Biggar, Empire and Academia

Nigel Biggar is Emeritus Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford. However, many fellow academics regard him as a wicked reactionary. That is reason enough to read his latest book, Colonialism: a moral reckoning. I have just finished it;  I thoroughly recommend it.

The dust jacket cites commendations from historians like Professor Robert Tombs and Dr Zareer Masani, while Times Columnist, Matthew Parris states this:

As a not un-critical child of empire, I think his assessment is fair and accurate

“Fair and accurate” – words in desperate need of revival today.

Professor Biggar earns such praise by his impressive demonstration of courage and intellectual prowess in Colonialism a moral reckoning. There, he tackles head on the indictments of Empire made by progressive ideologues in academia. Biggar rehearses and analyses the evidence from both sides to paint a more realistic picture of the past than that promoted by today’s Ideologues with a political agenda.  In my view, there are leading figures in the faculty of history at Oxford today who should learn from Professor Biggar’s approach and honest realism …

For one thing, Professor Biggar starts with the perspective of the past as seen through the eyes of the players involved; he does not start with contemporary political prejudice against the concept and practice of empire. He therefore starts with reality, not today’s Manichaean, simplistic, absolutist moral rectitude. He is manifestly concerned for what actually happened and why; he is not looking to find evidence to support his preconceived view of the world – witness his clear avowal of horrors like Amritsar and Mau-Mau Kenya.

What also stands out for me is that Biggar can take the broad sweep of the historical evidence and explain that diverse evidence coherently. He achieves this because he takes his line from the evidence, not from contemporary fashions in ideology. To take just one simple but serious example, the British Empire exploited slavery and yet it also actively sought to destroy slavery: quite simply the second 150 years contrasts with the first 150 years.  And it contrasts because British government  insisted on the primacy of moral imperative in imperial affairs – so the Royal Navy actively and systematically put down the slave trade. This strategic fact is wilfully ignored in the world of woke today because it contradicts the pre-set moral mindset derived from anti-academic techniques like critical race theory.

I find Professor Biggar’s prose style to be in the best tradition of Oxford dons – precise, logical, fluent, clear and simple; it is  not pretentious, contorted, or convoluted like much that is written in academia today.

And I like his personal touch; he opens the book with his own painful experiences, and he reveals that a major publishing company cancelled its contract to publish Colonialism. I like too that he is up front and crystal clear about his own personal beliefs and values. He is not afraid to own his position; nor indeed is he afraid to tackle the shallow and illogical thinking of his opponents. Note I say tackle their thinking; he does not attack the person ! This contrasts with many opponents who default to the sly and sloppy device of insulting the man sooner than engage with the evidence and argument; of course, to engage with him would be to accept a paradigm which they reject out of hand. Or, perhaps, because they cannot answer him ! Where he takes them on, he demolishes their view for the simple reason that their thinking and their evidence do not stand up to serious scrutiny.

I especially like Biggar’s clear and straightforward grasp of what history is. It is traditional and simple: it treats history as the narrative of past events leading to the present – the chronological narrative. On page 17 he states that Colonialism is not a history because “the book is not ordered chronologically”. Instead, he says, the book is “a moral evaluation”.

Yes, the book does indeed make “a moral reckoning”.  But in order to make a moral reckoning of historical events and evidence, and in order to make a moral reckoning of the assertions of academics and historians about a historical phenomenon like the British Empire, Biggar necessarily examines the historical record and the historiography. Indeed, he provides a very effective “framework of a bare chronology” in section VII of the Introduction. He appears in fact to be writing a history of the British Empire because recent historiography is just so bad !

I suspect such coyness about behaving like a historian has something to do with the treatment he has received from dozens of the More Enlightened professional historians at the University of Oxford in letters to the London Times. From that platform, they have criticised Professor Biggar for trespassing on their patch of academic study, asserting from their own sense of moral and intellectual superiority that historians don’t make moral judgements on the past … Well, evidently they do because a moral theologian has had to take many of them to task for doing just that with the history of the British Empire. Indeed Professor Biggar examines this very question of moral viewpoint in historiography in section IV of his Introduction.

I also question the title of the book. Colonialism is not in fact a book assessing all empires and colonisation throughout history; it is specifically about the British Empire over some 3 centuries. Again, this has something to do with today’s context: Biggar is using the British Empire and its historiography to counter-attack the dangerous assaults on the historical record by progressive minded intellectuals. He is taking on the anti-colonial lobby. That presumably explains the less than 100% accuracy of the title. Indeed, he himself explains that there is a distinction between empire and colonisation in section V of his Introduction.

I must raise too the question of Biggar’s assumptions. He accurately analyses and exposes the failure of the anti-colonial lobby to examine their axiomatic assertions – there is a notable example in section VI of chapter 8, where he tackles the view of Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology in the University of Oxford and curator of the prestigious Pitt Rivers Museum. There Biggar exposes Hick’s use of abstractions like “militarism”, “racism” and “proto-fascism” to define colonialism. Biggar observes: “None are explained or justified. They are taken as axiomatic”.

But Nigel Biggar doesn’t really examine and explain his own political and moral assumptions about the moral superiority of the western world’s liberal values, either. He assumes their superiority. In his defence I will say that he implictly explains by reference to specifics like the suppression of sati in India and of slavery. Indeed, most people reading his book will broadly agree his assumptions about the western world’s liberal, rules based order because they understand what those terms mean. All the same, there is a certain deficit here which I identify in order to make my main criticism now.

Professor Biggar is deploying this much needed thesis, perspective and analysis because he is an apologist for today’s Western dominance of the global world order. He wants to bolster morale for the battle against Russian authoritarianism and Chinese totalitarianism. He is concerned, too, about the disintegration of the United Kingdom – see section 2 of the Introduction.

But the threat to our western civilisation today does not come primarily from Russia or China. It comes from within – it comes from the corruption engendered by greed at the highest levels of the most powerful western corporations and governments; it comes from the corruption of public life by the assault on public values and morals by hyper libertarianism and crass consumerism; it comes from a religious fanaticism which believes in heaven on earth courtesy of a new world order of woke. It is the fruit of the very “Liberal Democracy” Professor Biggar is concerned to preserve. It comes from what Edmund Burke described as “the spirit of atheistical fanaticism”. As an expert on Burke, Professor Biggar knows this. ##

Our problems in the West today arise from the “liberal democracy” which Professor Biggar wants to defend against authoritarianism and totalitarianism. That “liberal democracy” has spawned a woke variant of totalitarianism and illiberal intolerance. Today’s West espouses demeaning Materialism and its associated aggressive, Godless Atheism. We have eradicated the Christian culture which distinguished western civilsation. We have lost the “Christian democracy” which obtained in the later stages of the British Empire.

Chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, Yoram Hazony explains this cultural revolution in chapter 6 of his “Conservatism: a Rediscovery“. The first section of the chapter is titled: From Christian Democracy to Liberal Democracy.  There Hazony explains the critical distinction between pre Second World War Christian democracy and post Second World War Liberal democracy. Professor Biggar knows about the post war development of an insidious Rights culture – he explains it in his last book, “What’s Wrong with Rights?”  Why then does Professor Biggar not espouse “Christian democracy” against the “liberal democracy” which has spawned the very problems in academia to which he, quite rightly, objects  ?


# #  I identify this vital but overlooked assertion by Edmund Burke at paragraph 251 in my edition of his Reflections on the Revolution in France

Categorized as Oxford

Will Oxford’s new Vice Chancellor solve the problem of political prejudice in the administration of the University ?

Oxford’s famous Sheldonian Theatre hosted two fascinating lectures this term. The first was delivered by an Emeritus Regius Professor while the other was delivered by the Prime Minister of a European Union member State. The subject matter of both lectures was political. The first was delivered by a self identified Burkean Conservative, while the other was given by a practising politician fundamentally committed to what he identifies as “liberal democracy”.

So what is the problem ?

Answer:  the prejudiced treatment accorded to these lecturers by the administrative authorities at Oxford.

Irish Prime Minister, Michael Martin, was invited by the outgoing Vice Chancellor to deliver the annual Romanes lecture. The lecture provided an opportunity for Vice Chancellor, Louise Richardson, to make a political statement before she leaves next month. The lecture was – of course – promoted by the University on its website and recorded on its video streaming channel. The lecture was titled, ‘The Centre Will Hold: Liberal Democracy and the Populist Threat’.

Such promotion was not extended to Emeritus Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford, Nigel Biggar –  even though his lecture was a pertinent and coherent analysis citing solid evidence for his thesis. His lecture was not deemed worthy of any mention in the headline “News” or “Events” pages of the University’s main website . Why ?

Professor Biggar’s lecture challenged the evident shortcomings of today’s progressive thinking in academia on race and colonialism. It was titled, ‘Deconstructing decolonisation’. While it was indeed advertised on the Sheldonian’s page of the university website, the video link of the his lecture is not available;  so, I will provide you with the evidence of my assertions about Professor Biggar’s lecture –   you can find it here !

We know that Professor Biggar’s views are anathema to political Orthodoxy in the Humanities at Oxford because much of the Faculty of History in the University wrote to the Times in 2017 to distance themselves from his research into Colonialism. This problem of political prejudice at Oxford appears to continue: I could find not one single video of a Nigel Biggar lecture on the University’s You Tube channel. 

Professor Biggar is, however, an exemplary scholar. That is evident in the lecture he gave this term in the Sheldonian as part of this year’s Memorial lectures in honour of Sir Roger Scruton, the celebrated Philosopher – link cited above. For any one in doubt, a mountain of evidence for Biggar’s competence is provided in his 2020 book, “What’s Wrong with Rights?”.  The opening sentence in that book is telling. Biggar writes:

I did not know the answers when I began this book, but I did know some of the questions.

Given such a degree of willingness to go where the evidence leads, we are forced then to ask why so many academics at Oxford have a problem with Professor Biggar ?

A clue to their mentality is provided by

  • the choice of Micheal Martin as the Romanes lecturer this year;
  • the title of his lecture;
  • what he had to say; and
  • the terms in which he said it.

The title of Mr Martin’s speech was “The Centre will hold: Liberal Democracy and the Populist Threat”. It assumes that his viewpoint is shared by all reasonable people. Indeed, his preconceptions are so axiomatic, Mr Martin saw no need to examine them. He simply assumed that his audience knows where the “Centre” of politics lies; what “populism” is; that populism is a “threat”; and that “liberal democracy” is under seige.

Mr Martin did say that Liberal democracy is a set of values characterised by freedom, democracy, equality, diversity and inclusion. Well, fine; but everyone knows that the words “diversity” and “inclusion” are employed routinely by those with a particular worldview. That worldview promotes “Human Rights” in a way which privileges certain rights over all other rights and over all other legitimate and practical considerations. That worldview is itself a philosophy which Professor Biggar identifies as “Rights Fundamentalism” in his book, “What’s wrong with Rights?”.

My concern about Mr Martin’s worldview is amply justified by the content of his Romanes lecture. “Populism” is “authoritarian” and exploits certain issues which are a self evident threat to “liberal democracy”.

So, what are these problematical issues ?

They are, according to Mr Martin:

  • questioning the validity of the European Union
  • questioning the validity of Covid 19 vaccination
  • questioning the EU’s handling of illegal immigration

Now, I always understood that it is a basic function of university research to question worldviews and hypotheses and to posit answers. However Mr Martin tells us that it is extreme and dangerous to question what he regards as axiomatic.

If we accept Mr Martin’s logic, then universities should become propagandists of current political Orthodoxy.

Worse still, it becomes clear during Mr Martin’s speech that his use of the words liberal, democracy, equality, diversity and inclusion is at odds with the plain meaning of those words. So,

  • Diversity of opinion about Europe, vaccination or immigration;
  • equal treatment of those with such different views;  and
  • the inclusion of those dissenting views in the debate going forward

are all viewed by Mr Martin as evidence of an extreme and authoritarian threat to liberal democracy, ipso facto.

He tells us that the Brexit vote was “a tragic error”. And of course sensible people learn from their mistakes and put them right. It is very clear indeed that Mr Martin does not view Brexit as a democratic decision which should now re-determine the parameters of politics in a liberal democracy like the United Kingdom. Nor is there is anything for the EU to learn about why the UK voted Leave.  As Mr Martin made clear, the EU is the most successful international project of democratic co-operation ever; those who question its validity are therefore deeply suspect.

The plain demonstrable, historical facts about each of these issues, however, contradict Mr Martin’s patent reinterpretation of reality.

Martin asserts that the EU has handled the immigration crisis well.

And yet after decades of crisis, the EU still has no proper working protocol and procedure for the reception and distribution of ‘asylum seekers’ among EU nations. Witness the current diplomatic confrontation between France and Italy on this issue. Whatever your point of view on this, the failure of the EU to manage this crisis is scandalous. 

Mr Martin associates authoritarianism with those who question Covid vaccination, whereas the truth is the very opposite. What he blandly and curtly asserts as “public interventions” in response to Covid 19 were in reality an unprecedented peace-time usurpation of powers over the individual everyday lives of free citizens by liberal democratic governments. Such governments even resorted to setting up high level teams to implement ‘engineering of consent’ – the despicable practice first promoted by Edward Bernays, the ‘father’ of modern mass marketing and advertising.

The question must therefore be put. Will the new Vice Chancellor, Irene Tracey, take steps to eliminate political prejudice in the operations of university administration ? Will she ensure equality of treatment by the university authorities for the work of scholars like Professor Biggar ? In short, will she reject the preference for patently biased and distorted narratives about liberty, equality, diversity and inclusion in order to make unfettered academic enquiry the over-riding priority ?

Watch this space !



Nigel Biggar’s “What’s Wrong with Rights” is available here


Categorized as Oxford

Will incoming Vice Chancellor Irene Tracey investigate the evidence of aberration at Oxford and take corrective action ?

The University of Oxford recently released the news that medical scientist Dr Irene Tracey, currently Warden of Merton College, has been nominated as the next Vice Chancellor of the University. #

In the announcement outlining her profile and nomination, the work of Vice Chancellor is described as:

The Vice-Chancellor is Oxford University’s senior officer, responsible for the strategic direction and leadership of the world’s top-ranked university. Professor Tracey’s nomination has been approved by the University’s Council and is now subject to approval by Congregation, the University’s sovereign body.

The critical, vital question for an incoming Vice Chancellor is this:

What philosophy or worldview will inform Dr Tracey’s approach, initiatives and projects during her 7 year term starting January 2023 ?

Will she simply assume her predecessor’s perspective and policies, as Chancellor Patten suggests when he states:

I am sure she will build successfully on the outstanding achievements of Louise Richardson and lead Oxford in coping with the big challenges which lie ahead.

Or will she step back and question whether her predecessor’s actions, aims and methods were entirely appropriate for a world class university ?

Will she promote the creed of “Diversity” as religiously as her predecessor by, for example, continuing the “Vice Chancellor’s awards for Diversity” ?

Will she maintain the university’s co-operation with totalitarian China ?

Will she precipitate the University into high profile and contentious projects like the race to develop a Covid 19 vaccine ?

Will she allow big corporate interests to determine the University’s ethos and projects according to their agenda, or will she ensure that a university’s primary role is sacrosanct ?

Will she demonstrate the same attitude to national traditions as Louise Richardson has manifestly done in ignoring the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee ?  University reference to the Platinum Jubilee was tangential, publishing a post on May 30th discussing Golden jubilees of English monarchs in history; the tenor of that post was summed up in a comment that jubilees were contrived to hype interest in an institution otherwise not especially popular. ##

It will of course depend on whether Dr Tracey takes time to step back and consider the ethos prevailing at Oxford; to make an assessment of its inspiration and its consequences; to consider alternatives and their merits; to make a decision to change direction and lead the University into less contentious and dangerous waters.

But if she assumes that Dr Richardson had the right philosophy, then nothing will change.

I believe that would be a very serious mistake. Surely the fundamental role of a University is to maintain and communicate the vast corpus of knowledge, skills and understanding accumulated to date, and to conduct research concerned to verify and extend that vast corpus ?

My concern is that the maintenance, communication and extension of the corpus of knowledge, skills and understanding is being influenced by ideological and by commercial ends. That in pursuing such potentially conflicting aims, the university is being distracted – even perverted – from its fundamental role and purpose.

Topics highlighted by the University just this year manifest a particular worldview and mentality at work which is causing this conflict. That worldview may be characterised as internationalist and anti-patriotic; ‘progressive’ and anti-traditionalist; ideologically partisan, not objective; deductive not inductive.

There is a particular mindset associated with this dominating worldview at work in the University of Oxford. This mindset has a deductive approach which unquestioningly applies a certain progressive moral stance, via which all evidence is then assessed. The moral stance adopted is treated as the ruling point of reference according to which all else must be assessed in order to be commended or condemned.

Will the new Vice Chancellor bring to bear on this problematic mindset her valuable skills as a natural scientist ?  Will she adopt an inductive approach: that is, examine hypotheses empirically by reference to what the evidence suggests, rather than assuming the hypothesis to be self evidently correct ?

The problematic mindset to which I refer is clearly at work in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford. Dr Tracey’s scientific training will be invaluable in tackling a problem which sorely needs to be tested empirically.

Should she apply her undoubted skills as a natural scientist, I firmly believe that she will be successful in diverting the University away from the embarrassing trajectory it now appears to be on. She will have done both Oxford and education today an invaluable and historic service.

I am, of course, obliged to cite evidence for the problem I identify. I will take one example from three areas of university life:

  1. the history faculty
  2. a constituent college
  3. a university inter-disciplinary forum

1. The faculty of History

There is a blatant assumption that Ukraine is right and Russia is wrong because Russia invaded an independent sovereign state on 24th February 2022.

In assessing this, the University staff in the disciplines of history, politics and philosophy have revealed a moral predisposition which pre-determines their analysis, even to the point of censoring highly pertinent evidence.

One blatant example will suffice.  The University website page for Ukraine has an “Expert Opinion” post dated March 9th written by Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History. ###  Frankopan cites George Kennan’s 1946 Long Telegram about Stalinist Russia and the need for the West to contain the Soviet Union. It is demonstrable that Frankopan cites this evidence because it suits his pre-determined, moralistic thesis: the West knows best and Putin is a Soviet revivalist.

Evidence ?

Frankopan censors from his discussion Kennan’s much later – and far more apposite – assessment published on 5th February 1997 in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times. Kennan called expanding NATO into eastern Europe “ the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post Cold War period“, that it would “impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking” and said that it was “doubly unfortunate considering the total lack of any necessity for this move“. ####

As an Oxford professor of Global History, Peter Frankopan can hardly plead ignorance about Kennan’s 1997 Op-ed !

Whether Russia is right or wrong, is not the concern of historians. The basic business of the historian is a comprehensive review of all the evidence and interpretations thereof, before arriving at a representative assessment in order to explain what has happened. Like the natural scientist, the historian should be examining every hypothesis against the full weight of all the evidence.

Perhaps natural science expert, Dr Tracey, will help Oxford’s aberrant history faculty get back on track and leave moralising to the politically partisan etc.

Frankopan manifestly fails his basic duty as historian. He does so because he is subject to the pervasive, moralistic mindset at work in Education today. If something is un-just, it must be put right, whatever the cost, and whatever the counter claims, arguments and evidence.

2. A constituent College of the University

Exeter College is indulging the same Righteous Rectitude as Dr Frankopan with its recently announced Black Lives Matter “competition”. ##### There is a clear intimation that all students are expected to demonstrate their commitment to this Cultural Revolution and participate. There are even funds available for those who lack the means.   Ergo, students have no excuse for failing to confess conformity

Now, it should not be necessary for me to point out that George Floyd’s death in May 2020 was a disgrace in a civilised society. Indeed I have blogged elsewhere about it. But George Floyd’s murder has been made an iconic and ideological reference point.

I would like to know why this man’s death is being held out as an opportunity for everyone to express their conformity to the expected ideological line – as if it is not self-evident that murder is evil and that racism is indeed obnoxious.

I would also like to know why the focus is on one man’s death because he is a blackman in the USA, and not the murder of innocents wherever they may be. Is there a campaign anywhere in the University of Oxford about the brutal, ideologically motivated slaying of teacher Samuel Paty, also killed in 2020 ? Would that not be more pertinent, given that he was an educator, killed for doing his job ? And where is the Oxford campaign for the slaughter of black people attending a Pentecost church service in Nigeria last weekend ? This is but the latest bout of murderous attacks on Christians, a social group with by far the worst lethal persecution rate on the planet ?

This is disturbing. It betrays an ideological paradigm which values certain people, but is prepared to discount others. Samuel Paty is ignored because he is a White Man murdered by a fanatic adhering to a fundamentalist, political interpretation of Islam. Indeed black people in Africa slaughtered and maimed while attending a church service are also overlooked in this ideological paradigm simply because they are Christians –  a religion blamed for its association with the evil of European colonialism. #### ####

Such hypocrisy arises from a closed, censorious  and intolerant mentality. This directly undermines the traditional academic quest for the truth. It is a direct threat to the civilised and open debate so vital to the academic pursuit of truth. But it is being treated as Orthodoxy entitled to judge other views as dangerous heresy. In fact, it is – itself – dangerous.

Interestingly, the Rector of Exeter College is in breach of his own sworn oath to retire from office in 2016. He is required under the College Statutes to uphold those Statutes – as are the Fellows of that College’s Governing Body. However, they lay claim to Equality law concerning “ageism” to excuse their dereliction of duty.  The offending Statutory provision to retire was removed last year by the same Rector and Fellows who chose not to provide explicit Statutory limits to their terms of office in the same way specified in other colleges and posts at the university. #+#

3. An inter-disciplinary forum

My evidence is an event held the same week as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Oxford’s showcase website completely ignored the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. But Oxford did take the trouble to host an event called, “A conversation on policing, prisons and abolition”, held on 1st June as part of the “Race and Resistance Programme”. ### ### This programme is conducted by TORCH – the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.

One of the two speakers at the event was Dr Sarah Lamble who is “a Reader in Criminology and Queer Theory at the School of Law, Birkbeck, with a focus on gender, sexuality and imprisonment, as well as alternative and transformative justice“. Lamble is also an organiser with “Abolitionist Futures”.

When we go to the link for Abolitionist Futures we find an explicit and uncompromising campaign demanding, I quote,

a future without prisons, police and punishment

### #### The website also states:

It’s time to imagine and build
the world we want

Indeed – pure imagination which has no grounding in the realities of human experience. Previous experience is evidently rejected as unquestionably corrupt and useless.Therefore only an abstract vision of what ought to be will suffice. Evidence is irrelevant:  the fundamental component of scientific enquiry is annulled…

This qualifies in my humble opinion as extremist, highly contentious political activity. Yet it is held out as a serious discussion.

If this is indeed an academic enquiry into a particular ideology or campaign, then presumably Oxford will be hosting other extremist and highly contentious political debates. For example, why not host a seminar on Mein Kampf, presented by a dedicated white supremacist ? After all, that would

  • be extreme
  • deeply troubling to most people’s idea of societal norms and
  • present a vision of the world wholly divorced from the reality of how to maintain a civilised society

What do you think of this proposition – and why ?



# news of Dr Tracey’s nomination

##  Jubilee Kings post May 30th 2022

###  Frankopan’s Expert Opinion post on March 9th

####     Kennan New York Times 5th February 1997

#####   Exeter College Black Lives Matter competition

### ### Conversation on Prisons, Policing, Abolition

### ####     About Page for ‘Abolitionist Futures’

#### #### Pentecost killings in Nigeria 2022

#+# Rector and Fellows of Exeter College broke their sworn oath and what this means

Categorized as Oxford

Is Oxford university’s role intellectual or political?

Just what does a university exist to do ? Does it exist to promote a particular philosophy or political programme ? Does it exist to make society more equal and just ?

Well, the purpose declared in documents like Statutes indicates universities exist to promote research, learning and teaching – sometimes religion too because of the Christian heritage of western nations.

Research, learning and teaching, for sure. That is what universities do. That is their niche role. They do not, then, exist to pursue campaigns. Rather, they are places where intellectuals pose questions and suggest answers based on argument and on evidence. They promote research and learning by means of the intellectual process of thinking and of acquiring knowledge of our existence, be that of the physical world [natural sciences and engineering] or of our interactions as human beings over the entire range of those interactions [humanities and social sciences].

In terms of encouraging thought and acquiring knowledge, it must surely therefore be in-appropriate for universities to pursue campaigns. A cause and its promotion are necessarily one view, reflecting a particular philosophy and the ambitions of those who adhere to that view.

My view of the world is Christian, and my politics are Burkean Conservatism. That explains where I am coming from.  I believe such transparency is both necessary and ethical.

If your politics and religion differ from mine, you may well take serious exception were my religion and my politics promoted by the University of Oxford as if they were objective truth to which everyone should subscribe.

A university must examine and assess all human activity. It does so by investigating. But as we investigate in order to seek truth, the wise person and the good academic are aware of the truth about themselves as seekers of truth, and the truth about the methodology they employ.

Historiography raises such questions for historians.  In my day, undergraduate historians were taught this in their very first term at Oxford.

But such vital self awareness is evidently neglected in certain quarters in Oxford today. Take the editorial line of the University’s website, for example. There, Ukraine has been thrust into prominence, and the editorial treatment appears worthy of the worst tabloid press.

The website has, for example,  highlighted a Guardian Op-ed by European Studies professor, Timothy Garton Ash, titled “Expert Comment: Ukraine has earned a future in the European Union”.  Ash states Russia is becoming “a satrapy of China” and is suffering “Putinian delusions of rebuilding the Russian empire.” Contrary evidence cited below is completely ignored.

Putin is assumed to be a mad monster with Stalinist era pretensions for expansion. No further explanation need be sought. What we are witnessing is the very opposite of open enquiry and assessment of competing concerns and interests of the various actors in this crisis. The West is right; Putin is wrong. End of.  Indeed one Oxford professor of Ethics has suggested that Putin is a legitimate target for assassination. I cite a transcript of Professor Dill’s contribution to an edition of the BBC’s “Moral Maze”:

So, Hitler, like Putin, they’re not innocent human beings.  If we can foresee the way in which they are going to present imminent threats to the lives of others, then killing them isn’t assassination of an innocent person. It is a defensive killing of someone who is liable to…moral harm.

Presumably Professor Dill advocates the Death Penalty for Murder !

Professor Dill is an example of Oxford thinking I find troublesome. Putin is wicked. This is proved by the shocking evidence of war in Ukraine. Wickedness is wrong and must therefore be eradicated. Ergo, get rid of Putin. Impeccable logic –  but the assumptions and predisposition must surely be questioned.

There is a marked failure in the university website content to give any thing like due consideration to the Russian perspective, concerns and thinking. Instead Putin is placed automatically in the category of evil beast for whom there is no redemption. This interpretation alone explains all.

But of course it doesn’t – not in the real world. Yet at Oxford, the only evidence being allowed to count comprises current atrocities in Ukraine. The history of Russia over the last 30 years has been censored and we jump directly back to the horrors of the Stalinist era. Evidence ?  Global History Professor, Peter Frankopan, cites the “Long Telegram” analysis of George Kennan, US diplomat to Moscow in 1946.  But Frankopan blatantly ignores Kennan’s later and more pertinent warning about the persistence of NATO and the Cold war paradigm in a New York Times Op-Ed, on February 5th, 1997.

And where do we read about U.S. and NATO “activities” over the last 30 years ?  There is no Julian Assange; there is no Edward Snowden; there is no American imperialism reinforcing American domination of the world economy since Bretton Woods in 1944 – a domination leading to western claims, inter alia, on Ukraine and Taiwan …

The only historical and geopolitical evidence being admitted confirms the political predilections of Oxford dons – a predispositon treated as indisputable and axiomatic.

Indeed Professor Dill expresses this disturbing predisposition and closed mindset in the conclusion of the interview cited above.  Her comments demonstrate that the mentality produced by a certain mindset in Oxford today contradicts the very purpose of a university as a place where we pose questions and posit answers. She says:

Now that we are here, our chief moral concern must be the prevention of nuclear escalation and nuclear war. There is really no greater moral evil than that sort of escalation and I think we should not morally be distracted by the question of how did we get here, who is to blame? We need to look forward and try to prevent with everything possible that greater moral evil.

How we got here is a distraction !  With that comment, Professor Dill trashes an entire academic discipline called History…

Thankfully,  South Africa’s President is far more realistic – see this report


Garton Ash Op-ed

Peter Frankopan Global History professor’s view

Kennan Op-ed 1997

Professor Dill interview

University of Oxford Ukraine crisis page

Categorized as Oxford

Should Oxford dons keep their word or are they privileged ?

Should we keep our word, our promised commitment? We all know that we should, and we all know that there are times when we don’t. Sometimes we have reasonable excuses, but they tend to revolve around releasing ourselves from our obligations or duties. In doing so, we fail to consider others – their interests, their needs; we place our own convenience first.

Should university teachers keep their word ? May we expect a higher standard of personal morality from such people, or should we cut them the same slack we allow ourselves ? Does their position of trust as educators of the young oblige them to maintain a more exemplary standard regarding their moral, educational responsibiliites ?

Should the heads of Oxbridge Colleges be expected to keep their word ? Does their position oblige them to operate according to an even higher standard of personal trustworthiness than their academic colleagues ?

When we reinforce our word with a solemn declaration or oath, should there be a higher standard required and therefore a greater sanction imposed when we fail to keep our word ?

When a person witnesses in a court of law, they are required to make a solemn declaration – or an oath before God – obliging them to tell the truth. Is it reasonable of us to expect that they should therefore tell the truth as far as they know it ? Or are they then permitted to forget their declaration or their oath, and say whatever they please ?

Most people have a moral conscience. They don’t need doctorates in ethics to know what is right and what is wrong.

But the Governing Body of Exeter College in the University of Oxford evidently have their own particular view of such matters.

All the dons on the governing body of that College were required to take a solemn, and presumbly binding declaration before taking up their posts as Fellows of the College and therefore as custodians responsible for the administration of the College according to the Statutes and the intentions of the Founders and Benefactors of that College.

The Statutes required them to retire at a certain age, normally before the age of 68. The head of College known as the Rector was also required to make such a solemn commitment and to retire before the age of 68. As the person who is effectively the College’s executive leader, the Rector has particular responsibilities under the Statutes to settle disputes and make critical decisions.

The Rectorship carries a particular responsibility, then. As you might expect.

What are we to think then, when the person who occupies that position is still in post 5 years+ beyond his required retirement ? What are we to think when such a person takes the view that he is not required to uphold and maintain the Statutes of the College with regard to his own position and his own retirement ?

What are we to think when he makes himself judge in his own cause ? What are we to think when he refuses to acknowledge his obligations to the College – freely entered into with solemn declaration – and chooses instead to remain in post; to remain entitled to receive a 6 figure salary with rent free accomodation and certain expenses paid by the College Charitable Trust ?

What are we to think of the Fellows of the Governing Body of the College who refuse to trigger the Statutory process for removal of a man in breach of his obligations under the Statutes of the College ?

What are we to think when both the Fellows of the Governing Body of Exeter College, Oxford and the person occupying the Rectorship agree together to revise radically the Statutes of the College, using that occasion to legitimise a circumstance which is in breach of their obligations under the pre-existing Statutes ?

Are we to view this as observing the Rule of Law ? Or is this a breach of the meaning of the Rule of Law ?

Is this an example of how business should be done in our Universities – is it a worthy and just way of doing business in what is arguably the nation’s principal University ?

Is this an example to emulate ? Is this what we should set up as an example to the young and to future generations ?

Is it ‘legitimate’ for dons already extremely privileged by virtue of their natural gifts and their exceptional position in this world, to claim yet more personal  advantage by pleading their own personal Rights under Equality law ?

Graham R. Catlin

alumnus of Exeter College, Oxford

Categorized as Oxford