Niall Ferguson on Why We Study History

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While the modern historical ethos can be obsessed with condescending to the past based on our current value system, Scottish-born historian Niall Ferguson has aimed to set himself apart with his willingness to examine the past in its own context. The result is some wildly unpopular opinions such as “The British Empire was good, actually” and several wildly popular books, such as his latest Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.

Niall joined Tyler to discuss the difference between English and Scottish pessimism, his surprise encounter with Sean Connery, what James Bond and Doctor Who have in common, how religion fosters the cultural imagination to produce doomsday scenarios, which side of the Glorious Revolution he would have been on, the extraordinary historical trajectory of Scotland from the 17th century through the 18th century, why historians seem to have an excessive occupation with leadership, what he learned from R.G. Collingwood and A.J.P. Taylor, why American bands could never quite get punk music right, Tocqueville’s insights on liberalism, the unfortunate iconoclasm of John Maynard Keynes, the dystopian novel he finds most plausible, what he learned about right and left populism on his latest trip to Latin America, the importance of intellectual succession and building institutions, what he’ll do next, and more.

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Thumbnail photo credit: Zoe Law

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