BBC 2012 Third Reith Lecture: The Rule of Law

John Curran

Prof Fergusson

The Aspen Institute Photostream

In Naill Ferguson`s third Reith Lecture the Professor focuses on the evolving nature of Anglo-American common law a comparative exercise allowing him to refer to alternative legal jurisdictions, most notably China where no separation of power or independent judiciary exists. In the West argues Ferguson the rule of law has degenerated into the rule of lawyer`s, especially in the USA, which was once the gold standard other legal jurisdictions measured themselves by the “United States was the rule of law” according to Professor Ferguson.The halcyon days Ferguson identifies are difficult to reconcile with America`s constitutional arrangement built on the premise that African-Americans were three-fifths human, the so called compromise of 1787. Jefferson author of the `Declaration of Independence` was also a slave owner and as Malcolm X quipped “we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us”.  Indeed, women were also denied the vote prompting the Seneca Falls Convention 1848 to campaign for democratic rights a goal not achieved until 1920 a measure excluding African-American women living in the Deep South.   Read more of this post

2012 Reith Lecture: No More Heroes Anymore

John Curran 

Image © The Aspen Institute

Professor Niall Ferguson is giving this year`s BBC Reith Lecture. The initial talk examined the impact of the Glorious Revolution of 1688; an event leading to a constitutional settlement grounded in the notion of an inclusive pluralist state underpinned by the rule of law.

Professor Ferguson unapologetically makes the case for the Whig view of history seeing 1688 as the catalyst for political and economic freedom which saw Britain ultimately become the Workshop of the World. It is argued that the revolution of 1688 ended arbitrary rule resulting in the establishment of “inclusive rather than extractive institutions”. This he argues becomes an institutional template for sound governance exported around the world (a benevolent aspect of British imperialism) which according to Ferguson is key to understanding why the West advanced.

Western decline on the other hand is a result of “institutional malaise” leading to the unacceptable sovereign debt in Greece, Italy, Ireland, UK and USA.  Ferguson argues we must move beyond the jaded debate about austerity versus stimulus and instead concentrate on the issue at the heart of the problem the breach of a social covenant that Edmund Burke described as the “partnership between the generations”.  What is now required is new transparent forms of public accountancy which will identify the intergenerational impact of fiscal policy.

It is the breach of Burke`s covenant that allowed previous generations to spend the inheritance of those not yet born, lumbering individuals in the future with massive debt, huge tax bills or alternatively cuts in public expenditure resulting from the profligacy of the past.

Professor Ferguson`s speech has a right wing Republican flavour especially when he observes that young Americans should if they “knew what was good for them” vote for the Tea Party. But he argues younger voters do not cast their ballots in a self serving direction because they are duped into supporting an agenda that is shaped by an older politically savvy generation.  Read more of this post


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