This year’s BBC Reith lecturer will be British historian Niall Ferguson.
Professor Niall Ferguson’s Reith Lecture 2012 series, entitled The Rule Of Law And Its Enemies, demonstrates that historical change in the modern period -from economic growth to democratization - has been driven mainly by institutions: those complex, man-made organisations that lie somewhere between great men and impersonal historical forces.
Prof Ferguson’s lectures aim to push beyond notional ideas about the success of capitalism and democracy over the past two centuries, especially in the years since the Cold War. He will deliver the lectures in London, Edinburgh and New York, with audience contributions from the Middle East.
Gwyneth Williams, Controller, BBC Radio 4, says: “Who better than Niall Ferguson, an eminent historian with a global perspective, to take on this year's Reith Lectures in these extraordinary times. Everywhere, it seems, in almost every discipline, old certainties are being fundamentally challenged and we seem prisoners of fast-unfolding events. Niall's lecture series cuts through this surface, examines the nature of our institutions and finds in them a defining role. I am delighted to commend these lectures and our lecturer, Niall Ferguson.”
In his first lecture, The Human Hive, Prof Ferguson will take as his starting point a graffito on a wall in post-Gaddafi Libya which roughly translates as: “We want a constitutional role and for the president to have less authority and the four-year presidential term should not be extended.” This sounds bizarrely precise as a revolutionary slogan. But, Prof Ferguson argues, whoever wrote it had the right idea. Overthrowing a dictator and holding elections are necessary but not sufficient steps towards a free society. The devil lies in the constitutional detail.
In his second lecture, The Darwinian Economy, Prof Ferguson reflects on the causes of the global financial crisis, and erroneous conclusions that many people have drawn from it about the role of regulation. Is regulation in fact “the disease of which it purports to be the cure”?
The Landscape Of Law is the title of the third lecture, which examines the rule of law in comparative terms, asking how far the common law's claims to superiority over other systems are credible. Are we living through a time of creeping legal degeneration in the English-speaking world?
Prof Ferguson's fourth and final lecture, entitled Civil And Uncivil Societies, focuses on institutions outside the political, economic and legal realms, whose primary purpose is to preserve and transmit particular knowledge and values. Is the modern state quietly killing civil society in the Western world? And what can non-Western societies do to build a vibrant civil society?
Niall Ferguson says: “It is an immense honour to be asked to deliver the BBC Reith Lectures. Nothing better exemplifies Lord Reith's belief that the BBC should broadcast educational as well as entertaining content. To look at the roll of previous lecturers is to feel a certain trepidation. It's quite an extraordinary club to be asked to join.”
Ferguson, born in Glasgow, is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. The author of a dozen books, he specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of empires. Ferguson has written and presented many major television series, most recently China - Triumph and Turmoil.
The Reith Lectures 2012 will be recorded in June and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service from June to July.
To sign up for the podcast go to: bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/reith
Follow @BBC_Reith on Twitter to find out more about this year's lectures and share thoughts by using #Reith
Notes to Editors
• The Reith Lectures 2012 will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 9am on Tuesday June 19, 26, July 3 and 10 and chaired by Sue Lawley.
• The Reith Lectures 2012 will also be broadcast on BBC World Service and bbcworldservice.com
• John Reith, the BBC’s first Director-General, maintained that broadcasting should be a public service that enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. It is in this spirit that the BBC each year invites a leading figure to deliver a series of lectures on radio. The aim is to advance public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest.
• The Reith Lectures began in 1948. The very first Reith lecturer was the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who spoke on Authority and the Individual.
• The BBC has published 60 years of audio archive and transcripts of the Reith Lectures, with more than 240 Reith Lectures available to download as podcasts. The Reith Lectures archive website bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/the-reith-lectures/archive/ includes philosopher Bertrand Russell, who delivered the first series of Reith Lectures in 1948.