Niall Ferguson Succumbs To Hackery Again

Many of you have probably read or heard about Harvard professor Niall Ferguson’s “cover article” at Newsweek with the deep, intellectually provocative title: “Obama’s Gotta Go.” (Actually, the print cover title is even more philosophical: “Hit the Road Barack.”)

You can read it yourself if you want, or peruse any number of savage takedowns (from Krugman to Dayen to Lemieux, whose post title “Hacktacular” pretty much sums up the reaction). But what’s remarkable is that a major U.S. publication has given a renowned historian and tenured Harvard professor six gazillion words to make a political point and he’s produced something that pretty much reads like Fred Barnes or Jennifer Rubin on an off day.

This is not, unfortunately, anything new for Ferguson, who has constantly struggled between serious scholarly aspirations and the temptation, to which he has again and perhaps terminally succumbed, to play the public intellectual in the laziest possible way. Veteran readers may remember a profile on Ferguson, based on an extended interview with the man himself, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the June 2004 issue of the Washington Monthly, when Ferguson was spending most of his time trying to convince U.S. conservatives to hang tough on the Iraq adventure and maintain the dream of American Empire. Wallace-Wells’ kicker is especially interesting today:

Ferguson told me he was regarding his forthcoming move to Harvard as a retreat to the ivory tower, as a chance to start doing archival work once more. “The House of Rothschild was really my best book,” he told me, “and it was that because I actually did dusty-fingered research in the archives–that’s where the real breakthroughs always happen, anyway.” Since he quit archival work, his histories have suffered; they tend to sprawl out of control, and hunt down evidence to support his guiding theories. If he does return to the stacks, it may eventually give him a way to rebuke those who think that his true talent to date has been for sloganeering and publicity, not legitimate scholarly breakthroughs. But it will not undo the damage his ideas about empire have helped to bring about.

Looks like Ferguson instead decided to use his cushy perch at Harvard to pursue sloganeering and publicity sho’ nuff, and to do more damage to his adopted country.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.