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Public Lectures: NEWS


Historian Niall Ferguson Gives Public Lecture at the Invitation of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation

On Friday, 22 June 2018, Niall Ferguson, historian, writer, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and at the Center for European Studies, Harvard, gave a public lecture, “The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies, Innovations and Revolution”. He came to Kyiv at the invitation of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation as part of its Public Lectures programme.

Ukrainian students, scholars, opinion-makers as well as the recipients of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation’s Zavtra.UA and WorldWideStudies scholarships took part in the event.

Introducing the speaker, Victor Pinchuk, businessman and philanthropist said: “Our foundation continues the series of public lectures with the most outstanding politicians, business leaders and intellectuals. Today, we have a meeting with a great friend of Ukraine. Niall is a historian, but he is also a celebrity, and he is one of the strongest intellectuals of our time. We have a unique opportunity to listen to one of the most prominent intellectual leaders of today.”

During the lecture, Niall Ferguson elaborated on interpretation of social processes as interaction between and among hierarchies and networks. He also shared his view of some rules that, taken together, recast the history of the world.

Explaining the theme for the lecture and the metaphor used for his recent book, “The Square and the Tower”, Mr. Ferguson said: “It is about networks and hierarchies. I decided to use the language of squares and towers to explain the phenomenon. The square is where social life happens. The tower is where the power is wielded. Most of the human history can be understood as the interplay between squares and towers, or putting it in modern languages, the interplay between social networks and hierarchical organisations. You are in social networks, but at the same time, you belong to some hierarchy. We all understand from our experience the difference between networks and hierarchies. You know better than most people in the world the power of the square as a theatre of revolution where ordinary people were able to overthrow a corrupt power. Nothing inspired me more in the recent ten years of my life than what happened in Maydan. This was a product of the noblest force in human history. But as we look back admiringly on a successful revolution, we need to be careful. Let’s not assume that the square will always triumph over the tower. Let us not be so naive as to think that the internet and a smartphone are together a threat to authoritarianism and a boom to democracy, because they are not.”

Answering questions from the audience, Mr. Ferguson commented on the responsibility that today’s generations should take with regard to the future: “I mean it when I say that the social contract is between the dead, the living and the unborn. We are bound to the dead, we owe them some respect, and we have to regard our time on Earth as a time of stewardship, because we must pass it on intact to next generations. We have stopped appealing to the interests of future generations and we have embarked on policies that are entirely selfish and to the disadvantage of future generations. We have lived at the expense of the future. We the living, must reconfigure the political time horizon so that the unborn who have no votes and have no chance to be consulted nevertheless are represented. What we do now has implications between generations. We all need to change the way that we think so that we think about those unborn children and the country and world that they will inherit.”

In conclusion of the lecture, Niall Ferguson thanked the audience for the debate: “I want to thank you all. Sometimes, very occasionally, when you speak in public, you also think in public. And you have helped me to do that today, and I shall be always grateful to you for that.”

Additionally, on that same day, as a special guest, Niall Ferguson took part in the 11th Annual Youth Forum of the Victor Pinchuk Fondation’s Zavtra.UA and WorldWideStudies (WWS) scholarship programmes, where gave a speech during the ceremony of awarding the programme scholars.

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