Niall Ferguson: visionary or crank?

Historians in the News

Niall Ferguson is among Britain’s most valuable exports – a feted international academic with seats at Harvard, Stanford, the Harvard Business School and the LSE; he has also had spells at Oxford and Cambridge. His tomes sell in their millions; his TV shows are an engaging mix of self-confidence and charm. It’s a multi-media combination that consistently places him on lists of 'influential people’ across the globe. Everywhere except for Britain, where he's seen as a neo-conservative oddity.

It's sometimes said that the British, unlike the French and the Americans, mistrust public intellectuals. But the careers of Richard Dawkins, A. J. Ayer, Bertrand Russell and A.J.P. Taylor say otherwise. Even the truly odious Hugh Trevor-Roper was more loved than feared. Why, then, is Ferguson reviled rather than revered?

Naturally, envy plays its part. Basking in the bright lights of New York was never going to endear him to Britain’s mustier or grasping academes. But envy is only a constituent of contempt. Ferguson's style is bumptious. He carries himself with the brash deportment of a nabob – a self-regarding parvenu who has absolute certainty in the merit of each and every one of his opinions.

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