Neil Hrab: Niall Ferguson’s Napoleon Complex

Historians in the News

[Neil Hrab is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C.]

“In the absence of an American strategy [regarding the turmoil in the Arab world], the probability of a worst-case scenario creeps up every day...First the [Arab] revolutions…could turn much more violent…Then they could spark a full-blown war, claiming millions of lives. Worst of all, out of that war could emerge an enemy as formidable as Napoleon’s France, Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Mao’s China.”—Neil Ferguson

...Using Napoleon to try to scare American readers into accepting his foreign policy prescriptions seems almost comical, when Americans know that Napoleon never made war against the US, and through his role in the Louisiana Purchase even made a contribution to America’s westward expansion and future greatness....

Maybe this kind of historical allusion to Napoleon works better in Ferguson’s native Scotland, or in Europe, but it’s hard to see how it would resonate much with an American audience. I think Napoleon scares Americans in 2011 about as much as Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar or Ivan the Terrible - that is, not very much at all....

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