A couple of weeks ago this blog praised the historian Niall Ferguson for keeping his acrimonius war of words with Pankaj Mishra on the letters page of the London Review of Books, and not in the High Court.
But yesterday we hear that Ferguson is threatening legal action, which rather undermines my point about the classiness of ‘counter-speech’ over legal threats.
I can see how Ferguson would want to pursue this issue to its conclusion. I imagine there are few things more shocking for a historian and political commentator than to be accused of racism. To demand satisfaction is a natural reaction. However, reading Mishra’s review of Ferguson’s book again, the words written do seem to sit very much within the realm of opinion. It seems to me that a successful defamation claim by Ferguson would set a very worrying precedent for the future.