Part 1: The Rothschild Network and the Rise of Niall Ferguson

By Will Banyan
Copyright © 11 November 2014

Within days of the tragic events of 9/11 Niall Ferguson, then a Professor of Political and Financial History at Oxford, wrote in The Independent (Sep. 13, 2001) about his hope that the terrorist attack would change the “American psyche” and end the “illusion of separateness” in which “Americans subconsciously feel themselves to be in a planet of their own.” Though sceptical that US President George W. Bush would “draw the right conclusions for US foreign and defence policy”, Ferguson nevertheless advised that it would be “wrong” to pursue the terrorists through the courts, instead,

this is the moment – and it will not last long – when the US can and should take decisive military action against those rogue regimes which have for too long harboured and financed terrorism. Top of the hit list must be Saddam Hussein, closely followed by the Taliban government in Afghanistan. I should be sorry if Colonel Gaddafi were to escape unscathed. Whether or not one or all of them gave their backing to this particular attack does not especially matter. They are dangerous – not least to the people of the countries they despotically rule [emphasis added].

Some twelve years on and much of Ferguson’s “hit list” has been achieved: Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi have not only been violently deposed – they are dead; the Taliban have also been expelled from power, though their leader, Mullah Omar, remains at large.

As for the Professor, his fortunes – both professional and financial – have risen. In 2002 he left Oxford to become the John E. Herzog Professor in Financial History at New York University (NYU). This was followed in 2004 by his current appointment as Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  In 2010-2011 he took a year’s leave from Harvard to become the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics (LSE). He has published at least nine books in the past decade, with his next book, a “warts and all” biography of Henry Kissinger, due to be published (after considerable delays) in late 2015. He is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and a columnist for Newsweek. Ferguson has also written and presented a number of television documentaries to coincide with some of his books and has reportedly become, especially for an academic, quite wealthy with an annual income estimated (in 2010) at £5 million (Daily Mail, Feb. 10, 2010).

Ferguson has also become a very influential and well-connected figure on the world stage. In 2002, for example, not long after taking up his position at NYU he was reportedly “summoned to Washington twice, once each by the Departments of Treasury and State, where he explained his convictions to policymakers; in Foggy Bottom, he met with [Secretary of State] Colin Powell…” (Washington Monthly, June 2004). He was invited to address the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) twice in 2003 and has authored no less than six articles in the CFR’s journal Foreign Affairs. In 2004 Time magazine included him in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world today; and he was ranked 80th in Foreign Policy magazine’s 2010 list of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers”.  Ferguson has participated in three Bilderberg meetings, attending in 2009, 2010 and 2012.  He also sits on the board of the British think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies and is reportedly an “unofficial adviser” to UK Prime Minister David Cameron (Daily Mail, 7 Feb. 2010).

Ferguson’s resume is impressive, but what has aided his rise? Professor Stephen Howe from Bristol University, writing in opendemocracy.net, has argued Ferguson’s successful entre into elite circles is attributable to two factors. The first is the fact Ferguson is “immensely hardworking, prolific, and talented”, as well as “exceptionally productive”, evident in the torrent of books, articles, lectures and television programs bearing his name. The other reason, according to Howe, is that Ferguson promotes the sort of ideas that “some immensely powerful people, want to hear.” Howe’s analysis is accurate, but in common with many profiles of Ferguson, it stops short of identifying which “immensely powerful people” have helped to propel the professor into his current lofty orbit. Another famous academic, Henry Kissinger, was aided in his path to the White House by the support of an elite patron, the plutocratic presidential aspirant Nelson Rockefeller; but who has helped Ferguson?

It is the contention of this article that Ferguson’s entre into the ranks of the trans-Atlantic power-elite was aided in large part by the English Rothschilds, a relationship that was established through his well-received authorised history of their family, The House of Rothschild (1998). This was one of those occasions where the “Rothschild connection” was real and it helped. Although Ferguson has gone on to acquire new and more prominent patrons among the US power-elite, his friendship with key members of the British branch of the Rothschild dynasty has been the linchpin for the professor’s progress into the heady realms of the trans-Atlantic plutocracy.

The Authorised Version

For those aspiring to transcend the limits imposed on their ambition, because of the limitations imposed by their class, religion or race, an elite patron can be the key to escaping the chains of mediocrity and the threat of lifelong obscurity, or worse. In the case of Ferguson’s latest biographical subject, Henry Kissinger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, his ambitions for greatness were realised thanks to a number of patrons and mentors in the Army (Fritz Kraemer), Harvard University (William Elliott and McGeorge Bundy) and later at the Council on Foreign Relations. But it was the patronage of the plutocrat Nelson Rockefeller, the Governor of New York, frustrated Presidential aspirant and future Vice-President, which was to prove critical to Kissinger’s entry into the White House as Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser.

According to Walter Isaacson, Kissinger and Rockefeller formed a “long-lasting odd-couple relationship”, after meeting at a conference on national security issues that Nelson had convened in 1955 at the Quantico Marine Base (Kissinger: A Biography, p.90) Kissinger went on to serve as Rockefeller’s key foreign policy adviser, providing support to his two ultimately failed attempts in 1964 and 1968 to secure the Republican presidential nomination. But Rockefeller’s political failures were not to Kissinger’s disadvantage. As Kissinger friend (and convicted felon) Conrad Black has noted, “his relations with Nelson Rockefeller gave him some repute in the wings of the American political community” (Richard Milhous Nixon: The Invincible Quest, p.544). It was partly because of the profile he had gained as Nelson’s foreign policy adviser (as well as their similar views) that Nixon asked him to join his government. And when Kissinger left the Rockefeller stable to join the Nixon Administration, Nelson gave him a parting gift of $US50,000 (Kissinger, p.92),

Ferguson also had modest, albeit middle class, beginnings: his father was a doctor with the National Health Service and his mother was a physicist, and they lived in a flat in Glasgow, Scotland. Though educated at Oxford he was reportedly frequently penniless and for a time supporting his academic research in Germany, which later formed his 1995 book Paper & Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation, 1897-1927, by moonlighting as a journalist for the Daily Mail. It was in the early 1990s that Ferguson returned to Oxford to write his history of the Rothschild dynasty, his magnum opus The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. It was that massive book (subsequently republished in two volumes: The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets, 1798-1848; and The House of Rothschild: The World’s Banker, 1849-1999) which established his relationship with the English Rothschilds.

There should be, from the outset, no mistaking the fact that Ferguson’s The House of Rothschild was an “authorised” history of the famous banking family; in fact numerous family members were involved in its development. As Ferguson relates in the Preface, the idea for the book came from Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, then chairman of N.M. Rothschild & Sons “who originally suggested that the writing of a history of the firm would be a good way to mark the bicentenary of his great-great-grandfather Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s arrival in England” (House of Rothschild, Vol.1, p.xv). Also playing a role as “match-maker” was the publisher Lord George Weidenfeld, whom Ferguson credits with suggesting to him that he “might like to write this book” (ibid, p.xvi).

Weidenfeld has had a long association with the Rothschild family and in 1996 he established, with Lord Jacob Rothschild, the “Club of Three”, which formed the nucleus of what is now the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). As its founder Weidenfeld, a director of N.M. Rothschild, retains a role as Chairman of the ISD’s Board of Trustees; while the Rothschilds continue to be involved in various capacities. For example, Lynn and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild have provided financial support to the ISD (ISD Annual Review, 2008-09, p.29) and were participants in the ISD’s 2007 M100 Sassouci Colloquium on “The East West Media Bridge”; while Lord Jacob Rothschild hosted a dinner for the 2010 launch of the ISD’s Humanitas Visiting Professor Program (ISD Annual Review, 2010-11, p.24).

But that was not the end to Rothschild involvement with Ferguson’s work on the authorised history of their family. Numerous members of the Rothschild family, specifically Miriam Rothschild, Baron Guy de Rothschild, Lionel de Rothschild, and Emma Rothschild, personally reviewed Ferguson’s manuscript (House of Rothschild, Vol.1, p.xv). Ferguson later is at pains to “state explicitly that those members of the Rothschild family who read parts of the early manuscript were not acting as censors” (ibid, p.xvii). Nevertheless there was a formal agreement that allowed them to comment on his work and, at the same time, restrict his access to the archives to a specified time period:

From the outset, it was formally agreed that I would be entitled to quote freely from any material in the Rothschild Archive in London predating March 1915 (the date of the 1st Lord Rothschild’s death)… It was also agreed that N. M. Rothschild & Sons would have the right to comment on the manuscript (ibid; emphasis added).

A number of Rothschild family members also agreed to be interviewed by Ferguson including: Lord Jacob Rothschild, Edmund de Rothschild, Leopold de Rothschild and Baron David de Rothschild (House of Rothschild, Vol.1, p.xv). But what is not mentioned by Ferguson is that his work on The House of Rothschild was heavily subsidised by the Rothschilds. They paid part of Ferguson’s advance and had an agreement with Lord Weidenfeld to pre-purchase 5,000 copies, because it was not expected to be a big seller (The Times, Nov. 23, 1998). According to the Telegraph (16 Feb. 2001) it was “rumoured” that Ferguson had received a £500,000 advance from the Rothschilds.

Picture Perfect

Despite these conditions The House of Rothschild was hailed in both academia and the mainstream press as the landmark study of the Rothschild dynasty, not least because of Ferguson’s unprecedented access to the Rothschild archives. It was an “ambitious, detailed and well-written history of the key members of a remarkable family”, according to Foreign Affairs (March/April 2000, p.159); “a scholarly achievement of tremendous magnitude”, noted The Business History Review (Autumn 2000, p.486); and “an impressive contribution to the literature of the Rothschilds”, declared The History Teacher (November 2000, p.129). The American Historical Review (April 2002, p.607) commended Ferguson for “his thoroughness and his exhaustive use of correspondence of the entire family network.”

In the New York Times the first volume was praised for its “authoritative detail” and for being “absorbing” (Dec. 20, 1998), while the second volume was “a pleasure to read” as well as “brilliant”, “instructive” and “positively engaging” (Jan. 23, 2000). The left-wing New Statesman (Nov. 20, 1998) praised Ferguson’s “sober and balanced history.” Professor Fritz Stern, a renowned expert on German history at Columbia University, gave a gushing review in The New Republic (Feb. 8, 1999). Stern noted that with his unique access to the Rothschild archives, Ferguson had been “offered a treasure trove–and he has had the discipline and the intelligence to place this gold in its historical setting.” Moreover, Ferguson “writes impeccably, and with empathy.” Stern’s overall assessment was glowing:

This is a major achievement of historical scholarship and historical imagination. Ferguson’s work reaffirms one’s faith in the possibility of great historical writing.

With such accolades The House of Rothschild went on to win the 1998 Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award.

Also pleased with the book, given their role in paying his advance, controlling his access to the archives and editing his manuscript, were the current generation of Rothschilds. We know this because in 2000 Emma Rothschild, one of the reviewers of Ferguson’s manuscript, in her then role as Chairman of the Rothschild Archive Trust, publicly hailed Ferguson’s “brilliant use of private, uninhibited, sometimes quasi-encrypted correspondence between the Rothschilds, their wives and their children, throughout the 19th century” (Rothschild Archive, Review of the Year, April 1999-March 2000, p.1).

But The House of Rothschild also presents us with a paradox in that it continues to be celebrated by many of Ferguson’s most vociferous critics on the blogosphere as by far his best work. For example, Steven Marche at Esquire (Aug. 21, 2012) lamented:

…Niall Ferguson, once upon a time, was the best. I’m one of the few people who has actually read his history of the Rothschilds, The World’s Banker, all 1,040 pages of the thing, and it is brilliant, a model of archival research. I find it fantastically depressing that the man who could write that book could end up writing a book like Civilization….

Indeed, most of his books since those heady days have been dismissed as glib, polemical works that focus on generating controversy rather than delivering historical insights worthy of a Harvard professor. In short, The House of Rothschild is considered sober and academic, while everything else since then – his books, op-eds and television series – are seen as little more than platform to parade his political biases and penchant for showmanship.

It would be, however, a mistake to think The House of Rothschild was not shaped by Ferguson’s conservative-Thatcherite political views. On the contrary, his biases serve to frame the prodigious information he extracts from the Rothschild Archives. Though not a blatant hagiography in the mould of Frederic Morton’s The Rothschilds: A family portrait (1961), Ferguson’s tome had nevertheless had two broad objectives that in essence seek to restore the Rothschild reputation. The first objective is rather mundane and academic:

The primary concern of this book is…to explain the origins and development of one of the biggest and most unusual businesses in the history of modern capitalism (House of Rothschild, Vol.1, p.7).

Part of that story involves explaining Rothschilds were able to use their vast wealth to overcome “the various cultural and legal obstacles” that they faced as Jews to achieve equal status with the European aristocracy. As Ferguson rightly notes, this is “one of the most remarkable case studies in nineteenth century social history” (ibid, p.7). The second purpose of his study is to “supplant Rothschild mythology with historical reality” (ibid, p.27). This mythology of the Rothschilds, which Ferguson dates back to 1813, covers all manner of popular legends, anti-Semitic libels, Nazi propaganda, and “bizarre conspiracy theories”, including those of that exemplar of the “lunatic fringe”, David Icke (ibid, pp.25-26).

As a consequence, The House of Rothschild, in contrast to Ferguson’s more recent titles, did not make any controversial findings, but instead offered a history of the Rothschilds that is measured and restrained in its rhetoric, but is also devoted at times to debunking the anti-Rothschild “mythology.” This means, however, that when Ferguson does encounter information that comes close to the conspiratorial anti-Rothschild narrative, his first instinct is to downplay or dispute its significance. On the issue of the extensive use of bribery by the Rothschilds in the 19th century, for example, Ferguson devotes almost nine pages to detailing the various types of financial inducements the Rothschilds employed to cultivate relations with Europe’s political elite (Vol. 1, pp.153-161). He even acknowledges that conspiracy theorists were “closest to the mark” on the issue of “private financial interests” (ibid, p.153) and the evidence is “compelling” (p.162). But, he then suggests that conspiracists have misunderstood the role of such activities in bolstering Rothschild power, which can only be understood in terms of the size of their business (ibid, p.162). This bizarre reasoning seems to ignore the implications of the evidence that he offered: that the Rothschilds did not think the size of their business alone was sufficient to protect them or advance their interests; they knew they needed to buy political protection. This is a truism understood by any modern business, evident in the massive investment in lobbying firms, financial and other gifts to politicians and government regulators, and even the hiring of compliant academics to make the public case for their industry.

A similar blindness can be seen in Ferguson’s rather uncontroversial accounts of Rothschild manipulation of European governments through their control of the international bond market (Vol.1, p.28), the implications of their temporary monopoly on high-level political communications in Europe (Vol.1, pp.232-33), and even their efforts to manipulate the media in Britain, Germany and France (Vol.1, pp.287-88). But at the same time this approach has worked, with The House of Rothschild succeeding in eliciting little if any critical commentary on the Rothschilds. In fact, most mainstream reviewers of The House of Rothschild, clearly taking their cues from Ferguson’s account, do not seem to develop adverse or negative opinions about the banking dynasty. For example, Foreign Affairs (March/April 2000, p.159), hailed the Rothschilds as “a remarkable family”; while Business History Review (Autumn 2000, p.486) described the Rothschild dynasty as the “legitimate forerunners of the secretaries general of the League of Nations or the United Nations” due to their commitment to peace.

To be sure, the Rothschilds’ “immense financial influence” (History Teacher, November 2000, p.129) and ability to “dominate the international economy” (American Historical Review, April 2002, p.608), was acknowledged. But for mainstream reviewers there was little in Ferguson’s weighty tome that would inspire any alarm about the activities of the Rothschilds, particularly during the pinnacle of their power in the 19th century. Such omissions may be a reflection of the biases of his reviewers who were presumably too serious and sophisticated in their thinking to regard such details as sinister, and who consider such plutocratic excesses to be too commonplace to warrant critical comment. No doubt in their estimation only grubby anti-Semites or retrograde socialists would be sufficiently irrational to find fault with financiers attempting to manipulate governments. And it might also be a tribute to Ferguson’s skill in framing his subjects in the most positive light, even whilst acknowledging such tawdry details.

Aside from the accolades, The House of Rothschild appears to have marked the beginning of Ferguson’s ascendency, which sent him from the elite academic setting of Oxford across the Atlantic into the heady circles of the US power-elite – of Wall Street and Washington DC.

Ferguson’s ‘Rothschild Connection’

In view of Professor Ferguson’s excellent work in producing a well-received “authorised” history of the House of Rothschild – a project over which the Rothschilds had no small amount of oversight and input, and for which Ferguson was allegedly given a £500,000 advance – it would be surprising if he had not forged enduring links with the dynasty. A couple of years ago the Daily Mail (Jan. 4, 2011) claimed that Ferguson had become “chummy…with members of banking family while writing two books on the Rothschild dynasty.” There is scattered evidence in the acknowledgements to many of his books and in snippets that emerge in the public record, particularly in the social pages of the British and US press, that Ferguson is indeed “chummy” with the Rothschilds.

In the decade since publication of The House of Rothschild, Ferguson has received assistance from the Rothschild family in some form for at least five of his recent books:

  • In The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000 (2001), he thanked Sir Evelyn de Rothschild for being invited to present a paper at the June 1999 Financial Times Gold Conference, which went on to comprise parts of Chapter 11; and for permission to quote from documents in the Rothschild Archive. Additionally Emma Rothschild was among those whom he thanked for “miscellaneous comments and information” (p.xviii).
  • In his book Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2004), Ferguson included “Lynn and Evelyn de Rothschild”, amongst those he thanked for “having read and commented on drafts, for having listened and responded to seminar papers, or for having provided hospitality during the writing of the book” (p.308).
  • In the Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008) Ferguson thanked, among others, Lord Jacob Rothschild and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild for agreeing to be interviewed “on the record” (p.363). Jacob was among those invited to the book launch for The Ascent of Money (Daily Mail, Oct. 29, 2008).
  • For his book High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg (2010) Ferguson expressed appreciation to both Lord Rothschild and his business partner, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, for consenting to interviews (p.xi).
  • And in Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power (2011), Emma Rothschild was listed among those “eminent historians” and “friends” who had commented on the draft manuscript (p.xix).

Outside of this the extent of their public interaction on the public record is sparse, but there are hints that it is ongoing. For example when Ferguson delivered the Ninth Annual Niarchos Lecture at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC on May 13, 2010, Sir Evelyn took up the invitation to give the “Rothschild version of economic history” and ask Ferguson some questions (Transcript, p.16). Ferguson and Sir Evelyn were also both listed as speakers at the Bloomberg China Conference, held in London in May 2011. Sir Evelyn is also a member of the LSE’s Advisory Board – where Ferguson spent 2010-2011 – and a Trustee of the Atlantic Partnership – which hosted a special breakfast in 2009 where Ferguson lead a discussion of European-American relations.

But Ferguson’s most significant Rothschild relationship is with Jacob’s son, Nat Rothschild; they reportedly forged a “close friendship” when Ferguson moved to the US in 2006 (The Mail on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010). How close has been revealed in a number of media snippets, including the fact that Ferguson and his new wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, attended Nat’s 40th birthday bash in Porto Montenegro in 2011 (The Times, Jul. 9, 2011). In January 2011 Nat attended a mining industry summit in Cape Town, at which Ferguson was a speaker (Financial Times, Feb. 12, 2011). Earlier that month Ferguson and Ayaan had stayed at Nat’s luxury chalet at Klosters in the Swiss Alps (Daily Mail, Jan. 4, 2011). The Financial Times (Jan. 15, 2011), noted that while on a fleeting visit to a coal mine in Indonesia Nat was “busy trading texts with Niall Ferguson…who was staying at his house in Switzerland.” They also share a Harvard connection: Ferguson is on the Board and Nat on the International Council at the Belfer Center for Political Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

There are also institutional links between Ferguson and the Rothschilds. For example, Ferguson’s resume lists him as a member of the Board of the Center for Policy Studies. Also sitting on the board is Andrew Knight, described as “Chairman of J Rothschild Capital Management and a Director of News Corporation.” The aforementioned Institute for Strategic Dialogue not only benefits from sporadic support from Rothschild family members, but includes two former directors of N.M. Rothschild & Sons, one on its Board of Trustees (Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie) and the other, Baron Moser, on its Scholarships Advisory Board. Also on the ISD’s Scholarships Advisory Board is Niall Ferguson.

Friends of Friends…

Digging deeper, though, and we can see signs that Ferguson’s relationship with the Rothschilds is not only close, but has provided other dividends, such as delivering him into their elite social network. When researching my article “The ‘Rothschild Connection’ – the House of Rothschild and invasion of Iraq” (Lobster Magazine No.63), I was surprised at how often Ferguson’s name emerged as a friend or associate of those Rothschild friends and business partners who were also instrumental in some way in facilitating the neo-conservative network and/or the push to invade Iraq. Of the ten Rothschild-connected individuals I originally identified – Bruce Kovner, Rupert Murdoch, Ted Forstmann, Conrad Black, Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Peter Mandelson, Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle – Ferguson had developed links with at least five of them:

  • As noted above Ferguson is currently writing an authorised biography of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As Ferguson tells it the request to write the biography, with unprecedented access to Kissinger’s complete private papers, came directly from Kissinger who wanted a “scholarly unvarnished biography” (The Scotsman, Nov. 15, 2008). Exactly when this approach was made is not clear – Kissinger first made the offer to British historian Andrew Roberts who turned it down (The Scotsman, Aug. 27, 2009) – though Kissinger and Ferguson have been friendly for quite some time. In mid-2004, for example, they were spotted dining together at the exclusive River Caf restaurant in New York (New York Post, Jul. 4, 2004). The relationship between the biographer and his subject has blossomed with Kissinger reportedly aware of Ferguson’s affair with Ayaan after he kept turning up to “private dinners” with the Kissingers with “women other than his wife” (The Mail on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010); Kissinger was subsequently a guest at their wedding (Telegraph, Sep. 18, 2011). Ferguson has remained close to his biographical subject in other ways. For example, Kissinger is listed as a Patron of the aforementioned Atlantic Partnership (AP), an elite but little-noticed organisation that was formed in 2001 with the seemingly uncontroversial goal to “educate the public in national and international political and economic issues”, with a focus on the “transatlantic community embracing Europe and North America”; Ferguson is an AP panellist. And when the International Republican Institute (IRI) presented its 2009 Freedom Award to Kissinger, Ferguson was there following the presentation of the award by IRI Chairman Senator John McCain, to conduct a “conversation” with Kissinger “discussing current foreign policy issues facing the United States” (Ferguson’s craven performance can be seen here).
  • Prior to his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, Ferguson was a foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain. Although he regarded McCain as “by a wide margin the best of the Republican candidates”, Ferguson claims not to have acted as an adviser once McCain won the Republican nomination because his own certainty that Obama would win (Independent, Nov. 3, 2008). McCain received overt and tacit Rothschild support in his ultimately failed presidential campaign, including from Sir Evelyn de Rothschild’s wife, Lady Lynn Forester, who abandoned the Democrats to back him, and from Jacob and Nat, who hosted a fundraiser in London. In early 2013, according to the New York Post ( 4, 2013), McCain had what was described by an aide as a “lunch with old friends and longtime supporters” in a private dining room at the exclusive Four Seasons restaurant in New York. Among the guests were Henry Kissinger, Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and Lynn Forester de Rothschild.
  • Former media baron Conrad Black, released from US prison (for the second time) in May 2012 after serving 37 months in prison for embezzlement, referred to Ferguson as one of his “learned friends” who had taken part in the so-called Munk debate (named after their patron, Canadian billionaire Peter Munk) about China’s future held in Toronto in mid-2011 (National Journal, Jun. 17, 2011). Lest one mere think this was a typically pompous figure of speech from Black there were actually four participants in the debate, but he named only three of them as his “learned friends”: Ferguson, Henry Kissinger and CNN host and Time Editor-at-Large Fareed Zakaria. Black’s links to the Rothschilds are longstanding: he met Sir Evelyn de Rothschild through Bilderberg, and later acquired the Daily Telegraph through N.M. Rothschild. Jacob Rothschild was a guest at Black’s wedding to Barbara Amiel and was on the Advisory Board of Black’s company, Hollinger. Munk, incidentally, is close enough to the Rothschilds that he delivered a key speech at Nat Rothschild’s 40th birthday party, which he hosted, praising the young plutocrat’s business achievements (The Mail on Sunday, Jul. 10, 2011).
  • In November 2011 Ferguson delivered a eulogy for Ted Forstmann, the Wall Street financier and deal maker who had died of brain cancer. Ferguson paid tribute to Forstmann his “co-author”, whom he credited with being a “matchmaker”, taking a “fatherly interest” in Ferguson’s affair (though he calls it a “romance”) with his new wife Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Standing in St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Ferguson celebrated Forstmann’s morality: “Ted was one of those people who didn’t advise her against me, and I’ll be grateful for that until the day I die.” Ferguson also paid tribute to Forstmann’s “secret life as an intellectual” and praised his passionate belief that “enlarging the government was not the answer to the problem; often it was the problem. A sentiment on display in a Wall Street Journal (23 April 2010) opinion piece that Ferguson and Forstmann had co-authored, which dismissed the idea the Global Financial Crisis had its origins in financial deregulation. They warned against attempting to “abolish both bailouts and depressions, other than by creating another layer of government regulation.” Forstmann’s Rothschild links are long-standing: he had been friends with Jacob Rothschild since the 1990s and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild is on the Board of Directors of Forstmann’s flagship company IMG Worldwide, a global sports, fashion and media business (Forstmann was CEO and Chairman of IMG at the time of his death).
  • Peter Mandelson, a former minister in the British governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a confidante of Blair, and a “close friend” of Nat Rothschild (Guardian 9 Jul. 2011), has also turned up in Ferguson’s network of elite friends. Given their political differences, the relationship is perhaps slight and coincidental, but there are hints that it might be more than an acquaintance. For the most part Mandelson and Ferguson often turn up at the same exclusive events, such as: the 2010 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos (The Independent, 23 Jan. 2010); Nat Rothschild’s fortieth birthday celebrations in Montenegro (Mail on Sunday, 10 Jul. 2011); and the 2012 Bilderberg meeting in Chantilly, US. But there are other occasions which are less coincidental and suggest a degree of familiarity. For example, in a letter to the Wall Street Journal (24 May 2001), commenting on Mandelson’s loss of ministerial posts because of perceived corruption, Ferguson defended Nat Rothschild’s close friend, declaring: “in my view, he should not have been forced to leave office.” In 2008 Mandelson and Jacob Rothschild were among those invited in 2008 for the launch of Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money (Daily Mail, 29 Oct. 2008). And then in 2011 the Evening Standard (4 Mar. 2011) reported that Ferguson had personally emailed a number of his “friends” to remind them his new TV series was about to commence. The “friends” included Peter Mandelson and Nat Rothschild.

Exactly when and how Niall Ferguson came to know each of these esteemed personages is, at the time of writing, not on the public record. It may well be that the professor’s industry, his constant flow of books, articles and television programs, would have raised his public profile sufficiently to warrant their attentions. And that like his biographical subject, Dr Kissinger, the good professor shares his ambition and perhaps even a willingness to sacrifice principles to develop such potentially valuable relationships to his own benefit. But it also seems just as likely that he came to know and be known by these high powered friends of the Rothschilds by already being a friend of the Rothschilds…

New Patrons, New Networks

Of course, Ferguson has not been content to remain in the Rothschild stable. He has utilised the connections and opportunities they have provided to develop a wider circle of patrons, a process that has been particularly evident since he abandoned the UK over a decade ago to begin teaching in the US. As Ferguson related to Barron’s magazine back in 2007, the decision to move to the US came about through a conversation with economic consultant (formerly of Salomon Brothers) Henry Kaufman:

“Henry told me, ‘You really do a lot of work on money and power,'” Ferguson says. “I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Why don’t come to where the money and power are?’ That was an absolutely unanswerable proposition” (Barron’s, 12 Mar. 2007).

Thus, on the other side of the Atlantic, Ferguson has continued to chase “money and power.”

In 2002 Ferguson took up a new position in the US as the John E. Herzog Professor in Financial History at the Leonard H. Stern School of Business at NYU. The benefactor behind his professorship, John E. Herzog, a member of Stern’s Board of Overseers, has a modest resume: he is also Chairman Emeritus of Spink/Smythe, an auction house specializing in antique stocks and bonds, banknotes, coins, autographs and photographs; and former Chairman and CEO of Herzog Heine Geduld, Inc. a securities brokerage company. Herzog’s net wealth is not on the public record, but it is worth noting that in 2000 Herzog Heine Geduld Inc was bought out by Merrill Lynch for about US$914 million.

Herzog’s main claim to fame is as the founder of the Museum of American Finance (MOAF), which he established as a tax-exempt organisation in New York in 1989. He was Chairman of MOAF until 2010 and on the Board of Trustees until resigning in 2012. Also on the Museum’s Board of Trustees since 2006 is one Niall Ferguson. For a historian who reportedly measures his credibility against the metric of book sales, his association with the Museum and its founder has been fortuitous. The Museum has provided the good professor with a high profile platform to promote his books to New York’s financial and intellectual elites on a number of occasions. Thus he has given “author lectures” at the MOAF ostensibly to discuss, but in practice to promote his books Empire, Colossus, The Ascent of Money, and High Financier. The MOAF even provided Ferguson with the opportunity in 2012 to spruik his television series Civilization: The West and the Rest with Niall Ferguson.

There is no obvious or significant Rothschild connection to Herzog or his former company, Herzog Heine Geduld, Inc. The only incidental link is the presence on the MOAF Board of Trustees of Wilbur L. Ross Jr, who spent 24 years working at Rothschild Inc, until he quit in 2000 to found his own firm – the same year he became a MOAF trustee.

Arguably Ferguson’s most important move was from NYU to Harvard; a shift that brought him a new and arguably his most visible elite patron: James S. Tisch. According to Barron’s, Ferguson was “lured” away from NYU in 2004 by Harvard University’s then president and former Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration, Lawrence Summers, who appointed him the Laurance A. Tisch Professor of History. Of note is that:

The chair was donated by [James] Tisch and his wife Merryl, after the death in 2003 of Jim’s father, Larry Tisch, the co-founder and longtime CEO of Loews, a New York-based conglomerate. “When Harvard sent me one of Niall’s articles that mentioned the current account deficit, I knew immediately that he was a man after my father’s heart,” says Tisch, Loews’ current CEO (Barron’s 12 Mar. 2007; emphasis added).

Since 1998 Tisch has been President and CEO of Loews Corporation, an investment firm similar to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. Loews was a business conglomerate that was established by James’ father Laurence and uncle Preston in the 1940s, starting as a hotel chain, but later spreading to encompass, movie theaters, insurance, tobacco, oil tankers and, for a brief period in the 1980s, the CBS television network. Laurence Tisch, who died in 2003, was a renowned philanthropist in the Jewish community. He also liked to hold a weekly “power breakfast” at his family’s Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan, with “leaders such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former New York mayor Ed Koch and others, to discuss community affairs” (Forward, Nov. 21, 2003). James, his brother Andrew and his cousin Jonathan all occupy senior positions at Loews, currently ranked #193 in the 2014 Fortune 500 with a market value of $US17 billion.

Ferguson has come to know his new benefactor well. In 2010, at the New York Historical Society’s History Makers Gala, it was Tisch – then a Vice Chair on the Society’s bloated Chairman’s Council (New York Historical Society Annual Report, 2009-10, p.29) – who personally presented Ferguson with his award. Their familiarity was evident when they spoke on first name terms when Ferguson delivered a lecture on “The Darwinian Economy” at the Society in 2012 – “Thank you Jim”, Niall said in response to Tisch’s question.

And it was Tisch who wrote a strongly worded letter to Newsweek (Aug. 26, 2012), in the midst of the brouhaha over Ferguson’s incendiary and controversial Newsweek/Daily Beast article “Obama’s Gotta Go” (Aug. 19, 2012), to defend him, complaining about the “enormous smear campaign” being directed at Ferguson, a “world-class financial historian with an encyclopedic mind” and “strong financial analytical skills.” Tisch declared: “I wholly concur with his analysis and conclusion.” He dismissed the “knee-jerk reactions” to Ferguson’s article and suggested “we as a nation turn” from the course being set by Obama and “heed the admonitions of the good professor.” Tisch’s coda was revealing:

Now for the full disclosure: Professor Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a chair that my wife and I donated in memory of my deceased father. In the eight years that Professor Ferguson has held the chair, he has been an indefatigable academic, writing books of great renown, producing award-winning documentaries for public television, speaking to financial and other groups, and teaching a full course load at Harvard University. I have never seen a professor (nor anyone else for that matter) with such an extraordinary work ethic. His work and academic rigor are of the highest standard. He brings a tremendous amount of honor to those of us who know him, and my whole family is proud to have him occupy the chair that bears my father’s name (emphasis added)

Whilst Ferguson may be close to the Tischs, there is little if any compelling evidence that the Rothschilds have a similar relationship. Their interactions, to the extent they can be tracked on the public record, appear fleeting and coincidental. For example, in 1992 when Laurance Tisch planned to buy-out the Macy’s department store chain in New York, his buy-out plan was developed by Wilbur Ross at Rothschild Inc (Toronto Star, Jan. 25, 1992). And in 1998 both Laurance Tisch and Lord Jacob Rothschild were identified as investors in the doomed Long-Term Capital Management fund (New York Post, Sep. 25, 1998).

Indeed, despite moving in the same elite circles, it seems that they know some of the same people, but not each other. Andrew Tisch, for example, was among guests for the joint birthday party for former US President Bill Clinton, his close friend Vernon Jordan, and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild at Martha’s Vineyard in 2011, but that was as a friend of the Clintons rather than of the Rothschilds (Boston Globe, Sep. 5, 2011). Jonathan Tisch and Nat Rothschild were charter members of Manhattan’s exclusive Core Club (New York Daily News, Jul. 15, 2005), a club “open to all”, provided one can pay the $US50,000 initiation fee and annual charges of $US15,000 (New York Times, Jun. 17, 2011).

But his relationship with Tisch has brought new admirers from the plutocratic class. According to Toby Craig Jones, writing in The Raritan (Fall 2012, p.88) Ferguson’s 2012 television series, Civilization: The West and the Rest with Niall Ferguson, was financially supported by “a small group of prominent figures on the American right, several of whom also dot the Forbes list of America’s most wealthy.” Sure enough, the production credits for Civilization list the following funders:

Kenneth and Anne Griffin
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation
Marie-Josée & Henry R. Kravis Foundation
Peter Thiel and the Thiel Foundation
James and Merryl Tisch
Joan Ganz Cooney and Peter G. Peterson
A production of Chimerica Media Ltd. in association with Thirteen and WNET

As detailed further by Jones, the financial and political pedigree of this group puts it well into the realm of the so-called (and much despised) “one per cent”:

They include Kenneth Griffin, a Chicago-based billionaire, hedge fund manager, and self-declared “Reaganite Republican.” Others include the Marie-Josée & Henry R. Kravis Foundation. Henry Kravis, another billionaire, has been a longtime donor to the Republican Party. His wife Marie-Josée is a senior fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Washington, DC-based Hudson Institute. Peter Thiel, another hedge fund manager and an avowed libertarian; James Tisch, the CEO of Lowe’s Corporation; and Peter G. Peterson, former Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers and Secretary of Commerce in the Nixon presidency, also helped fund the series (ibid, pp.88-89).

Tisch is also Chairman of WNET, the not-for-profit privately run New York based public broadcasting service which co-produced Ferguson’s documentary; Kravis is Chairman Emeritus.

And sure enough, Ferguson’s association with these individuals transcends the documentary. Ferguson was one of the “distinguished guests”, along with Henry Kravis, the 96th richest person in the US according to Forbes 400 (worth US$5 billion in 2014) and fellow Bilderberg attendee (2010, 2011, 2012), to celebrate the dedication of the newly built Kravis Center, housed at Claremont McKenna College in California in October 2011, and gifted to the college by its namesake. In The Daily Beast/Newsweek (Feb.13, 2012), Ferguson sang the praises of Peter Thiel, the staunchly libertarian president of Clarium Capital, ranked #284 in the US on Forbes 400 2013 list with an estimated worth of US$2.1 billion, a Ron Paul supporter and Bilderberg Steering Committee member; as “one of the most interesting and original thinkers in America today” and “smarter than you.” While Kenneth Griffin, CEO of Citadel, ranked #91 in the US according to Forbes 400 2014 billionaires list (US$5.5 billion), defended Ferguson’s controversial Newsweek article about Obama, commending him in a letter to Newsweek (Aug. 26, 2012) for “advancing a thoughtful, albeit pointed, criticism of the Obama administration’s economic policies.”

The Price of Progress?

In noting the connections detailed above, it is not the intention of this piece to embark upon some crude exercise in “guilt-by-association”, to smear the good professor’s otherwise excellent reputation. On the contrary, over the past year Niall Ferguson has done much to damage his academic reputation entirely on his own account with, according to his increasingly vociferous chorus of critics, a number of reckless statements and factually inaccurate analysis.

His 2012 Newsweek piece on Obama, for example, which charged that four more years of Obama would only deliver more “low growth, high unemployment, even higher debt—and real geopolitical decline”, was widely castigated on the blogosphere. Critics accused him of “multiple errors and misrepresentations” (Krugman) and of producing “sloppy” analysis that “falls short of scholarly standards at any accredited university” (Atlantic). Alex Pareene, writing in Salon, dismissed Ferguson as an “intellectual fraud” and a “con”, whose job was to “impress dumb rich Americans with his accent and flatter them with his writings.”

Then in May last year Ferguson repeated this feat with some ill-considered comments at a conference in California that famed economist John Maynard Keynes had a short-term focus because he was a childless homosexual.  Ferguson was subsequently accused of “economic homophobia” (Media Matters), being “crassly inaccurate” (Spectator) and having “a history of deploying gay smears” (The Independent) against Keynes. To some critics the incident reinforced their view that Ferguson “plays fast and loose with the facts” (Financial Adviser) and was proving himself “the model for the British intellectual flame out” (Esquire).

Nevertheless it should be evident that Ferguson’s forays into the ranks of the power-elite, starting with the relationships forged whilst working on The House of Rothschild, have paid him significant professional and financial dividends. This has included practical, funding and promotional support for his books and documentaries, academic chairs at NYU and Harvard, as well as exclusive access to the social circles of the rich and powerful of the US, Britain and further afield. And it is this access that Ferguson, a surprisingly insecure man, is not averse to boasting about, as the Financial Advisor (May 03, 2013) noted in its report on his careless comment about Keynes: “Throughout his remarks, Ferguson referred to his ‘friends’ in high places.”

Of course, Ferguson’s ongoing relationship with the Rothschilds, after writing the first authorised and well-received family history, does not make him an unthinking Rothschild “puppet”, as some might be tempted to suggest. But the support they have given him, the various doors they have been able to open, the connections he has undoubtedly made with some of their elite friends (such as Henry Kissinger), certainly suggests that much of what he says and does is to their liking. The same can be said of his new cohort of billionaire admirers and supporters among the US hedge-fund plutocracy. For these representatives of the 0.00004 per cent of the US population that earns more than $50 million per year, it no doubt looks better to have their interests defended by a telegenic Harvard academic (especially a foreign one) than by awkward press releases and other missives issued from a US$22 million apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan…And so, it is Ferguson’s anointed role as a defender of the “one per cent”, that will be examined in the next part of this essay.