Historian Niall Ferguson named 2012 BBC Reith Lecturer

Niall Ferguson Image copyright Dewald aukema
Image caption Glasgow-born Prof Niall Ferguson is a renowned economic historian currently teaching at Harvard University

The BBC has named the renowned economic historian Niall Ferguson as the 2012 Reith Lecturer.

The lecture series titled 'The Rule of Law and its Enemies' will explore the influence of man-made institutions on global economic growth and democracy.

Radio 4 controller Gywneth Williams says she is "delighted" to appoint Prof Ferguson - "an eminent historian with a global perspective."

Prof Ferguson says it is "an immense honour" to be chosen as Reith Lecturer.

The Glasgow-born Harvard professor who specialises in cultural and financial history, as well as the history of colonialism, went on to say:

"Nothing better exemplifies Lord Reith's belief that the BBC should broadcast educational as well as entertaining content than the lectures names after him.

"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."

The Reith Lectures were first broadcast in 1948 and were presented by the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

They were named in honour of the BBC's first director-general, John Reith, who maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation.

Last year, the Reith Lectures were given by the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the former director-general of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams says of Prof Ferguson's lectures:

"Everywhere, it seems, in almost every discipline, old certainties are under fundamental challenge and we seem prisoners of fast-unfolding events.

"Niall Ferguson's lecture series cuts through this surface, examines the nature of our institutions and finds in them a defining role."

A global view

Prof Ferguson has titled his Reith Lectures series 'The Rule of Law and its Enemies'.

The first lecture, which is to be recorded at The London School of Economics, is titled 'The Human Hive'. It is inspired by a graffito written on a wall in post-Gaddafi Libya that 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."

Prof Ferguson argues that while this may sound bizarrely precise as a revolutionary slogan, 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, he says, and Prof Ferguson will look inside the human hive of the modern state to show how small, seemingly technical differences in constitutional arrangements can have profound consequences.

The second lecture, titled 'The Darwinian Economy', will be recorded in the United States at The New-York Historical Society.

Prof Ferguson will reflect on the causes of the global financial crisis, and conclusions that many people have drawn from it about the role of regulation - Prof Ferguson will ask if financial regulation is "the disease of which it purports to be the cure"?

The third lecture, titled 'The Landscape of Law', will examine the rule of law in comparative terms, asking how far the common law's claims to superiority over other systems are credible.

Prof Ferguson asks are we living through a time of creeping legal degeneration in the English-speaking world?

The fourth and final lecture, 'Civil and Uncivil Societies', will be recorded at The Royal Society of Edinburgh. It will focus on institutions outside the political, economic and legal realms, whose primary purpose is to preserve and transmit particular knowledge and values.

Prof Ferguson asks, 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 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.

He is the author of a dozen books and has written and presented many major television series, most recently China: Triumph and Turmoil for Channel 4.

In 2004 he was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. He is currently a weekly columnist for Newsweek and a contributing editor for Bloomberg.

The first of Prof Ferguson's Reith Lectures will broadcast at 09:00 BST on Tuesday, 19 June on BBC Radio 4 followed by further broadcasts on the June 26 and July 3 and July 10.

The lectures will also broadcast on the BBC World Service and will be available to download.

Last year, BBC Radio 4 made over 60 years worth of Reith Lectures archive available to the public via its website and two Reith Lectures archive podcasts.

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