Niall Ferguson Speaks on Siegmund Warburg – 10-5-10

Niall Ferguson brings Siegmund Warburg to the Ethical Culture Society


Richard J. Garfunkel


Last night at the Ethical Culture Society, which is located at 2 West 64th Street, right next to Central Park, the New York Historical Society hosted Professor Niall Ferguson. In front of a sold out audience of very attentive listeners, Professor Ferguson, who is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, along with being the William Ziegler Professor at the Harvard Business School, is a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford and a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University, again was incredibly mesmerizing and informative.


All of his recent books have quite entertaining, readable and also extremely informative. They are also sitting right on my desk!


We first heard Professor Ferguson at Barnard College in April of 2009. At that time he was able to bring some clarity to the issue regarding the recent collapse of our financial institutions. In his book, The Ascent of Money, he carefully chronicled how the capitalist system, led by banks, insurance companies and Wall Street finally choked on its insatiable appetite for leveraging debt.


Meanwhile I had first become aware of Niall Ferguson through the reading of his massive book, The War of the World, 20th Century Conflict and the Descent of the West.  Since I have been a World War II buff since the age of twelve, I always have had keen interest in new perspectives on that titanic conflict. Professor Ferguson chronicles and explains the causes of that cataclysmic event by tracing its roots from the early days of the 20th Century and the October Revolt of 1905, through the conflicts arising in the Balkans to the surrender of the Axis forces in 1945 and the ensuing Cold War. He brings to an end this “War of the World” with the Korean War Armistice, signed on July 27, 1953.


In his book he contends that the Second World War was a “central act of an epic fifty-year struggle between rival empires.” He concludes his book with the idea that the culmination of this struggle was not just an unprecedented victory for the Western Allies, but the start of “inexorable shift” in the global balance of power toward the East.


From the rise of totalitarianism in Germany, a consequence of what Oswald Spengler called the “Decline of the West,” emerges, a new type of financier emerges in the body of young Siegmund Warburg, the scion of an old European banking family. Niall Ferguson tells the unique story of this former outcast and refugee from Germany, who narrowly escaped the jackbooted brigands of Nazi Germany, without much of a pfennig to his name. His book is the story of how Siegmund Warburg established a high moralistic tone to his own bank S.G. Warburg, and helped re-build financially war-torn and ravaged Europe. According to Professor Ferguson, it is this unique “Warburg” style, which is sorely missing from today’s generation of international bankers and financiers.


After his lecture and the following “question and answer” period, I was able to talk to Professor Ferguson, and invite him to be on The Advocates. I told him that his colleague, and fellow British historian Andrew Roberts, author of Masters and Commanders, was on my show in August and it was incumbent on him to match his appearance.


Hopefully, Professor Ferguson will have some time in the next few months to join my show. In the meantime, see if you can get at least one of his books, they make great and informative reading. Also, make an effort to get down to the NY Historical Society’s lecture series. The museum is currently undergoing a massive renovation, and the lectures are being held at various venues. We would also love some company!

Born in Glasgow in 1964, he was a


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