Professor Nigel Biggar in conversation with Douglas Murray


DATE: 20th June 2018.

VENUE: Millbank Tower.

SPEAKER: Professor Nigel Biggar in conversation with Douglas Murray.



Douglas Murray: Good afternoon ladies and gentleman my name is Douglas Murray and welcome to the Henry Jackson society, and it’s our great pleasure, this afternoon, this lunchtime to have professor Nigel Bigger from oxford university. I think he certainly needs no introduction here today, but it’s an enormous pleasure to have him with us. Just to mention one thing, specifically today we are going to be talking about, professor Biggars book, ‘between Kin and Cosmopolis: an ethic of the nation’ and there are copies outside on sale afterwards, and I hope that people take the opportunity to buy them (member of audience says ‘yes please’ and indeed then read them

(audience laughs)

Doesn’t always follow, but surely.

(audience laughs)


Douglas Murray: I always say with my books, I’d rather you bought them than read them (audience laughs). In any case it’s a great pleasure, were going to start with professor saying a few words I think for five to ten minutes and then were going to have some conversation then open up to a wider conversation, Q and A disputation, whatever you’d like from you and we’ve got an hour so without further ado professor Nigel Bigger.

Nigel Biggar: Do I press the button here or?

Douglas Murray: Yes.

Nigel Biggar: Thanks Douglas for the welcome manner I’m really pleased to be here and Michael is getting some air time. What I’m going to do is simply lift out some of the main themes of the book so you have some idea of what it’s about, and then you can pick up points I mentioned if you want to have them further discussed. So, I’ve always been a British patriot, I am 63 so I was born in the mid 50’s, I’ve always been a British patriot but I have always been aware that to say that would be unfashionable, eccentric and probably dubious. But one of the advantages of older age I’ve discovered is you cease to worry less about what other people think. But I am aware that even now when I say that I am the only person I’ve ever heard saying that, which itself I think deserves some reflection. If I was American of course, if I was an American patriot it would be a common place but not here. I did spend 7 years in the united states and in Canada and I remember one occasion when some of my fellow graduate students at the university of Chicago, asked me when I was planning on getting my green card and settling down in America, and they were shocked, literally shocked when I had made it quite clear I had no intention of staying in America, because it was always quite clear to me that my place for whatever reason was here and I make that clear at the same time as I invited my wife to become my wife, she is a US citizen. So, for whatever reason I’ve always had a strong sense of loyalty to this country. Therefore, the first chapter of this book really is an exercise in me trying to figure out what to make of that, I mean what is national loyalty? Could it be justified? Why could it be justified? Is it okay to be a somewhere rather than a cosmopolitan anywhere? [inaudible] how is it okay? Because in some quarters probably to the left of here. The talk of patriotism is to make yourself suspect of being a [inaudible] nationalist. And in fact in recent months I’ve heard myself or the first time as a British [inaudible] nationalist I don’t like the connotations of that but there seems to me no middle way. So that’s chapter one, what tends to make morally, and I’m an ethicist by training so I tend to ask moral questions, is there a moral justification for nationalisation? What could it be? The other thing about me is that I’m Anglo-sottish, I was born in Scotland to an English mother and a Scottish father, I was educated in both sides of the border. Don’t call me English because I will correct you, don’t call me Scottish, I will correct you, I am British. And that’s a deep sense of who I am. Therefore you understand that in the run up to the Scottish referendum, I alongside many anglo-scotts lost a number of nights sleep, worrying over the prospect of soon not being able to call myself British, but on reflection it has to be said that the prospect of Nigel bigger having to suffer the pain of calling himself English, simply, with all due respect, in terms of the notion of human suffering is not really very importantly and it seemed to me that it was possible that the case for Scottish independence could be made, maybe Scotland should separate from the UK, maybe the UK should dissolve and maybe I just need accept that with some grace. So in this book partly in chapter one, partly in chapter 4, and there are only 4 chapters, I try to think through what nationalism and particularly what national separatism is and how to assess it morally. I mean when should a political unit should succeed detach itself from a larger political unit. I am thinking primarily of Scotland relation to the UK but of course the same applies to the UK to Europe, the European Union. I don’t really deal with the European Union much in the book because it was published two years before the referendum but I do deal with the question of Ireland’s succession from the UK In the nineteen tens and twenties and Scotland’s possible succession in the two thousand tens. So that raises the question of separatism. Then third, the question of nationalism and particularly Scottish nationalism raises the question of empire. Why? Well because according to, I mean Scottish nationalism is a big tent, there’s people from the far left and the far right in it. But in some parts of the big tent of Scottish nationalism there is a narrative which goes that Britain equals empire equals equal. And therefore, the act of separating from the UK the act of Scotland separating from the UK is only an act of national repentance and self-purification. Now I’ve done, although I’m an ethicist my first degree was in history and history is my proffered reading, I have sent many years reading about British imperial history and  to summarise the British empire, simply evil, I know to be a caricature [inaudible] it isn’t true, honest, it isn’t that simply true. So for example, yes for 200 years the British empire involved the safe trade and the introduction of slavery which was, is shameful, but also yes, the British empire abolished first the slave trade and the institution slavery and spent over 100 years suppressing the slave trade in the Atlantic, across the Atlantic and in Africa, over 100 years, we stopped doing that shortly before the first world war and did it from 1807. And yes the British Empire was often violent and often or sometimes unjustly violent, but the British Empire was most violent during the Second World War when, between May 1940 and June 1941, the British Empire was the body major force in the field against narcissi. So unless you think that all violence is as such immoral, the violence of the British Empire must be taken case by case. And you might be aware that I been running for the last 9 months a project in oxford called ethics and empire which got me into some trouble before Christmas, from post-colonial critics, just to say that my interest in empire is not [inaudible] my interest is contemporary because my view is that in particular as we British understand our imperial past, so we understand ourselves and we set the future and if you are a Scottish nationalist or a [inaudible] and you think there are imperial past was simply [inaudible] and oppressive then you have a certain vison of Britain and a certain visions of what Britain should not be like in the future, so my interest in the act has to do actually with the present and the future. The issue of empire which I deal with in chapter 4 of the book and I should say chapter 4 is the first time, my first attempt to begin to push back against a simplistic anti-imperialism. The issue of empire raises the topic of chapter 3 which is that of overseas military intervention. If you are a Scottish nationalist or a [inaudible] then your diagnoses of the [inaudible] of the world of the ills of the world is basically that the west is responsible, the west and its interference is responsible for the woes of the world, therefore the sooner we in the west in general but the British in particular cease to interfere the happier the world would be so what we should [inaudible] future should be more like Sweden or Ireland. Forget about global policing, forget about upholding or international liberal order, leave that to someone else, and when we stop interfering the world would be happier. So in a certain sense the question of how Britain positions itself in the world the future is a question to what extent we abjure our imperial past absolutely and become Ireland or Sweden. Or to what extent were not going to reinvent the empire, no one thinks that, but to what extent we carry on the tradition of expecting to help support  global international order, not least by the [inaudible] power since we are only one of 3 serious military powers in the west, only one of two semi-serious powers after the west. Now finally there is a slightly eccentric chapter which is chapter two. In which I make an argument in favour of the establishment of the Church of England, and since I am in fact a [inaudible] you might say well he would, wouldn’t he. But let me just make clear what the deeper issue is on this point, and the deeper issue are to do with social cohesion and more specifically with the integrity of liberal society, the integrity of liberal society, or the flourishing of a liberal society. And we can talk about this at a great length if you want but the thought Is basically this, liberal was aren’t enough, liberal laws aren’t enough, we need citizens who are so formed in certain virtues that they are capable of obeying liberal laws. And these virtues need to be rather thicker and deeper than the usual suspects of respect and tolerance. Because we need people who are capable of respect and capable of tolerance. And I speak with some passion about this because my experience of the row over the empire, my engagement with post-colonial critics reveal that some of my, to me, some of my Oxbridge college aint so liberal in their manner and it actually, it doesn’t matter what the law says, because within the law freedom of speech can be well stifled by mistrust, by regression, by refusal to see anything. So, the though is this, that liberal laws are good and the liberal value of respect and tolerance are good too but we need much more than that, we need citizens who recognise the duty of humility, the duty of forbearance, the duty even of forgiveness, the duty pf charity and the duty to be accountable to the truth wherever it is to be found. And the question arises well in society what civil institutions will generate a vison of the world and a human being and virtues that will produce citizens of that kind. Well, one obvious possibility are Christian churches, there may be other sources of such views and virtues but those are among them. Therefore I argue that since we have in England a liberal Anglican establishment and since the Anglican church represents a certain kind of Christian liberal humanism, among the things the state could do to foster the deeper virtues required for a liberal society to flourish, would be to retain the establishment of the church of England and indeed for citizens to remember why it is actually quite important. But I accept that will strike many of you as an eccentric argument but hats important really are the larger deeper issues of how we form citizens morally in the virtues necessary to make liberal society flourish. Just one final word I am by profession a theologian, the book was delivered originally as a series of lectures to a theological college in Manchester so there is a fair bit of the bible in there and I do quote some theologians which many of you may not be accustomed to, but Douglas I think has survived (audience laughs) and got something out of this book [inaudible] so I think you could probably cope. Thanks very much.

(Audience claps)

Douglas Murray: Thank you very much Nigel, yes for the time being it does indeed remain legal and permissible to quote the bible in public (audience laughs).Can we start with one of the perhaps the hardest edge of all in all of this which perhaps has come up even more since your book came out, but it’s that central issue of the nation state that at the same time there has to be of course questions of inclusion, questions of who to include, how to include and that its opposite, its reverse must also be considered. What you exclude, what you can’t have, and it’s the second bit of the whole discussion where it’s the hardest, or at least harder bit of it. I wonder if you’d reflect for a moment on that given particularly that the nation state I think you’d agree becomes [inaudible] in your book necessarily has to have borders, necessarily has to have rules, the difference between legal and illegal, between the law and people breaking the law is a very important and significant thing, maybe one of the most important things therefore something someone wouldn’t want to give up likely. Now all the time in the news at the moment this almost abstract notion of the borders of what is to be excluded, what is legal what is illegal, it is racking politics of indeed the media and certainly our continent and is now very very much the forefront of the discussion in America as we see form everyday news. If we could reflect on that for a moment the nature of exclusion and how within your ethical framework this is able to be justified and indeed explained.

Nigel Biggar: Yes, thanks, that’s really top level important so here are a couple of thoughts to start with. I mean there are some truth in cosmopolitanism. Let’s be clear about this, and this is as far as I’m concerned, that in a certain, not entirely crystal clear sense, all humans are basically equal. So I do thinks Brits of their nature are more valuable than Indonesians. Also therefore that we do own responsibility to strangers as well as friends, to the distant as well as the near. Right so, whatever kind of nationalism or nations today I’m arguing for its not one that thinks that it has no responsibility for what happens in the rest of the world. But it strikes me that one of the errors of cosmopolitanism is kind of to assume that liberal humane institutions are a kind of cosmic default, or that they belong to the comic furniture, and to forget that actually, on the limited number of nation states had developed liberal institutions, would that more had, that they haven’t developed simultaneously all over the world. If we think that immorality liberal society is a valuable thing, then, those nation states that have developed liberal institutions should take care of themselves. Now to get toy your point about inclusion and exclusion, to take care of [inaudible] usually means, partly you have to realise that although of course the point of liberty is to allow lots of different people to do lots of different things in the same space. So liberty allows plurality, but we have to realise that liberty always has its limits, there are always some things that excluded, we do have laws we do have illegal in this country, we love to talk bout inclusion and I understand why, but we also have to think sometimes that we overlook the fact that of course some things are excluded. And I guess since the early 2000’s when I was living in Leeds, there were riots and things in Bradford, and some of the practises and behaviours of certain Muslim communities originating from royal Pakistan became controversial and it became clear that certain kinds of things in liberal British society we just don’t allow; forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation and so forth. So we liberals do stand for liberty but it can’t be unlimited liberty. So there’s that, then the question arises to borders and who we allow to come into the country, so let’s be clear about this, it’s true that certain kinds of diversity can add and enrich us, its also true that many of us in this room are immigrants to these islands [inaudible], and my people were, a long long time ago, came from France, most people here are immigrants, at some point rather. But if you think liberal institutions and a liberal society are important, you will want to preserve them and you will be aware that large scale immigration, especially of people form very foreign parts of the country, and particularly if its sudden, can start to destabilise institutions, can start to create mistrust. So the questions are not, I think just shutting the door, the question is control, and I think there can be good moral reasons if you care about the preservation of a certain social cohesion and the stability of institutions, to want a certain measure of control, and it’s not a matter of just pulling up the drawbridge, I think.

Speaker 1: Can I ask [inaudible] what your thoughts are, or your explanation for something which has troubled me for a long time, which is why there are permissible forms of nationalism and impermissible forms of nationalism? Why for instance if someone were to describe themselves as Scotts nationalists its currently, you may agree or disagree, it doesn’t them a Nazi immediately. An English nationalist, more of a problem.

Nigel Biggar: Yes, that’s right.

Speaker 1: Obviously across the continent there are historical reasons for some of this, but it’s been a mystery to me for some time because it’s as if the history falls out somehow unevenly.

Nigel Biggar: Yes, that’s quite right, I’m not sure I have a clear answer to that, but I myself assume in terms of my own self-description I probably revolve by the world nationalist although I’ve now been called it. Because I mean nationalism tends to quote a sort of kind of populist rabid [inaudible], xenophobic and on the left room regarding that is what it means I guess. So I prefer the word patriot although, tell me if I’m wrong, I think even calling myself a patriot [inaudible] is singly odd.

Speaker 1: English patriot.

Nigel Biggar: English patriot okay, but even a British patriot? But you’re right, how the scots got away with it.

Audience member
: There’s a good title for a book!

Audience laughs.

Nigel Biggar: It may be because Scottish nationalism has a long history, and for a long time if you read [inaudible] excellent history of the unions with England Scotland, or the unionisms, he makes it clear for a long time Scottish nationalism wasn’t about or mainly about separating form the UK, it was about fighting for Scotland’s rightful place in the British empire, and they had to do it prestige and at a kind of equal place with England, so in that sense nationalism wasn’t separatist, and maybe was less radical and therefore has become more acceptable. But it’s an interesting point.

Speaker 2: About the same thought occurs to me, not to waste your [inaudible] the same thought occurs to me with Ireland which [inaudible] with Sweden. Why should it be that country that has not engaged in foreign policy, pretty much, but sat out World War 2 that the only statue in Ireland to anyone who died in WW2 was to [inaudible] who of course died on a Nazi German submarine trying to arrange gun running, and his statue still last time I looked, standing in the park of Dublin [inaudible] after Adolf Hitler committed suicide he goes to the German embassy and signs the book of condolence. Now how in that situation does one end up looking like let’s say the umpire at best in the global tennis game, and the victor ends up looking worse than this.

Nigel Biggar: The thought has come to me, nationalism is fine, so long defined against and empire so if its anti-British nationalism is fine, but that’s common to Scottish nationalism and Irish nationalism and of course all post-colonial nationalisms too, so that has to be it. And therefore shameful, I guess what’s shameful is to feel attachment to the post imperial power, presumably because it’s post imperial.

Speaker 2: And yet again I mean this is only in certain situations isn’t it, because I mean it seems at the moment permissible to feel a degree of nostalgia for the ottoman empire for instance.

Nigel Bigger: Yes, yes.

Speaker 2: Not for the British empire. I would suggest [inaudible] at oxford university would have said something mildly complimentary about the Turkish president and what he’s been doing and historical laws, it would not have got a person anything like the mind field you have walked into.

Nigel Bigger: Yes that’s right one thing I have learnt reflecting on the kind of criticism I have received form post colonialist colleagues is that the [inaudible] is entirely against, is focused entirely on western and British  empire so it’s been pointed out by various people I’ve read that of course and indeed my main college on the ethics and empire project who resigned during the ruckus, that empire historically has been a universal phenomenon, everyone did it, the Chinese did it, the Mughals did it, the Arabs certainly did it, and you know to some extent china still does it. But this doesn’t receive the same field of attention. So it’s quite clear to me that the [inaudible] against empire and British empire is an [inaudible] against the west. And it goes back to this whole narrative that the reason the world is in trouble is because of the west and I guess the west here is associated with capitalism, and exploitation and inequality and racism, I think that has to explain it.

Looking at this historically is it obvious that that though process might end? How that exhausts itself? How runs into contradictions which might finally at least slow it down or?

To some extent, when trying to push back against the Scottish nationalist narrative. Okay so you want Britain to abandon it, or to abjure its imperial interfering do Gooding do badding career and become like Ireland or Sweden. Okay, so do you think no one needs to do the global policing, it just doesn’t need doing? Really? No one needs to provide military power to uphold international law, to intervene when genocide is taking place? Really? Or do you think that someone else should do it not us. Well who else? The US? Well yes, but you may have noticed the US is getting a bit fed up of being the only one that does it. Russia? Or do you want china to rule? Really? I guess that’s yes pushing that line of thinking, to ask what are you really wanting? What’s the alternative? So I come round to saying well there’s no chance that Belgium or Austria are going to start pulling the military weight in the world, we at least have a memory of doing it or a habit of doing it. If the world needs it on the whole, I’d rather trust us than others.

(Audience laughs)


Douglas Murray: Let’s wait till Q&A to have some of this out as this is a lot more, but just one more question before we hand over to the audience.

Speaker 3: One of the great relief of your book is somebody taking so seriously this and thinking so deeply about this question of what you described as citizens formed in certain virtues, it’s very striking that the manner in which were able to talk about being British or being part of this country as other western European nations also having trouble to define being what part of their country is that it tends to fall out into a specific form, a modern understanding of liberalism, of a particular kind, that to be for instance integrated into a western European country into this country is to be a certain type of liberal and one of the frustrating things in all this is precisely you put your finger on that none of these counties are starting from scratch and more are we simply trying to perfect and abstract game of make the perfect liberal state and that we have somewhere we are coming from with its own traditions and its own habit, which of course habits of the heart, and that this is something that has to be perpetuated somehow, there are every few people it seems to me that thinking about this at the moment or are thinking about how to pass that on as you say to understand the past or understand it to create our present or our future. So just before we hand over to the audience for some other questions how more widely do you see the ability, the opportunity to invite people into hat ongoing conversation, that ongoing discussion of virtues.

Nigel Biggar: Yep I think this is enormously important, so what can I offer positively? I mean I think because I’m an ethicist by training and also because I’m a Christian I think the language of virtue is not foreign to me. And I mean you know my view is that most of us have deep moral convictions, but because of our certain views that come to prevail among us we find it very difficult to articulate and talk about, so I think part of what my job is and anyone else who recognises the importance of information is to talk about it, let’s talk. And I observed in universities that often times university professors and this will go for school teachers too that we do actually tacitly and implicitly expect and therefore form our students in virtue, to get a good mark you have to show that you can read a text justly, right? don’t misread it, don’t make it say something it didn’t say, and when you make it your argument you know, take the enemy at its strongest. Be charitable, [inaudible] make it better then know it down. So, in all sorts of ways I think in the classrooms, in the lecture theatre we teachers we do actually form students in virtues, or some of us do. But in 30 years of being around universities I have never ever ever heard a colleague talk about it, ever. But it thinks it’s probably one the most important things we do in terms of studying education, so I think that one thing is those of us who think it’s important just talk about it [inaudible] and tell me if I’m wrong folks but you recognise. Now as for where we find the deep routes to kind of nourish the authority of some of what I’ve mentioned. Well that’s a really good question, were in a kind of, I don’t accept that were a secular society, were a society in transition some of us are religious some of us are not, some of us are a bit religious some of us are not a bit religious. Our law isn’t [inaudible]. So were asking now, we want to be liberal but what kind of liberal are we going to be? And yes I’m just pointing out Christian churches have shaped the society and they have propagated a world view that takes sense of certain virtues not [inaudible] or docility or forbearance and I guess observing some of the behaviour of my younger colleagues during the ruckus of the empire I’m thinking, are you evidence of what a post Christian society looks like? Because if so were in trouble.

Audience laughs.

Nigel Biggar: But this raises a big question, that am I saying that everyone needs to become Christian? And I know Douglas you wouldn’t describe yourself as a Christian, and so, and we’ve had this conversation before in, face to face and I think I wasn’t brought up a Christian I opted to go into it, my father was very bemused he put his hand on my shoulder aged twelve, his Scottish hand and said ‘son it’s just a phase.’

Audience laughs.

Nigel Biggar: But I do understand what it feels like to look at religious people and think what on earth is going on there. But my view is this, that now doubt there are some very strong believers and very strong un-believers, most of us I think we kind of like bits we don’t like other bits. And whether its joining the conservative party and the labour party or getting married, or any commitment, we make compromises, we don’t like it all. And I guess what I’d say is if you recognise that Christian churches or Christian schools, and parents recognise this, uphold certain values or generate certain virtues then give it more or less benefit of the doubt and support it, for that reason alone, that’s what I’d say. And the other thing I can say to this is maybe other matrixes of virtue and I’m not wanting to claim that Christians are the only matrix, and there will be certain kinds of Islam and Judaism and indeed humanism that generate the same kind of thing, but let’s support those too. I don’t want to be exclusive in that sense.

Yes, I was speaking to an atheist friend recently who said watching stampedes like the one that occurred against you that he said he started to worry that the only thing worse than religion is its absence.

Audience laughs.

Nigel Biggar: But, I think particularly if I may say the issue that’s much on all of our minds at the moment is the issue of honest and dishonest criticism. I’ve been saying recently there’s a writer, one was trained oneself to ensure you wrote in the manner that meant that an honest critic couldn’t miss-honestly represent you. And that today you have to write in order to, apart from anything else, ensure that a dishonest critic cannot dishonestly misrepresent you. And that this makes the act of writing and speaking in front of a lot of people in public almost impossible. Because a false allegation appears able to ring as true as true one. I’m going to hand over to the audience to just say beforehand by the way that your list [inaudible] of virtues that you gave at one point in your opening remarks I hope somebody has a transcript and make sure they can get that list to me because it was a superlative list of what one should regard as virtues in a society like this. I’m going to hand over to the audience, please raise your hand, please don’t give us your life story, gentleman at the front.

Speaker 4: Thank you, my name is [inaudible] and can I take up on your point about post-colonial criticism, for the last two years, I’ll be very brief, I’ve been writing geo-political [inaudible] for an Indian newspaper called the Sunday guardian. I don’t deal with Indian politics, I don’t understand it but the point is, its published every week or so, I tend to read the other page so about 6 or so in the newspaper all written by Indians and I see a lot of this criticism you refer to about you know 70 years ago since the partition and yet they are still blaming us for their current ills. And I am coming to the conclusion that it’s actually a masquerade for their own failure. Let’s blame it on the British, how far would you go along with that argument?

Douglas Murray: Do you want to take a couple?

Nigel Biggar: Yes sure.

Speaker 5: Uh [inaudible] When you remarked earlier about anti colonialist who suggest that Britain should play a less interventionist role in the world as a kind of global policeman. You said we should ask them who do you think should occupy that role, Russia or china. But what you didn’t mention I think is the obvious institution that I think anti globalists, sorry anti colonialists should say which is the united nations. Which was set up after the war precisely to become a cosmopolitan. And the reason its failed and the reason why just today the united states has withdrawn their human rights agencies is precisely because initially only states which recognise human rights and were tolerant and were vaguely liberal democratic were supposed to be members, but then everyone joined the club and it became skewered. But isn’t the idea of an international liberal order one in which there would be a global institution like that which would be the ultimate peacekeeper.

Douglas Murray: And a third and final round and then I’ll come to you.

Speaker 6: Emma Webb. I was wondering what your opinion is on the potential of the church of England to do as you said, particularly given the character of its leadership.

Douglas Murray: You don’t have to answer all the questions.

Audience laughs.

Nigel Biggar: I’ll be very discreet in answering the last one. So thank you. So your remark about Indians blaming the Brits [inaudible] so well first of all one of the criticisms that my post-colonial critics first made was you need, they said, to take account of how it looked to the subjects of empire. I was able to respond the subjects of empire be they black African or brownish Indian, didn’t and don’t all think the same thing. So one of my closest allies who’s come on board my project is [inaudible] who lives between Islington and Bombay, as he puts it. And he had been debated twice now against [inaudible] the charismatic but not very scrupulous Indian MP. So, first thing to say is what you report is right I presume amongst Indian nationalist but there will be other radians who don’t agree with them. But I mean I don’t know India but I take it Hindu nationalism is ascendant. Yes, and I guess this is one of the characteristic vices of nationalism that it feeds itself by pointing a finger at other people and it makes yourself feel better by denigrating other people and that’s not what I mean by patriotism at all. So now thank you for your observation. And then your point about the UN, I mean I do believe in the UN, I believe in the UN as a forum for international accountability, a forum for sometimes international corporation consensus but I don’t think the UN will ever be a global state. The UN is a deeply political organisation and it is always run I tandem with classic modes of international relations. And besides the UN has no power except what nation states give it, not this military power. So the UN I think is an important addition to international institutions but it can never replace national states. I mean some would have it replaced, I don’t see that as utopian myself. And then as for the current leadership of the church of England I know the arch bishop and I like him. I won’t comment on the leadership ill just comment on the church. I mean the problem with the church at the moment is it is so consumed with internal battles over same sex marriage which I regard on the whole as a complete distraction from the real business. It doesn’t have much time to pay attention to it national role, and I hope sooner or later and [inaudible] has tried to do that, he has made some comment on banking and on loan sharks, he did that early on. But I hope the church will get back to the major business of serving the national community.

Douglas Murray: I’m going to come to the audience we have three people lined up. I’m just going to say by the way that was the most diplomatic description [inaudible] I have ever heard.

Audience laughs.

When he came to V&A to talk about his last book on empire I was amazed by the questions that nobody asked, but which everyone in Indian would ask. Gentleman over there, gentleman there and then the gentleman here. And then we’ll try to squeeze in another round so please could we be brief thank you.

Speaker 7: James [inaudible] Fascinating talk and well worth the diversion but I was always told that you couldn’t do a lunchtime talk that took people from a long [inaudible] without them a clear call to action. And in a very British way you certainly understated that call to action. At a previous henry Jackson event here we had someone describe the American Baptist church where as you left there was a big sign on the door saying you are entering mission territory.

Audience laughs.

What’s our mission out of this? Out of this talk?

Douglas Murray: Gentleman over there.

Speaker 8: I’ve had to comment on whether [inaudible] morality of policing were seeing and the sort of [inaudible] twitter mobs are characterised by sort of post religious [inaudible] and what part that plays in [inaudible].

Douglas Murray: Very good question, and the gentleman here.

Speaker 9: How to encourage our spineless politicians to get a backbone and enforce laws that we already have? For example, on [inaudible] apparently there’s five thousand young girls subject to [inaudible] each year but not one single prosecution. Various terrorists that are illegally [inaudible] not reported, the list goes on and on and on. There’s a great sense of unfairness in the general population that laws are not being enforced, they’re there but spineless politicians won’t actually take chare. Where there is [inaudible], you’ve got the BBC not reporting of it etc. etc. there’s such a sense of unfairness in society. How do we actually try and address that?

Douglas Murray: Very very good question.

Speaker 10: I’ll try and be brief. So [inaudible] what’s the mission?

Nigel Biggar: That’s a very good question and maybe you can descend my mission more clearly than I can. At this point I’d say that first the mission, yes the mission is to be proud of lots of what we’ve done, very proud. Let me make clear that my view is if you love something, only if you love something, can it disappoint you. If you don’t care about it, it can’t disappoint you. So I love this country, it often disappoints me and therefore sometime shames me. So don’t be frightened of shame or disappointment because it shows you love. But let’s love, I don’t care whether you call this very patriot but compared to other parts of the world we are enormously fortunate and we owe a lot to those who went before us. So the first thing is if you care, if you care say it and show it can give others advice, it doesn’t have to be uncritical, okay that’s the first thing. And therefore secondly, you know were not going to be top dog again, that’s okay, that’s really okay, even when we were top dog we worried constantly of not being top dog anymore, it was in 1870 where [inaudible] was worrying about the decadency of the US, 1870. Right so were not going to be top dog anymore but as I put it elsewhere just because we can’t be on top anymore, let’s not have any sort of pretensions to reinvent the empire. But on the other hand let’s stop sulking you know we are number one but we have a lot to give, a lot to give and we have a lot of resources to give it with so that is the second part of my mission and therefore yes Britain lets be global and let’s punch above our weight when we can if we can do that let’s do it. It’s not delusory if we can do it, its canny. Secondly, good point about the puritanical unforgiving utterly unforgiving moralism and I speak as an ethicist that comes emotionally experienced from certain parts of the left, yes it is relentless, certainly relentless and that was when I was [inaudible], and maybe it would come from the right [inaudible] on a different occasion. So where does this come from I do not know, I just observe it is utopian, it is, it appears to be completely lacking in self-awareness, completely lacking in self-criticism, and therefore conceives nothing, ever. Which is why I blocked them on twitter.

audience laughs

Nigel Biggar: Because you can’t have a conversation. You know I have things to learn and if I’m wrong I will conceive it. But if you’re talking to someone who appears to learn nothing and sees nothing, what is the point?

Audience laughs.

Nigel Biggar: But there is this big question you know if large numbers of people are of that mind what do you do constructively? Just one anecdote here, there was a time when I thought that trying to talk to [inaudible] was a complete waste of time and still wonder that I have tried it with Jehovah witnesses and it didn’t work and I was inclined to conclude that talking to such people is just like trying to talk to a drunk. But then I read biographies of [inaudible] and the [inaudible] and I read [inaudible] and what’s the other British?


Thank you, Muslim Islamist who changed his mind and in many of those cases what caused them to change from republicanism and [inaudible] Islamism out of it was a remark made or an event that took a long time for the penny to drop, but eventually the penny dropped and therefore I think, okay maybe just telling the truth to someone who seems completely impervious and someone completely [inaudible] may be in god’s good time will have an effect, we don’t know.

Douglas Murray: Thank you, oh was there one more?

Nigel Biggar: Just briefly, I have no idea; the problem is right now with Brexit no one has time to do anything other than Brexit. I don’t know.

Douglas Murray: We’re going to be very quick, gentleman there, gentleman there, gentleman, there, gentleman there.

Speaker 11: I read theology and it oxford and [inaudible] I have a global and an Indian question so which one would you prefer?

Douglas Murray: Whichever you think is best, and shortest.

Audience laughs.

Speaker 11: When leaving many of our territories in Africa for example British Cameroon, Somalia and, British Somali land [inaudible] and many others we effectively compelled many of the British colonies to forcibly join with other ethnic groups, these are often resource rich areas and the people form those territories, they’re not doing any jihad or communism so there are many allies which they simply don’t have in the west and other countries and their yearning for freedom. To which extent do we have an ethical responsibility to assist people that we have left behind who are natural friends of the United Kingdom and who are suffering tremendously.

Douglas Murray: Very good question. Gentleman there.

Speaker 12: With permission a question to Douglass Murray, I’ve never heard you say anything I disagree with… until today.

Audience laughs.

But how do you explain Douglas your statement you said I think currently still legal to quote the bible. Doing a very quick google search because know I’m always reading these stories and in the last 5 years I could only quickly identify one year which was 2016 in which there were no arrest for simply street preaches standing up and quoting the bible in the states, whether its Bristol, London, Manchester, Scotland. Usually this is to do with sexuality, arrested and usually detained within the police stations.

Douglas Murray: Thank you, wasn’t quite within the rules but I’ll answer it in due course.

Audience laughs.

Our empire cannot be defended as long as we have a common wealth of whom we overlook, graft indolence foreign aid for this country as well as others and there is no [inaudible] to the gentleman on my lefts question after 70 years we are still handicapped by your empire.

Douglas Murray: Thank you, and because this room feels like it’s about to be used for hot yoga, gentleman the back.

Audience laughs.

Speaker 13: Tom Wilson, if I’ve understood you correctly you’ve spoken a lot about national identity and simply identity in terms of shared values, liberal values and shared beliefs. I wonder is there a liberal compatible form of national identity that doesn’t slip into ethnic nationalism or racism? But still makes an allowance for a sense of shared peoplehood, some allowance for shared ancestry shared historical experience, historical customs because that seems to me that’s what binds many ordinary people together at least as much as shared values.

Nigel Biggar: You take the question about [inaudible]. Thanks for that, that’s an interesting question about the legacy of decolonisation. So, there’s no doubt for various good reasons we decolonised probably too fast and of course one of the benefits of and overarched imperial authority is that ethnic groups that would normally be at war with one another are kept at peace and when the empire leaves then all sorts of ethnic tensions rise again. But your question is about whether we have a duty to assist. My view is that yes this country of course has a duty to [inaudible] peoples, we can’t take the whole world because of our imperial history we have a special duty tor former colonies and that might well involve depending on the case assisting the legal or groups such as you described.

Just to go to the last question there, yes whether we can have a liberal national identity that doesn’t slide into nationalism or racism is that right?

Speaker 13: But also allows for shared ancestry shared historical experience that isn’t just about values.

Nigel Biggar: Yes, oh, not sure I can answer that very efficiently except that to say values are abstractions. And it seems to me that what inspires us are our often stories about past shared histories, I mean most Brits may not love everything about Churchill but it’s hard to see [inaudible]. And it’s quite possible for people to come from the Indian subcontinent and buy into that story, so I think there should be shared stories. Although in a liberal society there will always be dissenters, not everyone likes Churchill at all, so there will be variety, but I think we need more than abstract values and laws, we need traditions and institutions that carry these traditions.

Speaker 14: Football teams?

Nigel Biggar: Sometimes.

Footballs teams I’m sure.

Audience laughs.

I’ve never taken interest in football I’m afraid but I’ll take your word for it.

Yeah interesting.

Douglas Murray: And I’ll just, I didn’t know that stat on 2016 did you say the first year.

Speaker 12: That’s form the quote google clearly find 13, 14, 15, 17.

Douglas Murray: Yes, it is always public order offences [inaudible]. And yes let’s preach the peace I think by the way that whole portion of the act is something that should be absolutely reconsidered, it repeatedly puts what’s permissible to say into the jurisdiction of anyone who claims to be offended. And which is obviously an intolerable state of affairs because anybody could, if we wanted to do that have a standoff and be equally insincere in our allegations of offence. we could indeed grind society to a halt. As a specific thing [inaudible] the problem I think this raises are what happens when people reveal themselves not in the midst of a campaign but after the point of victory where which one can tell a lot about people which is such an occasion I think that after getting for instance gay rights I see no reason as to why you should then behave victoriously without [inaudible] towards somebody who wants to quote the [inaudible] in public, it seems absolutely central for the liberal world view. We have just such a thing with outbursts of cake baking (audience laughs) in northern island and indeed in America recently. And just before thanking Nigel Bigger, the Churchill example just came up as a very telling one in one sense it comes into the gentleman’s question at the back at the age of twitter in which is one thing strikes me is a great problem we have in our age is the inability to forgive. Social media presents a way of people for instance forever stuck with their worst joke, and it’s a nightmare really. And there’s lots of people whose lives re ruined because they once made a bad joke in the work context which ends up being sent to another person and before you know it the whole worlds got it and your life is destroyed. Which puts a deep ones onus being very funny all the time.

Audience laughs

Which is possibly not something we could live with, and the church for example is a very tight one on this because people say what about this what about that and you say yes but on balance what might we think? Yes, okay, maybe he drank too much, could we balance that? With saving the world for Nazis? Then possibly.

Audience laughs.

And it’s in that light that social media discourages us from acting and thinking but in that light that we should be thinking and Nigel Biggar said only if you love something can it disappoint you, well he certainly didn’t disappoint us today. It’s been an enormous pleasure an and honour to have you here, just to remind you again books are outside please I do urge you to buy them it really is enormously interesting and I think important work. And just leaves me to say thank you and please do thank professor Nigel Biggar in the usual way.

Audience claps.



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