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‘If I Want to Hold Seminars on the Topic of Empire, I Will Do So Privately’: An Interview with Nigel Biggar

“Crete, unfortunately, made more history than it can consume locally,” Saki once wrote. The same can be said about the University of Oxford. Perhaps England’s last struggling bastion of meritocracy and intellectual hierarchy, Oxford is lately under relentless attack from equity activists trying to install affirmative action, and historical revisionists and ideologues trying to wreck Western canon in the name of ‘decolonization.’

I was invited at Christ Church College to take part in a private and secret colloquium and roundtable (a lot of the participants didn’t want their name and photos out because their careers might be jeopardized), on colonialism and imperialism. The chief speaker was Portland State professor Bruce Gilley, whose article argued that colonialism was much more nuanced than presented in modern Marxist and post-colonial discourses, and was then predictably retracted by Third World Quarterly, after protests by social justice activists. Somewhat similarly, at Oxford, professor Nigel Biggar was targeted immediately after his project “Ethics and Empire” was launched. 

The colloquium itself went smoothly without protests perhaps because it was a secret, with no social media promotion. I had an opportunity to ask professor Biggar why he chose to organize the colloquium in secret and if this is the future of academia. What follows is an edited transcript of our discussion.

Sumantra Maitra: How severe was the backlash you faced after deciding on your project and how did that start? Is it over or still going? Do you feel targeted?

Professor Nigel Biggar: In late November 2017 I published an article in which I argued that the British should feel both guilt and pride over their imperial past, and a week or so later in early December I mounted on the website of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life a description of the ‘Ethics and Empire’ project that had been launched the previous July. 

Within days the first of three online denunciations were published, one of them signed by 58 more or less Oxford postcolonialist colleagues, some historians, many not. Shortly before the Oxford denunciation was published, my main historian-collaborator in the project suddenly resigned (as, later, did another historian). Very oddly, not one of the denunciations attacked him, even though he is an eminent historian of empire, global as well as British, and even though the project was conceived with him from the beginning. All the criticism was directed at me. Some of the criticism involved reasons (albeit poor and confused ones), much of it (especially online) consisted of ad hominem attacks and lazy and promiscuous accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘white supremacism.’

In retrospect, there was more than a hint of panic about it, as if the critics were terrified of being found out. Since I have learned to block anyone on Twitter, who shows herself unwilling to engage in the give-and-take of reasoning, and inclined instead to repeat prejudices and indulge in personal abuse, I am blissfully unaware of how much my project continues to excite and obsess online colleagues.  (I should add that we have kept an almost complete record of the row, and its international press coverage, on the website of the McDonald Centre in 3-4 ‘News’ items.)           

SM: How’s the situation in Oxford on free inquiry, and the study of history as a discipline? How’s the free speech situation, and what could be done in your opinion?

NB: The university authorities were swift to support me and to affirm my academic competence to run the ‘Ethics and Empire’ project; and the history faculty and the humanities division have so far resisted attempts to interfere. That’s all good. On the other hand, the alienating manner of online denunciation, together with the arrogant and contemptuous tone of much of the criticism, the personal attacks, and the abusive incivility of some colleagues have destroyed trust. It is now highly unlikely that I will choose to involve any of the signatories in the project, since I have no confidence in their readiness to engage in the reciprocal and forbearing exchange of reasons.

What is more, if I want to hold lectures or seminars on the topic of empire, I will do so privately, since I cannot be sure that my critics will behave civilly. On one occasion recently, I held a day-conference to discuss Bruce Gilley’s controversial article, “The Case for Colonialism,” and found myself having to use pseudonyms to hide the identities of some participants. One young scholar only attended on condition that his name nowhere appear on print, nor his face on any photograph, lest his senior colleagues find out and kill his career.  What this shows is that the legal right to freedom of speech is not enough. What’s also needed are colleagues who are willing to conduct themselves according to informal norms of civility and responsible, rational exchange. Clearly some colleagues are not so willing. So the question is, will middle-managers in universities—faculty and college heads—do anything to uphold norms of civility against colleagues who trample over them, or will they abrogate their civic responsibility and off-load it onto the courts? 

 SM: What next for the project? How to go forward from there? 

NB: The good news is that the overall effect of the row over ‘Ethics and Empire’ has been to strengthen it. I now know, which I didn’t before, that the UK press (and presumably their readership) is overwhelmingly supportive of what I am trying to do. I also now know that there are plenty of people of “non-white skin and bearing non-Anglosaxon surnames,” the children or the grandchildren of the subjects of British Empire, who agree more with me than with my critics. Moreover, the two historians who resigned have been replaced by three others. Most important, however, is this: that I have faced my critics and written two responses to them.

What I’ve discovered, as I’ve stated elsewhere, is that their objections are, by turns, opaque, confusing, confused, ignorant, tendentious, and much preferring to attack distortions of what I say than what I actually say. That last point is significant and encouraging, because the only reason anyone can have for setting up a straw man to knock down is that he really can’t find an effective way of attacking the real target.  These emperors are very largely naked.


Nigel Biggar is regius professor of moral and pastoral theology, and director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, & Public Life at the University of Oxford


Sumantra Maitra is a writer and a Ph.D. candidate in great power politics and neo-realism, with a special focus on Russia at the University of Nottingham, UK. He writes for War on the RocksThe National InterestClaremont Review of Books, National Review, Acculturated, and is a regular analyst for The Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India.


  1. Mercury says

    Great article. One typo: it’s not ‘Christ Church College’, it’s ‘Christ Church’. The reason is that the House is both a college and a cathedral.

    • Johan says

      “collage” explains a lot to a Swedish guy…

  2. Emmanuel says

    Imperialism and colonialism are extremely complex topics. They manifested in many different ways throughout human histories and had many different consequences. Most people would look at some of those consequences as negatives : wars, slavery, loss of land, massive cultural destruction… Others would seem more positive : progress in science and technology is often “shared” through military conquest. Access to modern medicine brought by colonizers has massively increased both the population and the life expectancy of natives in many area of the world.

    On top of that, imperialism and colonialism were not something only Western people did only to non Western people. Western people colonized Western people : think of the Irish. Non Western people colonized Western people : many area of Europe spent centuries under a harsh Muslim colonial rule. And non Western people have been conquering one another for thousands of year. There are currently area of the world such as Tibet or West Papua where the natives live under a brutal colonial domination. And the people in charge there aren’t evil white men. Yet, according to post-colonial scholars and the people they influence, colonization is only the White Man’s sin.

    Rather than addressing the complexity of the world we live in and its history, many scholars and activists are now oversimplifying it as much as they can and they try to silence any dissent. From an intellectual point of view, it is a major catastrophe. I am glad to see that there are still people who dare speak against that trend.

    • dirk says

      There are two main reasons why colonialism is now generally seen in the West as something bad. The US, winner of the last world wars, had also been colonized and long time supported all people (= political leaders) that felt oppressed, and Nazi Germany had its holocaust, finishing off so called Untermenschen. I have worked long time in nations that were only short time decolonized, many people there even now speak with respect and good remembrance of that colonial time, e.g. the extension of modern measures in agriculture and medicines in villages, that now are mostly less well cared for. But the most clearcut example of this appreciation I saw in Surinam, where not even one of the people I spoke to (in restaurants, bus stations, terraces) was positive about the new independence, they all shouted at me that, as soon as they would be decolonized, thy would immediately emigrate. How come I never read anything similar in newspapers, books or TV programs?? What do western journalists pick up and spread around?

      • TJR says

        I think you’re right that the US ruling class’s rhetoric of being “anti-colonial” is part of it.

        A nation founded by colonists, for the benefit of colonists, who then went on to colonise the rest of the continent.


        • No they didn’t. British North Americans fought twice (1775 and 1812-14) to maintain a separate political destiny under the Crown.

      • Emmanuel says

        Dirk, you are perfectly right when you say there is a huge discrepancy between the mainstream narrative about colonization in western countries and the opinion of local people about it, which is often more nuanced and complex. When I was in French Guiana during the summer of 2016, I was told several times by Native Americans from the hinterland that they were glad the French, especially the French Army, were there because without them they would quickly be slaughtered by the Brazilian settlers and gold washers who are invading their lands. That’s the kind of thing I never read in the French newspapers, which, on the other hand, are very fond of Christiane Taubira, a left-wing French Guianese politician close to the independentist movement. But nobody support that movement there !
        You could say the same about all the French “outre mer” territories, which are technically colonies : almost nobody there wishes independence.
        In the 70’s, the people of Mayotte (French archipelago off East Africa) had a referendum about independence : 99% of voters rejected it. They would rather stay a bit poorer than average French citizens than pauper citizens of a tiny independent African country. You could easily find many examples of that kind quite easily.
        On top of that, we should also remember that all the independence wars and the anti-colonial revolts were always civil wars between a highly divided native population. I mean, in Kenya the Mau Mau movement killed much more Africans that Europeans and many Natives fought it eagerly. But history books never describe things that way.

        We should never forget that the people who speak in the name of colonized (or once colonized) people are only appointed by themselves and the western left-wing intelligentsia. They do not represent the regular population : nobody in Africa ever asked Franz Fanon to speak in his or her name. Parisian intellectuals decided he was their spokesperson and now he is seen as the father of postcolonial studies. If more scholars started to distance themselves from self-styled representatives whose legitimacy has always been granted by westerners (quite a paradox in that situation !) and decided to listen to common folks, or to look at the facts in a less biased way, our understanding of colonization in all its complexity would really increase.

        • dirk says

          I am not amazed Emmanuel, that’s how it often was, and is, and never the twain of such realities will meet.

        • While some of your points are interesting, the rest makes no sense. Indeed not everybody who live in Africa, but there is a rich literature about colonization written by people born in Africa. So, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sure, science and modern institution (that for the most part only elite can access) are fine. But really, do you think most people were pleased that an outsider controlled most ressources?

          • dirk says

            Ava, there is a large difference in how people in Africa look at independence, politics and sovereignty between the ordinary people (mostly hard working peasants, factory workers, slum-inhabitants) and the local (but very often studied abroad)intelligentsia and academics. You belong most probably to that last category, am I right? Local people that write about colonisation also belong for 100% to that last category.

      • dirk – “where not even one of the people I spoke to” So how many was that? Hundred? Two Hundred? Thousand? So these “animals” liked to in chain and not free. Gosh!

        • dirk says

          Not more than about a dozen, with whom I talked seriously about independence. But, imagine, you read in the newspaper that in some place it is very good fishing, you drive there with your rod, and the few other fishermen fishing there for the last days or hours all (only 12) tell you that fish won’t bite, do you need then another 100 or 1000 to tell you how it is? And what about the chains? and the animals? Go and see on Youtube the 2013 movie ” Hoe duur was de suiker?” (what was the price of sugar?), a movie on the history of the sugar plantations in Surinam, also well visited in Surinam itself, no chains at all, though a very lop sided view on colonialism and plantation life. Exactly what the public wants/expects to see, but nice historical views and scenery (though partly taken in South Africa, because no more sugar plantations in Surinam, I worked on the last one, Marienburg, near Paramaribo).

          • dirk – Right. So you think gauging the views of an entire nation on subject like Colonization and Independence requires about 12 people and this is equivalent to talking about fishing at a particular spot! What a complete failure of logic.

            And this says a lot about your views on Colonialism. Hardly a surprise. Especially if you hold a old rogue like Rhodes as a hero.

        • Lillian says

          There are millions of people who prefer the safety of servitude over the responsibility of liberty. Couple that with the power vacuum that is created when one leaves and the competition for that power results in blood running in the streets and yes, they prefer to remain subjects to a foreign power. I don’t think that means that independence should not be the goal. It simply means independence needs to happen as peacefully as possible.

          • dirk says

            You have a point there Lillian, but the problem is, it is generally agreed now, by colonizers and colonized alike, that, e.g., Africa was far too hastily opened up,ruled and divided among the conquering nations, but what nobody seems to realize, that it was decolonized even more suddenly and in chaos, without any responsible measure or institute to let this transition run smoothly. Congo was left to the new autochtone rulers without one single agriculturist,engineer, lawyer or doctor in charge, and a lot of infrastructure was just taken back home again. Ordinary people (and I have worked with them for 10 yrs) don’t trust the governments in the capital (far away) very much (they have never been so far, no TV, and the president is of another tribe as these peasants). Logically, that they remember with warmth the time of the missionaries, docters and colonial extensionists of once. I understand from authors on the history of Congo that 2 out of the 3 Congolese youngsters want to emigrate to Europe.

        • @Dirk I was born in France and have always live in Europe. I guess I would fall in the later category.The opinion of ordinary people do matter. However, as harsh as it will sound, most of them aren’t necessarily super educated. And to be honest, issue of colonialism must be far from their priority. The problem is that when we speak of African independence, we must ask the question of what independence? Now, I’m originally from a country in Francophone Africa and Francophone Africa is what I know the best. The easiest and shortest way to describe relationship between France and its former colonies is to say that it’s colonialism without the name. The writing of François-Xavier Verschave is a good way to start to learn about this. However, I’m not sure it has been translated in English.

          So, essentially, the leaders of those African countries do not work for the interest of their people. They work for their own interest and obviously for the benefit of their overlord. So, really, even if as you claim “ordinary native” have a different perspective about colonialism, the issue isn’t seen in its entirety.

          Furthermore, colonisation wasn’t a smooth process. It was violent and bloody, with constant protest from the colonised. And it required the vigilance of the imperial power. And while the leader of anti-colonial movement often came from the intelligentsia. The movement itself gathered people from all sphere of society in most case.

          You know just because anti-colonialism has turned into a left wing affair doesn’t mean that it is bad, that it doesn’t teach anything, or that writings about it are a conspiracy. Furthermore, if the focus is on the Western world, it is probably simply because most of those writing about colonialism either come from the West, lived in the West or because they are interested in a country that was colonised by the West. I’m sure if you were in China or Korea, you would get lots of work about Japon colonisation and all that.

          • dirk says

            If that work of Verschave is in Flemish/Dutch, I don’t need a translation. Of course colonisation came with bloodshed, but not with more than in the tribal warfare uptil then, I presume. In the villages I used to work, no bloodshed (but recently again tribal warfare among nomads and farmers), but only missionary activities with good relations (medical, agricultural, education) with the locals. If you are interested in the background and experience of a Quillette responder, read our book -What is the matter with African agriculture-,by Mutsaers a.o. (see on Amazon), with reflections on decolonisation and development efforts in francophone and anglophone Africa from about 30 veterans, Whites and Blacks (all academics, though). It is not optimistic reading. Best greetings from an old Africa dweller.

  3. Johan says

    At the time Britain did a great job colonizing…Who wasn’t tribal or racist 200 years ago? Nobody. People even dressed so you could identify witch group they belonged to.
    They abolished slavery as well. Chasing slave traders in the Indian Ocean.
    Compare British colonized countries today with dito Spanish ones. Monumental differences.
    Intellectuals in India, in hindsight, are pretty thankful to the British.
    Does any lefties criticize the Inkas, Aztecs, russians etc. What about the arabs spreading Islam?
    In the old days you “colonized” if you had the capacity.

      • gda says

        None that were not afraid to speak. The “intellectuals” in the colonies are even more rabidly anti-colonialist than the “intellectuals’ in the West.

        If you want an honest opinion, why on earth would you ask an “intellectual”?

        • What a confused comment! “None that were not afraid to speak.” So they are all cowards. Unlikely.

          “The “intellectuals” in the colonies are even more rabidly anti-colonialist ”

          So there are none really and understandably they are anti-colonial.

          “If you want an honest opinion, why on earth would you ask an “intellectual”?”

          Lol! This is the fucking punchline!

          • gda says

            They fear to speak the truth because “academia” is controlled by louts like you.

            Just as people like James Watson was drummed out of “polite society” for stating the blunt truth about Africans:
            “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”.

            Sorry, but that is just a fact. Let’s see you squirm away trying to deny it. Another is that British colonialism was, taken as a whole, a pretty good system of government for their colonies, and has yet to be improved upon by any countries which were ruled by it. The reason for this is that the British Colonial Service took their job seriously, and they knew and acted appropriately armed with the knowledge of what James Watson stated 100+ years later.

            Perhaps you could describe YOUR personal experiences with colonialism? We know you are skilled at uttering shock profanity, so its probably a stretch to think you can enter into any reasoned debate on the subject.

            I believe you’ve already been bludgeoned for your ignorant comments by many other contributors here. Why don’t you just crawl back into your hole and lick your wounds for a while. You clearly have come to the wrong forum for your profanity-ladened nonsensical ideology.

        • “They fear to speak the truth because “academia” is controlled by louts like you. ”

          You mean twats like you. If you want to discuss something – this ain’t the way. So in the same spirit – fuck off you bastard.

          “Sorry, but that is just a fact. ”

          No it isn’t. It is just your claim.

          “Another is that British colonialism was, taken as a whole, a pretty good system of government for their colonies”

          Ah yes… “taken as a whole”. So what does that entail? How is that a measure? Use completely vague language like this and then call an opinion a fact.

          With logic like that…

          “We know you are skilled at uttering shock profanity”

          Do we? Where? You cunt.

          “so its probably a stretch to think you can enter into any reasoned debate on the subject.”

          Ah yes… try looking up difference between “fact” and opinion.

          “I believe you’ve already been bludgeoned for your ignorant comments by many other contributors here”

          Name one.

          “Why don’t you just crawl back into your hole and lick your wounds for a while. You clearly have come to the wrong forum for your profanity-ladened nonsensical ideology.”

          And that is?

          – –

          Let me be clear… you are a complete cunt. And if you were one bit “honest”… then you would be aware that I didn’t start it with “Johan”, he did with me. Just like you.

          Now fuck off before I really put the verbal boot up your backside.

          • gda says

            Outed for all to see. A loser, stuck in his parent’s basement, raving mindlessly on as flecks of foam spew from his mouth. Take your meds today yet?

            And here I was concerned you might not be able to enter into a reasoned debate.

            Now we ALL know what you are. Good job.

          • No dear. This is what people like you spew when their arguments dry up. Everyone of iq 85 like yourself resorts to this. It simply highlights that you cannot counter argue me.

            If you had really outed me – then evidence? Or evidence where you have counter argued what I have said? No. Oh well.. poppit!

          • Your comments are the first I’ve seen on Quillette to use profanity and ad hominem. No one here has any use for your lack of decorum. There are plenty of places on the internet where comments like yours are commonplace; go find one and leave us in peace.

          • You mean swearing and?

            “No one here has any use for your lack of decorum.”

            What makes you think I care?

            “go find one and leave us in peace.”

            Go fuck yourself. I’ll do what I like.

  4. TJR says

    Much of anti-imperial and anti-colonial rhetoric is just ruling class propaganda.

    Ruling classes want to draw attention away from their own corruption and incompetence by blaming somebody else.

    Its a large scale version of “Don’t blame us, big boys did it and ran away!”

    (Obviously plenty of anti-empire stuff is valid, too).

  5. ga gamba says

    It’s ridiculous these seminars have to be held in secret.

  6. Sorry Biggar but you are an old Racist. Cecil Rhodes was a vile racist in his time and the clear “lies” you have told over him prove you to be one.

    • markbul says

      Rhodes was no more racist than a majority of white Westerners of his day. He just lived in a place where it mattered.

      • markbul – Incorrect. Rhodes was far bigger racist than many of his days. This is a meaningless rhetorical statement to make. Rhodes lived from 1853-1902 and by that there were countless European that were above such racism. I don’t think you two things about Rhodes.

        • Johan says

          Maybe you know something about Rhodes. But certainly you have no idea of the degree of racism of all the others…millions of people. All anonymous today.

    • dirk says

      In Rhodes time, Nomad, almost all Europeans were racists, even the anthropologists sociologists and philosophers among them at that time, I fear that even the writer of Uncle Tom’s cabin could be called a racist (a benevolent one, though). But the tribes of the Zulu, the different Bantu and what not all were also racists of course, chasing away or killing smaller surrounding tribes.

      • dirk – “In Rhodes time,” What time is that do you think? 1853-1902? I think not. There many enlightened and non-racists about. I would say most weren’t.

        “But the tribes of the Zulu, the different Bantu and what not all were also racists of course, chasing away or killing smaller surrounding tribes.”

        Ah yes… that old chestnut. The whole world was racist! The Zulus and Bantus might have been all racist. But if there extent of their racism is chasing around people of their own race then that isn’t much of racism…

        The main point here isn’t Rhodes’s racism but someone like Biggar’s refusal and his prevaricating in at least calling Rhodes a racist.

        • Johan says

          @Reading Nomad…A couple of questions:
          * Wich kind of population were the most tribal/racist 200 years ago?
          * Wich kind of population are the least tribal/racist today?

        • Johan says

          @Reading Nomad…Example: In Papua New Guinea there are around 850 languages. Tribes there has been fighting each other ferociously all through history.
          Do you really believe that they weren’t racist towards other tribes?
          Do you really mean that the Papuans only were able to experience racism after they first saw a white man?
          Ever heard of evolutionary psychology?
          Tribalism is in our DNA. Without it we wouldn’t be here today. Homo Sapiens i.e.

          • I’m coming to your house and taking your property at gunpoint. I’ll let you live there as along as you pay me rent (tax/protection $). This is obviously right, since we’ve been doing it throughout history.

        • dirk says

          @Nomad: you really should read textbooks on ethnology and geography of only 100 yrs ago, I found in my athic one on Worldhistory of 1909, from prof. dr. H.F. Helmolt and prof dr.J.Rancke, the foremost professionals of that time, translated and taught to schoolchildren all over Europe, it is even worse than I thought, mankind was divided in low, medium and high mental stages, the nature, animistic and cultured communities, The Europeans, of course, at the highest level, the African Hottentots, Bushmen at the very lowest, degenerated tribes,(unbelievable, I wonder whether such books can be found on Google), sad relics of human forms with very limited mental abilities. The Australian tribes were not much higher on the mental stage. The dwelling nomads of Eurasia were little bit better-off, and belonged to the so called half-culture societies, somewhat above the animist bush folks. Quite possible that Rhodes was much more moderate and enlightened than the average citizen then.

        • ga gamba says

          But if there extent of their racism is chasing around people of their own race then that isn’t much of racism…

          Everyone reading this should recognise the motte and bailey tactic employed here. The present definition of racism includes ethnic superiority within the same race, for example what the Japanese did to the Chinese and Filipinos. Yes, it would be more precise if a separate word with the same emotive power as racism was commonly used, but presently all we have is ethnocentrism, which doesn’t pack the same punch, imo. Nomad retreats to the safety of the most narrow and out-of-date definition, i.e. racist exists only between the races, as a way to evade the challenge made re the Bantu expansion.

          Would one argue the Manchu conquest of the Ming Dynasty, the establishment of the Qing Dynasty, and their rule over the Han and other ethnicities was in some way benevolent or less brutal than when one race conquers another? Only those who are ignorant would do so.

          Here’s a translation of a first-hand account of the Yangzhou massacre of 1645 in which an estimated 800,000 Han Chinese of one city were murdered by the Manchus in ten days. A highlight: ” Babies lay everywhere on the ground. The organs of those trampled like turf under horses’ hooves or people’s feet were smeared in the dirt, and the crying of those still alive filled the whole outdoors.” How many of you have ever heard of this atrocity? The Manchus also conquered Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang bringing these people and their land under Qing rule which later served as the justification used by the Han (and the purportedly anti-colonialist CCP) that they “belong” to China. The landmass we know as China today was established by imperialist Qing.

          In planning their invasion of Ming, the Manchus not only developed a battle plan, they systematically studied other invaders’ rule to determine their merits and shortcomings. The Manchus determined others fell because over time they became Sinicised, bewitched by the luxury of Han culture which led to indolence, corruption, and failure. In short, the conquerors lost themselves and the attributes that allowed them to conquer the Han in the first place. The problem was how to retain the unity and coherence of the Manchus as a distinct people, while living in a Chinese world. Amongst the earliest books translated into Manchu from Chinese were the histories of the Liao, the Jin, and the Yuan
          dynasties. And these were translated as a way of providing the Manchus a chance to reflect in a historical mirror and look at the prior experience of those people, the Khitans, the Jurchens, and the Mongols, to see what they had done well, to see what they had not done so well, and to model their own rule so as to be able to do better. They were quite explicit about that in the prefaces that were written which recorded the ruler’s edict ordering these translations in the first place.

          The Manchus established elaborate rules applied not only to the conquered but also upon themselves to prevent going native. Being Manchu comprised a set of virtues, a set of practices that were identified with a classic canon of Manchuness. Where they ruled they segregated themselves into Manchu-only districts of Manchu-style homes. Anti-miscegenation laws were enforced – only the Han who were bannermen from the start were exempt. Manchu women dressed themselves and styled their hair in the Manchu way. They didn’t engage in foot binding like the Han – they looked down on it as primitive. Seeing a female walk in the street one could tell immediately whether the woman was a Manchu or not. Even when long removed from being the nomadic warriors of the saddle, all men were expected to retain this identity and practice the Manchu art of archery. The men even affected the Manchu walk, one that depicted a man who spent a long periods in the saddle. To break Han identity all men were required to cut their hair in the queue style. You may think, “a hairstyle, what’s the big deal?” but to the Confucian Han this was taken as a sacrilege to filiality. The Manchu didn’t eradicate Confucianism though because they recognised co-opting much of it would allow them to subdue the Han by claiming the mandate of heaven. Remember, all of this didn’t evolve over time; the Manchus planned this prior to the invasion. They were determined to establish and enforce a system where they were the supreme group from day one and that their identity would be resilient enough to endure.

          Now, given the emphasis on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism in western education, why is there so little attention paid to the Manchus, the Seljuk Turk conquest of Anatolia, the Muslim invasion of North Africa and the Iberian peninsula, and the many, many others? Why, instead, are we told the Muslim rule of Spain was only a glorious achievement, a Golden Age? Professor Darío Fernández-Morera of Northwestern University disputes this in his The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (can be found on youtube). Because, argues Columbia’s Dr John McWhorter, it’s the religion of Antiracism.

          It is inherent to a religion that one is to accept certain suspensions of disbelief. Certain questions are not to be asked, or if asked, only politely—and the answer one gets, despite being somewhat half-cocked, is to be accepted as doing the job. . . . One is not to question, and people can be quite explicit about that. For example, in the “Conversation” about race that we are so often told we need to have, the tacit idea is that black people will express their grievances and whites will agree—again, no questions, or at least not real ones. Here and there lip service is paid to the idea that the Conversation would not be such a one-way affair, but… openly saying that white people who object to any black claims about racism are intolerably mistaken and barely worth engagement. . . . among Antiracism adherents, those questions are tartly dismissed as inappropriate and often, predictably, as racist themselves. The questions are received with indignation that one would even ask them, with a running implication that their having been asked is a symptom of, yes, racism’s persistence. . . . The Antiracism religion, then, has clergy, creed, and also even a conception of Original Sin. Note the current idea that the enlightened white person is to, I assume regularly (ritually?), “acknowledge” that they possess White Privilege. Classes, seminars, teach-ins are devoted to making whites understand the need for this. . . . Antiracism parallels religion also in a proselytizing impulse. Key to being an Antiracist is a sense that there is always a flock of unconverted heathen “out there,”. . . . Finally, Antiracism is all about a Judgment Day, in a sense equally mesmerizing and mythical. Antiracist scripture includes a ritual reference to, as it were, the Great Day when America “owns up to” or “comes to terms with” structural racism—note that “acknowledge” is a term just as appropriate—and finally, well, fixes it somehow.

          Why is white colonialism amplified and all others neglected? The Bantu expansion is dismissed simply as an “old chestnut”. From what is today Cameroon they expanded south and also east, coming to dominate most of sub-Saharan Africa, a geographic area that’s about 23.6 million square km. At 10m square km Europe is less than half the size and the US is smaller still. One tribe conquering such an enormous area is nothing significant? How can someone reach this conclusion? Because people like Nomad genuflect to the Cult of Woke, a religion dedicated to creating the devil of “whiteness” and tearing it down. To state others behaved similarly is to bring forth unwanted nuance that rubbishes the dogma. What will it take to exorcise the demons that possess the hearts and minds of its believers?

          • Thanks for this, ga gamba. The deliberate ignorance manifested by the “only white people” school of credal bumpersticker history is one of the more annoying and damaging aspects of what happens to “thought” when one nation, that of the Nacirema, is imagined as the model for all the world.

            And thanks for the McWhorter quote. I read that Nacirema article back in 1972 when I made my first unsuccessful stab at being a ‘mature student’ at a Canadian university and the fundamental insight it embodies has been a guiding light in my life ever since.

          • Johan says

            @ga gamba…Impressive!
            Just want to add something. Only acknowledging white colonialism is basically racist.

          • ga gamba- what a rambling spiel! What a waste of word when you could have been concise to about 3 sentences.

            “The present definition of racism includes ethnic superiority within the same race”

            English Vs French or English Vs Scots. Racism akin to Whites Vs Blacks? No. End.

    • dirk says

      Thanks Nomad, for causing me to dive into the biography of that Cecil Rhodes, absolutely fabulous, what a great man he was! How would this part of Africa (by far the richest and most advanced part of the continent) have fared without him, and other giants like van Riebeeck? No wine, no juicy steaks from cattle (thanks to the productive Rhodes-grass), no citrus and diamonds without him. And the best universities of the continent, also due to his legacy.The Zulu chiefs greeted him at his funeral with a royal salute, never before actuated for a white man, and refused when the British wanted to remove his remains from his African tomb to be reburied in England. A certain Madeline Briggs maintained that he was a minimal racist, not a biological one (like many christians at the time, who saw the blacks as descendants of the biblical doomed Cham), whereas also many of the racist statements of him could never be substantiated, being undocumented. I would say, all the torn down statues of him quickly re-instated, that’s what he deserves, a very, very great African!

      • Dirk – Nope. He was confirmed racist. The type that thankfully does not exist. Not seeing his racism is a form of racism.

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  8. AC Harper says

    I’m reminded of the youtube clip of Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

    ” What have the Romans ever done for us?”

  9. Johan says

    @Dirk…Good work. Most cultures in the world probably haven’t even started getting scientific. Helmolt and Rancke were top of the line 100 years ago. They had to start somewhere…Would have been a miracle if they got it all right. Others persued…
    Nowadays the modern western societies most likely are the least racist.
    Wonder what “Reading Nomad” has to say?

  10. Bubblecar says

    “the UK press (and presumably their readership) is overwhelmingly supportive of what I am trying to do”

    The UK press is also overwhelmingly right-wing.

    I think the problem with reports like this is that the situation is presented as a matter of neutral scholarship vs politicised scholarship, whereas in reality it’s all political.

    Rather than wringing our hands and despairing that subjects like colonialism are highly controversial, perhaps we should acknowledge that fierce debate on these topics is inevitable and a sign of a healthy society.

    And yes, fierce debate and polarised views will give rise to personal animosities and power struggles within academic institutions. Again, inevitable and not necessarily a “bad thing”.

    Biggar acknowledges the support of the university but apparently that’s not enough – people who strongly disagree with him ought to moderate their tone because he’s easily upset.

    Maybe he’s just chosen the wrong line of work.

    • AC Harper says

      “The UK press is also overwhelmingly right-wing.”

      Alternatively you could argue that some papers and broadcasters are right wing but many others are just not left wing enough to suit some people…

      This is the problem with polarised debates – if you have an absolutist perspective *obviously* everybody who disagrees with you must be bad, mad, or ignorant.

    • dirk says

      I agree Bubble, the Hegelian/Marxist/Darwinian path of progress through polarisation and struggle, and also the one of Peterson and Jung. Something I miss here, it seems that in the end, Oxford choose to not tear down Rhodes statue because many donors of the university had warned to stop donating (I read it went upto missing about 100 million euro), in case that statue was torn down. I think, I also woud stop donating in that case. But, reading about this trifle, you can ask yourself, what hell is the value or the moral of yes or no giving in to the young, alternative, intellectual vanguard? What, now, is weighing more? What is valued? What do people feel and think? It’s really becoming messy! Where is John Stuart Mill now?

      • “Oxford choose to not tear down Rhodes statue because many donors of the university had warned to stop donating (I read it went upto missing about 100 million euro)”

        Read it where?

        • dirk says

          It’s good to see your curiosity Nomad, it was in a dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant, titled -Omstreden Rhodes standbeeld op Oxford mag blijven-, check on Google. Honderd miljoen= hundred million (that’s easy, in my youth we also wrote millioen).The journalist also mentioned that, if Rhodes would have to go, easily also Churchill, Lincoln and even Gandhi should go for some racist remarks. The activist that started it all, a certain Qwabe from SA, studied with a Rhodes scholarship (the legacy of Rhodes, for Whites AND Blacks, so he had decided). Sometimes I think, the world we live in, it is very much like the Alice in Wonderland fairies, everything just the opposite of the normal and decent of what you expect.

          • Good. And I found the original Telegraph article through it.

            “the legacy of Rhodes, for Whites AND Blacks, so he had decided”

            Actually Rhodes specifically left this legacy for Whites.

          • dirk says

            Note: a special clause in his will on the scholarship denied that race should play a role, sex, however, did (only males thus). Rhodes often talked about “childish natives”, but so did Harriet Beecher Stowe, nothing peculiar, no bad feelings.

          • dirk – “and my arguments that Rhodes might be one to a certain extent”

            Er… stop being dishonest. For you Rhodes isn’t a racist at all. See your own previous comments.

            “but that he was just one out of the millions of the time,”

            Yes. But unlike the other millions he had power, destructive power.

            And this school-level bullying won’t work against me. Two of the same opinion get together to try and bad mouth the third? Nah. It is childish.

          • “Note: a special clause in his will on the scholarship denied that race should play a role,”

            Yes, in which he meant Whites of different ethnicities English, Dutch, German, Irish etc. He did not mean blacks or other or even thought them capable.

            So how many non-white students were awarded this before 1960? I could only find one.

            Rhodes will has been revised during 60s and 70s to allow non-whites, women and couples.

            “Rhodes often talked about “childish natives”, but so did Harriet Beecher Stowe, nothing peculiar, no bad feelings.”

            Right… see this is why there is no point discussing it with you. You actually know that Rhodes was an outright Racist. But you are thoroughly incapable of truth.

            He thought the natives were children [and whole lot more – namely Barbarians]… but that to you is of course is no big deal at all. Many views and words of Rhodes are well documents and yet you denied this. So is there any point in talking to some like that ? No. One could post up many outright racist views of Rhodes. But what would be the point? You have already denied them. You are a close minded bigot. So why don’t gang up with your pal Johan there… and avoid discussing the actual topic. Was Rhodes a a racist.

          • @ dirk

            “I said almost everybody was at the time”

            And that is where the dishonesty begins to creep in. To pretend that he was just another racist in world where about every one was. But Rhodes clearly wasn’t that.

            “but him maybe (I didn’t know when writing, only later I found out from Madeline Briggs) less so than average.”

            What? So you knew nothing about him and then read an article defending Rhodes and upon this rests your whole assessment of Rhodes? Give it a rest. Going after the veracity of single quote does not in anyway mean all statements against him are equally false.Do try reading what you post!

            “He was not a saint,”

            He was far from that. Never mind his statements… his actions and deeds?

        • Johan says

          @ Reading Nomad…Are you seriously a true wanker or are you just another troll?

          • dirk says

            @Johan: the discussion and the subject has my interest, also because of my work in post colonial spheres, but, of course, it would be wrong to think that personal arguments or experiences may change others views. For Nomad, Rhodes is a confirmed racist, I am (for him) a normal racist, and my arguments that Rhodes might be one to a certain extent, but that he was just one out of the millions of the time, and that South Africa (and the world) owns this historical person statues and passages in a history book on his relevance for society , these words don’t reach him. Has it ever succeeded that a debate or dialogue then leads to, at least partly, a change of mind? Or, as you think, is he trolling? Or a wanker? I wonder whether he may admit so. Not very likely!

          • dirk says

            @ Reading N.: dishonest? Where did I say he wasn’t one? I said almost everybody was at the time, but him maybe (I didn’t know when writing, only later I found out from Madeline Briggs) less so than average. He was not a saint, of course, that’s not his virtue, to be honoured with in those statues, among others by the Ndebele tribe from Zimbabwe, the Rhodesia of once.

  11. Ron says

    Look at any empire in history and you will find a story of conquest, colonialism and oppression. Every tribe in Africa gained ground by conquering their neighbours or lost ground by being concured.. Supplying slaves to slavers was mainly done by other african tribes who saw an opportunity. Azteks, incas, mayans….. conquest and colonialism. The greek, the italians, China, japan, russia, the dutch, the gemans, the french, the spanish….

    Maybe it is time to stop poking out other peoples eyes while refusing to look at your own history.
    I’m dutch. My counrty was invaded by the spanish, the french and more recently the germans. We did a fair bit of conquest ourselves. Suriname, indonesia. Early parts of the US etc.

    Seems to me people are trying to claim victemhood just because theirs was more recent. That seems stupid to me.

  12. From one perspective, human history is a story of winners and losers, and the winners were pursuing some kind of reward. This is still true. Descendants of losers have managed to convince some of the descendants of winners that they should apologize because some of their ancestors were winners. Devise your own explanation for this weird state of affairs.

  13. dirk says

    Of course, it all started with the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said: Hail to the meek, miserable and downtrodden (the basket of deplorables), because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! I wonder whether something similar was also preached in the Koran, the I Tjing, by Buddha or Zarathustra. It has brought us many good things, a more humane society, of course, but it also can run amok, sling out of all proportions.

    • Johan says

      @Dirk…Johan here. Sorry. But Nomad is calling you a racist and insults “ga gamba”. Both of you are very civilized and ambitious.
      I put my fot down earlier than you…Have a good night sleep!

      • Johan – you are schoolboy troll. “Both of you are very civilized and ambitious.” Um, no. It is just that you agree with their viewpoint.

        • dirk says

          I think mr. reading n. can learn a lot from the Ndebele and Zulu, they generally stop quarreling after the death, even of their fiercest enemies. “Wafa wanaka”, so it goes in their Ubuntu philosophy, about the dead nothing than good, why revenge against the bleached bones of their spirit? Renaming schools, tearing down statues, none of that is part of that ubuntu.
          It is the luxury of the western SJW and other angry young men, without ubuntu!

          • @ dirk

            ” It is the luxury of the western SJW and other angry young men, without ubuntu!”

            WTF are you on about know? If you wish to discuss Rhodes. Fine. Else… You were surprisingly eager before. But it is quite clear that you don’t really know what you are talking about. All you know is few articles read on internet. And they were woefully one sided.

  14. Paul Ellis says

    ‘History over the last quarter century tends to support the view that the main difference between oppressors and oppressed is opportunity.’ – Hugh Bicheno, ‘Razor’s Edge’

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  16. Man with the Axe says

    Shouldn’t being willing to listen and engage in civil debate while avoiding ad hominem be a requirement of holding an academic position?

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  18. Gusandra says

    Because of his gallant defense of empire, I recommend that professor Biggar be granted some kind of royal title. I would suggest “Groom of the Stool.”

    • dirk says

      Hahaha! (but had no find out via Google what is was).

      • dirk says

        Hahaha! (but had to find out via Google what it was).

  19. Northern Observer says

    Anti colonialism is racism. Once you grasp this central fact everything makes sense and you can see World History without the distortions of ideology and racial resentment.

  20. dirk says

    Not a fact R.N., a way of looking at it, read about this in an article on Niall Ferguson in another, newer thread, he says something similar in his books -The West and the rest- and -Empire-. The distortions of the one, are the unequivocal truths of another, so is life, and politics in particular. Maybe N.O. can explain!

  21. Chris says

    Some Quillette articles disappoint in failing to address the strongest points of the opposition. This, however, has been an interesting comments section. I think Nomad’s points would come across stronger if s/he skipped the name calling. But all and all this is a worthy bit of debate. My two cents is the observation that humans are basically predatory animals who rarely now or ever take a principled stand against that which benefits them or their group, with some shining exceptions. Without unlikely restraint, “Being woke” is just another claim to moral superiority akin to those used to justify colonialism, genocide, and authoritarianism in general and it is likely to yield similar messy results.

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