Niall Ferguson’s historical perspective

Janet Tassel in Harvard Magazine:

Niall_at_oriel Here is an image calculated to ruffle the feathers of all red-blooded Americans:

Consuming on credit, reluctant to go to the front line, inclined to lose interest in protracted undertakings: if all this conjures up an image of America as a sedentary Colossus—to put it bluntly, a kind of strategic couch potato—then the image may be worth pondering.

This charge of unfitness for duty has been laid at our doorstep by the lively young Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, Harvard’s (relatively) new Tisch professor of history and Ziegler professor of business administration. And he is far from done with us: “Consider…the question of peacekeeping. It has become abundantly clear that the United States is not capable of effective peacekeeping—that is to say, constabulary duties.” He clarifies his position:

Unlike most European critics of the United States…I believe the world needs an effective liberal empire and that the United States is the best candidate for the job.…The United States has good reasons to play the role of liberal empire, both from the point of view of its own security and out of straightforward altruism. In many ways too it is uniquely well equipped to play it. Yet for all its colossal economic, military and cultural power, the United States still looks unlikely to be an effective liberal empire without some profound changes in its economic structure, its social makeup and its political culture.

“All I mean,” continues Ferguson in his controversial book Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire (2004), “is that whatever they choose to call their position in the world—hegemony, primacy, predominance or leadership—Americans should recognize the functional resemblance between Anglophone power present and past and should try to do a better rather than worse job of policing an unruly world than their British predecessors.”

More here.