Nigel Biggar and the justification of war

November 28, 2014 · Posted in Blog 

Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, and director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life, came to talk at Canterbury as part of our public lecture series. His title for the evening was 1914-18: Was Britain Right to Fight? It was a fantastic lecture followed by some interesting questions and he argued cogently for the justification of a just war.

The starting point for just war self defence or the protection of the innocent?
He distinguished Christian just war theory as having a different starting point from the analytic philosophy starting point. The analytic philosophy starting point is the UN an self defence. The Christian starting point is in protection of the innocent. He argued that self defence is not always a moral justification. For instance, Germany’s self defence at the end of the second world war as the allies pushed forward was not morally justifiable. Self defense is not a good in its own sake. It depends what you are defending, for what, and at what price. Protection of the innocent is a stronger staring point for just war than self defense.

A just peace?
Another standout discussion was around the price of peace. This comes right out of the notion in moral theology that inaction can be wrong – the sin of omission. He spoke about the west’s decision to withdraw after pushing Saddam out of Kuwait in the first Iraq war and the consequence for the ethnic minorities he then slaughtered. The point being that when we talk about peace, whose peace do we mean? Do we protect our peace by not intervening, which allows another to enjoy peace whilst they end the peace of a third party and do terrible things? When we use notions of peace a key question is who enjoys that peace?

A fascinating talk.

You can listen to Nigel Biggar debating some of these issues on Premier Christian Radio from a link here.


Leave a Reply