I really enjoyed The Pity of War and felt it was very sound; I also really really enjoyed The Ascent of Money, especially the part about insurance and nationalizing the risk pool. What would you change about the U.S. healthcare/health insurance system if you were in charge? And what realistic changes do you think we should shoot for?

thisisniallferguson11 karma

The whole system is a ghastly mess. Insurance based on employment makes no sense, it's a complete anomaly. But revolutionary change won't work. So we need to use technology (including blockchain) to disintermediate or at least weaken the rent-seekers (the big insurers) and cost-raisers (big pharma).

adjective_username4 karma

Were you the author of "Blood Cotton", the anonymous review of Edward Baptist's book which was withdrawn from the Economist? It is widely rumoured to have been written by you.

thisisniallferguson3 karma


wlfnmn4 karma

Hi Niall,

I read The Square and the Tower and enjoyed it very much. In the book you only mention cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin and Ethereum) towards the end. Can you elaborate on what you think the possible futures of cryptocurrencies are for business as usual? Could you also give your opinion on the potential for smart contracts to disrupt traditional fiat currencies such as the US dollar? Do you think national governments are beginning to worry about cryptos competing with their own established currencies?

thisisniallferguson3 karma

Hard to answer briefly. I don't think cryptocurrencies are either encrypted or money. Blockchain has a big future as the new platform for smart contracts and record-keeping. But I don't think fiat currencies need to be replaced by a blockchain based money. It will only happen if, say, China decides to do it in order to eliminate cash and have completely indelible records of all transactions.

eib10004 karma

Do you think Facebooks power and reach has peaked?

thisisniallferguson12 karma

It's getting close. But we're not quite there yet. "Short Facebook" will be an epic trade for whoever times it right.

neopanz4 karma

On the immigration front, you have Japan, whose birth rate is as low as some European nations, yet decided it would rather shrink its population than open itself to more immigration and with it the risk of losing its identity. Do you think Japan’s policy is suicidal or could it be a model for countries in Europe?

thisisniallferguson5 karma

In effect, Hungary is going down the Japanese road, Germany is taking the opposite course. These may prove to be alternative methods of suicide. The way to happiness is to have five children. People in wealthy countries can afford this. They should get on with it.

clausewitzeatzass3 karma

Who’s been the most influential historian in your career? Most overrated? Most underrated?

And why is Cambridge better than Oxford?

thisisniallferguson8 karma

  1. A.J.P. Taylor. He could write.
  2. Richard J. Evans.
  3. Maurice Cowling. With Oxford it was like marriage. With Cambridge it was a passionate affair.

lawsonian3 karma

Will you eventually write about the 7th killer app for the book Civilisation's next edition?

thisisniallferguson17 karma

Yes, but I can reveal now that it's alcohol.

immortalhand283 karma

In a previous answer, you said you believe the benefits of the British Empire outweighed its costs for a long time. Can you talk more about this? Benefits/costs for whom?

thisisniallferguson7 karma

For humanity. The argument is there in Empire, as well as in other works (The Cash Nexus, Colossus, Civilization -- also War of the World). I have a paper that I never published that pulls the economics together, but I decided it was futile as the post-colonial types aren't interested in quantifying welfare or considering counterfactuals (which you have to do).

AbydocomistPsyche3 karma

Are all Freemasons the same or are there imitators and different types of Freemasonry?

thisisniallferguson3 karma

All shapes and sizes, but every formally constituted lodge has some connection to the masonic tradition as it evolved in the British Isles between the 16th and 18th centuries.

watevergoes3 karma

What have you previously written about that you have since changed your mind about?

Love your work by the way.

thisisniallferguson5 karma

I got the US macro trends wrong in 2009-10. I quite quickly corrected myself, but wrote a couple of pieces that were wrong about the direction of interest rates and inflation, and my enemies will never let me forget it, nor will they ever acknowledge how quickly and openly I changed my mind.

jwpolk23 karma

What do you think about the networks formed by media companies such as Disney? It seems that these networks have quite a bit of power (maybe even a sinister amount of power). How does this form of network fit into the overall premise of your book?

thisisniallferguson5 karma

Disney is quite an old kind of network: a centralized content producer, with roots in the golden age of Hollywood. I think the future of content will be different, because the Internet creates a Darwinian environment of constant innovation and experimentation, with obscure people becoming stars by going viral online. Disney will still churn out its musical cartoons, but I think it's share of total entertainment diminishes.

NCPokey3 karma

Hello Niall, a big fan of your work. Even if I don't always agree, I always find your arguments interesting.

In light of your work on the legacies of the colonial era, I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the recent vote to expropriate land from white farmers in South Africa?

thisisniallferguson5 karma

It worries me, but I haven't yet seen the small print. History generally gives very low marks to most expropriations of land, because of the effect on rule of law of direct attacks on property rights, as well as the inefficiencies that arise when you break up big units. But there are ways to get this kind of thing right. Hernando de Soto would be the person for the South Africans to consult.

jonkyerlich3 karma

Hey Niall, thanks for the AMA. Huge fan here!

Do you know about stablecoins (crypto)? What do you think about them?


thisisniallferguson5 karma

I think a stablecoin may be an example of oxymoron. Price stability is itself a kind of fantasy. Changes in prices are vital signals to all economic actors. Why should the average of all price changes be zero percent? Whatever standard you pick, be it gold, bitcoin or something else, its relationship to all tradable goods and services will not be static over the short or medium run. The example of the C19th gold standard shows that.

eumaximizer3 karma

When I was a post-doc at Oxford, I was told by the landlady that you used to live in the flat that I rented from her. She said that you had gone through some bad break up or something at the time and got lots of flowers and also that her husband agreed with you about monetary policy. Did you have a good time living there despite the apparently horrible break up? And any advice for a young academic just starting his first tenure-track job?

thisisniallferguson3 karma

I have happy memories of Oxford in those days, despite the inevitable romantic ups and downs of my twenties. And if we're thinking of the same flat, it was a lovely flat! My advice is to expect romantic ups and downs. Post-docs and early-stage academics are at the bottom of the food-chain and very few boy- and girlfriends understand how hard you have to work and how little you get paid!

GiraffeAnd3quarters3 karma

How can network organizations avoid being misunderstood as hierarchies?

I'm part of a startup founder network. We're absolutely a network -- we connect people, but we can't tell anyone what to do. But occasionally we get written about in the press like we secretly control everything, and various organic trends are all part of our master agenda.

Some of the organizations you discuss in the book, like the Illuminati, actively encouraged people to think they were all-powerful puppet masters. That proved to be a costly PR blunder for them when the governments felt threatened. We're not making that mistake, but I wonder what else you can recommend to network organizations to avoid being misunderstood by outsiders as hierarchies?

thisisniallferguson7 karma

I recommend minimum transparency over secrecy. It took Bilderberg ages to realize that being secretive only encouraged the cranks. So tell people what you do. But exclude the media from all that you do.

DeontologicEthics3 karma

I had the chance to drive through the ChangBai mountains, on the border of China and North Korea. The rate of development was surprising; massive powerlines intersect the border and the roads are flooded with freight trucks. The trip got me expelled from a department of state program, but was illuminating nonetheless.

In your mind what would be the 'Kissinger method' for countering China's geopolitical leverage wrt North Korea? And given his recent visits with the Trump administration, do you see any meaningful action taken?

thisisniallferguson5 karma

I can't say more than that he's offered his advice and they're more receptive than the Obama people, who thought they were so smart they didn't need his advice. Clearly, pressure on Beijing has led to much tougher sanctions on Pyongyang and they are being squeezed as never before. But the US will get nowhere by saying: "You be tough with NK and we'll be lenient on trade with you." That's been Trump's approach and it's wrong.

Africanus19903 karma

What does Russia want with the Trump administration and vice versa? I keep hearing that they’re both populist but Putin is a strongman from the top down and Trump’s policies seem to favor the very very rich. Neither seems particularly “populist” to me.

thisisniallferguson7 karma

Oligarchy is the key word here. Trump campaigned as a populist, governs like an oligarch. Each relates to the other. Putin however has a goal beyond making money: he wants to weaken the West and restore Russian power. I'm against that.

Throbbing_Smarton3 karma

What's the wrongest pronunciation of your name you've ever heard?

thisisniallferguson5 karma


bennzo12383 karma

Hi Niall, many thanks for doing this AMA.

What do you think will cause the next recession? (In the UK)

thisisniallferguson12 karma

The Fed. Or the People's Bank of China.

ObiwanKinblowme3 karma

What advice do you have for the younger historians attempting to take this route as their passion and careers?

thisisniallferguson6 karma

Read, read, read. Learn as many tricky languages as you can. And choose a PhD subject that a) can illuminate some present problem b) is technically difficult so you have minimal competition.

queenjohnson2 karma

Whats up Niall! Big fan of your work!

I'm curious to hear any strategies you have when wanting to learn about some topic, and how you go about finding work that is accurate and not overtly bias. How do you gauge it's validity?

I enjoy your work particularly bc you delve into topics with the understanding that there's good and bad things about everything and everyone.

thisisniallferguson15 karma

Doing history well is all about the ratio of pages you read to pages you write. For many books it's close to unity. I shoot for 1000:1. There's no substitute for being comprehensive. It's only by reading as much as possible that you are able to screen out the garbage and identify the quality research -- the stuff based on deep archival research. And then you go to the archives yourself.

blowuptheoutsidewrld2 karma

Ive mainly been interested in science but want to start learning more about history. Any book recommendations or resources to get started?

thisisniallferguson4 karma

Ernst Gombrich's Little History of the World.

thisisniallferguson6 karma

And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun.

blowuptheoutsidewrld2 karma

Are you familiar with Jordan Peterson? He claims Universities have been taken over by social justice, particularly the humanities, and that History is one of the diciplines that has been corrupted by post modern neo-marxist. Do you have any thoughts on the state of universities and/or predictions for the future?

thisisniallferguson10 karma

I don't know Jordan Peterson, but I admire what he is doing. Along with Jonathan Haidt and a growing number of courageous professors, he is part of a fightback against academic illiberalism with which I would also identify myself. Last week, I welcomed Charles Murray to Stanford just to make the point that free speech is real here. I may not agree with all he says, but I'll defend to the death his right to air his views, which are deeply researched. The same goes for people on the left. Cornel West is coming to speak at the same series in October. We don't agree on a whole range of issues, but that's not the point. I want to hear views I think I disagree with.

A-John2 karma

Hello Niall. I really enjoyed your biography on Kissinger. How’s volume two coming along?

thisisniallferguson12 karma

Research is 85% done. Book should be done inside three years. But it's an historiographical Everest in terms of the volume of material, not to mention the harsh climate at the top. The conventional wisdom on Kissinger (that he is an evil war criminal) is an article of religious faith for a generation of liberals.

Fantasytempoi2 karma

Hi Niall,

Im a big fan of your work and it’s great to see you here spending your time answering questions.

What do you make of the UKs Brexit strategy or lack thereof? If you were in charge of negotiations what level of engagement would you like to see with the EU. Or are you in favour of dropping out to WTO rules.

thisisniallferguson4 karma

I've written a lot on this for the UK Sunday Times / Boston Globe. I was against Brexit, but I see why people voted for it. The ultimate relationship is probably going to be Swiss-style, but without Schengen. The transition will need to be protracted, however, as leaving the Single Market will be costly. Going to WTO rules would be an economic hammer blow, as those who advocate must be aware. Pursuing "hard" Brexit is the shortest road available to a Corbyn government.

aatx12282 karma

In your recent book, did you research, find or include any networks or groups of note in the recent history of Latin America or that emerged during Spanish colonization?

thisisniallferguson5 karma

Yes, there's a bit on that. For example, I see the conquistadores as a network (like the Portuguese explorers), who successfully took over existing American systems of governance, most obviously in Peru. There's less on more recent history, though I follow it closely. Watch the role of social media in Brazil and Mexico this year!

Niallags2 karma

Hi Niall,

Appreciate all of your scholarly efforts!

Which current global leader has the best grasp of 'big picture' politics?

Also my goodness did you see the rugby last week? I was fortunate enough to be at Murrayfield - was a tad taken with patriotic fervour.


thisisniallferguson6 karma

I'd day Wang Qishan. He's about to come back to the foreground of Chinese politics. A serious historical thinker and formidable strategist. On rugby, I was there too, with my eldest son and it was one of the happiest days of my life. The final minutes, as "Flower of Scotland" filled the air, were unforgettable. But I remain a believer in the Union. Part of the fun of being both British and Scottish is that we can give vent to all that national sentiment, and then head off to work down in London with no hard feelings. Hats off to the English fan in front of us who turned round and shook our hands at the final whistle. That was the true spirit of Six Nations rugby!

Noxate2 karma

Hello Professor Ferguson,

What are your views on the end goal of the wave of right-wing populism that has spread across the world? Do you think any actions taken by Orban in Hungary or Kaczynski in Poland will produce any legislation or changes in the political structure that will be difficult to reverse if these countries return to a more liberal democracy?

thisisniallferguson11 karma

I think this is all a bit overblown, with all due respect to my colleague Larry Diamond. The "wave" hasn't actually changed the political structure of all that many countries, any more than the recent wave of left-wing populism fundamentally changed Latin America. The key issues are always: Can they change the constitution? Can they politicize the judiciary? Can they rig the next elections? If it's just legislation, then it's nearly always reversible. I am less pessimistic about Hungary and Poland than the consensus view.

bullseye51 karma

Hey Niall. I always read your books because they provide two things: a personal touch to go with the information (I like how you start your sections with someone involved in the history's perspective, maybe through a letter, and go from there) and always a clear argument to be mulled over while reading.

Sometimes, though, I read your books and am overwhelmed by the amount of info. How do you recommend readers of history go about tackling history books? Read first and last chapter's first, read intro and conclusion chapter sections first, read first and last sentence of paragraphs first, or go straight through like a novel?

Hopefully this makes it up there.

thisisniallferguson8 karma

Great question. Most people who are close to my kids in age have concentration issues because of all the messages, emails, alerts in their lives. So a bit of mental fitness helps: get your brain to read faster and in a more focused way -- like taking your head to the gym. Then read ruthlessly. If it's boring, skim. Read intro, then conclusion, then dip. If it's good, you'll get drawn in. If it's not so good, you can be done inside half an hour and know all you need to know. A total lack of respect for authors is important. The truth is that most books don't deserve more than half an hour of your life.

OtoriShigeru1 karma

Would you consider your histories factual?

thisisniallferguson4 karma


forava71 karma

During your research, which time-period were you most shocked about?

thisisniallferguson7 karma

Reading about the violence of 16th and 17th century wars of religion was the big shocker in The Square and the Tower. But nothing can match what I described in War of the World: the horrors of total war on the Eastern Front. That was hell on earth.

WizardSleeves1180 karma

In the modern political context, and maybe drawing on your knowledge of some historical examples, how exactly can a government or society counter negative social engineering and radical ideas in a free and open society without trampling over first amendment rights?

A lot of people recently will accuse people who have conservative views of being Russian trolls. I guess my question is, in the hypothetical case that say a huge surge in conservative views was an act of some sort of foreign influence, how could a government or power counter it ethically? How can you counter division and radical ideas from the governmental level (as is often discussed with recent events) without trampling over free speech?

thisisniallferguson2 karma

Regulation of all political advertising exists for TV and newspapers. It didn't exist for the Internet in 2016. That needs to change. If those ads had said words to the effect of "Sponsored by the Russians," they would have been far less effective.

irishbarista0 karma

Hi Dr Ferguson,

Im blown away by your academic career! What’s your latest book about?

thisisniallferguson1 karma

Networks versus hierarchies throughout human history. Official title "The Square and the Tower." Revealing subtitle: "Networks and Power from the Freemasons to Facebook."