Though aspiring to neither colonialism nor conquest, Ferguson believes that America does indeed control an empire, defined by the "soft power" of economic muscle and liberal democratic idealism. But despite overwhelming military, economic, and cultural dominance, America has had a difficult time imposing its will on other nations, mostly because the country is uncomfortable with imperialism and thus unable to use this power most effectively and decisively.
Ferguson contrasts this persistent American anti-imperialistic urge with the attitude held by the British Empire, and suggests that America has much to learn from that model if it is to achieve its stated foreign policy objectives of spreading social freedom, democracy, development, and the free market to the world. He believes that liberal imperialism is the necessary political-military complement to economic globalization, and that empire is needed as a means to "contain epidemics, depose tyrants, end local wars and eradicate terrorist organizations." He believes the sooner America embraces this role and acts on it confidently, the better.
Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard University and senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, was born in Glasgow in 1964 and graduated with First Class Honors from Magdalen College, Oxford. Ferguson's previous books include The Pity of War (1998), The World's Banker: The House of Rothschild (1998), The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000 (2001), and Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (2004). A prolific commentator on contemporary politics, he writes and reviews regularly for the American and British press.
Niall Ferguson's Athenaeum lecture is cosponsored by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, and the Athenaeum.