‘Why we must believe in western civilisation’

Aug 19, 2020 | Announcements, News & Media

UK historian Professor Andrew Roberts to deliver the second Ramsay lecture for 2020

Sydney, Wednesday 19 August 2020: As movements proliferate across the globe decrying western civilisation, some challenging its very existence, others protesting at the idea of studying such a thing at places of higher learning, is it time to surrender belief in it entirely?

The answer is a resounding ‘no’ according to UK historian Professor Andrew Roberts.

In his Ramsay lecture ‘Why we must believe in western civilisation’ Professor Roberts argues that we should still believe in western civilisation, not apologise for it. It should be proselytized around the world, and ‘certainly taught as a discrete discipline in our schools and universities,’ he claims. 

If we deny western civilisation, he argues, we are ‘deliberately underplaying the greatest contributions made to poetry, architecture, philosophy, music and art’. And if movements to abolish its study take hold, we could deny future generations being taught its positive aspects.

“They might not now be shown the crucial interconnection between, for example, the chapel by Giotto at Padua, which articulates the complex scholasticism of St Augustine in paint; Machiavelli’s The Prince, the first work of modern political theory; Botticelli’s Primavera, the quintessence of Renaissance humanism in a single painting; the works of Theresa of Aquila and Descartes, which wrestle with the proof of discrete individual identity; Beethoven’s symphonies, arguably the most complex and profound orchestral works ever written, and Shakespeare, whose plays Harold Bloom has pointed out ‘remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually,” he says.

“Even if they are taught about these things individually, they will not be connected in a context that makes it clear how important they are to Western Civilisation.”

Professor Roberts argues that democracy and the abolition of slavery spurred by Judeo-Christian values are just some of the vital legacies of the west. And that university courses in western civilisation help explain the past to their students, including how values systems have developed over time.

Professor Roberts is the Roger and Martha Mertz Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is also the Lehrman Institute Distinguished Fellow at the New York Historical Society and Visiting Professor at the War Studies Department at King’s College London.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation was created with an endowment from the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care, to promote a deeper understanding of western civilisation. The Ramsay Lecture series hosts speakers from all walks of life who have important and interesting perspectives relating to the world and our western heritage.

To watch Professor Robert’s lecture, which was recorded due to COVID, click here.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 98/ sarah.switzer@ramsaycentre.org