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20th June 2018 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


PROFESSOR NIGEL BIGGAR, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford University, in conversation with Douglas Murray

The nation-state is here to stay. Thirty years ago it was fashionable to predict its imminent demise, but the sudden break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s unshackled long-repressed nationalisms and generated a host of new states.

The closer integration of the European Union has given intra-national nationalisms a new lease of life, confirming the viability of small nation-states under a supra-national umbrella – after all, if Ireland and Iceland, then why not Quebec and Catalonia? What’s more, the world stage has seen new and powerful national players moving from the wings to the centre: China, India, and Brazil are full of a sense of growing into their own national destinies and are in no mood either to dissolve into, or to defer to, some larger body. And yet, closer to home, the recent Scottish referendum has illustrated all too clearly the downsides of the lust for independence, leaving in its wake a trail of sharpened divisions and unappeased nationalist sentiments.

Nations, nationalisms, and nation-states are evidently persistent facts, but what should we think of them morally? Surely humanity, not a nation, should claim our loyalty? How can it be right to exclude foreigners by policing borders? Can a liberal nation-state thrive without a cohering public orthodoxy? Does national sovereignty confer immunity? Is national separatism always justified?

The Henry Jackson Society is proud to invite you to an event with Professor Nigel Biggar “in conversation” with Douglas Murray as they address these questions and discuss the future of the nation-state.


Professor Nigel Biggar is an academic and an Anglican Priest. After reading Modern History at Worcester College, Oxford, Nigel Biggar proceeded to study religion, theology, and ethics in Canada and the USA. On his return to Oxford in 1985 he became Librarian and Research Fellow at Latimer House, and then for most of the 1990s he was Chaplain and Fellow of Oriel College. In 1999 he took the Chair of Theology at the University of Leeds; and in 2004 he moved to the Chair of Theology and Ethics at Trinity College Dublin. He arrived at Christ Church, Oxford University as the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the autumn of 2007. Professor Nigel Biggar is the author of “Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation”.


DOUGLAS MURRAYDouglas Murray is the Associate Director at The Henry Jackson Society. A bestselling author and award-winning political commentator, Douglas is a regular columnist for the Spectator, where he is associate editor, Standpoint and UnHerd. He writes frequently for a variety of other publications, including the The Times, The Sun and the Evening Standard. A prolific debater, Douglas has spoken on a variety of prominent platforms, including at the British and European Parliaments and the White House. He often appears on the UK’s top political debate programmes, such as BBC’s Newsnight and Question Time. Douglas has authored books on neo-conservatism, terrorism and national security, as well as freedom of speech. Such titles include Neoconservatism: Why We Need It and Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry. His latest publication, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, was released in May 2017.



On the 20th of June, the Henry Jackson Society had the pleasure of hosting Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University. Our esteemed guest was presenting his 2014 book: ‘Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation’, in which he discusses the moral role of society within the nation-state notion from a uniquely British perspective.

Prof. Biggar began by affirming that his profound British patriotism is often sadly contemporarily misinterpreted as ‘nationalism’ – leading him on a succinct discussion on the issue of Scottish independence and his personal view on the matter as a ‘neither English nor Scottish’ Brit. Admitting that he ‘lost many nights’ sleep’ during the Scottish referendum in 2014, he claims to have come to the realisation that ‘maybe he just needed to accept Scottish independence with some grace’. Writing in the run up to the referendum, Prof. Biggar stated that he delved into this matter quite extensively in chapters one and four of his book – attempting to ‘think through what nationalism and national separatism is and how one should assess it morally’. For him, the Scottish nationalist phenomenon is ‘a big tent with people from the far right and the far left within it’.

Drawing from his Scottish discussion, Prof. Biggar then conversed on the topic of Empire and Britain’s imperial history. According to him, the main Scottish nationalist narrative is: ‘Britain equals empire, which equals evil’. Dismissing this reasoning as a futile ‘caricature’, he argues that despite all its historical ills, the British empire ‘spent almost one hundred years suppressing slavery in colonial Africa and Asia’, only interrupting this process ‘shortly before the First World War’. He underlined this counterargument by reminding the audience that the British Empire was only at its ‘most violent’ during the Second World War when it opposed Nazism entirely on its own in the 1940-1941 period. The fourth chapter of Prof. Biggar’s book focuses almost exclusively on the imperialist issue, where he pushes back attempts of ‘simplistic anti-imperialism’ which adheres to the notion of non-interventionism – an inappropriate goal for Britain given its military might, according to him.

His book’s most ‘eccentric chapter’ is chapter two, contended Prof. Biggar. In it, he argues in favour of state support for the Church of England, which he claims is one of the only institutions capable of maintaining liberal values on a legal statutory footing, thereby safeguarding the British liberal order. Although admitting his biases on the issue given his clerical status, Prof. Biggar explained that achieving social coherence and integrity within a liberal society required its members to be versed in liberal values such as the duties of forbearance, charity and forgiveness, in order to apply them to laws in a moral capacity. For him, the end goal is to ‘form citizens morally in the virtues necessary, to make liberal society flourish’.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Biggar highlighted that given his theological academic training, his book contains an array of biblical content on which he draws to illustrate his reasoning.


20th June 2018
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank
Westminster, SW1P 4RS United Kingdom
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Prof Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford University, in conversation with Douglas Murray
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