Historian hits out at critic

June 11, 2004

Niall Ferguson, the controversial British historian, launched a seething attack on fellow academic Martin Jacques and The Guardian during the Hay Festival last weekend.

The professor of financial history at New York University, soon to move to Harvard University, reacted strongly to the publication of a critical review of his new book, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire , on the day of his high-profile contribution to the literary gathering.

Saturday's Guardian article, written by Mr Jacques, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics' Asian research centre and former editor of Marxism Today , dubbed Professor Ferguson a "super-imperialist" who "loses his sense of reality in dreaming of empire".

While praising some aspects of the book, Mr Jacques said those sections that dealt with the US and Iraq were "more like propaganda than a sober piece of historical writing".

Professor Ferguson told a festival audience of more than 800: "I don't resent Martin Jacques' incomprehension. I pity it."

He ridiculed the choice of Mr Jacques as an appropriate reviewer for Colossus .

Professor Ferguson went on to accuse The Guardian , which sponsors the festival, of systematically misrepresenting his arguments and refusing to acknowledge the balance of his work for the past two years.

He put this down to "politically motivated malice".

Professor Ferguson said his book was an "extremely hard-hitting critique of the US" but that "for all its flaws and manifest defects, the American empire may be preferable to the available alternatives.

"When Guardian writers and their ilk take up their pens to denounce this empire, when they direct their fire at anyone who defends American power, they forget there are worse things than empires, there could be a worse fate for the world to being dominated by the US, for all its faults," he said.

While he predicted the occupation of Iraq was almost certain to end in ignominy, with the US looking for impossibly quick fixes, he suggested that if American influence over the Middle East was lost, the consequences would be dire.

Not least, he hinted at a global dark age of anarchy with al- Qaeda sympathisers taking power in Saudi Arabia.

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