Nigel Biggar’s lecture at the Chrisitanity & National Security Conference 2022.

Nigel Biggar discusses the history and Biblical perspective on empires, and advocates for American empire. The following is a transcript of the lecture.

So, uh, to continue the British and Oxford theme, I… I’m British and I live in Oxford. Um, so I’m a Christian ethicist. Um, my next book will come out on February thanks to Harper Collins, and it’s called Colonialism: a Moral Reckoning, and it makes the… the rather unfashionable argument that empire, and in particular the British empire can be and was often politically legitimate, which you’ll understand is not a popular view these days. Um, on the back of that I… I published an article in First Things Magazine, which you’ll know about, I think in August with the title “In Defense of a…” “A Christian Defense of American Empire.”  

So what I’m going to try and persuade you this morning is that America is and has something of an empire and that you should support it. Three parts to my talk. First of all, mainly, mainly history, uh partly history you know or think you know upon the history. Then, secondly, I’ll talk about the New Testament a bit, and then thirdly I’ll bring this up to the present day and talk about American power. And I speak as a Britain, um, I know America well. My doctor was from the University of Chicago. My wife is American, but I’m not American. So you hear this from a non-American. 

There was a time when many people, um at least in Europe, thought that empire was a good thing, bringing the benefits of humanitarian emancipation, the ending of endemic into tribal warfare, modern sciences, and technology, and moral and religious enlightenment to the united places and peoples of the Earth. Those like me, whose parents were born before 1914, my father was born in 1913, are separated from that era by one single generation. By the end of the first World War, however, several mighty stars in the imperial firmament had fallen and the future of those that remained looked insecure. Moreover, the sheer fact of imperial disillusion where the Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian or German or Russian was given moral impetus.  

When at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, your own Woodrow Wilson lent American weight to the notion that nations possess a natural right to self-determination. Since then, empires have commonly been identified with imperialism and imperialism with oppression and exploitation. Now, I don’t need to explain to you why Americans instinctively identify themselves as anti-imperialist. Correct me if I’m wrong, right? So the U.S. was born out of the struggle to throw off the constraints of the British Empire. And, according to the conventional patriotic story, the war of 1775-83 was one of national freedom against imperial tyranny.  

What I want to do right now is to persuade you that that story is not quite so straightforward. What was the tyranny? Um, allegedly, at issue, answer monarchy with absolutist unconstitutional tendencies manifested in the arbitrary imposition of intolerable taxes and enforced by brutal military coercion. Here we have the imperialist archetype of empire. But is that actually an accurate description of the behavior of George III and the British government, or is it in fact a stereotype? 

It’s true that quick politicians in Britain believe that the king was subverting the Constitution by using royal patronage to control, that is to say, by Parliament, and that this reading of events influence their political allies across the water in colonial America. It is true that, in 1765, the Grenville Ministry unilaterally imposed direct taxation upon the colonies, which was unprecedented, by the way, of the Stamp Act. It’s true that the American colonists didn’t have direct representation in Westminster, and it’s true that the behavior of British troops in and around Boston on the eve of the war was sometimes provocative and sometimes brutal. All that’s true. But the following is also true. 

First, contemporary historians judge that we… anxiety about another resurgence of absolute monarchy in England was altogether overwrought. The buying of political influence by the crown was a serious problem, but it fell a long way short of what the word “tyranny” connotes. And I’d recommend you to the um, the new biography published last year by Andrew Roberts of George III which is A Vindication of George III, if that interests you enough. It’s about, yeah, yeah.  

Sec… secondly, Townsend taxes had been levied to help defray the costs of the French and Indian war of 1754-63, which had secured the English colonies in America but had resulted in a doubling of the British national debt and a quintupling… a quintupling of the expense of colonial defensive administration. Foreign… 

Nevertheless, thanks to a combination of American resistance, including mob violence, British mercantile lobbying, and a change of ministry, the Stamp Act was repealed the following year. Besides that issue, Rosen fell nine years before the outbreak of war in 1775. The infamous customs duty on tea did precipitate war… that did precipitate… that did precipitate the war was quite different. It was an external tax, the likes of which had long been used by the imperial government to raise revenue.  

Third, while it’s true that the colonies did not elect Members of Parliament to Westminster, they did have agents in London who recruited British MPs to their cause. American views were not unrepresented. And fourth, 18th Century soldier… soldiery was generally unruly and brutal. Come the war, even American Patriots did atrocious things. Yet the most famous instance of British military brutality is surely the Boston Massacre, so called, where blood-thirsty redcoats gunned down innocent civilians. Except that, as historians now acknowledge the redcoats weren’t so blood-thirsty, nor the civilians quite so innocent.  

So this picture to… Further factors need to be added. First, one of the manifestations of the tyranny against which the colonists reacted was the British granting of religious tolerance to Roman Catholics in Quebec in the Quebec Act of 1774. Roman Catholicism being equated with political tyranny, this was taken as a further sign of the absolutist tendencies of British government, but in fact, it was nothing of the sort. The granting of tolerance was merely an act of political prudence and nonetheless for that, aimed at encouraging the Catholic French to live peaceably under British rule. 

Secondly, in the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the British had promised Native Americans that colonists would not invade and settle the lands west of the Appalachians. To the colonists, of course, this was another manifestation of tyranny, a deeply unwelcome constraint upon what they saw as their natural right to expand. Urging the claims of the United States upon the Mississippi Valley against Spain, James Madison wrote to Lafayette in 1785: “Nature has given us… Nature has given us the use of the Mississippi to those who may settle on its waters, as she gave the United States their independence. Nature seems on all sides to be reasserting those rights which have so long been trampled on by tyranny and bigotry. If the United States would become parties to the occlusion of the Mississippi River, they would be guilty of treason against the very laws under which they obtained and hold their national existence.” 

On the natural moral claims of the Native Americans, Madison was silent. I simply wanted to complicate the story of the war by which the American colonists seceded from Britain is not simply a story of liberty versus tyranny. That doesn’t begin to do the details justice, and misleads far more than informs yes, the representation of the colonies, colonists, and their interests in the imperial law-making. 

Tax-imposing Parliament was only indirect, and so weaker than it could, and uglier than it should have been. But the principle, the primary beneficiaries of the French and Indian War should bear a fair share of its costs. It’s incontrovertible, and the practice of external taxation by which the government sought to realize that principle had long been established. 

What’s more in this case… in this case, it was the empire that upheld the liberty of Roman Catholics to practice their religion in Quebec, and it was the empire who upheld the liberty of Native Americans not to be invaded. And the empire upheld these liberties against the colonial anti-imperialists. My main point is empires don’t always live down to their stereotype and more than patriotic freedom fighters always live up to theirs. Okay. That’s the history lesson over. 

Now, now, um, some thoughts on… on the New Testament and empire, because it seems to me Americans naturally identify themselves as anti-imperialists. Many American Christians took to interpreting the Bible as anti-empire during the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the U.S. was left of the world’s sole superpower in the late 1990s. In the first decade of the present century, the topic of empire became fashionable among American scholars of the Bible, especially New Testament. And I have a list of titles I could read out to you now if you wanted. Um, by the way, if you’re taking notes, you don’t have to because a longer version of this, as I said, is published in First Things. It’s available online. 

The moral assumption that informs these American scholars’ biblical interpretation is that empire is basically wrong. The interpretative conclusion that they reach is that the Bible and especially, especially the New Testament says that empire is basically wrong. Thus, their implicit and sometimes not so implicit moral, political conclusion is that insofar as one regards the Bible’s moral views to be authoritative. The imperial foreign policy of the administration of George W. Bush was basically wrong.  

Uh, in the final chapter of the book I published eight years ago under the title of Between Kin and Cosmopolis: an Ethic of the Nation, I argue that this set of assumption, interpretation, and conclusion is largely mistaken. And I did that by analyzing, uh, some of the essays in a collection by the American New Testament scholar Richard Horsley and the collections called In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance, published in 2008. So if you want the full argument, I must refer you to the final chapter of Killing Cosmopolis. Here, suffice it for me to say that the historical and moral assumptions that Horsley imports into his interpretation of the Gospels are just plain wrong. 

His thesis is that Jesus’s mission belonged to the Galilean tradition of direct opposition to the Roman Empire. In support of this he offers a number of arguments. Among them is the claim that the stories of Jesus’s exorcisms should be read in the light of ethnographic studies of G… of demon possession among East African peoples. Among these peoples, and I quote “exorcism counts the names of some of the,” excuse me. Um, yeah. In the “exorcism council, some of these people, the names of some of the demons were of invasive foreign forces such as Lord Cromer, the British general who led the military expedition south through the Sudan.” End of quote. 

Accordingly, the story in the Gospel of Mark about the exorcism of Legion, uh, Horsley argues that story should be read as a symbolic expulsion of imperialist Roman troops. So what… what Horsley is doing is… is saying that, um, these stories of exorcism, particularly the story of Legion are both anti-imperialist. The message is anti-imperialist, so New Testament is anti-imperialist, anti-empire. But Horsley got his history completely wrong. The first problem is that Lord Cromer, who apparently was being… being exorcised by these… these East African counts… Lord Cromer wasn’t a general. He was a banker. His name was Evelyn Baring, as in Barings Bank which went bankrupt about three decades ago. Um, when the Egyptian government, um, became insolvent in the late 1870s, partly because it couldn’t persuade large landowners to pay anything but, like, taxes.  

The ruler of Egypt, the Khedivate, sought loans from Europe. France and Britain agreed to bailout but only in condition that they should oversee the reform of the Egyptian government’s finances rather like, um, in 2007-8, the European Union behaved toward Greece and Italy when they went insolvent. Evelyn Baring was sent to Cairo to design and implement the reforms. Naturally, the Egyptian ruling class felt humiliated and they did resent Baring’s rather autocratic manner, which was exacerbated by his poor opinion of their qualities, and consequently Baring became a hate-figure among anti-imperialists. So the American Biographer Bering Roger Owen tells us a story at the beginning of his book about, um, he was in the vicinity of Cromer, which is a place in Norfolk, in England, where Lord Cromer is buried. And he met some Egyptian students who wanted to find his grave and he said, so why do you want to visit his grave? And they said because want to spit in it.  

However, writing in 1968, the Egyptian-born, now American-based historian so dismissed nationalist exaggeration of Cromer’s errors, noting his affection for youth, for Egypt, and commenting that, and I quote “his financial policy, low taxation, efficient fiscal administration, carefully expenditure on remunerative public works and minimum interference in the internal and external traffic of goods plus Egypt’s powers of recreation due to her fertile soil had by 1890 brought prosperity to the country. The real per capita income during the first decade of the 20th Century was higher than at any time in modern Egyptian history with the possible exception of the early 1920s.”  

Paul is Hosler’s choice of imperialist demon, is unfortunate in a second respect. Lord Cromer was not a general who led the British, who led British and Egyptian troops up the Nile from Egypt into Sudan. That was Herbert Kitchener. And what was Kitchener doing in the Sudan? He was doing the bidding of a British government that had with the deepest reluctance bowed to popular pressure and ordered an army to go to the rescue of General Charles George Gordon. Why did Gordon need rescuing? Because he was besieged in Khartoum by the Islamist forces of the Messianic Mahdi. And what was Gordon doing in Khartoum, and what made some certain Indians seriously unhappy at his presence? 

Gordon, a very convinced Christian, was intent upon suppressing the slave trade. With all due respect, Richard Horsley, Empire is not always imperialist and oppressive, nor the opponents of empire always emancipators. As the historical and moral assumptions that Horsley brings to the Biblical text are dubious, so his interpretation is correspondingly distorted. Jesus tells us he was opposed to the Roman Empire, and that’s why the imperialist Romans had him killed. The weakness of the evidence produced in support of this interpretation, however, exposes its tendentiousness.  

Horsley’s anti-Roman reading of the story of the exorcism of the garrison demoniac, for example, rests entirely on the meaning of the name that the possessing evil spirit gives himself: Legion. No this, of course, can refer to a Roman military unit comprising between five and six thousand Roman soldiers. They can also be used sometimes, used as a metaphor for a large number of all sorts of things, as we often use it in English language. We talk about legions of things. We’re not talking about Roman soldiers at all. We just mean lots of things. Words aren’t universal. They mean different things in different contexts. 

So how should we determine the meaning of the word “legion?” In this case, are there any other elements in the story as told in the Biblical text that suggested political anti-Roman meaning? No there aren’t. As Adela Yarbrough Collins writes, and I quote, “it may be that in the original form of the account, the name Legion was chosen to express an anti-Roman sentiment. There is, however, no theme of opposition to Roman mark. The aim of the story is not, at least not primarily, to make a statement about the Romans, but to show how Jesus rescued the man from his plight and restored him to a normal life.” End quote. 

What’s more, the text itself tells us how to interpret the evil spirit’s name. It tells us “my name is Legion, for we are many.” Not “my name is Legion for we are Roman.” My own view of the New Testament’s view in summary is that it doesn’t think that empire as a political form is essentially evil. First, according to the Gospels, the prime movers of Jesus’s death, if not its final executors are the Jewish religious authorities, not the Roman imperial ones. The Roman Governor Pilate appears very inclined to tolerate Jesus’s activities until he is reluctantly maneuvered into doing the will of the rebel-rousing chief priests and elders. The Gospels are unanimous in saying that Pilate considered Jesus to be innocent of the political charge against him. In the governor’s person, then the empire is portrayed as too weak, not too strong. 

Second, imperial soldiers appear in both the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles as paragons of faith. Third, whatever Saint Paul’s criticism of imperial authorities, the politically conservative affirmation in his epistle to the Romans of the beneficence of the governing authorities and of the duty to be subject to them implies that he did not regard imperial rules necessarily wrong. Indeed, if the Acts of the Apostles is to believe he owed his life to imperial intervention, when Roman troops rescued him from the lethal clutches of the Jewish mob in Jerusalem, finally while the… Johanna and condemnation of Roman Empire in the Revelation to Saint John is characteristically absolute. What is primarily condemned is its religious idolatry, not as imperial form.  

So now, my concluding thoughts on the imperial vocation of the United States. So far, I’ve argued that judging by the past, an empire need not live down to it’s imperialist stereotype as an oppressive, exploitative, tyrannical power. It is… Sometimes its power has been positively emancipatory. I’ve also argued that recent attempts to read anti-imperialism into the Bible and especially the New Testament have been founded on a combination of historical ignorance, mistake moral assumptions, and the resistance of the Biblical text itself.  

If you find my arguments persuasive, um, American Christians such as you ought to become more reconciled to the idea that the U.S. in fact possesses imperial power, should retain it, and has a duty to wield it well rather than badly. The truth is that international affairs has always been characterized by the dominance of some states over others. Asymmetry of power is a fact of international life, which is… the post-1945 presence of international institutions does not remove, and is never likely to. While the United Nations does provide important means of international communication, negotiation coordination, and restraint, it is no substitute for nation states, upon which the U.N. depends entirely for its resources. And some nation states are more powerful than others, dominating each other formally through direct control or treaty of alliance, or informally through economic clout or soft cultural power, where the formal, informal… this international dominance is imperial. 

For 1815 to 1914, the dominant global power was my country and its empire. Arguably, from 1919 more obviously so, from 1945 and most clearly so from 1989, that power has been the U.S. Too many people of Christian or liberal conviction… domination and dominance cannot, repression and tyranny… but they need not. Surely we want the police to dominate the mafia. We want liberal democracy to dominate autocratic tyranny. We want self-defensive Ukrainians to dominate unjustly invading Russians, to dominate need not to be… need not be to dominion, and in a world of inevitably unequal power, it is better than the just. All things considered are more powerful than the unjust.  

Now it’s true of course, that empires like nation states and municipalities and Churches are run by sinners. Consequently, they sometimes do bad things. Sometimes very bad things. So, for example, the British empire presided over 150 years of slave trading and slavery from approximately 1650, and yes in 1807 the British empire denounced the trade and in 1833 it abolished the institution, and then spent the remaining century and a half of its existence until the 1960s suppressing both… both of them all over the world from Brazil through Africa, the Middle East, India, and Malaysia. Indeed, the American political scientists Heim, Kaufman, and Robert paper wrote that Britain’s effort to suppress the Atlantic slave trade alone in 1807-67 was, and I quote: “the most expensive example of costly international moral action recorded in modern history.” 

So even if the U.S. should do penance for broken treaties with the Native Americans, during its original imperial expansion westward in the late 18th and 19th centuries, that does not mean that it should refuse all imperial power and simply retreat from the world today. Because what the U.S. jettison… it’s rival now… China will pick up international politics aboard a vacuum, and there’s no reason at all to suppose that Beijing would be a better steward of dominant imperial power than Washington. Indeed, if the plight of Hong Kong and the Uyghurs is anything to go by, there is good reason to suppose that it would be a lot worse. For sure, being an imperial party is burdensome, but the burden is born in part to ensure that one’s own national people and their way of life are kept secure.  

Because the fact is, those who don’t dominate will themselves be dominated and yes, subordinate allies can be testy and ungrateful, while taking for granted the fruits of the post-1945 Pax Americana, European peoples have often been reluctant to contribute a fair share of the cost of their own defense against Soviet and non-nationalist Russia. But if that rightly irks Americans, and I quite understand why, should I queue, um, America still spends a far, far higher proportion of its GDP on defense than any European country. Um, and even Germany spends less than two percent. You spend over four percent, I think. Um, Britain spends two point something percent, so I can understand why Americans feel that Europeans aren’t doing their bit, but… but if that does irritate you, uh, you might want to reign in your irritation by recollecting that once upon a time, your colonial forebears irked the imperial British by their reluctance to pay a fair share of defense costs. I had to get that in at bottom. 

However, the justification for wielding dominant imperial power lies in the value of the goals it is made to serve. Of course, the first duty of a national government is to defend and promote the security and prosperity of its own people. And to do that for 332 million American human beings is how they are selfish. Act… I often make the point that an interest is not necessarily selfish. The government, the U.S. government has a moral duty to serve the proper interests of the people it represents. That’s not immoral.  

It’s not selfish, but the defense and promotion of the domestic security and well-being of one people depends upon making and keeping the international environment friendly rather than hostile. So what’s defended and promoted at home must also be defended, promoted abroad. And if what’s defended and promoted includes values, institutions generally important for human welfare such as the rule of law and incorrupt civil service and legal rights, then foreign peoples will benefit too. The United States is not the only trustee of such values and institutions, but thanks to the gifts of providence and its own achievements, the U.S. happens to be the most powerful one at this time. It’s primary duty is to its own people, obliges it to use its dominant power to serve others. Secondarily, because if it should surrender its dominant international power, other states, less humane and less liberal, will pick it up. The U.S. has a vocation to shoulder: the imperial burden, certainly for the sake of Americans but also for the sake of the rest of us.  

Thank you. I think we have about… is it twelve minutes for questions? 

Q&A 

Question: Thank you. Sean McGuire from Cairn University. You talked about government and at the close, serving the interests of their people, serving those… the interests of those they care for, but also earlier talked about the expense of ending the slave trade that Brit—the British empire undertook. So how do you evaluate when we do something that harms our own interests economically or otherwise in order to promote a greater good such as abolishing slave trade? 

Answer: Yeah, okay. A good question. Yeah so… so the suppression of this, of slavery, was costly. Um, I think about 17,000 Royal Navy sailors lost their lives, and it also costs a lot of money. Uh, um, I think we then… then have to expand the notion of self… of national self-interest, and I think as a British patriot myself I… I think it matters to me that my country does the right thing. It really matters to me, and it grieves me when it doesn’t. So in a sense, it’s in my interest that my country, um, pursue humanitarian policies, liberal policies. 

Now the question of how much expense. I mean Britain has in terms of percentage of GDP, has been a leading international um, uh, donor of… of aid, and makes um, until recently we gave 0.7 of our GDP away. We’ve now… um, because of the economic crisis pulled back from that, but the question of whether it’s not 0.7 or 0.5 or one percent, that’s all to be argued and… and according to other demands on… on the nation it can go up or down. But I think um, we all want our nation to spend some of our treasure um, on… on doing what’s right for other peoples because what are the nation… well, a nation is for doing good at home, too, um, but I… I guess as a Christian I also wanted to do… do good for other people as well. So expand the notion of national interest, I guess. 

Question: Uh, Nathaniel Krenik, Regent University. Um, so I’m essentially just wondering to what extent is, um, imperialism or empire, I did note that you use these terms somewhat differently, um, and so maybe, if you could also clarify the differentiation between the two terms, but also just like, to what extent would these be justifiable? Um, as we know that the United Kingdom and the United States are not the only ones to have expressed some kind of imperial tendency. Obviously, one could argue that Russia or China are making, you know, um, move on countries like Ukraine or Taiwan and for the sake of imperial interest and so, uh, what… what would justify exactly what imperial interest is. Is it a moral interest, or is there also historical, you know, reasons for… for an empire to… to take form and, or to reform?  

Answer: Thank you. So I think three questions in there. Uh, one is what could… what could justify imperial expansion? Secondly, um, yeah the… the… the um, lots of people have done empire. And then, then thirdly, I’m sorry. In reverse order of your presentation, thirdly terminology, imperialism, empire. So starting with the… that last point, um, I prefer jokes about empire because um, um, one, although I’m an ethicist and a Christian theologian and I… I do… do… I read philosophy. Um, my first love is history and um, abstract concepts like imperialism, which are built into them. Imperialism can be, as it were, a positive doctrine about imperialism. So you can talk about British imperial successful roads, and Alfred Milner, who had a very self-conscious um, ideology of empire, which was positive for them, or imperialism nowadays mean it’s probably… it’s usually the assumptions of Marxist… it’s oppressive, exploitative, and whatever. Um, so I…  

I try and avoid, uh, talking about “isms” and talk about empire, because in actual fact, in historical fact, uh, empire… um, did not live down to the imperialist caricature. Um, yeah. So when I talk about imperialism, it’s usually imperialist. But imperialism, um, as a kind of essence as it has built in into all sorts of negative qualities. Um, but it’s… it’s a… it’s an abstract concept which often was not true to the fact on the ground.  

Um, second… second question, second point is the fact of the matter is that empire has been the default political form of organization throughout the history of the world. Um, from ancient China until the first World War, um, uh, I run… I run a project, but in Oxford, called Ethics and Empire, which is designed to look at how contemporaries viewed empire from ancient China at the modern period, and um, I was really struck when we were looking at uh, um, ancient Chinese and medieval Muslim empire, and looking for critics of empire, there weren’t any. Um, there were discussions about what makes a good and bad emperor, but… but empire as a political form was unremarkable and it’s really… it’s only become, as it were, it’s only got this kind of negative connotation, uh, I think in the 20th Century.  

Uh, and then, what was that? What was the third one? Oh yes, justifications. Um, um… we’re judging by the British empire, I mean, um, and this was true… true of most temples, I think. No one… No one in London woke up one Sunday morning, decided, ah, let’s go and conquer the world. Wouldn’t that be fun? Um, no. No began with trade. East India Company goes to India to trade, uh, then finds that, uh, the hinterland is disrupted by a Civil War, which is bad for trade. So the East India Company hooks up with Indian allies and then develops its own army, and then in response, is given territory as a reward by the Indian allies, and that ends up ruling off of India. So trade security, rule. 

Hong Kong was the same. Um, um, first of all, the British, when trading there, then, um, the royal neighbor who was called in to support the merchants in an unjustified war, as it happens. But then, China’s done the same thing. Um, China now has commercial interest in Africa because of all the commodities it wants to mine, and it now has a naval base on the Red Sea. 

Trade first, security next. So there are all sorts of re… and then, and then you know, another motive for British empire was humanitarian suspension of the slave trade. Uh, and often government didn’t want to do it because it was expensive and… and did it because humanitarians kept lobbying. Um, so, um, the… I find the history of empire just fascinating because, because there are all sorts of reasons why… why it’s… why it, um… why it develops. Yeah. 

Question: Nathan Moyes, Liberty University. I just had two questions for you today. Uh, so first, you mentioned Egypt and how some of the economic reforms, they were unpopular. And my question would be, is there some sort of criterion or balance we should have, uh, as say, an American empire, when we’re looking at situations like this, whether it’s unpopular economic deform… reforms as in Egypt, or defense spending is in the United States, or even uh, just religious and cultural differences as in the Middle East? 

Answer: Yeah, I mean we found this in Iraq and Afghanistan, did we not? You of course, you Americans mostly, but the British were there too, um, uh, trying to help countries of a very, very different culture is not straightforward. Um, and one of the criticisms of recent liberal well-intentioned interventions in I think, even in Iraq and Afghanistan is that we don’t do the staying power. I mean I remember you… this sounds implausible, but it’s actually true. 10 years ago, I was in, uh, my college in Oxford and around the dinner table, there was a Shakespearean troupe of actors from Kabul. And uh, um, I was sat next to an Afghan. He couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Farsi, so we spoke in elementary German and I, I… and he said… He said I’m terrified of the prospect of the Taliban returning and I said I sympathize, but we’ve been involved in Afghanistan for ten years. And we… we were then involved for longer. 

Um, if we want to do good overseas, first of all we have to manage cultural relations because people want help, and yet there are ways of helping which can humiliate. Humiliation would be the resentment. We all… none of us like to be humiliated. So managing the cultural differences are really important, but also the long-term commitment. And it has been remarked that one of the advantages that British empire has over contemporary international development programs is that we’ve stayed for a long, long time—long, long time. We learned the languages. Yeah, does that… does that address your question? 

Response: Yes, and I had a second question. So you mentioned that there’s uh, when it comes to an empire’s use of power, there’s formal or informal means of achieving that. So what is a good way to determine whether to integrate, uh, or to formally integrate a country that you’re involved in or to withdraw from that?  

Answer: Well not nowadays, um, it’s not likely that empire will take the form of territorial acquisition because all the territories have been acquired. That wasn’t the case in the 19th Century, when lots of territories were, as a, uh, um, they didn’t have, um, strict borders. Um, but I mean, you know there may well be… they may well be territories that want an association with a more dominant power, and there are still a few territories, usually islands, around the world that remain part of the British Commonwealth. Uh, all these remain overseas territories that have some kind of government from London, um, uh… Nowadays, imperial… imperial power is most likely to manifest itself in giving provisional aid to various states to help them build up capacity. Um, um, but of course, you know cultural power is also part of what, what, um… um, impresses the world with… with your values, so an economic power too. Um, so the different kinds of power, territorial control is… is not likely to be the future of, um, of empire. So, uh. 

Question: Ryan Burton, Regent University. Um, my question is how do you respond to critics that would say liberalism and empire are incompatible ideas? 

Answer: Um, in two ways. Another good question. Lots of good questions. Um, one is that, um, just taking the British empire, I just take that because I know that… that one best. Um, the British empire was often a disseminator of liberal, liberal ideas. Um, so, so the… for example, the… the people who inspired Indian nationalists like Nehru, um, were J.S. Mill, uh so… so national, uh, anti-imperialist nationalists were often inspired by European or British political thinking.  

Um, and then secondly, um, thanks to the whipping you gave us in the American Revolutionary War, the British empire learned that it couldn’t retain tight control over maturing colonies. So from 1867 onwards, from 1867 and 1930, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa became virtually autonomous within the empire. So the empire, and in fact, around the 1900s there were serious discussions about trying to federalize the empire along the lines of the U.S., right? So um, and um, in the 1920s there were three Scotsman as the Scots got around a lot in the… in the empire. Um, I speak as one of, um, three Scotsman um, one… one who left Scotland age of… age of ten because his father couldn’t afford to feed him. Ended up governing Bombayo, Madras, and India in the early 1820s.  

Three Scots, all of whom say we’re not here forever. The best we can do is help these people achieve stable government and then leave with grace. So there was a recognition that the British government couldn’t be on top forever, and we… we had to help people govern themselves and then… and then leave, uh… uh, though of course, you know, once we got established, the time of leaving got postponed because we rather like being there. Uh, but… but there was a sense, there was always a sense that in the end, this has to, uh, tight control has… has to relax into, uh, into what has become the Commonwealth of Nations. Please. 

Question: Jacob Nakar, um, Asbury Theological Seminary. So Thomas Aquinas would argue that, um, a moral… a moral, um, monarchy rather than tyranny is what’s needed. And John Calvin would say that there’s a need for the government to restraint evil in the world. So, have we gotten to a point in society, as much as I love our country, where moral decline has progressed so much… are we… are we at a point where we can address the hearts and minds of people still through that route, or do we need to be on a different track? What would the different track be? A change of government structure? 

Answer: Are you, you wondering whether you should reacquire monarch? Chris… um, well since you give me the opportunity, I mean, one of the advantages of having a constitutional monarch is that they’re not elected. Um, so they get to represent the nation above party politics. So whatever they’re feeling is in my own country. Well, let’s suppose I wasn’t keen on Donald Trump. Let’s suppose, um, I wouldn’t find myself, well, here. I imagine that there are many patriotic Americans who found themselves in some confusion because the president represents not only the chief executive but also the head of state, and so you might loathe Trump as you might loathe Trumpers, chief executives. But on the other hand, he’s head of your country and that’s kind of confusing, at least… At least in mind, we can separate the Queen from Boris Johnson. So I don’t really know the answer to your question. I mean, I mean, our democracies are not in the health they should be. And, uh, to… to China and Russia’s delight, um, um, we… you know, we do need central government, um, but we all… we also need a citizenry who have developed certain liberal values.  

Notable virtues are not primarily ones of respect and souls. The main liberal virtue is what? That is self-restraint. We need to restrain ourselves in the face of views we really don’t like and learn to treat them tolerantly, and if we had a bit of Christian virtue, charitably, and Christians should lead on that. Okay.