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Uncommon Decency

Mar 22, 2023

On episode five of this show, the late Gyórgy Schópflin, then retired and in the twilight of his life, made a lucid observation about what, at bottom, set his native Hungary apart from his adoptive Great Britain. “Hungary has no post-colonial guilt”, intoned the retired academic and former Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Schöpflin meant this as a partial explanation—if not a justification—of the nationalist politics practiced by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the subject of our episode that day. Not having colonized other territories, Orbán's dealings with other world leaders were, in Schópflin’s view, a function of Hungary having fallen under the dominion of foreign powers throughout recent history, be it Austria or the Soviet Union. What did Schópflin mean about the UK, however? Simply put, that conversely things like the British public's toleration of high levels of immigration from former colonies or its support for high levels of development aid towards them are also, in their own way, a function of Britain’s past as the ruler of a vast empire. In his latest book, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning (2022), Oxford University ethicist Nigel Biggar hopes to inform a reassessment of Britain’s colonial guilt, placing on a single moral ledger the calamities and abuses worthy of guilt and condemnation along with the achievements worthy of praise and celebration. The Emeritus Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, Biggar is joined in this latest episode by Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a historian of Spanish colonialism and the William P. Reynolds Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. Together, our two guests challenge one another to comparatively assess the historical and moral record of the Spanish and British empires. Enjoy!

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