News & Events

17 August 2018

Professor Greg Melleuish, political scientist and historian at the University of Wollongong, explores the question: What is Western Civilisation?

Prof. Greg Melleuish  The question regarding the nature of Western civilisation is not an easy one to answer, not  least because of the way in which those of us who are the products of Western civilisation  think about such things.  Three preliminary points are worth making:  

  • The word civilisation was created during the Enlightenment.  Its first usage in English  is in Adam Ferguson’s History of Civil Society (1767) but it was not used in the plural  until quite a number of years later.  It is worth noting that Guizot, writing in the  1820s called his lectures and book Histoire de la civilisation en Europe not Histoire de  la civilisation européenne.1   Western civilisation does not really appear on the scene  until the twentieth century and is largely an American creation.  
  • The word civilisation is not the only word used in the ‘West’ to describe a complex  social order.  Before there was civilisation there was the word police from which the  modern term policy is derived.  Many figures of the late eighteenth century used this  term including Ferguson and Adam Smith.  Police has a largely political connotation,  while civilisation is a response to the rise of commercial society.  Culture emerged in  the nineteenth century, in part as a response to what was seen as the overtly  materialist and commercial nature of civilisation in countries such as England.2  In  particular, Germans favoured Kultur as possessing a spiritual dimension in opposition  to what was seen as the shallow and materialist nature of civilisation.  
  • One can be a civilised person without living in a civilisation.  Being civilised can be  seen as behaving in a particular way, generally marked by moderation and decency

Please click the link below to read the rest of the article

Western Civilisation GM (002)

Read article
20 June 2018

For the sake of humanities, don’t reject Ramsay’s gift

Robert Phiddian: The Australian June 20, 2018
It’s not the gift horse I’d have designed if given a free hand, but it’s not a Trojan horse either, whatever Tony Abbott’s dreams for it. Only if you really believe that students are stupidly impressionable can you believe that studying a curriculum based on the Ramsay Centres’s plans will turn out robot warriors for Western civilisation.

This is a convenient fiction for extremists on both sides of the debate. I’ve been teaching some of these books on and off for three decades, and they just don’t work like that in class. If you read any of them seriously and critically, you get better at thinking, feeling, writing, and understanding the world around you.

They are not the only way of achieving those ends, but they are a good way, and they bear a causal relation to the world we inhabit as 21st-century Australians.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

Read article
16 June 2018

There’s an ugly side but it does not diminish Western civilisation

Peter Craven: The Australian June 16, 2018
It’s hard to imagine the heat of the Western civilisation/Ramsay Cen­tre debate being generated in the way it has been anywhere but in this country. Someone wants to leave a lot of money to establish courses at the Australian National University that trace the glories of what we have inherited from, say, Homer and Herodotus, Plato and the Psalms to wherever you want to stop: Wittgenstein and Proust, perhaps. The Ramsay Centre ­appointed a board that included John Howard and Kim Beazley.

Yes, but it also includes Tony Abbott, who writes an article in Quadrant suggesting the course must be for Western civilisation and the people who teach it should be selected to further this bias. And, lo and behold, this scares the horses, or rather the academics who are fearful of being Eurocentric, who want to interrogate the horrors of postcolonialism and generally back away from cultural triumphalism.

This, in turn, affects the Nobel prize-winning vice-chancellor of ANU, Brian Schmidt, the physicist, and he has to back off, so the pot of gold falls from the hands of the university. Sydney University is also chary but no doubt there will be negotiations with others.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

Read article
14 June 2018

Revive our cultural memory and ask the big questions

Dr Stephen McInerney writes:

The right to free inquiry stems from a long tradition

From the ancient Greeks on, Western civilisation is dialectical.

Whether it is republicanism versus imperialism in Rome, the meaning of the prophets and the law in 1st century Jerusalem in light of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus, the conflicts during the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, the roles of reason and emotion in moral actions, or the nature of human rights in Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft and W.E.B. Du Bois, the Western canon is revealed through disagreement and constant re-evaluation.

What Australian students in the humanities desperately need is a restoration of cultural memory

For the full article see The Australian, Australia by Stephen McInerney
13 Jun 2018

Read article
14 June 2018

Yesterday on 2GB, Mr Howard said: “The Western cultural tradition, it’s not perfect, no tradition is, but essentially it’s made us who we are, it’s where we came from.

Yesterday on 2GB, Mr Howard said: “The Western cultural tradition, it’s not perfect, no tradition is, but essentially it’s made us who we are, it’s where we came from.

“Western civilisation has given us parliamentary democracy, it’s given us freedom, it’s given us an enormous inheritance of literature and music and culture.

“By all means debate it, analyse it . For heaven’s sake, don’t pretend it hasn’t moulded us. I’m not using this as a platform to attack other civilisations, I’m using it as a vehicle to remind the Australian people of just who we are and where we came from.” Mr Howard said rather than look for reasons to apologise, he had “tried to live” by the belief that Australia’s achievements were overwhelmingly positive.

“We still have that in many areas of society, the determination to apologise for the past. Apologise for your own mistakes, recognise that our civilisation, like many, is flawed, recognise the blemishes but you’ve got to look at the aggregate achievement. The aggregate achievement of Australia is massive. I look at Australia’s past in positive terms, not in negative terms.”

Read article
12 June 2018

Message from the CEO

Since the Centre and its possible partnerships with universities to create a new degree have been much in the news, we thought you might find it interesting to see what students might encounter in the degree. Go to the indicative curriculum page on this website to see what sort of courses might be offered, subject to university approval processes. Our letter of invitation to potential partners in October 2017 set out an indicative curriculum and the one you see reflects in many of its details the responses we received.  

Also you can read on our website a long list of the kinds of questions we regularly get asked by interested students (of all ages!): go to Frequently Asked Questions.

Read article
9 June 2018

Human epic is about more than university power struggles

John Carroll: The Australian June 9, 2018
The Australian National Univer­sity has just backed off hosting a course on Western civilisation on the grounds of it being somehow in conflict with what the university stands for. What does it stand for, we might ask.

One further step in the demoral­isation of the academy has just taken place, care of ANU senior management caving in to a minority of noisy radical students, one which, while small in itself, can count on background support from most of the academic staff in the humanities. There is a long history behind how we, as a society, have let this come to pass. At issue is what has transpired in the ­humanities and social sciences, not in the rest of the university.

The Western university as we know it today was founded in the Middle Ages as a Christian ­institution. It was predicated on ­unquestioned and unifying faith. Within the faith, its central task was theological, to explain the works of God to man and to train minds for that interpretative work. The university was transformed by the Renaissance, and later the ­Enlightenment, into a humanist institution. In this, its second phase, culture replaced God as the transcendental force that welded the unifying vision. We are now well into a third phase in which the university has a confused idea of ­itself, and inasmuch as it has ­direction, it is to be found in ­pockets still under the influence of the ghosts of the old beliefs.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

Read article
9 June 2018

Our universities recoil at how the West has won- Editorial

If we believe the “long march through the institutions” has been successful then it follows that any pushback is going to encounter resistance. That, in essence, is what is happening as the Australian National University rejects a study and scholarship proposal from the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and other university faculties prepare to erect the barricades. The episode is a sad indictment on the politicisation of academic institutions and a clear demonstration of just why self-made healthcare and media billionaire Paul Ramsay came to believe such a project would be so vital. Without doubt it is being opposed because it seeks broadly to be in favour of Western civilisation rather than to be ambivalent or antipathetic. This might not be too much to ask from any Western university or, indeed, any institution vaguely familiar with human history and the prosperity, systems and liberties that have been developed. It should almost go without saying that this does not and cannot mean any consideration of Western civilisation should be uncritical — that would be absurd. But it ought not be too much to expect that any organisation aiming to deal in intelligent inquiry can recognise the trend of progress in arts and literature, politics and democracy, academia and innovation, as well as many other spheres.

Certainly, while supporting the stated aims of the Ramsay centre, The Weekend Australian understands the need for academic freedom. Yet it seems incomprehensible that a suitable arrangement could not have been struck; indeed, our understanding is that the draft agreement ensured the ANU would have a majority on the selection panel and therefore a veto power over academic appointments. This would be similar to arrangements for other donor-sponsored programs and grant the fail-safe provision required. It seems likelier, on the evidence available, that the ANU and its vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, cowered in the face of strident and politically motivated opposition from student activists and the academic union. Now we have seen staff at the University of Sydney launch a pre-emptive strike against the centre. Led by activist academics who support odious campaigns such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, they oppose the centre because it has connections to people who have been active in the Liberal Party (never mind it includes ALP figures on its board, too) and they claim it will push a chauvinistic view about a “European supremacism”. This is jejune, even undergraduate, behaviour and it tends to underscore exactly the sort of capitulation to superficiality and green-left activism that the Ramsay centre aims to guard against in the ongoing contest of ideas.

Some well-meaning observers, in our pages and elsewhere, suggest it is just too difficult to change the ways or overcome the jaundice of universities and that, to achieve its aims, the Ramsay centre ought to establish itself as an independent institution or in cahoots with a private university. This would be a surrender to those who seek to use our publicly funded universities for their own ideological ends. The great universities of Australia should do better than this; they must become truly pluralistic academies mindful of their heritage and responsibilities, and capable of hosting a centre on Western civilisation without recoiling and becoming bastions of resistance.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

 

Read article
8 June 2018

ANU must enlighten us on a strange decision – Editorial

What kind of society undermines itself like this? Our top academic institution the Australian National University has killed off the planned Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation where academics and students would study the founding ideas behind our own civilisation, funded from a bequest by the late healthcare pioneer Paul Ramsay, one of Australia’s greatest entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt says only that the terms cut across the university’s “autonomy”. But that’s wholly inadequate when it’s clear that there was also noisy pressure from the academics union and the ANU student association to dump the plan on grounds it was there to promote “a radical conservative agenda”. Former prime minister Tony Abbott who sits on the Ramsay centre’s board indeed inflamed things by saying that the Centre would be “in favour” of Western civilisation. But, apart from the knee-jerk opposition, in what weird world is that a bad thing? Being broadly in favour of Western Enlightenment values such as individual freedom, representative democracy, private property rights and equality before the law – now regardless of race, gender or sexuality – does not preclude criticising its historical or contemporary lapses.

For the full editorial see the AFR

Read article
31 May 2018

David Malouf – Distinguished Speakers Program

 

On Tuesday May 22, David Malouf, one of Australia’s greatest writers, delivered the second lecture in the Ramsay Centre Distinguished Speakers Series 2018. The title of his lecture was “The Voices of Women in Greek Drama”

Read article
18 May 2018

The Hon Kim Beazley AC resigns as a Director

The Ramsay Centre regrets to announce that the Hon Kim Beazley AC resigned as a Director on 18 May 2018, following his appointment as Governor of Western Australia. 

 CEO, Professor Simon Haines, said:

 “Mr Beazley has made a unique contribution to the Board. We fully understand that the nature of his new appointment requires him to disengage from other roles. We warmly congratulate Kim on his appointment to this high office.”

 The Governor said: “I wish the Centre well and remain fully supportive of its mission. Its work is potentially a major contribution to our understanding of the philosophical and cultural basis of our democracy. I very much regret the necessity of my withdrawing from the Board.”

 The resignation of Mr Beazley will create a casual vacancy on the Board of Directors and this matter will be further considered by the Board.  

Read article
24 April 2018

Prof Geoffrey Blainey – Distinguished Speakers Program

On Wednesday 4 April, the renowned Australian historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, delivered the inaugural lecture in the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation’s Distinguished Speakers Series. The title of Professor Blainey’s lecture was: ‘The Glass Ballot Box: Australia, the World Powers and the Advantages of Democracy’.

 

 

Read article
24 April 2018

Liberals are undermining western civlisation

Progressive critics should not abuse the freedoms that our chequered history has given us.

An Australian philanthropist has caused a row by leaving a vast sum of money to promote the teaching of “western civilisation” in universities. Universities love benefactions, and two jumped at the offer. But many academics loathe the proposal: to them it smacks of racism, imperialism and claims to ethnic or cultural superiority. Students agitate to “decolonise the curriculum” and there are now tours of British museums and art galleries designed to trace “the history of empire and genocide”; participants wear badges with the slogan “Display it like you stole it”.

In my own university, Cambridge, once-popular courses called “The Expansion of Europe” and “The West and the Third World” have long been replaced by a decentred “World History”. Simon Schama and Mary Beard now celebrate not “Civilisation” in their BBC TV series but “Civilisations”. Some of this is modish destruction of straw men. Some has serious intellectual purpose. Often it is a valuable enrichment and a salutary recognition of the achievements of others.

Nevertheless, there is an important thing called western civilisation, defined by history, not geography. It is the sum total of our laws, our values, our arts, our institutions, of the habits of mind and heart that enable us to live, fairly harmoniously, together: to trust each other (to some extent); to look out for each other (sometimes grudgingly); to understand each other (sometimes imperfectly); even to tell jokes about each other.

These are great and rare achievements. If I were Chinese, or Indian, or Japanese, I would argue the same — that the best aspects of my civilisation need to be cherished and taught. This in no way involves disparaging others or cutting oneself off from the wider world. A society cannot just pull up its civilisational roots and choose some other value system; remember the disastrous attempt to create “Soviet Man”. But you can weaken your civilisation by neglecting it and despising it, and we have arguably gone too far along that road already.

This is not to say that we should be uncritical of our inherited values, blind to past misdeeds, or resistant to all change. Indeed, western civilisation has always been quarrelsome, diverse and flexible. Some major civilisations trace themselves back to a single immutable source: Confucius, or Muhammad, or the Buddha. But the West has no single ideology, no single scripture, no single prophet. It is indebted to ancient Greece for the foundations of its philosophy, partly transmitted by Arabic scholars; to ancient Rome and medieval England for its two great legal systems; to the 17th-century scientific revolution and the 18th-century Enlightenment for much of its modernity — themselves stimulated by contacts with the rest of the world. So western civilisation cannot be, by its very nature, wholly stable, wholly orthodox or wholly united. Its diversity, eclecticism and capacity for evolution are defining characteristics.

The great Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and historian David Hume said loftily that we owed our advances to “a great measure of accident with a small ingredient of wisdom and foresight”. The western civilisation we have inherited is the result of a painful, slow, dangerous, accidental and faltering invention of a set of rules for life, the best we have managed over many centuries, and certainly in need of constant maintenance and improvement, but also worth defending and proclaiming.

Is there a core of ideas, practices and institutions that provide a bedrock? Most of us would perhaps optimistically say yes, and even agree broadly on what they are. We would say tolerance; largely an invention of the 18th century. Then rationality and the scientific method; also largely from the 17th and 18th centuries, but with a link back to ancient Greece. We would probably say “the rule of law”, which derives from the ancient world and the Middle Ages. We would surely too say “democracy”, although only a 19th and even 20th-century development, with distant links to the Greek and Roman republics. We would also say “equality”, or at least some notion of equality before the law, or equality of opportunity as an ideal: that too goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. We would probably also say things like rights, justice, fairness, which we could trace back to the Middle Ages and to documents such as Magna Carta. And deep in the foundations are Judeo-Christian principles: charity, love, peace, justice, forgiveness.

Of course, these are the ideals, which we fail to put fully into practice. But very few of them could we openly reject, and those who have rejected them (we might think of the Bolsheviks and the Nazis) only ever had a short, although catastrophic, influence on history.

So what’s the problem? Simply that our attachment in practice to the principles we think we hold is fraying. If we routinely denigrate “western” values, we weaken solidarity and promote indifference to political principles and institutions. We encourage intransigent assertions of entitlement and magnified claims to victimhood — two sides of the same coin, and two of the most annoying symptoms of demoralisation.

We have dangerously undermined free thought, free speech, equality before the law and the right to a fair trial: “western” values that would not long ago have been considered sacrosanct. If all of a sudden we have a chilly sense of our civilisation under threat, the fault is largely our own.

Professor Robert Tombs is author of The English and their History

Please see at link to the Times to read the full article.

Read article
Back to top
Western civilization shapes the content of my films, provides me with subjects that haven't been used before."
- Eric Rohmer