Niall Ferguson is a prolific public intellectual who has made a career out of shattering shibboleths. At various points he has defended the achievements of the British Empire, argued that the United Kingdom’s entry into the First World War was “the biggest error in modern history,” and made the case at length that Henry Kissinger is a misunderstood idealist.
Ferguson is at it again. In a recent op-ed, he takes on what he describes as the prevailing “myth of the liberal international order.” This piece appeared in China’s Global Times, a pugnacious nationalistic tabloid published by the official People’s Daily. It is not surprising, then, that the view it presents happens to conform quite closely with the official Chinese Communist Party line. It is also, in important respects, mistaken and misleading.
According to Ferguson, the notion that a liberal international order was created at the end of World War II by far-sighted British and American statesmen determined to avoid “the terrible mistakes of the 1930s and 1940s” is “a fairy tale” and “a historical fantasy.” Rather than “a truly international order,” what emerged after the war was a “bipolar order” that divided the world into “two empires.”