Are We Done with Ferguson?

I’m not sure how to deal with Niall Ferguson. On one hand, he’s an atheist and married to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which I guess makes him part of the New Atheist movement. On the other hand he’s written a great deal of high- and middle-brow crap in the past few years. Key example is his article attacking President Obama, which generated a cottage industry of economists debunking it and forced Newsweek to admit that they don’t fact check.

Ferguson entered the public sphere by writing a two-volume history of the Rothschilds, which was scrupulously researched and well received. That work gave him a great deal of credibility among historians.

Since then he’s produced a number of works that were increasingly political and decreasingly researched. He’s got the same pro-imperial attitude that was so irritating in Christopher Hitchens, but he doesn’t have Hitch’s wit to back it up. He wants the US to take up the white man’s burden and seems distressed that we don’t want to make the sacrifices necessary to give him the Empire he waxes nostalgic for.

He also seems to be drinking from the well right-wing of slander. Just recently he was asked a question about John Maynard Keynes. He responded with a slur:

Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated.

This is apparently a bit of pop-psychology that is found among conservatives. Never mind the absurdity of it, Brad DeLong points out that Ferguson misunderstands Keynes completely. That should be it; Ferguson should have to backtrack and explain how he misread Keynes’ whole economic argument. Instead, he’s issuing waffling apologies about how this was an off the cuff remark that he shouldn’t have made.

As far as I’m concerned, Ferguson has now spent whatever capital he had as a historian. I’m starting to hope that he storms off in a huff and goes back to Britain.

The Great Commoner
So Long, And Thanks For All The Memories (From Dan)
The Dome Overhead
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
  • Andrew Hall

    I saw that Dawkins had tweeted about the something was going on with Ferguson. However, I didn’t know exactly what was up.

  • Custador

    Pfff. You keep him, we don’t want him back.

  • Rick

    It’s a horrible comment to make and a bad debating tactic, but surely the man should be judged by everything he’s done in his life and not just one statement? It’s a bit like people dismissing Richard Dawkins because they didn’t like his ‘Dear Muslimah’ letter. Everyone says dumb stuff now and then, especially in the heat of debate. Since he’s apologized, that should be the end of the matter.

    • Denis Robert

      He isn’t. He’s being judged on the whole of his work for the past 10 years or so, where he’s become nothing more than Rush Limbaugh with a degree. Ferguson has been bloviating, fact-free and argument-free, about subjects far outside his sphere of expertise (such as Economics), and is now at best a shell of his former self, a simple-minded shill for substance-free conservatism.

  • Jeannieinpa

    Oops, this is a photo of Keynes, not Ferguson.