Wed, 19 May 2021

6:30 pm - 7:30 pm BST

Niall Ferguson – The Politics of Catastrophe

In Conversation With Matthew d’Ancona

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Drawing from multiple disciplines, including history, economics, public health and network science, Niall Ferguson joins us for a global post mortem of the plague year.

Disasters are by their very nature hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all. Yet the responses of a number of developed countries to a new pathogen from China were badly bungled. Why?

The facile answer is to blame poor leadership. While populist rulers have certainly performed poorly in the face of the pandemic, more profound problems have been exposed by Covid-19. Only when we understand the central challenge posed by disaster in history can we see that this was also a failure of an administrative state and of economic elites that had grown myopic over much longer than just a few years.

Why were so many Cassandras for so long ignored? Why did only some countries learn the right lessons from SARS and MERS? Why do appeals to ‘the science’ often turn out to be mere magical thinking?

Drawing on preoccupations that have shaped his books for some twenty years, Niall Ferguson joins Matthew d’Ancona to describe the pathologies that have done us so much damage: from imperial hubris to bureaucratic sclerosis and online schism. Covid-19 was a test failed by countries who must learn some serious lessons from history if they are to avoid the doom of irreversible decline.

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Niall Ferguson

Historian, Author and Broadcaster

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain’s most renowned historians. He is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. His most recent book is The Square and the Tower.

Matthew d’Ancona

Award-winning journalist and author

Matthew d’Ancona is an award-winning journalist and author. He is an Editor and Partner at Tortoise Media, and was previously Editor of The Spectator, lifting the magazine to record circulation. He has written columns for the Evening Standard, Guardian, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, GQ, and the International New York Times. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London, and was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1989. He has two sons and lives in London.