I had my nose in Niall Ferguson's newest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, at every possible moment during my recent trip to Hong Kong and Singapore. It's powerful and very, very timely, and I strongly recommend it. To help get the word out, I asked Niall for a short, somewhat personal piece on the thinking behind the book – in other words, what moved him to write it?
What you're going to find in the piece below for this week's Outside the Box, as well as in the book, is an author who is very concerned about our civilization's prospects – and unafraid to say so. I mean, the last time I looked, "saving the world" had gone distinctly out of fashion. And then, and then, we all grow up and get pretty focused and incremental about things: if we can just address the problem or three right in front of us, we're reasonably content.
But leave it to a Harvard history professor to break out of the box and go tilting at the big picture. And when you think of it, we're all pretty concerned at this point, however we frame the issues. Everywhere we turn, it seems, we find the forces of polarization and dissolution gnawing at our social fabric, and Yeats' fateful line about the center not holding starts to feel uncomfortably prophetic. Maybe it's about time we all thought bigger and worked harder at getting along, while we still can.
Niall turns to a notion put forth by the social scientist Charles Murray, who has called for a "civic great awakening" – a return to the original values of the American republic. We could do worse.
I want to congratulate Niall and Ayaan on their new baby, Thomas Hirsi Ferguson! May he grow up in a world that is flourishing.
Your holding out hope for our future analyst,
There is a debate in academic circles on the lessons of the current economic crisis. While most ivory tower debates are of little concern to our daily affairs, this debate should concern you, as it will inform those who hold central bank and political power. Remember, there is no playbook of rules for what to do in deflationary, deleveraging recessions. They are making it up as they go along.
Today we have a short essay by Niall Ferguson published last week in the Financial Times. It speaks for itself, and you should take a few minutes to read it.