by Peter Franklin
Monday, 2
August 2021
Spotted
08:00

Is Niall Ferguson planning to start a university?

The historian says he won't write any more books
by Peter Franklin

My podcast recommendation of the week is Tyler Cowen’s conversation with historian Niall Ferguson. The whole interview is worth a listen, but the most intriguing bit comes right at the end.

Ferguson is currently promoting his latest book Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.  This will be followed by the conclusion to his Henry Kissinger biography. But after that, no more books.

Ferguson tells Cowen that “I’m not sure that anybody really reads books anymore, at least not all the way through.” Trying to change people’s minds with “500-page volumes” is a “fool’s errand” he says.

So, at the grand old age of 57, what does he plan to do instead? The most important thing he can do in the remaining part of his life is what he calls “intellectual succession planning.”

He doesn’t say so directly, but it sounds like he wants to found a new kind of university (or perhaps re-found the old kind). “Academic life,” he says, “has gone off the rails in ways that I never would have imagined in the 1980s when I was starting out.” As a result, he believes that we “urgently need new institutions”.

He’s right. The long march of the woke Left through our legacy institutions, means that we need refuges for free speech and untrammelled thought. New media outlets are an obvious example, but scholarship is as important as journalism. We need new academic institutions too.

Ferguson doesn’t tell us exactly what he has in mind, or who his allies and backers might be, but there’s no doubting the importance of this mission.

Two words of warning though:

Firstly, we don’t need a ‘right-wing university’. Rigorous scholarship and open debate should be the key principles, not ideological conformity. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here, we just need institutions that respect and uphold basic intellectual freedoms in the manner in which our universities once prided themselves.

Secondly, the goal should be as much to avoid the bloated bureaucracy of modern academia. A new university isn’t just a chance to do without wokeness, but also to strip out the unnecessary costs of the existing system. A challenger institution will need to be lean to survive anyway, but that’s not the only reason why we need to disrupt the economics of the established model.

Institutions that spew out leftwing ideology while loading up their students with enormous debts deserve to be disrupted. If it takes a conservative like Niall Ferguson to teach them a lesson in social justice, then so be it.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
9 months ago

You don’t want a “right wing” university? It depends. That’s the trouble with catch-all terminology. Is it not inevitably “right wing” these days to value to free speech, free enquiry and the rules of reason on which they are based? Much of the modern left is in thrall to authoritarian relativism; rebel against that and you are automatically, as far as they are concerned, on the conservative side, which wishes to preserve the Enlightenment legacy; which would like to appreciate and pass on the products of European culture. And to some extent, the conflict they have ignited has revealed, in its flickering flames, the fact that these are indeed “anti-revolutionary” wishes and whether you like it or not, of the “right”. So don’t allow false shame and finicking scruple to trip us up. The fight is on; it is a fight with a newly millenarian, young, metro-left which has access to most of the levers of power. It is pursuing the old “revolutionary” goal of alleged “transformation” by means of force, albeit that force is softly coercive for the most part and for now. So let them call us “right”; indeed, let us examine whether the authentic, old right had or has a point – is “equality” a good? Is nationalism beneficial? Do we inherit intelligence? Even to ask the questions is now heresy. So let us do so without reference to the hysterics of millenarian radicalism and their jargon; and let us get on with it fast. Time is running very short.

Last edited 9 months ago by Simon Denis
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
9 months ago

Firstly, we don’t need a ‘right-wing university’. Rigorous scholarship and open debate should be the key principles, not ideological conformity. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here, we just need institutions that respect and uphold basic intellectual freedoms in the manner in which our universities once prided themselves.

Those very precepts are considered right-wing in academia. I’m a doctorate student and have taken classes where I’ve heard professors literally say that ‘objectivity’, ‘free speech’, and ‘due process’ are right-wing constructs. You have no idea how deep this mind-rot has penetrated into the Western mindset. When colleges went commercial, they no longer could afford to upset students by challenging their dim-witted world views. Instead, professors whose employment prospects depended on good student evaluations, grinned and nodded along with every brain-sickly thought their students espoused. What we have now are generations of moralistically authoritarian young people who are have never been corrected. They have no spiritual or religious core through which they can relate to those different to themselves and, as such, act like little gods over others. The new gender ideology is a prime example of that: narcissistic self-hatred and a refusal to accept God’s will.
The scary thing about this is that governments are now endorsing this ideology (and others like it e.g. Critical Theory) in order to tyrannize the majority and limit their ‘right-wing’ free speech. This effectively outlaws any criticism of government diktats.
We drastically need to get rid of left- and right-wing labels. These obfuscate what is really going on within academia which is that a deeply illiberal, authoritarian and totalitarian ideology has been, and is still being, taught to young people. They are now graduating college and about to take over the reigns of our governments and corporations. Their professors have cultivated a deep and abiding self-righteous hatred within them which is just waiting to be released over others. It’s probably already started with the hatred being directed toward people who are reluctant to take a COIVD vaccine.

Last edited 9 months ago by Julian Farrows
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
9 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

it is all a bit like Germany in the 1930’s – ie if our educators had the gonads to stand up for the fundamentals of their profession none of this eternal compromising could have happened cf Persig et al.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
9 months ago

There is of course the University of Buckingham – the firsts brick was laid by Thatcher herself – but it is hardly known in the UK. Better promotion of that place would be a good starting point.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
D Ward
D Ward
9 months ago

The “problem” with the Uni of Buckingham is that it is private, so you do have to pay “full fees” (not the subsidised amount of £9,500). For example, the medical course is about £40K a year from memory.
So it is out of reach for a lot of people.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
9 months ago
Reply to  D Ward

It is also out of the reach of politicians.

And you can get a bachelors in 2 years, useful in IT for example.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago

“Firstly, we don’t need a ‘right-wing university’.”

Firstly, we do need a ‘right-wing university’. And secondly too, and a bunch more as well. We need whole systems of Right Wing universities. People studying engineering, maths, science, and also History, classics, Literature, Philosophy, Theology, without the insanity of them all be utterly corrupted with lies, distortions, bigotry, anger, censuring, redacting, ‘updating’ re-writing, and such. Also ones free of Thought Crime, where thinking is allowed, and speech is free, and platforming of different thinkers is allowed.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

What we don’t need is Left Wing Universities.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
9 months ago

“I’m not sure that anybody really reads books anymore, at least not all the way through.” 
What a thing to say; I always have a book on the go. Revealing my true intellectual level, I’ve just started reading ‘ The biscuit: the history of a very British indulgence” by Lizzie Collingham, which is excellent, and I will certainly finish.
Look, these professors who complain about the current state of universities probably won’t found new institutions, but what they can fairly easily do is have a website where they list the books, in their field of expertise, they think we should read. I would appreciate such guidance.

CJ PA
CJ PA
9 months ago

Do you know what “biscuit” means?

Cat Fan
Cat Fan
9 months ago

Good for him. Incidentally, I am reading Doom right now, it is very entertaining and I recommend it. His tech metaphors are a little much for me, but I always appreciate his ability to weave literature into his books – I have certainly gone on to read more than work of fiction after he has referenced it.
As for a ‘right-wing university’, I guess it depends on your definition of right wing. For too many of those on the left these days “Rigorous scholarship and open debate should be the key principles, not ideological conformity. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here, we just need institutions that respect and uphold basic intellectual freedoms in the manner in which our universities once prided themselves.” IS right wing.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
9 months ago

It seems to me that what is required in British universities is an equivalent to Ofsted. These institutions have been so corrupted by wokism and are now so divorced from their original intentions that nothing but a root and branch reformation will do starting with Cambridge. I’m certainly not averse to Niall Ferguson starting a University, but I think our present ones ( of which there are too many ) should be reformed and that will require government action.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
9 months ago

I doubt any proposed “right wing university” would ever get a warrant to award degrees. The left control all the levers of the state and would never allow any such university to exist. Without degree conferring rights it’s hugely unlikely such an institution would ever get airborne. It’s ironic that the left are aware that the world is choking to death, but they would rather die themselves than admit that they are the ones choking it. Their solution to every problem is more leftism. How’s that been working out for the last sixty years?

Last edited 9 months ago by Francis MacGabhann
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
9 months ago

It would be called a Right-Wing University whatever intentions you had. That would quickly slide into “far right” then “white supremacist”.
The first problem would be avoiding capture by leftists. Then you would end up in the same kind of quandary as Australia’s Ramsay Centre https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jun/26/ramsay-centre-for-western-civilisation-wouldnt-guarantee-academic-autonomy-anu-says .
For most leftist academics in Humanities subjects, which appears to be somewhere above 90% of them (or else the non-leftists are just remarkably timid) , the river of cash from philanthropists or subscribers for a new institution would be irresistible and as soon as they’re established, they would set about turning it into a leftist institution.
Even better, one that the left wing media can quote as right wing in the name of balance.