"Is Empire Always bad?"

On Thursday 10 May, the Quadrivium Society hosted Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of moral and pastoral theology at the University of Oxford.

Prof Biggar discussed what he calls a balanced reappraisal of the British Empire’s legacy. While acknowledging the atrocities that occurred under the Empire’s watch, he also led pupils through the advances in the rule of law that the Empire provided, alongside education, objective moral improvement and free trade. He pointed out that colonial administrators collaborated with local leaders to impose both beneficial and abhorrent practices. For instance the institution of slavery was developed by European powers in partnership with African elites who sold their captives into bondage. In the end, it was the European leadership that took the decision to end a lucrative business and abolish the importation of slaves. 

He compared the British record with those of other nations' empires, European and non-European, usually favourably. Most of all, he rejected the notion that the Empire was a single coherent project, detailing instead the various economic, moral, religious, social and international strands to hundreds of years of global interaction.

The talk was pitched just right for the Oundelian audience of 50, who listened attentively in the Adamson Centre's Raymond Lee International Suite, and asked a stream of questions of the speaker afterwards - always the best gauge of success. 

Quadrivium is the ambitious Lower Sixth Extension Course, and the elder sibling of the Third Form's Trivium programme. Quad pupils come from all subject backgrounds and the aim is to prepare pupils for university, by exploring many advanced aspects of a subject through the year on a single, broad theme. Each course is bespoke with a single teacher and small sets, taking pupils well beyond their curricular subjects and overlapping with many areas of interest across disciplinary boundaries. 

W D Gunson