Human epic is about more than university power struggles

9 June 2018

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

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Nowadays, undergraduates are being taught prematurely to regard the poetic heritage as an oppressive imposition and to suspect it for its latent discriminations in the realm of gender, its privilegings and marginalizations in the realms of class and power. All of this suspicion may be salutary enough when it is exercised by a mind informed by that which it is being taught to suspect, but it is a suspicion which is lamentably destructive of cultural memory when it is induced in minds without any cultural possessions whatever. "
- Seamus Heaney