News & Events

23 April 2019

Greg Sheridan AO – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday 9 April, Greg Sheridan AO, Foreign Editor, The Australian and Author delivered the second Ramsay Lecture for 2019. The title of his lecture was “The Case for God: can Western Civilisation be sustained without belief?”

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26 March 2019

Professor Fiona Wood AM – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday 19 March, national living treasure and former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Wood AM, Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeon, delivered the first Ramsay Lecture for 2019. The title of her lecture was “The impact of western science on today’s society”

 

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23 January 2019

First cohort has a taste of Plato and Shakespeare

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has run its first course for 30 mostly high school students at a secluded conference centre at Ingleside in northern Sydney.

And for Sophie Jackson, a 16-year-old student at Loreto Kirribilli, it was an eye-opener as well as a confidence boost.

“I was a little bit overwhelmed when I first sat in this room and there were some people out the front talking about some really high level intellectual thinking,” she said.

“I was just sitting here going ‘wow, I feel a bit out of place’. But after sitting down in smaller groups and getting to have high level intellectual conversations with a variety of people with different backgrounds, opinions and perspectives, it allowed me to open my horizons and I’ve learnt so much.”

The two-and-a-half-day residential course was flagged as “an introduction to the kind of thinking a future degree in Western civilisation might offer”. It drew on what is described as the Socratic method of argumentative dialogue to encourage critical thinking by studying Hamlet and Plato’s Apology.

“I was interested in the texts that we were studying,” Scarlett Green, a 17-year-old from Queenwood School For Girls, said. “This course offered an opportunity to learn skills that would be helpful for university – being able to think on a critical level and be reflective.”

Helga Tong, another 17-year-old Queenwood student, said taking part had shaped her view of the merits of studying Western civilisation.

“Most of us here can say that we disagree with the controversy around it,” she said. “We don’t see why there is after this.”

Credit: SMH excerpt – For the full story please see link here

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5 January 2019

The books that the West needs to read again

What could have been so subversive? Chased off the campus at the Australian National University and Sydney University, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has done a deal with the University of Wollongong to teach the degrees it will fund. Some academics there reached for the smelling salts. A visiting fellow has stopped visiting. Others sniffed the imminent arrival of neo-fascism, the barbarians through the gates.

As a way to cast light on the biggest academic controversy of 2018, The Australian Financial Review asked the Ramsay Centre’s Simon Haines and Stephen McInerney to nominate 10 of the great books of the West they think we should read before we die. In our New Year bumper edition’s Review section, they let the books speak for themselves. There was Plato and Virgil, Shakespeare and Dante, Machiavelli’s realism, and Rousseau’s equality and social justice versus Burke’s conservatism. Some are just rollicking good reads. Nothing drives straight to the conflicted emotions of war like.  The
Iliad. Or comprehends a world of lies like King Lear. But when the West is being tested by simplistic populist politics within, and by increasingly confident authoritarian great powers from outside, it’s not a bad thing to go back to founding texts and ideas. The Ramsay Centre’s sin is to teach these books in their own right, not just as objects for demolition in some post-modernist experiment. Though Ramsay could do that too: as the mental infrastructure of the West, the great books have spawned every idea from fascism to anarchism, even the nihilistic relativism with which shriller academics have knocked all those dead white males off their privileged pedestals.

But it’s the liberal strand of Western thought that has been the most fruitful, precisely because it is the most self-aware, the most self-doubting, and the most capable of absorbing criticism. There are older civilisations than the West, and civilisations with which it overlaps. It is Western liberalism that has continuously renewed and improved itself to an uncommon degree.

That was the mechanism by which it moved from darkness and cruelty to life-enhancing improvements like democratic self-government and rational, empirical scientific inquiry, and then spread them around the world. It generated individual freedoms – and from that, the creative destruction of the market place that has created prosperity and abolished poverty like nothing else before it. Liberalism is gradual, and changes things from the bottom up. It is the opposite of top-down attempts to create Utopia like revolutionary socialism. Liberalism is all about improvement, but it works with human
nature.

The Marxists decided that if their socialism didn’t work then human nature would have to be changed, eventually with the gulag and the firing squad. It would be a stretch to suggest that gentle neo-Marxist academics – as devoutly as they believe that all human history and culture is but a ruling-class conspiracy – are in the same boat as Pol Pot. But their objections to Ramsay as a prelude to fascism are just as absurd.

Liberalism is once again in need of renewal, and its old ideas in need of reviving. In an era of ‘post-truth’ domestic politics, lies are currency and a new swamp of cynicism is being created. The old Western-led international order that defeated the Soviet Union has gone. In its place is a no-rules balance of great powers free to operate through bluster, brinkmanship and intimidation. Business too is short on trust and a sound sense of purpose. It needs to go back to the reminder from Adam Smith that a free economy only comes from moral beings who are able to look at themselves and know the difference between vice and virtue.

Many have argued that the West’s elites have become too smug and entrenched, and do not know how to deal with the populist demands now being made of them. To that conflict will be added the vast impact of new technologies many people barely grasp. But you do not need to look at the classic texts for long to know that we have been resolving dilemmas like this for a long time. We need to go back to some of our own best ideas. We need more Ramsays, not fewer.

Credit: Australian Financial Review – see full article here

Picture credit: The great books supply our mental infrastructure.  Jim Pavlidis illustration

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28 December 2018

The Ramsay Centre’s 10 books you must read before you die

Forget the politics around the Ramsay Centre. Dive into the politics discussed in these 10 greatest books ever, write Simon Haines and Stephen McInerney.

Western civilisation has asked the deepest human questions for thousands of years, in the form of a great conversation carried on in books, art and music.

By joining this conversation, by experiencing some of these ageless works, we can learn from history, gain insight into our own humanity and better understand the foundations of our society.

This chronological list of great works in two categories – literature and political philosophy – may help you navigate family relationships during the holidays, reflect on this year’s banking royal commission, or think about political turmoil in Canberra, Europe or the US. It may even encourage you to read some of the books.

The Iliad – Homer

All philosophy, Plato said, is a meditation on death, but it was a poet not a philosopher who gave to the world the most profound meditation on death that Greek civilisation would produce. Homer’s Iliad centres on the fate of “swift-footed” Achilles, the psychopathic but magnificent Greek warrior. Confronted with an existential choice – to live a short, glorious life or a long but unremembered life – Achilles at first seems to reject the glorious path.

Dishonoured by his commander Agamemnon, he withdraws in a rage from the battle against the Trojans. The course of the war turns almost immediately against the Greeks, but when Achilles’ closest friend Patroclus is killed by Hector, introspection gives way to action. Knowing his own death will shortly follow any triumph, Achilles rushes into the fray, turning the tide of battle, until he confronts and kills the noble Hector.

The final book remains among the most poignant in the Western canon, as Achilles – his rage overwhelmed by King Priam’s grief for his fallen son – returns Hector’s body to his weeping father.

Sharpening the poem’s already acute sensitivity to the appalling plight of women in war, as the poem draws to a close, Hector’s wife, Andromache, laments her fallen hero and her own fate.

The Aeneid, Book 4 – Virgil

If having a passionate affair is something you want to tick off your bucket list before you kick the same bucket, you should first read the cautionary tale of Dido and Aeneas in Book 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid. This affair not only ends in tears, it ends in flames. Having fled the burning walls of Troy with his household gods on his back, Aeneas and his fleet are waylaid in Carthage on their way to Italy, where he is destined to resettle the surviving remnant of Troy. In Carthage he seduces Dido under the influence of the goddess Aphrodite.

The story offers a classic study of the battle between duty and desire – of our obligations to God and neighbour, on the one hand, and our personal passions on the other. In the end, Aeneas answers the call of the gods to recommence his journey to Italy. He abandons Dido who, in response, immolates herself, consumed by flames just as she had been consumed by passion. Later, in the underworld, in literature’s greatest rebuke, she turns away from her former lover, refusing to acknowledge his presence.

The Gospel of Mark

If for no other reason than you want to understand why we value forgiveness and human rights, why we feel we should help the poor, and why we tend to feel ashamed when we treat others in a way we would not like to be treated ourselves, you need to read “the greatest story ever told” (as it was called in a famous Hollywood movie of that name). Set in Jerusalem around 33AD , the story was the catalyst for the complete transformation of the Roman Empire and the birth of European civilisation – whose laws, morals, customs, education, music, art, architecture and literature it has ineluctably shaped.

It is the subject of the four canonical Gospels, of which Mark’s is the shortest and most urgent, dispensing with the infancy narrative and taking us straight to the heart of Jesus’s ministry to sinners and the poor. Suffering is turned to joy in the account of the resurrection, as the grieving women come to anoint with sweet spices the body of their crucified rabbi. “And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away…”

Inferno – Dante

Dante’s Inferno is surely the greatest work of literature to be born out of a midlife crisis. A political exile from his beloved Florence, Dante begins his masterpiece describing how he lost his way “midway” in life. In the dark wood three wild beasts, representing various vices, hunt our hero before Virgil is sent to rescue Dante through the intercessions of Beatrice, the poet’s muse. Having passed through limbo, Virgil’s own place of residence, the pilgrims arrive in the second circle of hell, where the sins of lust are punished. Here they see Dido (see above) and encounter the tragic lovers, Paulo and Francesca.

Still tossing up whether to have that affair before you die? Dante will set you right. In what is the most famous episode in the entire poem, Francesca describes her adulterous affair with Paulo, which ended when she and Paulo were discovered in bed by Paulo’s brother – Francesca’s husband – who swiftly killed them. Dante faints in response, so troubled is he by the thought that carnal passion – which seemed so irresistible – could lead to eternal separation from God, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars”.

Lust, though, is the most minor of the major sins. Dante has greater ire for loan sharks. The cast of the damned in Inferno looks less like Halloween and more like the banking royal commission.

King Lear – Shakespeare

In an age when “misspeaking” at work, on social media or in emails can lead to the loss of one’s career and livelihood, it is worth revisiting the greatest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, King Lear. Cordelia’s refusal to “mend [her] speech a little” by adding “nothing” to the insincere flatteries of her two sisters, leads to her banishment, setting in motion a tragedy that ends with her dead body lying limp in her father’s arms – a kind of pieta, with the genders reversed.

As with Homer, we see what it is for a king to grieve over his fallen child, but Lear’s agony is worse than Priam’s, for Lear is himself responsible for the calamities that allow evil to triumph over his kingdom and home. The so-called medieval synthesis of faith and reason is here firmly pulled apart; the great chain of being dissolves and Shakespeare makes us feel what it is for humanity to return to a universe where, like the characters in Homer’s Iliad, we are no more to the gods than “flies to wanton boys – they use us for their sport”. Hammering home Lear’s terrible realisation that Cordelia will live “no more”, the most memorable and devastating line in the play contains one word, repeated five times: “Never, never, never, never, never!”

Republic – Plato

A group of Athenians discuss the immortality of the soul, the immorality of art, the illusions of everyday life, the equality of the sexes, the abolition of the family, the nature of political constitutions, the importance of education. But above all they talk about justice, the essential principle in both the self and the state. A bullying type says that justice is a chimera. Political life is the exercise of power and the satisfaction of appetite (sexual, material). The autocrat is the happiest of all because he can have whatever he desires.

Socrates has to persuade his disconcerted and sceptical friends that the truly just man or woman – even when suffering, poor and dishonoured – will be happier than the wealthy, powerful, respected tyrant. And that the best government is by wise, well-educated Guardians (the European Commission?), who understand what “justice” really means, what the best life really is for human beings, as individuals and citizens.

Unlike Aristotle, whose Politics is a dry empirical account of how we actually practise politics, Plato thought philosophy’s job was to imagine a utopia, based on the meaning of an intellectual idea. This conceptual approach to thinking has driven Western thought ever since.

History of the Peloponnesian War – Thucydides

The West’s first true work of history is also a tragedy: that of Athens herself. Pericles’ immortal Funeral Speech, his tribute to the spirit of democracy and to his city at her zenith, as a bastion of freedom against Persian and Spartan expansionism, is soon succeeded by a terrible plague. It kills a third of the population and demoralises the rest. Hedonism takes over; the values which made the city great are abandoned.

The Spartan conflict turns into a faction-driven civil war across the whole of Greece. Again values dissolve. The cunning rogue is respected, not the good man. The stupid and the violent flourish, the wise and peaceable go under. Language itself is corrupted. Moderation is called weakness, prudence is now cowardice. People are driven not by honour but by love of honour, by ambition, by desire for status.

Athens becomes cruel to her colonies, telling them that might is right. First hubris, then nemesis. Her great army invades Sicily: the tragic mistake or hamartia. The army is utterly destroyed, with heartbreaking descriptions of starvation, disease and imprisonment. Human flourishing is complex and unstable. The freest and most democratic of societies can betray or forget their own values.

The Prince – Machiavelli

Eliminate your enemies. If you have to be cruel, do it at once. Be feared not loved. Pretend you are virtuous but be “honourably bad”. Mankind is ungrateful, deceitful, greedy, timid, selfish. People value status above love. They get “bored with the good and long for the bad”.

No wonder Machiavelli has always had a bad rap. But he said these things on purpose. Renaissance Italy was a chaos of feuding factions and warring states. He was fed up with romantic advice books for princes, advocating Platonic or Christian ideals. He was interested in how we actually are, not how we ought or pretend to be.

Desire and appetite are always with us. Political life, like moral life in general, is a matter of seeing clearly how things actually are, so as to secure the flourishing of stable states. (Machiavelli thought republics were more stable than monarchies.) Political and Christian values don’t mix. Humility, mercy, self-abnegation and turning the other cheek don’t work in public policy or international relations.

Machiavelli points to an uncomfortable truth: our civilisation is founded on incommensurable value sets. The trick is to recognise this truth – and live with it.

The Social Contract –Rousseau

Mankind is naturally solitary and good; our institutions have made us wicked (and ruined nature). Society creates inequality by making us aware of our differences from others. These insights came to Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the road to Vincennes in 1749.

Like St Paul on the Damascus road, he “beheld another universe and became another man”. We are fallen beings: how do we redeem ourselves? How to shake off the chains of wealth, power and inequality we long ago ran headlong into? Answer: by politics, by the creation of a new kind of state. We must allow our corrupt individual wills to be subsumed within a new “general will”.

In this “fundamental pact” each of us must give himself or herself completely to the community of the like-minded. Those who refuse are “forced to be free”, saving them from their own corruption. The lawmaker “should feel himself capable of changing human nature”, of transforming each individual into a part of a greater whole. We must all enter a state of being in which we will see social justice and equality as our own true liberty. This view has enormous, quasi-religious power. It has inspired millions of people and the great political revolutions of modernity.

Reflections on the Revolution in France – Burke

Alone in the natural state, “stripped of every relation”, we are “naked and shivering” creatures, Irish statesman Edmund Burke wrote in 1790. Each person’s “stock of reason” is small. We need society, “the general bank and capital of nations and of ages”.

Society is indeed a contract, but one we enter into just by being born human, not by redesigning human nature. It is a partnership between the living, the dead and the unborn.

Our freedoms are an inheritance derived from our forebears; it is incumbent on us to transmit them to our posterity. Government is a “convenience”, literally a “coming together”, not an ideal template. Politics is to be undertaken in a spirit of self-sacrifice and restraint, with a deep sense of responsibility to the present and the future.

“The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility” and must be aware of his or her own fallibility (politicians please note). Society is a delicate and complex fabric, easily destroyed. Institutions are to be cherished. Liberty is something we discover for ourselves in the self-sacrificing activity of preserving those institutions. The fanatical pursuit of perfect equality will destroy them; at the end of that road “you see nothing but the gallows”.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation seeks to advance education by promoting studies and discussion of our intellectual, artistic and institutional heritage. It has partnered with Wollongong University to deliver a bachelor degree starting in 2020. This list was prepared by the Centre’s CEO, Professor Simon Haines, and its executive officer (academic), Dr Stephen McInerney.

Credit: The Australian Financial Review   https://www.afr.com/lifestyle/arts-and-entertainment/books/the-ramsay-centres-10-books-you-must-read-before-you-die-20181212-h190kz 

 

 

 

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17 December 2018

Ramsay Centre and University of Wollongong sign Memorandum of Understanding

STATEMENT FROM CEO PROFESSOR SIMON HAINES

As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Wollongong (UOW), to fund a new BA degree in Western Civilisation, and a related scholarship program.

This is the first university partnership for the Centre, which was created with an endowment from the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care. The Centre seeks to advance education through study and discussion of western civilisation, including through university partnerships. It is currently in discussion with several other universities, including within the Group of Eight.

Worth upwards of $50 million over 8 years, the partnership will also fund 150 undergraduate scholarships, and the hiring of world-class educators.

To read the full release please click media release RAMSAY UOW MOU

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17 December 2018

Steel town uni is right for Ramsay’s new degree – by Prof Simon Haines

There has been a lot of publicity this year around the Ramsay Centre’s potential partnerships with universities to create new Bachelor of Arts degrees. What has too often been overlooked is that at its core this is a story about helping our young people to be the leaders of the future. How will these degrees benefit students? How will they benefit their teachers in the humanities disciplines?

 The new degrees will enable undergraduates to engage with the great classic “texts” of the Western tradition, from Homer to Kafka, from Socrates to Rousseau to Wittgenstein, from the Parthenon to Picasso, across three years of intensive small-group reading. They read Greek and Latin tragedy and epic, medieval and Renaissance poetry, classical and Enlightenment philosophy, the great pioneer texts in the history of science, the Bible and its legacy, art and architecture.

 This isn’t some superficial, touristic survey, to allow elite future leaders to engage in polite cocktailparty chit-chat about masterpieces.

 The collaborative exposure to highly complex texts enables students to develop a genuinely critical mindset, applicable in all walks of life, irrespective of their future political or social affiliations, while at the same time making them intelligently aware of a rich and broad intellectual and artistic heritage.

 Most of these great works (think Rousseau, Socrates, Wollstonecraft) are themselves models of critical thought, often downright hostile to the societies they were created in.

 Our civilisation grew precisely through absorbing their criticisms.

 Free critical thought must always be an essential value in our universities and these works are models of that.

 Of course, many of them are already taught in different disciplines: but nowhere are they all brought together in a single chronological sequence.

 This transformative learning style is unfamiliar in Australia and Britain, but widely practiced in smaller North American liberal art colleges. A feature of the model we propose is that students will still be able to take a second, parallel arts major, and thus qualify for honours if they desire, in, say, history or English, or take a minor in Chinese (Mandarin) or Indigenous studies.

 Alternatively they can take a combined degree such as arts/law and acquire a professional qualification. Their education as leaders will thus combine the professional and the contemplative, as well as providing the opportunity for comparative or cross-cultural studies, as they wish.

 Thirty students each year from every university we partner with will be awarded generous five-year scholarships to offset living and accommodation costs and enable them to pursue these options without devoting precious time to income-earning. This will give an opportunity to students from diverse backgrounds, some of whom might not otherwise think of taking such a program. At the discretion of partner universities, the degree may also be open to other students who do not hold such scholarships.

 Importantly, the centre will be providing funding to hire top-flight teachers and scholars to deliver the course. Our goal here is twofold: to help restore the status of teaching itself, usually now the poor relation in a research- and rankingsobsessed sector; and at the same time to bring desperately needed new career opportunities back into the humanities, where whole departments of philosophy, classics and other vital disciplines are being closed, to the immense impoverishment of our culture and our future leadership. Young scholars are seeing their whole futures disappear before their eyes.

 As for our new partnership with the University of Wollongong: our leaders come from and are needed in all walks of life and all parts of the country, not just among the metropolitan elites. Our scholarships intend to recognise this. So does this first partnership with one of Australia’s most forward-thinking, teachingoriented, genuinely progressive, regional universities. From the start, the centre has looked for its partners further afield than just the big-city sandstones. Likewise, we and our partners will be looking beyond the more privileged urban areas for those students who will be among our future leaders.

 We hugely look forward to working with our new partners, and with the others still to come.

Credit: Sydney Morning Herald – For the full article please see  –  https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-steel-town-is-right-for-ramsay-s-western-degree-20181216-p50mjv.html

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Lord Byron Once succumbed to a siren: His flesh was weak, Hers Greek. "
- W.H. Auden, “American Graffiti”