News & Events

1 June 2020

Emeritus Professor John Fitzgerald AM – Trust in a time of pandemic: The use and abuse of civilisations

How are arguments about civilisations featuring in global conversations surrounding the outbreak, spread and management of the Corona Virus (COVID 19) pandemic?
In lieu of his Ramsay Lecture, which was cancelled due to the lockdown, Prof John Fitzgerald has recorded this timely and informative presentation in four easy to view episodes.

Emeritus Professor John Fitzgerald AM
Faculty of Business and Law
Swinburne Business School
Centre for Social Impact Swinburne

Before joining Swinburne in 2013 John served five years as Representative of The Ford Foundation in Beijing where he directed the Foundation’s China operations. Before that, he was Head of the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University and before that again directed the International Centre of Excellence in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. In Canberra he served as Chair of the Education Committee of the Australia-China Council of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as chair of the Committee for National and International Cooperation of the Australian Research Council, and as International Secretary of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is currently the President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. His research focuses on territorial government and civil society in China and on Australia’s Asian diasporas. His publications have won international recognition, including the Joseph Levenson Prize of the US Association for Asian Studies and the Ernest Scott Prize of the Australian Historical Association.
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30 May 2020

Power to the party as China mangles history

The Australian newspaper’s Inquirer section today published an edited extract of a Ramsay lecture to be delivered soon by eminent China expert John Fitzgerald.

The recorded lecture, Trust in a time of pandemic: the use and abuse of civilisations will be available on this website in four instalments starting next week. For the full article as it appears on The Australian newspaper website click here

Power to the Party as China mangles history. Rather than culling privileged social classes, communists build their own. By John Fitzgerald.

Ding Yifan broadcasts a video blog across China — Think Different — to teach people with little experience of the West how the world really works. In recent weeks he has taken to explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws in Western civilisation.

The pandemic teaches us, Ding says, that human life has little value in the West. This is not the case in China. Central to China’s civilisational heritage are two fundamental concepts, he tells us, one asserting the “sanctity of human life” and the other commanding respect for elders. Both are anathema to Western civilisation.

Producing Think Different is just one of many roles Ding performs in China. Among them, Ding is deputy director of an institute under China’s State Council, the highest executive arm of the people’s state. He’s also vice-chairman of a learned society based in the party’s central think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Ding informs his viewers that Western civilisation is based on a different suite of fundamental principles laid down in classical Greek and Roman mythology. In this tradition, sons murder their fathers and elders eat their young for fear of being consumed themselves. He illustrates his argument with Renaissance paintings of a pantheon of classical deities from Kronos to Zeus mutilating their elders and sinking their teeth into the bellies of infants.

This gruesome civilisational heritage, Ding continues, explains a great deal about the West and the difficulty it has had responding to the coronavirus. It explains why clinics and hospitals in Italy — the home of classical Western civilisation, he reminds us — experienced special difficulty. Just as the myths of Zeus and Kronos would predict, doctors and nurses snatched respirators from the mouths of the elderly to preserve the lives of the young. In China, this would be considered a gross infringement of human rights. Not in the West.

Now there are no compelling reasons for thinking the tragedy that befell northern Italy under the coronavirus pandemic had anything to do with latent collective memories of Zeus or Kronos. There are simpler, contingent, explanations for the arrival, spread and impact of the pandemic in northern Italy that don’t require us to fall back on vague civilisational claims. Many have to do with China.

The virus spread rapidly because the government of China was slow in sharing information for several weeks during the lunar new year when hundreds of millions of people normally would be expected to take to the roads, rail and air to visit families and friends in China and abroad.

The mortality rate was especially high in northern Italy because the speed and scale of infections overwhelmed the public health system, as they had earlier in Wuhan. Decisions had to be taken around the allocation of respirators because there were insufficient to go around. We can’t be certain about the criteria for allocation but Australian ethicist Peter Singer has indicated all decisions were taken with ethical considerations in mind.

When resources are scare, choices are made. The New York Times reports that when personal protective equipment was scarce in Wuhan, available supplies were distributed to party and government officials ahead of health workers and infected citizens. Again, we don’t need to resort to hoary civilisational claims to explain why communist cadres enjoy special privileges in Wuhan, or anywhere else in China, any more than we need fall back on the cult of Zeus to explain contemporary health priorities in Milan. Party apparatchiks enjoy special privileges in China for the same reasons their counterparts in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did, in their day, as Milovan Djilas explained many decades ago in his classic work The New Class.

Communist parties in power, rather than doing away with privileged social classes as Marxism said they should, make a privileged class of their own party functionaries. Everything else about communist systems, Djilas declared, “is a sham and an illusion”.

If civilisations do matter in an interactive global society, then we need to be able to call out the shams and illusions among competing claims about them. For one thing, reducing contemporary developments to arguments about ancient civilisations and histories risks obscuring developments in other times and places potentially more illuminating than broad civilisational comparisons.

Comparative political scientist Stein Ringen argues that China is a perfect dictatorship on the cusp of becoming a totalitarian party state. In this case, would not the Communist Party of the Soviet Union be a more fruitful point of comparison than China’s own civilisational heritage? And if China’s totalitarian impulses were to trend towards ethnic nationalism, which is not out of the question, might not the history of national socialism in mid-20th century Europe serve as a more appropriate point of reference than a point selected at random from Chinese legend or imperial history?

Yet the idea that Confucian civilisation is thriving in Xi Jinping’s China is taking hold in the West. What is behind this illusion? What is it that sustains the idea that China’s Communist Party is the institutional reincarnation of 3000 years of civilisational development in China?

Opinion makers in foreign countries are fair prey for the party’s civilisational misinformation campaign. We could cite many instances in Australia and elsewhere illustrating the party’s success in cultivating business elites and retired politicians to speak out about China’s history and civilisation on its behalf. The most recent to attract international attention is a former senior partner with McKinsey, Peter Walker, author of a new book that sets out to correct American misperceptions that he believes get in the way of understanding China. It all boils down, Walker tells us, to civilisational differences of culture and history. If only we all understood China as well as he did, problems would be resolved.

Walker’s book, Powerful Different Equal, has been promoted on Communist Party media platforms in China and overseas. Mainstream US media remains sceptical. Asked on Fox News to explain how China’s culture and history could account for the incarceration of one million Uighurs in the autonomous Xinjiang region, Walker pointed out that while he personally disapproved of Beijing’s actions, he understood that they were a reflection of the civilisational values that distinguish China from the US and the West. Pressed further, Walker went on to explain that the mass incarceration “all goes back to Confucian values”.
Are we to believe that Confucianism has a lot to answer for in Xinjiang? Not at all. It’s the Communist Party that has a lot to answer for. The notion that China’s communists are legitimate heirs of an ancient civilisation is an illusion projected out to gullible but well-connected foreigners through an old-style Leninist propaganda campaign. This is Leninism 101.

China’s vast state disinformation system is tasked with managing and controlling all flows of information, all forms of content, across every cultural, media and educational institution in China, along with all their branches and sub-agencies overseas. Everything we could possibly want to learn from China, about that country’s civilisation, history and culture, now comes bearing a stamp of approval from the party’s central propaganda bureau.

In the words of Xi Jinping, China is engaged in a struggle for world dominance. It is not a clash of civilisations but a struggle of a more familiar kind, between tyranny and liberty, involving propaganda and disinformation of an old and familiar kind as well. The party’s weapon of choice in this struggle is disinformation designed to place a heavily armed authoritarian party state in what Xi calls the “dominant position” in the world.

Once we recognise that the differences that divide Australia from People’s China are not differences of culture or civilisation but differences of ideology, political values and systems of government, we can be confident we have encountered this kind of historical struggle before.

Yes, we need to master history and culture — the history of Chinese and international communism and of modern mass nationalism, and the culture of Leninism. And while we should avoid spinning ourselves a Western version of Ding’s civilisational yarns, we can draw on the civilisational resources of an inclusive liberal democracy — Western and Eastern resources, classical and religious, historical and modern — to expose this abuse of history and civilisation.

How? I can think of three ways and am sure there are many others. One is to build independent sources of knowledge of China’s history, culture and contemporary government and society, within Australia, to help us make independent judgments on our own account. We need to build knowledge resources among our political and business communities, and in our wider educational systems, to understand the world around us, including China.

To achieve this, Australian universities should sever all formal ties with China’s disinformation network, including the global Confucius Institute network, and build independent system capacity in China studies in the humanities and social sciences, with flow-on programs into our schools.

There is little about contemporary China that cannot be explained using standard scholarly disciplines and pedagogical tools. We are not talking about esoteric knowledge here.

The second way is to build trust through transparency in all aspects of relations with China. In Australia, trust and transparency go together in public life. Australians trust one another to do the right thing, whether they know one another or not, and consider openness essential for maintaining public trust. In Australia, trust is a public good.

This is not the case in China, where trust is a personal thing, embedded not in public life but in relationships among people and networks. Inter-personal trust of this kind is predicated not on openness but on secrecy.

It is this style of secretive interpersonal trust that China’s party leaders are seeking from Australia when they talk of enhancing mutual trust between the two countries. They are unlikely to find it because the kind of trust Australians hope to find in China involves even greater openness and transparency.

My third point is this. There is a certain innocence or naivety about Australians that needs to be acknowledged and embraced. In my experience, people in China admire the way Australians trust strangers on sight and wish they could say the same for China.

True, they may take us for suckers, for being open and trusting, or “country bumpkins” as one Chinese friend told me decades ago, but comparisons of this kind are not meant unkindly. A reputation for naivety is not a bad thing among people in China long accustomed to watching their backs and cynically searching for ulterior motives in the conduct of others. That can get tiring.

And it is not just a matter of ethics. Australia’s reputation for innocence and naivety underpins the country’s reputation for quality and reliability in the provision of food and beverages and in education and services. China’s producers and service providers cannot compete in these fields in their home markets because they cannot compete on honesty, transparency and trust.

A national reputation for naivety offers a sound foundation from which to press for greater openness and transparency as a condition for building genuine trust with China.

Finally, mindful of the differ¬ences in ideology and values that divide us, we need to remember that Australia’s relationship with China cannot be reduced to ideology and politics alone. Trade, investment, migration, crime prevention and, in this time of pandemic, human health and safety all play a part in our bilateral relations.

We need to take initiatives on our own account on each of these fronts, where there is still ample room for naivety and goodwill, and for the kind of openness essential for building trust between countries and among people.

John Fitzgerald is emeritus professor at Swinburne University of Technology. This is an edited extract of a recorded lecture to be broadcast by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation next week.

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29 May 2020

Eminent China expert John Fitzgerald to deliver first Ramsay Lecture for 2020.

Sydney, Friday 29 May 2020: With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of civilisations has loomed large in global conversations surrounding the outbreak, spread and management of the virus.

To what extent can ancient Chinese civilisation be credited for China’s initial response to the virus and for its management of the crisis ? Is China’s Communist Party the institutional reincarnation of 3,000 years of civilisational development on Chinese soil?

And what does civilisation have to do with western countries’ responses? When the Covid-19 fog lifts, what is the way forward for Australia and China? How do we restore trust?

These are some of the many questions addressed by Swinburne University of Technology Emeritus Professor John Fitzgerald in his four-part Ramsay Lecture, ‘Trust in a time of pandemic: the use and abuse of civilisations’.

In this four-part lecture Professor Fitzgerald argues that while Covid-19 is often reported as a ‘test’ of civilisations, there are simpler, more contingent explanations for the arrival, spread and impact of the pandemic ‘that don’t require us to fall back on vague civilisational claims.’

East-west contrasts are not helpful, he says, because China’s Communist Party ‘deploys civilisational cover to maintain its monopoly on power, disarm its critics, and aspire to regional and in time global dominance.’

To understand China, Australian universities should sever all ties with China’s Ministry of Information and build independent system capacity in Chinese studies. And rather than adhere to China’s interpretation of trust, Australia should double down on its commitment to transparency, he says.

Professor John Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Social Impact, Faculty of Business and Law, Swinburne University of Technology. He served as President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities from 2015 to 2017. Before joining Swinburne, Professor Fitzgerald served five years as Representative of The Ford Foundation in Beijing where he directed the Foundation’s China operations.

Professor Fitzgerald’s research focuses on territorial government and civil society in China and on Australia’s Asian diasporas. His publications have won international recognition, including the Joseph Levenson Prize of the US Association for Asian Studies and the Ernest Scott Prize of the Australian Historical Association.

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.

The recorded lecture will be available on this website in instalments starting from the week beginning 1 June 2020.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/

For more information on the centre please visit our website:

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11 May 2020

Great Books of the Western Canon Video Series

In search of a creative outlet during this COVID-19 period?  The Ramsay Centre is pleased to release a series of videos featuring academics discussing the major themes and ideas of the some of the great texts of the west. Read the texts and watch the videos or simply watch the videos.

Texts include:
• Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
• Plato, The Apology
• Augustine, Confessions
• Machiavelli, The Prince
• Shakespeare, Macbeth
• Aristotle and Aquinas on happiness
• Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Recommended reading

1. Oedipus Rex – The Theban Plays (trans E F Watling) Penguin
2. Plato – The Last Days of Socrates  – Penguin Classics
3. Augustine Confessions (Oxford) Trans. Henry Chadwick
4. Machiavelli – The Prince (trans. Tim Parks)
5. Shakespeare – Macbeth Oxford
6. Online  texts – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 1 and Aquinas, ‘Treatise on Happiness’, Summa, Aquinas, Summa, Prima Secundae Partis Questions 1-5, selections
7. Neitzsche – Genealogy of Morals Penguin

More videos will be added to the collection over the coming months.

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1 May 2020

The end of coronavirus: what plague literature tells us about our future

Writing for The Guardian newspaper author Marcel Theroux dives into the Great Books for perspective on living through the COVID19 pandemic. For the full article as it appears on The Guardian website click here

01 May 2020 – The Guardian newspaper

From Thucydides to Camus, there are plenty of hopeful reminders that there’s nothing unprecedented about the coronavirus lockdown – and that pandemics do end

Shortly before the London lockdown, at an eerily quiet branch of Waterstones, I managed to get my hands on The Decameron, by Boccaccio, and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. But Camus’s The Plague had gone the way of dried pasta and toilet roll; there was just a desolate gap on the shelves where the copies had once been.

The primary lesson of plague literature, from Thucydides onwards, is how predictably humans respond to such crises. Over millennia, there has been a consistent pattern to behaviour during epidemics: the hoarding, the panicking, the fear, the blaming, the superstition, the selfishness, the surprising heroism, the fixation with the numbers of the reported dead, the boredom during quarantine.

Defoe would have recognised the impulses behind the strange tableaux of life interrupted in central London: piles of ice melting outside abruptly closed bars; a truck unloading gym equipment at an oligarch’s house in Mayfair; jittery shoppers with overloaded trolleys. “Many families,” he writes, “foreseeing the approach of the distemper laid up stores of provisions sufficient for their whole families, and shut themselves up, and that so entirely, that they were neither seen or heard of till the infection was quite ceased.”

The sudden, powerful need to know what’s coming is predictable, too. We turn to historical witnesses who can explain what it’s like. Defoe’s motive for writing A Journal of the Plague Year was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Marseille in 1720. Anticipating its spread, readers wanted to know what it had been like in 1665. Defoe, responding to demand, provided them with an instant book, fashioned out of statistics, reminiscences, gossip, anecdote and blood-curdling dramatic detail. “Passing through Token-House Yard in Lothbury, of a sudden a casement violently opened just over my head, and a woman gave three frightful screeches, and then cried, “O death, death, death!”

Defoe almost certainly didn’t witness this – he would have been about five. Novelistic moments such as these would make the book compelling at any time, but right now it has a painful relevance. Defoe is particularly strong on the unpreparedness and prevarication that made the impact of the plague more severe. Or, as he puts it: “I often reflected upon the unprovided condition that the whole body of the people were in at the first coming of this calamity upon them; and how it was for want of timely entering into measures and managements, as well public as private, that all the confusions that followed were brought upon us, and that such a prodigious number of people sunk in that disaster which, if proper steps had been taken, might, Providence concurring, have been avoided.”

Defoe is sometimes dismissed as a hack, but his lack of vanity about his prose is one of the things that gives the book its power. There’s something amazingly bracing about his vividness and curiosity – the bills of mortality, quoted in full; minor characters such as the religious fanatic Solomon Eagle who walks around naked with a pan of burning charcoal on his head; and the imprudent John Cock, a barber who is so relieved by the apparent retreat of the epidemic that he returns to normal life too soon and pays the penalty. Moral: don’t be a John Cock.

So much of the behaviour of our 17th-century forebears is uncomfortably familiar. The citizens of east London watch complacently as the plague tears through the West End, and assume they will be fine. They’re proved terrifyingly wrong. Defoe adds in a chilling parenthesis: “For indeed it came upon them like an armed man when it did come.”

Even before germ theory, Defoe’s common sense and perceptiveness lead him to conclusions of which our chief medical officer would approve. He gives a prescient warning about the danger of asymptomatic carriers: “The plague is not to be avoided by those that converse promiscuously in a town infected, and people have it when they know it not, and that they likewise give it to others when they know not that they have it themselves.”

If human behaviour remains dismayingly constant, one thing that has changed for the better is science and our understanding of it. Seven hundred years on, there’s something deeply poignant about Boccaccio’s pre-scientific description of the spread of the Black Death in his native Florence. “What was particularly virulent about this plague was that it would leap from the sick to the healthy whenever they were together, much as fire catches hold of dry or oily material that’s brought close to it. And that was not all. Not only did speaking with the sick and spending time with them infect the healthy or kill them off, but touching the clothes of the sick or handling anything they had touched seemed to pass on the infection.” You feel like the audience in a pantomime, wanting to shout across the centuries and tell him who the villain is and how he operates.

Not everyone responds to plague by immersing themselves in data about epidemics. The escapist response to disaster is another predictable move and The Decameron epitomises it. After his short but terrifying description of the Florentine plague, Boccaccio sends his troupe of young characters into quarantine, where they spend the remainder of the book, swapping funny, ribald stories: the plague doesn’t feature again. It’s a welcome relief to lose yourself in a world of cuckolds and randy nuns. And once more, plus ça change. The gilded Florentine youths are doing the 14th-century equivalent of binge-watching Sex Education on Netflix.

Thomas Mann and Camus are less interested in plague itself than in using it to make existential points. The plague in Death in Venice is an avatar of death in general, the terrible mystery, the pale horse; it is something that strips away vanity and reveals unpalatable truths. In Mann’s novella, it is the catalyst for Von Aschenbach’s humiliating descent into clownish self-destruction. At the same time, the pages dealing with the cholera epidemic are vigorous and apposite. The hotels in Venice empty swiftly, despite official protestations that there is nothing to worry about. It’s a young English travel agent who finally cuts through the official flannel. The doubts he raises about administrative competence and probity are ones that in due course we’ll all be obliged to consider. “‘That is,’ he continued in an undertone and with some feeling, ‘the official explanation, which the authorities here have seen fit to stick to.’”

Camus is the real odd one out. The Plague is often read as an allegory of the French experience under occupation, but right now there seems nothing allegorical about it: the hero, Dr Rieux, seems like a naturalistic depiction of a frontline care-worker forced into impossible decisions over who gets a ventilator. At other historical moments, the constant reflection on the meaning of the plague could seem heavy-handed – Gallic, not in a good way – but in 2020 it’s like reading The Crucible while your elderly parent is on trial for witchcraft. For long stretches, you forget any notion of allegory and simply wonder how Camus could have got it so right: from the panic buying of peppermints that people think will be a prophylactic, to the high mortality rate in the municipal jail, to the exhausted healthcare workers, and the terrible monotony of quarantine, something with which we are only just beginning to get acquainted.

And then, of course, the plague ends. That’s the actual good news that these books bring. The epidemic always passes. The majority of people survive. Thucydides himself had it and recovered. “I shall simply tell it as it happened,” he promises of the plague that ravaged fifth-century Athens, “and describe the features of the disease which will give anyone who studies them some prior knowledge to enable recognition should it ever strike again.”

Should it ever strike again is the phrase that awakens our sense of hubris. For all the talk of an unprecedented crisis, we are living through something with many precedents. “There was particularly high mortality among doctors because of their particular exposure,” Thucydides wrote 2,500 years ago in a sentence that could appear in tomorrow’s paper. We have assumed that deadly epidemics belonged to a phase of history that was behind us, as quaint and irrelevant as candlelight and milking your own cows.

When the number of fatalities finally peaks and dwindles, Defoe’s citizens pull up their windows and shout to each other to share the news. Camus’s Oran is liberated; its citizens struggle to make sense of what has happened to them. Back in fifth-century Athens, the Peloponnesian war continues. Whether society changes for the better or worse, or simply stays the same, is what we will find out.

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4 March 2020

‘Give your teachers a hard time’: Professor Simon Haines delivers speech to inaugural Ramsay Scholars

Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines was recently invited to speak at a special welcome reception for the inaugural recipients of the University of Wollongong -Ramsay Scholarships.

The University of Wollongong has partnered with the Centre to deliver its unique Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation, which will provide students with a world-class liberal arts education, made possible by the generosity of the late Paul Ramsay AO.

In his address Professor Haines encouraged students to challenge their teachers, and to allow themselves to be challenged back, as they form their own understanding of ideas generated by extraordinary classic texts and join a great conversation that has been taking place for thousands of years. 

See the full address below:

Chancellor, Acting Vice-Chancellor, thank you so much for your hospitality this evening, warm and generous as always, and indeed as Professor Farrell says what a wonderful moment this is, for all of us at the Ramsay Centre, and for our partners in the University. For our part on the Executive let me just say how very much we have enjoyed working with you and all your colleagues—and Chancellor may I through you pass on my especial thanks to the Vice-Chancellor for the key role he has played in bringing us to this point.

 The two groups I really want to address are of course the new scholars, but also the new teachers. You are the people this whole enterprise is all about—the ones I’m sure Paul Ramsay would wish to put front and centre of an event such as this. What I’d say to the scholars, apart from congratulations, is that you are embarking on a course of study, of reading, writing, thinking, discussion, which you will remember your whole lives, and which will set a pattern for you, we hope, that will not only stand you in good stead in any career you may choose, but will enrich your mind and spirit for the whole of your life. These extraordinary texts, these works of art, literature, philosophy, science, religion and faith, have been chosen, and are considered so extraordinary, for a very good reason—they resist all attempts to pigeonhole them, to say they are about some theme or other, that they represent some specific point of view or position. They are great works because they are, and always were, from when they first appeared, complex, rich, resistant: they can’t be so easily herded into a category. Don’t forget that, insist on it in all your classes. What matters here is YOUR OWN engagement with these classic texts, the ideas and insights they give you, which you will have to defend or just simply share. Whether it’s Thucydides or Dante or Mary Wollstonecraft or Germaine Greer the ideas they spark in you are your ideas, and your engagement with them is unique—no-one else will have quite that idea. They will belong to you for the rest of your life, those thinkers and artists, those ideas: they will form part of your own minds. That’s what this course is for: resisting easy or conventional assumptions about them, understanding why they have been so formative for us today, understanding a wider world of ideas and insights and deeply critical thinking so much older and larger than modern Australia and yet so foundational for us. This degree is totally radical in this country—it’s the first time something like this has been offered on this scale in a major Australian university—so you are pioneers. And I’d repeat that these books and artworks are your inheritance—they belong to you. So take possession of them for yourselves, by joining a great conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. Own them, own that tradition—make them yours. 

So give your teachers a hard time, as they will give you one—and to the teachers I’d say that as we all know you haven’t really read a book at all until you have to teach it, or better still discuss it with your students, or better still know how to stand back and let them discuss it—you’re so lucky to be doing this, I wish I was too!

 Good luck to you all and above all enjoy your reading and your discussions. You will never have another time, another opportunity, like this.

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2 March 2020

“Not gold but it stays good”: on the poetry of Clive James

Stephen McInerney
Dr Stephen McInerney is the academic director and deputy chief executive of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.
The article was published in the March 2020 edition of Quadrant magazine. More information on Quadrant magazine can be found at –

For most of his writing life Clive James was a much better poetry critic than he was a poet. Though he was wrong about Hardy, whose work he undervalued, he was particularly strong on twentieth-century poets, including W.B Yeats, W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, Richard Wilbur and Philip Larkin, and he had an eye for newer talent (such as Stephen Edgar) others tended to miss before James spotted it. As a poet, though, he was for many years lost “through comfort” (to quote MacNeice on minor poets) – the comfort occasioned by celebrity and his remarkable achievements as a critic, memoirist and television personality. This makes his late flowering as a poet even more precious.

In 2007, he wrote: “I can only wonder, looking back, if my name as a poet would not have made quicker progress had I been less notorious for other things”. It wouldn’t have, as the main reason many people read James’s poetry was because of the other things, not despite them. Did any other contemporary poet’s work appear in airports and at train stations in proximity to Bret Easton Ellis’s shrink-wrapped American Psycho? No, the attention James’s poetry received, and its regular appearance in prestigious American journals like New Yorker and Poetry, owed as much to James’s celebrity as it did to his undoubted gifts as a poet. Since he deserved his celebrity, we should not begrudge him the help it gave to his reception as a poet, but we should not believe the myth that it hindered it.

When his work appeared in Peter Craven’s Best Australian Poems in 2003, James reacted like the local boy who’d made good, using his review of the anthology to promote his own poems and “the Australian poetry boom” – a boom James would not have noticed (or made readers aware of) had his own voice not been considered part of it. Auden said that it was every poet’s hope to be, “like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere” but James didn’t feel he’d arrived as a poet till he’d arrived back at home – and his appearance in Craven’s book was his arrival, or so he wanted us to believe. In reality the best anthologies of Australian poetry in the 80s and 90s (Les Murray’s New Oxford Book of Australian Verse; Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray’s Australian Poetry in the 20th Century, and Peter Porter’s Oxford Book of Modern Australian Poetry) all included James’s work, and the worst didn’t, a sure sign he was doing something right, even if there was a sense through this period that his rare talent was still waiting to be fully realised. The time afforded James by his retirement from television was a necessary condition for its realisation but it was an insufficient condition. What he needed was a crisis.

He got two. In 2011 he was diagnosed with leukemia. Then, the next year, after the aptly named “A Current Affair” exposed his infidelity, it turned out that at least some of James’s talent had been buried “between women’s breasts”, another fate of the minor poet MacNeice had identified. When accused of infidelity on an earlier occasion, James was quoted as saying his practice was to ‘look but not touch’. Most could forgive what this portended if not James’s uncharacteristic recourse to cliché, if only because it ironically contrasted with the supposed practice of the more innocent generation his parents belonged to, which was believed to touch but not look, with the lights off. James, however, never looked with Kantian detachment; his kind of looking was always going to lead somewhere. Happily, he emerged from the onscreen exposure chastened, even ascetic, with all the serious raw material to match his serious gifts as a poet: two new sorrows – terminal illness and a wounded family – to add to the one he’d nursed since his childhood, when he grew up without a father. These subjects – his dead father (and the effect of his death on James and his mother); James’s betrayal of his wife, and his own looming death – inspired most of his best work. The rest of the best was inspired by his meditations on Sydney – what it meant to grow up there, and what it meant to be apart from it – and his wry and wise celebrations of the rich and famous (actors, sportspeople, intellectuals), such as Johnny Weissmuller, Gabriela Sabatini, Shirley Strickland de la Hunty and Egon Friedell.

I’ve come to praise James, but before identifying his strengths as a poet, and the poems that will survive, it is important to explore two of his weaknesses – (i) his failure convincingly to handle the larger philosophical and religious themes he unwisely took up from time to time and (ii) his failure to assimilate his influences, especially Larkin – since these strike a fatal blow to the recent claims that James is a major poet.

His poem “Natural Selection” illustrates the first weakness. It takes 35 lines to say what Robert Frost said much more memorably and movingly in 14 lines, in “Design”, the greatest sonnet of the twentieth century. Here is Frost’s closing couplet. Watching a white spider holding up a moth “like a white piece of rigid satin cloth”, the poet wonders:

What but design of darkness to appall? –
If design govern in a thing so small.

And here is James, drawing a similar though not identical conclusion from the fact that scorpions’ tails are “equipped for murder” and that some children are “born to pain”:

Creation, if the thing’s to be believed –
And only through belief can life be loved –
Must do without that helping hand from Heaven.
Forget it, lest it never be forgiven.

James’s sing-song iambic pentameters and half-rhymes try to pack too much in, yet they end up saying significantly less in these two (and too) confident, bouncy declarative sentences than Frost does in a single interrogative one – and what they do say is silly. “Only through belief can life be loved”? Surely the content of belief – not simply “belief” per se – is what counts. But what could it mean to believe in “Creation” minus a creator? Why would it – and how would it – receive our forgiveness of its horrors? And why would it matter if we did not forgive it? Pathetic fallacies are one thing; fallacious pathos quite another.

Frost’s poem is chilling precisely because it presents two equally terrifying alternatives: either nature without design, void of all meaning, or creation by a creator who has ingrained violence at the very heart of his design (“design with a vengeance”, as Randall Jarrell described it) because evil is at the very heart of his own divine nature. James thinks the first option is clearly preferable, but there is no sense that he has suffered into this truth; there is nothing of Frost’s recognition that the alternatives are both horrendous (or, as Paul Simon puts in a very different context: “every way you look at it you lose”). Neither does James rise to Robinson Jeffers’s sense of awe at the purity of nature’s indifference, nor achieve the clarity and solemnity of Robert Gray’s declarations on this subject (“all partly autonomous things / trample others down, / even what is their own”). It seems the choice for James is as easy and obvious as choosing champagne over cask wine:

Better by far

To stand in awe of blind chance than to fear
A conscious mechanism of mutation
Bringing its fine intentions to fruition

Without a qualm about collateral horror.

He gets closer to Frost earlier in the poem, but in a way that shows just how far away that is:

           Those who believed there must have been a wizard
           Said the whole thing looked too well-planned for hazard.

The theme is the same as Frost’s, but what a difference!

The problem here is not only poetic. James didn’t have many gaps in his cultural knowledge, but he had some, in the way a commercial trawler’s net sweeping up the ocean’s contents has gaps. He caught almost everything, except the smallest and biggest creatures. Sometimes – as in “Natural Selection” – James treats a big subject (Christianity, the problem of suffering and evil, and the weaknesses in the argument from design), like a small one, precisely because its contours and texture elude him. Watch James foundering on the problem of evil in his Talking in the Library interview with Piers Paul Read and you’ll get the point. James drags his big net to the surface with its glittering catch (including Ivan Karamazov’s speech on the impossibility of reconciling a child’s suffering with the idea of a loving and just God) but the whale stays far beneath it – and far out to sea – gazing back at James out of the depths of Read’s eyes. It wasn’t the only time the big one got away from James. He managed to write an essay on Sophie Scholl without once mentioning the most important fact about her: that she was a devout Christian motivated to resist the Nazis and meet her death by her faith in Christ. James turns her instead into an excuse to write an essay about Natalie Portman, and into a saint for secular humanism, which is a bit like mistaking the Sistine Chapel for the Rothko Chapel. But I digress.

The second weakness is more serious. Paul Valéry said that God created the world out of nothing but the nothing shows through. One might say of James that he created his poems out of everything (and everyone) but the Larkin shows through. Consider the first stanza of James’s “Event Horizon”:

For years we fooled ourselves. Now we can tell
How everyone our age heads for the brink
Where they are drawn into the unplumbed well,
Not to be seen again. How sad, to think
People we once loved will be with us there
And we not touch them, for it is nowhere.

The stanza unintentionally evokes and is overwhelmed by comparison with at least four of Larkin’s best-known poems. The first sentence (“For years we fooled ourselves”) positions the speaker, like Larkin, as one of the less deceived, a wised-up version of one of Larkin’s old fools (“What do they think has happened, the old fools?”). The second line (“everyone our age heads for the brink”) echoes the eighth line of “High Windows”: “everyone young going down the long slide”. But it is in the fourth, fifth and sixth lines that James really gets going, or rather Larkin’s “Aubade” does. Consider first James:

Not to be seen again. How sad, to think
People we once loved will be with us there
And we not touch them, for it is nowhere.

Now consider Larkin:

The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere…
                                       No sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love and link with….

The “nowhere” that ends each stanza of James’s poem not only apes the “not to be anywhere” of “Aubade”; it is clearly the “nothing” Larkin sees in “High Windows”, that “is nowhere, and is endless”. And the rather pedestrian “How sad” (How inadequate! Why isn’t James screaming?) is surely derived from the titular first sentence of Larkin’s plangent “Home is So Sad”.

Larkin jumps up elsewhere. For some reason, James thought the closing lines of “The Whitsun Weddings” were among Larkin’s best, which is no doubt why he falls back on them (though he is not consciously alluding to them) to conclude his own poem, “The Place of Reeds”. In fact, the image Larkin threads along his closing lines is one of his weakest and most strained, as the beautiful, closely-observed detail that animates the rest of “The Whitsun Weddings” gives way to an unconvincing and imprecise image. Here is Larkin:

              We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

And here is James:

Led by the head, my arrow proves to be
My life. I took my life into my hands.
I loosed it to its wandering apogee,
And now it falls. I wonder where it lands.

The image is not the only give away; the main pause in the last line of each poem is identical. James said in a short piece on Richard Howard that he – James – had to be careful not to read too much poetry when he was writing his own poems, lest the poet he was reading cut across his own music. The problem is, as “Event Horizon” shows, he knew Larkin’s music so well he was incapable of turning it off.

Other poets’ lines appear unintentionally from time to time, too. In 1983, Les Murray’s magisterial “Bentwater in the Tasmanian Highlands” appeared in The People’s Otherworld. In that poem Murray describes the movement of water, “headlong…a hairlip round a pebble”. The next year, James published “Johnny Weissmuller Dead in Acapulco” in The London Review of Books. In it he writes: “headlong, creek-around-a-rock trough”. As with the presence of Larkin in James’s “Event Horizon”, this is not a deliberate literary allusion; rather, it’s one more example of the weight of all that James has read and admired making itself unintentionally felt in the imagery, phrasing and cadences of his own poetry. He has the best lines at hand, it’s just that they are not always his. In a first volume of verse by someone in their 20s this kind of thing is common, and forgivable, but in a mature poet?

Still, the rest of this poem works a distinctly Jamesian magic. “Johnny Weissmuller Dead in Acapulco” charts the declining fortunes of its eponymous hero, the star of the Tarzan films and later the Jungle Jim movies, and the poet’s early fascination with these heroes whom he first encountered on Saturday afternoons, on the big screen, at the Rockdale Odeon. The movement from Tarzan to Jungle Jim corresponds to the movement from vigorous young manhood to middle age, and takes the author back in the other direction, to his childhood:

With eighteen Tarzan movies behind him
Along with the five Olympic gold medals,
He had nothing in front except that irrepressible paunch
Which brought him down out of the tree house
To earth as Jungle Jim
So a safari suit could cover it up…

…[O]nce it had all been intact, the Greek classic body
Unleashing the new-style front-up crawl like a baby
Lifting itself for the first time,
Going over the water almost as much as through it,
Curing itself of childhood polio
By making an aquaplane of its deep chest,
Each arm relaxing out of the water and stiffening into it,
The long legs kicking a trench that did not fill up
Until he came back on the next lap,
Invincible, easily breathing
The air in the spit-mouth, headlong, creek-around-a-rock trough
Carved by his features…

…[W]hen Tarzan dropped from the tall tree and swam out of the splash
Like an otter with an outboard to save the Boy from the waterfall
It looked like poetry to me,
And at home in the bath I would surface giving the ape call.

James’s admiration for Weissmuller’s physical prowess matches in intensity his lust for the beautiful young women he celebrates elsewhere (see especially the superb “Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini”) and his sense of awe at moral courage and genius (“Egon Friedell’s Heroic Death”). Except when he is looking down Sabatini’s dress, or describing Weissmuller’s paunch, in poems of this kind he positions himself as a mere mortal, looking up from far below at the glorious stars.

Friedell is an important figure in James’ Cultural Amnesia but nowhere in the essays that comprise that volume does James write so well about the Jewish intellectual as he does in his poem “Egon Friedell’s Heroic Death”. The last two stanzas are as close to perfection as contemporary formalist poetry gets. Seeing the Nazis approaching in the street below, and knowing what they have in store for him, Egon takes matters into his own hand:

            So out into the air above the street
            He sailed with all his learning left behind,
            And by one further gesture turned defeat
            Into a triumph for the human mind.

            The civilized are most so as they die.
            He called a warning even as he fell
            In case his body hit a passer-by
            As innocent as was Egon Friedell.

Hopkins said “What I do is me” – expressing the view, traceable in the first instance to Aristotle, that our actions reveal and shape our identity – a reality James captures perfectly in the rhyme of fell/Friedell, which links the Jewish intellectual’s name inextricably with his manner of death. In giving up his life, and ensuring no one else is harmed in the process, Friedell’s gesture, in James’s estimation, contains all that is best in life.

Actions like Friedell’s are, for James, where life approaches the perfection of art and then outdoes it. This concentration of an entire way of life in an image is what he is always looking for – the point where art and life throw down their brave but doomed challenge to the flux of time that will overwhelm them. James invests the unlikely (and now long gone) Sydney ferry token with such possibilities in his poem of that title, one of his many beautiful evocations of Sydney:

            Not gold but some base alloy, it stays good
            For one trip though the currency inflates –
            Hard like the ferry’s deck of seasoned wood,
            The only coin in town that never dates.

                                                            (“The Ferry Token”)

Except that it did date, and is now out of circulation, replaced by the Opal Card – which brings me to James’s most beautiful celebration of Sydney, “Go Back to the Opal Sunset”.

In this poem, the speaker imagines “bottoms bisected by a piece of string” wobbling “through the heat haze”, avocado mousse “thick and strong as cream from a jade cow”, “the midnight harbour lacquered black” and prawns that “assume a size and shape/Less like a newborn baby’s little toe”. (Living in England in 2011-12, I couldn’t look at a European or Honduran-sourced prawn from Sainsbury’s without recalling that image). The contrast between London and Sydney is intensified by the contrast between the speaker’s inertia and the hydrofoil’s determined energy:

            Yet out there at the moment, through the swell,
            The hydrofoil draws its triumphant line.
            Such powers of decision should be mine.
            Go back to the opal sunset. Do it soon.

Though he certainly had the hydrofoil’s powers of decision after his diagnosis, by 2012 James knew he’d never return to Sydney; his illness would not let him. His physical weakness, however, became his poetic strength. “Japanese Maple”, which first appeared in the New Yorker and was then collected in the best-selling Sentenced to Life, became an instant hit:

            Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
            A final flood of colours will live on
            As my mind dies,
            Burned by my vision of a world that shone
            So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

In both Sentenced to Life and Injury Time, James is at the height of his powers, the derivativeness and dreariness of “Event Horizon” notwithstanding. “Sentenced to Life”, “Use of Space” and “Quiet Passenger” are triumphs, as powerful in their way as “Japanese Maple”. “Quiet Passenger” brings the poet back to where he left off in “Go Back to the Opal Sunset”:

When there is no more dying left to do
And I am burned and poured into a jar,
Then I will leave this land that I came to
So long ago, and, having come so far,
Head home to where my life’s work was begun.
But nothing of that last flight will I see
As I ride through the night into the sun:
No stars, no ocean, not the ochre earth,

No patterns of dried water nor the light
That streams into the city of my birth,
The harbour waiting to take down my dust.
So why, in that case, should I choose to go?
My day is done. I go because I must:
Silence will be my way of saying so.

It was just like James to imagine that the harbour had nothing better to do than await his dust, but, as always, we can forgive him, so sonorous are these lines. The measure of James’s talent though is nowhere more apparent than in the closing lines of “Leçons de ténèbres”, where we find the poet paying homage

                            to the late sublime
That comes with seeing how the years have brought
A fitting end, if not the one I sought.

That’s as good an end to a poem as there is.

The power and authority of these late poems notwithstanding, James – as I’ve argued – is not a major poet. He has many fine poems, but none that elevate him into the company of the giants of his generation: Murray, Heaney, Walcott and Mahon. Among modern Australian poets, he is down the list too. Even at their best, his meditations on death and terminal illness shrink in importance when compared to those of Philip Hodgins. But so what? Some of James’s poems will last, and what more can any poet hope for? His evocations of Sydney will no doubt be mentioned alongside Kenneth Slessor’s, Murray’s and Robert Gray’s. His translation of Dante will survive (and will even survive the unfortunate and unintentionally comic use of the phrase “going down” in the last line of Canto 5 of Inferno, on the sin of lust: “I went down as if going down to stay”), though his attempt at epic, River in the Sky, probably will not.

He may even find himself on the syllabus. And then we’ll be flooded with commentaries. One commentary, Ian Shircore’s So Brightly at the Last, has already arrived. It provides important and interesting biographical background to some of the poems, some important judgements about the work, including its weaknesses, and some engaging readings of individual poems. It is clearly the work of a friend, which is no bad thing, though what James also needs now is a scarifying editor to slim him down to size, so that his real achievement can shine.

Just as a poet should discard his limping lines, so a friendly editor who wants to serve James should publish a slim volume, about the size of Larkin’s High Windows, of James’s best 20 poems, discarding the rest, not because the rest are all bad (many are quite good) but because (as with all other poets) they are patchy and threaten to hinder a full appreciation of what James’ poetry really offers. In my view, the following 20 poems will ensure James survives as a poet. Any reader coming to his poems for the first time, should start (and perhaps end) here. The poems are:

“The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered”
“Johnny Weissmuller Dead in Acapulco”
“Egon Friedell’s Heroic Death”
“The Ferry Token”
“Bring me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini”
“Go Back to the Opal Sunset”
“Son of a Soldier”
“In Town for the March”
“Occupation: Housewife”
“My Father Before Me”
“Whitman and the Moth”
“Sentenced to Life”
“Early to Bed”
“Leçons de ténèbres”
“Japanese Maple”
“Balcony Scene”
“Return of the Kogarah Kid”
“Quiet Passenger”
“Intergalactic Junket”
“Use of Space”

Had James been as good a critic of his own work as he was of others, he would have published a slim volume of this kind himself, but very few poets are their own best judges. Still, if readers regard his poems only half as highly as James did, the place he already occupies as one of our country’s most entertaining and moving poets will be secure. 

Stephen McInerney is Academic Director and Deputy CEO at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation


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24 February 2020

Ramsay Centre and Australian Catholic University sign Memorandum of Understanding


Sydney, Monday 24 February 2020: As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Australian Catholic University (ACU) to fund a new BA degree in Western Civilisation, and related scholarships.

Worth upwards of $50 million over 8 years, the partnership deal includes funding for at least 150 undergraduate scholarships, and the hiring of world-class educators. The Western Civilisation degree will commence in 2021.

This is the third partnership for the Centre, following partnerships with the University of Wollongong and the University of Queensland.

We are delighted to be partnering with ACU, which is ranked 12th in the humanities in Australia, and is one of Australia’s top three universities for graduate employment.

ACU is also highly regarded for its student experience, priding itself on its teaching excellence, as well as its ‘commitment to creating a supportive, personalized learning environment’.

This is an extremely good fit for the Ramsay Centre which seeks to give students the opportunity to study the great texts of western civilisation in small group settings.

Our three university partnerships have been made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care.

Together they will offer students from diverse backgrounds access to the wonderful education provided by a study of the great texts of the west.

They also provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the Humanities in Australia – an unprecedented level of support – at a time when opportunities to maintain and strengthen foundational disciplines are diminishing.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/


For more information on the centre please visit our website:

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21 December 2019

Let it snow? Poets can do as they please with our hot, dry, smoky Christmas

By Stephen McInerney
December 21, 2019

Christmas is strange. Religiously, it unites the human and the divine in a little child. “God’s infinity/dwindled to infancy,” as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said. “Christ brings together things thought opposite and incompatible,” he said elsewhere, and so does the season that commemorates his birth.

For instance, if I flip randomly through my Christmas Eve memories, one channel is graced by the Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, another by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. A ruffed chorister rises to the pure heights of Darke’s In the Bleak Midwinter, but is suddenly eclipsed – when my teenage self steals the remote from my boyhood self – by a bathing beauty stripping by the pool to the sounds of Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka, ogled by Chevy Chase.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Or is it the other way around? My teenage self would not be sure.And next day, round the dining room table, a long lost uncle wakes from his pre-prandial slumber to find himself joined in a do-or-die Christmas cracker tug-of-war with our gin-fuelled neighbour.

It’s a crazy time. Especially in Australia, where as C. J. Dennis observed: “In climates such as this the thing’s all wrong!” While Dennis suggests that “a bit of cold corned beef an’ bread/ Would do us very well instead” of roast turkey and plum pudding, such European culinary traditions die harder in the “parched and grey” land than the animals Europeans brought here to populate it.

The strangeness of winter food in summer is only one of many quirks. What of new swimwear stuffed in oversized woollen Santa stockings? Of beach balls landing in warm punch? Of fires raging across the country as Frosty the Snowman plays in department store elevators? All reflect the mysterious nature of the season, or at least the mysterious nature of Australians.

If there’s one art form that best conveys the contradictions of Christmas, however, it is poetry. While many people are familiar with the great stories of Christmas, including Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, fewer perhaps know the great Christmas poems, old and new. In some ways this is odd, especially when we are all so time poor, for as Voltaire said, “poetry says more in fewer words than prose”. It’s thus an efficient as well as pleasurable way of reflecting on what Christmas has meant through the centuries.

Dennis’ A Bush Christmas, mentioned above, is as good a place as any to start. Dylan Thomas’ verse radio play, A Childhood Christmas in Wales, is another. You’ll never forget the scene in the latter work of young boys fighting “a bombilating gong” with snowballs. Further back, and more luminously, there is of course Milton’s Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.

But I prefer the more modern poets’ musings on Christmas. Russian poet and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky wrote a whole suite of Christmas poems. He was not the first agnostic to feel the strange attraction of a season dedicated to the birth of a god-man in whom he couldn’t quite believe or disbelieve. Thomas Hardy many decades earlier had already suggested that while few “in these years” can believe in the religious claims of Christmas, if he were asked to kneel before the nativity scene that he “used to know”, he would go to the gloomy church “hoping it might be so”.

This seems to me to capture perfectly – and sensitively – the attitude of many people today, who trudge off to church this one time of the year, hoping there might be some truth in the story of Christmas after all.

Between Brodksy and Hardy, there is W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being, which reflects not only the Christian mystery but the emotional drag of the season, and how each year we overestimate our powers to love our relatives. Auden’s mood takes its cue from Eliot’s melancholy Journey of the Magi, which wonders whether the nativity is really about birth or death. Both poets – the buttoned-up American in London, Eliot, and the gay Englishman in New York, Auden – were Christians, and both in their own way were sceptics, too, at least about humanity, if not about God.

But Christmas poetry is not all gloomy. To pick up your spirits, pick up the Christmas poems of Wendy Cope. Affirming the biblical injunctions, “on earth peace, good will towards men”, she adds one to the list: “And make them do the washing up!”

Dr Stephen McInerney is the academic director and deputy chief executive of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Article published in the Sydney Morning Herald 21 December 2019. To see article click here

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25 November 2019

Shakespeare Q&A with John Bell AO OBE

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation recently hosted John Bell AO OBE, actor, theatre director and founder of Bell Shakespeare, in conversation with our CEO Professor Simon Haines.
So how did John Bell’s life-long love of Shakespeare begin? Which is his favourite play, his favourite quote, the play he recommends people new to Shakespeare read or watch first?
Ahead of our event John Bell answered questions on what Shakespeare means to him.

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25 November 2019

Shakespeare Q&A with Professor Simon Haines

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation recently hosted John Bell AO OBE, actor, theatre director and founder of Bell Shakespeare, in conversation with our CEO Professor Simon Haines.
While many Australians owe their first experience of Shakespeare on the stage to John Bell, Professor Haines has also introduced generations of students to the works of Shakespeare through his distinguished academic career.
Ahead of our event Professor Haines answered questions on what Shakespeare means to him.

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25 November 2019

John Bell AO OBE – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday 19 November John Bell AO OBE, actor, theatre director, founder of Bell Shakespeare, joined our CEO Professor Simon Haines for a conversation on Shakespeare and Bell’s remarkable career. It was our eighth and final Ramsay lecture event for 2019.



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18 November 2019

Ramsay Centre and The University of Queensland sign Philanthropic Agreement


 Sydney, Monday 18 November 2019: As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has signed an agreement with the University of Queensland (UQ) to fund a new Western Civilisation study program and related scholarships, beginning in 2020.

This follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with UQ in August this year.

Worth upwards of $50 million over 8 years, the Philanthropic Agreement will enable UQ to offer at least 150 undergraduate scholarships and hire world-class educators to teach its program.

From next year students will be able to study Western Civilisation in either UQ’s Bachelor of Advanced Humanities (Honours) degree, or in its Bachelor of Humanities/Bachelor of Laws (Honours) dual degree.

The study program will be led by internationally-acclaimed classicist Professor Alastair Blanshard and promises to immerse students in “…a creative and diverse curriculum with a strong focus on key intellectual works – artistic, musical, literary – that have shaped western civilisation from antiquity to the current day.”

Scholarships will be awarded to academic high achievers who desire to make a difference. UQ is seeking applications from school leavers who are creative and intellectually curious, with the critical skills necessary to challenge the status quo and cross boundaries, and who value discussion, debate and the opportunity to learn from others.

This is the second university partnership for the Centre, following its partnership with the University of Wollongong. Together with UQ we are excited about the wonderful opportunity for both students and teachers in the Humanities that this partnership presents.

The partnership is made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care.

Students interested in learning more about Western Civilisation study at UQ and the UQ Ramsay Undergraduate Scholarship can find more information at

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/

 For more information on the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation please visit our website:

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7 November 2019

SHAKESPEARE: Q&A with CEO Professor Simon Haines

On 19 November the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation will host John Bell AO OBE, actor, theatre director and founder of Bell Shakespeare, in conversation with our CEO Professor Simon Haines.
While many Australians owe their first experience of Shakespeare on the stage to John Bell, Professor Haines has also introduced generations of students to the works of Shakespeare through his distinguished academic career.
In preparation for their dialogue, Professor Haines answers questions on what Shakespeare means to him.

  •  What was the first Shakespeare you read or saw? A Macbeth production at age 9 in my boys’ boarding school, the three witches were school prefects aged 13 and the cauldron boil and bubble scene with lots of shrieks and cackles was a big hit; and Julius Caesar in third year, we thought “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” was a hilarious line.
  • Which is your favourite Shakespeare play and why? Antony and Cleopatra because it’s such a grown-up play with such huge historical and emotional scope; and Comedy of Errors because you just can’t stop laughing.
  • Which Shakespeare play would you recommend people read or watch first? Macbeth is hard to beat in terms of gripping atmosphere.
  • Which Shakespeare have you found to be the most popular with young people? Why do you think that is the case? Romeo and Juliet probably. It’s obviously so easy for young people to identify with. Plus Macbeth (see above) and Othello, powerful male-female relationships and plenty of death and fight scenes.
  • Which Shakespeare play do you think is underrated? Troilus and Cressida. People are often uneasy with it as neither quite comic nor tragic – but its often bitter take on sexuality and politics is extraordinary.
  • Why do Shakespeare’s plays deserve ‘great book’ status? There is no other gallery of lives created out of language quite like this one. Only Greek epic and tragedy, and a truly great novelist such as Tolstoy, can compare in terms of emotional range and depth.
  • Favourite Shakespeare performances? John Bell’s Hamlet in I think 1974! My daughter Catherine as Cleopatra in Oxford in 2011; my son Will as Timon at the Bondi Pavilion in 2008.
  • Favourite Shakespeare line? Impossible question. Some random ones: Antony being a bit vain as he talks about getting older: “Though grey do something mingle with our younger brown”. Cleopatra: “Oh, my oblivion is a very Antony, and I am all forgotten”. Prospero’s “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”. Hamlet: “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”. Richard II: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”……

Simon Haines is the editor of Shakespeare and Value, recently published in Routledge’s authoritative Shakespeare International Yearbook series. The volume contains one essay each by six major international Shakespearean scholars in addition to Simon’s two: the title essay, and a second contribution, on Measure for Measure, called “The Life of Pi”. Simon has also recently published a chapter on “Recognition in Shakespeare and Hegel” in Palgrave’s Shakespeare and Emotions, discussing Othello, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra.

He has given many talks and addresses on Shakespeare including “Unhappy Consciousness in the Merchant of Venice at the prestigious annual Kingston Shakespeare Seminar at Garrick’s Temple; and “Shakespeare and Ideology” at the Lowy Institute. For seven years Simon ran the highly successful Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival in Hong Kong, with up to fifty mainland and Hong Kong competing teams and twelve finalists each year. He has taught Shakespeare in universities for eighteen years.

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7 November 2019

SHAKESPEARE: John Bell AO OBE in conversation with Professor Simon Haines

 What was your first experience of a Shakespeare play? A struggle in a school classroom? An inspiring teacher? A revelation at a theatre?

 For many living Australians, their first experience of Shakespeare on stage would have been thanks to John Bell AO OBE, actor, theatre director, founder of Bell Shakespeare, and guest of the Ramsay Centre for our eighth and final Ramsay Lecture for 2019.

 John Bell will be interviewed on 19 November by Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines, who has introduced many students to Shakespeare through his university teaching career.

 “It is a great privilege for the Centre to host John Bell,” Professor Haines said. “Shakespeare’s works are given ‘great books’ status because there is no other gallery of lives created out of language quite like this one. And no one has done more to ensure Australians have exposure to that richness of experience than John Bell.”

 John Bell founded The Bell Shakespeare Company in 1990 where he served as Director until 2015. His productions include more than 15 of Shakespeare’s greatest works, which have been played to almost 2.5 million Australians. He is one of the nation’s most illustrious theatre personalities, an award-winning actor, acclaimed director, “torch-bearing educationalist and speaker on leadership.” He has an honorary doctorate of Letters from the University of Sydney, New South Wales and Newcastle; and is one of Australia’s official ‘living treasures’.

 Professor Simon Haines is the editor of Shakespeare and Value, recently published in Routledge’s authoritative Shakespeare International Yearbook series. He has published a number of articles and given many talks and addresses on Shakespeare. For seven years he ran the Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival in Hong Kong, with up to fifty teams competing from mainland China and Hong Kong. He has taught Shakespeare in universities for many years.

 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.

Printed versions of the lectures and video podcasts are available via the ‘News and Events’ section of our website:

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098.

Please note the John Bell event is fully subscribed.

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10 September 2019

Rachel Fulton Brown – Distinguished Speaker

On Wednesday 14 August Rachel Fulton Brown from the University of Chicago delivered the sixth Ramsay Lecture for 2019 at the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel. The title of her lecture was “Great Books of the Middle Ages; and how to read them”

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2 September 2019

Anastasia Lin – Distinguished Speaker

“Has the Cultural Revolution arrived in the West?”

On Tuesday 27 August Canadian-Chinese actress and human rights advocate Anastasia Lin and Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines discussed the West, education and our basic freedoms for the seventh Ramsay Lecture event for 2019.


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26 August 2019

Has the Cultural Revolution arrived in the West?

Canadian-Chinese human rights advocate Anastasia Lin in conversation with Prof Simon Haines

Sydney, Monday 26 August 2019:  Is it worth living in a world where we are afraid to say what we think, even to our friends? So asked Canadian-Chinese actress and human rights advocate Anastasia Lin in April in The Wall Street Journal, lamenting an emerging ‘call-out culture’ in western democracies that is putting freedom of speech at risk.

Ms Lin understands risks to freedom and freedom of speech more than most.  Having emigrated to Canada from China when she was 13, she eventually began speaking out against human rights abuses, including during her reign as Miss World Canada. As a result, her father who still resides in China, was allegedly threatened by security agents, and Anastasia was barred entry to China to compete in the 2015 Miss World competition.

Now Anastasia advocates for countries the world over to do more than simply pay lip service to protecting basic freedoms. She is a strong supporter of western civilisation study at schools and universities to ensure people in the West understand their rights and freedoms, and when they might be at risk.

“The emerging call-out culture in the US, Canada and elsewhere in the West bears more than a few similarities to China’s Cultural Revolution, in which writers, artists, doctors, scholars and other professionals were publicly denounced and forced by mobs to engage in ritual self-criticism,” she wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “The goal is not to persuade or debate; it is to humiliate the target and intimidate everyone else. The ultimate objective is to destroy independent thought.”

Anastasia Lin is the Centre for Independent Studies scholar-in-residence in 2019. She is the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s ambassador for China policy and a senior fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines will hold a special discussion with Anastasia on the West, education and our basic freedoms tomorrow night as the seventh Ramsay Lecture event for 2019.

Professor Haines has had a distinguished academic career including close to a decade in Hong Kong where he was Chair Professor of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as Director of its Research Centre for Human Values.

He recently opined in The Australian Financial Review that our notions of tragedy and truth, state and citizen, beauty and good, nature and art all have long and distinctive pedigrees, and are deeply constitutive of modern attitudes. Perhaps this is most true in the case of our liberal-democratic freedoms: of speech, assembly, religion, the press, he wrote.

“Daily the local and international news reminds us that these freedoms are under perpetual challenge. In Australia, voices across the political spectrum, from Alan Jones to Richard Flanagan, have spoken out in defence of a free press.

In Hong Kong, millions of people, included among them many students, have assembled in the streets in defence of the rule of law. Good for them. Use it or lose it: freedom is the birthright each generation inherits, but also holds in trust for those to come. Our sense of responsibility for the trust is strengthened if we also know it as an inheritance. But it’s a complex inheritance, and we are inconsistent in our attitudes to it.”    

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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19 August 2019

The Ramsay Podcast with Stephen McInerney and Rachel Fulton Brown

What is the Middle Ages and what can we learn from that period about truth, beauty and goodness, to enhance the joy of modern learning? Ramsay Centre Executive Officer Dr Stephen McInerney sits down with acclaimed medievalist Associate Professor Rachel Fulton Brown from the University of Chicago ahead of her Sydney lecture on “Great Books of the Middle Ages and How to Read Them”. 


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15 August 2019

Upcoming Lecture – Ramsay Lecture Series 2019

Has the Cultural Revolution arrived in the West?
Anastasia Lin in conversation with Prof Simon Haines
Is it worth living in a world where we are afraid to say what we think, even to our friends?
This was the question posed by Chinese Canadian freedom fighter Anastasia Lin in April in the Wall Street Journal.
She now advocates for countries the world over to do more than simply pay lip service to protecting basic freedoms.
“The emerging call-out culture in the US, Canada and elsewhere in the West bears more than a few similarities to China’s Cultural Revolution, in which writers, artists, doctors, scholars and other professionals were publicly denounced and forced by mobs to engage in ritual self-criticism. The goal is not to persuade or debate; it is to humiliate the target and intimidate everyone else. The ultimate objective is to destroy independent thought.”
In Australia voices across the political spectrum from Alan Jones to Richard Flanagan have recently spoken out in defence of a free press; and in Hong Kong more than a million people have protested in defence of rule of law. So, can we maintain the right to express our own views while limiting the rights of others to do the same? When does freedom of expression become an incitement to riot, an oppression of the vulnerable or a danger to national security?

Anastasia Lin is the Scholar in Residence at The Centre for Independent Studies and is an award-winning actress, beauty pageant titleholder, and human rights advocate. In 2015, Lin won the Miss World Canada title, and was to represent Canada at the Miss World pageant in China. However, she was refused a visa and declared a persona non grata by Chinese authorities for her outspoken views on the country’s human rights violations. The news of her rejection—and subsequent attempt to enter China—caused global media attention for weeks, leading to a front page article in The New York Times and op-eds in major newspapers. Since then, she has been invited to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Oxford Union, United Nations Human Rights Council, the Geneva Human Rights Summit, Oslo Freedom Forum and has testified in the US Congress, the UK Parliament, and the Taiwanese Legislative Assembly.

Lin has appeared in over 20 films and television productions. She often works at the confluence of activism and acting, playing roles that carry messages of freedom, human rights, and ethics. Her films have received the Gabriel Award for Best Feature Film, the Mexico International Film Festival’s Golden Palm Award, and the California’s Indie Fest Award of Merit. Lin also won the Best Leading Actress in a TV Movie at the Leo Awards in 2016. As a model, she’s made appearances on runways around the world, including the New York Fashion Week show at the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria. 

Lin has been listed as one of the “Top 25 under 25” by MTV, a “Top 60 under 30” by Flare, and called “The Badass Beauty Queen” by Marie Claire. She was one of eleven stakeholders selected to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird upon the establishment of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. Her articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The Daily Telegraph and other major newspapers.

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15 August 2019

Ramsay Lecture Series 2019

A series of distinguished visiting speakers will deliver public lectures and small seminars to encourage wider interest in and knowledge of Western Civilisation.

Our international and local speakers will be from various walks of life and will include politicians, academics and business leaders.


19 March Dr Fiona Wood AM Plastic and reconstructive surgeon
9 April Greg Sheridan AO Foreign affairs commentator and author
21 May Rod Dreher American writer and editor 
18 June Helen Pluckrose Editor in Chief, AREO
23 July Jonathan Haidt Social psychologist and Prof of Ethical Leadership NYU
14 August Dr Rachel Fulton-Brown University of Chicago
27 August Anastasia Lin Scholar in Residence at The Centre for Independent Studies, Human rights advocate and award winning actress
October TBA
November TBA Prof Bettany Hughes will now present in 2020

If you would like to receive invitations to our lectures, please send an email to and include your name, company, telephone number and email address.

*Dates and presenters are subject to change.

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15 August 2019

Reclaiming the Middle Ages from contemporary politics

12:00AM AUGUST 10, 2019

“Three cheers for white men!” American medieval scholar Rachel Fulton Brown proclaimed in the 2015 blog post that effectively remade her.

Until that moment this spry, white-haired University of Chicago academic was known chiefly as the author of a 750-page scholarly doorstopper titled From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200.

With her incendiary blog, designed to counter with a few salient historical facts the ritualistic enmity towards “dead white Anglo-Saxon males” among tenured radicals, Brown catapulted herself into the culture wars. Her post urged readers to “Hug a white man today!” She has never looked back.

Ahead of a public lecture in Sydney next week on great books of the Middle Ages, Brown stresses a point that she has hammered on her Fencing Bear at Prayer blog: “It was white men who extended suffrage to women. White women invented feminism and white men supported them.” Much of what she has to say on the web is playful and provocative — it’s in her gift to be both simultaneously — but the title of her blog can be taken quite literally. She is a devoted prayerful Christian, baptised and reared a Presbyterian and received into the Catholic Church in 2017. Her sport of choice is fencing. “I’ve been a sport fencer for 16 years,” she tells Inquirer. “Putting on a fencing mask changes you.”

When viewed through its art, architecture and literature, the Middle Ages can seem like a dreamscape of noble ladies, chivalrous knights and troubadour poets, saturated in the ideals of courtly love. Of late, however, it has been dragged roughly by its wimple and gorget into the 21st century. The Middle Ages have been renamed the Middle Rages, and Brown, 54, labelled a “violent fascist” and “white supremacist” for her refusal to follow colleagues in denouncing the subject for complicity in the ideals of white ­nationalists. She describes herself, with a touch of sadness, as her discipline’s “poster monster”.

In August 2017 a fellow medievalist, Dorothy Kim, who was disturbed by the adoption of medieval regalia by some protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, called out her colleagues as “ideological arms dealers” trading racist weaponry in the classroom.

“Today, medievalists have to understand that the public and our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white ­supremacist sympathisers because we are medievalists,” she wrote in a blog post. “The medieval Western European Christian past is being weaponized by white ­supremacist/white nationalist/KKK/Nazi extremist groups who also frequently happen to be college students.”

Brown hit back. Not only did she insist that she is not, and never has been, a white supremacist, she went to some lengths to trace the multiracial threads in the New and Old Testaments as well as the culture of medieval Christianity, stressing in particular the genuine Catholicism (from the Greek katholikos, meaning universal) of the early church.

Her riposte to Kim, similar in thrust to her argument with Anglo-masculophobes on campus, is that history in neither its broad sweep nor in its fine textual detail confirms the image of a “white supremacist” medieval world. “How should you signal that you are not a white supremacist if you teach the ‘medieval western European Christian past?’ ” she asked, pointedly echoing Kim, who teaches medieval literature at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, and is the author, most recently, of Digital Whiteness & Medieval Studies. “Learn some f..king medieval western Euro­pean Christian history, including the history of our field.”

Speaking from home in Chicago, Brown, who is married, plays the fiddle, confesses to a Myers Briggs Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging personality type, and has a Cardigan Welsh corgi barking in the background, is rather more muted than her often peppery blog persona. She quotes Paul’s letter to the Galatians as confirmation of her creed’s blindness to colour, class, gender or race: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor ­female.” Yet it can’t be easy to ­retain her equanimity in the often-vituperative world of politicised aca­deme. She mentions, a little wearily, that she has just been tagged in a thread: ­“Rachel Fulton Brown has repeatedly allied herself with white supremacists and has harassed scholars of colour in our field (presumably a reference to her criticism of Kim). I don’t want anything to do with her.”

Stirring the coals of outrage, as Brown explains, is her friendship with Briton Milo ­Yiannopoulos. The self-described “cultural libertarian” — code for publicity-seeking ultraconservative provoca­teur — and former editor of Breitbart News was denied a visa to enter Australia this year after anti-Muslim comments he posted following the Christchurch massacre. The openly gay — Brown ­describes him as the world’s “most famous faggot” — commentator’s new book, Middle Rages: How the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America, goes into bat for Brown in her row with Kim.

Until her “three cheers for white men!” post of 2015, Brown had used her blog, she explains, largely for rumination and reflection. But her decision to tackle “more darkly cultural questions” led her to examine the intersection of past and present, or politics in thought and action. She took an interest in Yiannopoulos, ­started to watch his videos and eventually emailed him. “That contact blossomed into a friendship,” she ­explains. “We share concerns about Christianity. He’s playing on a much bigger stage and that’s brought my work to a bigger audience.”

In response to the concerns first raised by Kim, and repeated by other academics vexed by the apparent allure of medieval ­imagery for the far right, Brown points out that only a few far-right protesters are seen in “vaguely” medieval costume, and their preferred symbolism appears to be pagan Germanic and pre-Christian. The implication is that if proto-fascists want to dress up in Wagnerian garb, scholars of the medieval world have little purchase on the problem.

“I was simply suggesting to my colleagues that they might be stoking hysteria and if they want to dispel this sort of thing they should do their job and tell the story,” she says, reprising the history of her ­notorious stoush, minus the sting. “Good history dispels the popular myths about the medieval world, and the fantasy version of the ­Crusades.”

Her personal and professional focus is not, in any event, with the masculine world of the Knights Templar or the bloody wars of the Plantagenets. Her medieval world is a thing of beauty: a civilisation singularly devoted to the Virgin Mary. The culture, in her view, was completely infused with Marianism. And to the extent that medieval Christianity helped to define Western civilisation, we still live at some level, she believes, in a matriarchal culture.

“To understand Mary as medieval Christians imagined her, one has to understand everything,” she says. “She is there in the art and the architecture and the music. She is there in the literature and the liturgy and the liberal arts. She is there in the most elevated expressions of human imagination and in the humblest prayers for help. She is there in the politics and in the ideals of marriage, in battle cries and in pleas for mercy for the ­oppressed. Medieval Christianity is inconceivable without her.”

The Virgin Mary was not only the mother of God, Brown argues, she was an emblem of the city and of civilisation. The medieval world and its devotion to the Virgin Mary is far from our own, and its fragile hold on the contemporary imagination was underscored symbolically this year by the near-destruction of Notre Dame (“Our Lady”) of Paris. The idea of recovering the difficult texts of this ­period and reverse engineering them into a Great Books curriculum doesn’t drive Brown. Nor does nostalgia. “I don’t want to bring back the medieval world,” she says. “That will not work. It’s like taxidermy. I want instead for you to have the living sense of what it meant in that period to create.”

Brown has taught at Chicago for 25 years and worries about the tendency to read literature as an exercise in speaking knowledge to power. She detects a mood in ­undergraduates — a kind of hollowness — that she interprets as “a fear of being affected by the texts that we read. It is a fear of what might happen if we let the great books that we read work on us.”

If there is one thing she would like to recover from the Middle Ages it’s not so much the texts that were inherited and read, transcribed or written but an attitude to reading. “Scripture is inexhaustible,” she says. “It’s a consistent story. Medieval students of scripture knew that the stories were true but they didn’t know all its truths, its full dimensions. Scripture was a constantly unfolding revelation of mysteries. So, from the medieval point of view these texts are very much alive; we need to unlock all these layers. And to read — to read for wisdom.”

Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article.

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15 August 2019

Great Books of the Middle Ages and How to Read Them

Sydney, Thursday 15 August: Do we really understand the ‘Dark Ages’? What was it like to exist in an age when people were supposedly punished for the exercise of reason in pursuit of the truth?

Renowned medievalist, University of Chicago Associate Professor of History Rachel Fulton Brown, has dedicated her academic career to reading texts from the Middle Ages that she says are often dismissed ‘either because the ideas in them seem boring (they aren’t!) or because everyone assumes that we already know what they say (we don’t).’

Last night she delivered the sixth Ramsay lecture for 2019 on ‘Great Books of the Middle Ages, and How to Read Them.”  

She argued that ‘Great Books’ courses should include more works from the thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the sixteenth century, as currently such courses effectively exclude the Middle Ages from the development of Western Civilisation.  

“Without the Christian Middle Ages, we would not be here arguing for the importance of truth, beauty and goodness at all. If we want to challenge the postmodern critique of modernity, we need to understand the straw-man on which modernity constructed itself: the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ in which people were supposedly punished for the exercise of reason in pursuit of truth,” she said ahead of the talk. 

Since 1994 Rachel Fulton Brown has taught at the University of Chicago, one of America’s most distinguished colleges, where her teaching has been recognized with the Provost’s Teaching Award and the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She was awarded tenure in 2002.  

She is the author of From Judgement to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 and Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought, as well as co-editor of History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, all published by Columbia University Press.  

Her current research includes work on training the soul in virtue; the psychological bases for the doctrine of the Seven Deadly sins; the growth of cities and their relationship to prayer; and how saying the Psalms in honour of the Virgin Mary gives birth to understanding and joy.  

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. Printed versions of the lectures and video recordings are available on our website:

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098 

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8 August 2019

Ramsay Centre and The University of Queensland sign Memorandum of Understanding


Sydney, Thursday 08 August 2019
: As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation today announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The University of Queensland (UQ), to fund a new program in Western Civilisation, and related scholarships.

Worth upwards of $50 million over 8 years, the partnership deal includes funding for at least 150 undergraduate scholarships, and the hiring of world-class educators. The Western Civilisation program will commence in 2020.

This is the second university partnership for the Centre, following its partnership with the University of Wollongong.

We are delighted to be partnering with UQ, which is ranked in the world’s top 50 universities and is one of Australia’s leading research and teaching institutions.

The University has a strong focus on the student experience and supporting students to become ‘agile, innovative thinkers and leading global citizens.’

Most importantly, we have always said that the success of the courses we fund would depend on the quality of teaching, and UQ has received more national teaching awards than any Australian university.

The program’s curriculum has been developed under the leadership of the Executive Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Heather Zwicker and internationally-acclaimed classicist Professor Alastair Blanshard.

The University will offer a new major in Western Civilisation that students can either take as part of its advanced humanities honours program, or in a new double degree consisting of a new Bachelor of Humanities coupled with an Honours degree in Law.

Students will graduate with either a Bachelor of Advanced Humanities (Honours) (Western Civilisation) or a Bachelor of Humanities (Western Civilisation)/Bachelor of Laws (Honours).

The MOU will be published by UQ and clearly articulates the joint commitment of the Ramsay Centre and the University to academic freedom.

Together with UQ, we are excited about the wonderful opportunity for both students and teachers in the Humanities that this partnership presents.


Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/

For more information on the centre please visit our website:

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6 August 2019

Ramsay Centre and University of Wollongong sign funding agreement


Sydney, Tuesday 06 August 2019: As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has signed an agreement with the University of Wollongong (UOW) to fund a new BA degree in Western Civilisation, beginning in 2020, and a related scholarship program.

This follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the University in December last year.

Worth approximately $50 million over 8 years, the partnership deal will enable UOW to offer at least 150 undergraduate scholarships and hire world-class educators to teach its Western Civilisation program. UOW’s BA in Western Civilisation will be directed by Professor Daniel Hutto who is a gifted and passionate educator.

Billed as a course for the ‘intellectually fearless’, UOW is promising students a transformative BA in Western Civilisation degree that will take them on a ‘unique philosophical adventure’, engaging with ‘some of the greatest intellectual and artistic masterpieces ever produced.’

It will comprise 16 newly created subjects, with students having the option of studying for a single degree, with a choice of major, or a range of double degrees. The degree is funded to enable students to study the great texts of western civilisation in small groups.

The funding agreement contains a joint commitment from UOW and the Ramsay Centre to academic freedom.

The partnership is made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care.

Students interested in learning more about the degree and the Ramsay Scholarship program at UOW can find more information on the UOW website – . Scholarship applications are open for the month of August.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/

For more information on the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation please visit our website:

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29 July 2019

The Ramsay Podcast with Stephen McInerney and Helen Pluckrose

What does a fake ‘dog park study’ tell us about scholarship in certain areas of the humanities? Is feminism what it once was? What does it mean to identify as being on the left, while taking a stand against identity politics? Ramsay Centre Executive Officer Dr Stephen McInerney sits down with editor of Areo magazine and scholar of medieval women’s writing, Helen Pluckrose, following her Sydney lecture, to talk more about the ‘grievance studies’ hoax, her life, thought and work.

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23 July 2019

The Coddling of the American Mind: New York Times best-selling author to deliver Ramsay Lecture

Sydney, Tuesday 23 July 2019:  Are we coddling our youth presuming they are fragile rather than robust people who can benefit from challenging experiences? Are we continuing to over-protect students at university, leaving them unprepared for life’s rough and tumble? Should we be disturbed by the growing trend on US campuses of controversial speakers being de-platformed and classic texts being banished on the grounds that they are too confronting?

These are just some of the many issues explored in the New York Times best-seller The Coddling of the American Mind: how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.

To deliver more insight into how over-protection may cause future generations harm, as well as how we can remedy bad-practices to create ‘wiser kids’, ‘wiser universities’ and ‘wiser societies’, co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind Jonathan Haidt will deliver the fifth Ramsay lecture for 2019.

Professor Haidt is Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Named one of the “top global thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine and one of the “world’s top thinkers” by Prospect magazine, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year. His research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures, with the aim of helping people understand and learn from each other. He has co-founded a variety of organizations that apply moral and social psychology to that end, including,, and

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines said Professor Haidt’s lecture was timely, following the report on free speech at Australian universities by former High Court chief justice Robert French. He praised Haidt’s emphasis on students seeking truth through critical thinking and engagement, rather than seeking refuge in comfortable majority positions.

“We should be careful not to stray into territory where students feel safer to adopt ‘group-think’, rather than be challenged to develop conclusions based on meaningful and respectful challenge from their peers and from people with different views,” Professor Haines said.

Professor Haines commended Professor Haidt’s establishment of the Heterodox Academy, a non-partisan global collaborative of more than 2,500 professors, administrators and graduate students committed to “promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.”

Professor Haidt is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and of The New York Times bestsellers The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and The Coddling of the American Mind (co-authored with Greg Lukianoff). His next book is tentatively titled Three Stories about Capitalism: The Moral Psychology of Economic Life.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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10 July 2019

What the vulgar feud around the Ramsay Centre doesn’t grasp about ‘Western Civilisation’ – by Andrew Gleeson

The Ramsey Centre for Western Civilisation appears to be making progress in its plan to establish degrees in Western Civilisation at three Australian Universities. Just last week, it was reported that the University of Queensland’s academic board approved a plan for courses to begin next year, subject to final approval by the university’s vice-chancellor. At the same time, the National Tertiary Education Union is reported to have dropped legal action against courses at the University of Wollongong, also scheduled for a 2020 start.

Scornful critics will, of course, not abandon their attempts to scuttle the project. They have succeeded in convincing many people ― even some of the program’s advocates ― that it is little more than a conservative project aimed at glorifying straight white European male supremacy.

But nothing could be further from the truth. A perusal of the Indicative Curriculum reveals a cunning left-wing plot to subvert the established order of capitalism. Consider this selection from the curriculum’s texts.

The initial year of study includes Aeschylus’s Oresteia. The first play of this trilogy, Agamemnon, is one of the earliest works to strike a feminist blow against patriarchy, describing Queen Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband Agamemnon to usurp his throne. Students also study Plato ― that well-known champion of homoerotic love ― whose most famous dialogue, The Republic, describes an ideal state devoted to justice and ruled by a caste of progressive intellectuals.

When one gets around to authors writing in English, students are introduced to sexual politics through the notorious bawdy of Chaucer and Shakespeare. They also study John Milton, that infamous republican and revolutionary, whose greatest literary creation was an epic poem celebrating insurrection against the Christian God.

In the study of the Enlightenment, pride of place is given to radically democratic and liberal figures like Locke and Kant, feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, radicals like Rousseau ― an inspiring spirit of the French revolution ― and Thomas Paine, the nemesis of conservative hero Edmund Burke.

As we reach the last couple of hundred years, the fig leaf of traditionalist appearances is shed to reveal an openly Bolshie syllabus: Nietzsche and Freud ― scourges of Christianity both ― black radicals like W.E.B. Du Bois, and even Marx and Foucault!

Well, this is parody, of course ― albeit parody with a point: that the canon of ‘Western Civilisation’ is more diverse than its critics suspect. More importantly, it is also far richer than anyone would think whose only knowledge of it ― like that of most students ― is sourced from the bizarre philippics of its detractors or the bland instrumental rationales sometimes voiced in its defence.

Credit: ABC Religion and Ethics website– click here to read the full article
Posted Tue 9 Jul 2019, 5:49pm Updated Tue 9 Jul 2019, 6:12pm

Andrew Gleeson is a retired academic philosopher who lives in Adelaide. He is the author of A Frightening Love: Recasting the Problem of Evil.

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1 July 2019

Freedom of speech the basis of study in Ramsay courses

By Simon Haines and Stephen McInerney

Can we maintain the right to express our own views while limiting the rights of others to do the same? When does free expression become an incitement to riot, an oppression of the vulnerable or a danger to national security?

Since 2017, the Ramsay Centre has been in discussion with several Australian universities about prospective partnerships to offer degrees focused on the “great books” and other texts of Western civilisation, from Homer to Heaney, taking in classical, biblical, medieval, early modern and modern sources.

While we may have taken a slower path to realising these partnerships than we anticipated, there is much to look forward to.

The new bachelor of arts in Western civilisation at the University of Wollongong will accept its first enrolments in 2020, with 30 full undergraduate scholarships to be offered each year, and 10 academic positions. We are progressing towards other partnerships.

We also expect next year to unveil a suite of generous postgraduate scholarships for Australian students to pursue further study at prestigious overseas universities.

This slow but steady progress is good news for us all, not least the students and academic staff of under-resourced humanities departments: the places we rely on most to remind us that what we often take to be self-evident, or think we have just discovered, has its roots in ancient insights, or is the outcome of centuries of struggle and progress.

Our notions of tragedy and truth, state and citizen, beauty and good, nature and art: all these have long and distinctive pedigrees, and are deeply constitutive of modern attitudes.

Perhaps this is most true in the case of our liberal-democratic freedoms: of speech, assembly, religion, the press.

Daily the local and international news reminds us that these freedoms are under perpetual challenge.

In Australia, voices across the political spectrum, from Alan Jones to Richard Flanagan, have spoken out in defence of a free press. In Hong Kong, millions of people, included among them many students, have assembled in the streets in defence of the rule of law.

Good for them. Use it or lose it: freedom is the birthright each generation inherits, but also holds in trust for those to come. Our sense of responsibility for the trust is strengthened if we also know it as an inheritance. But it’s a complex inheritance, and we are inconsistent in our attitudes to it. Students protesting against contentious campus speakers, for example, or governments denying visas to controversial visitors, could look across the centuries to John Stuart Mill, John Milton or Thomas Aquinas.

In On Liberty (1859), Mill argued “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered”.

But he also invoked the “harm principle”, according to which the prevention of harm to others is the only purpose for which power can be “rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised society”. So how much harm can be done by a speaker expressing a contentious view? When does the exercise of power over speech become illiberal?

Milton’s argument in Areopagitica (1644) for “unlicensed printing”, for the freedom “to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience”, is a treasure of English prose as well as one of the greatest of all defences of liberty – and of great books, come to that – which he said “do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them”.

But as a Puritan writing in the shadow of civil war, Milton did not think this freedom should be extended to Roman Catholics, whom he saw as a threat to his nation’s existence.

So did he believe in freedom of speech? Is his position so different from the pre-modern attitude of Aquinas, the soul of Aristotelian good sense in so many respects, and of course a Roman Catholic, who in the mid-13th century argued that heretics posed a threat to social order and indeed the very souls of the population, and should be suppressed, by force if necessary?

Does freedom of expression have exceptions? If so, is it genuinely free?

Students might be encouraged to ask such questions in some university courses. They might perhaps encounter Mill, or Milton, or even Aquinas, at least in passing, in different majors. But asking such questions through reading all three of these “living intellects” in the course of one degree: this is the kind of thing we hope to enable a few students to do, and when the word gets around, maybe a lot more will want to.

Source: Australian Financial Review, to see article click here.

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25 June 2019

Conversations with John Anderson: Featuring Helen Pluckrose, editor-in-chief and academic researcher

Former deputy Prime Minister John Anderson sat down with Grievance Studies affair hoaxer and academic researcher Helen Pluckrose in Sydney recently as part of his ‘Conversations’ podcast series.

Helen was in Sydney to deliver the fourth Ramsay lecture for 2019 on ‘The Rise and Whys of Grievance Studies’. She is a self-described ‘exile from the humanities’ and currently editor-in-chief of Areo, a non-partisan digital magazine focused on Englightenment liberalism, humanism, secularism and freedom of expression.

Helen came to prominence when she and two colleagues sought to expose problems in academic ‘grievance studies’ by submitting bogus papers to academic journals, some of which were published. She is currently writing a book about the impact of postmodern thought on academia, social justice movements and wider culture.

The podcast is available here.

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21 June 2019

‘Highly paranoid world view corrupting our kids’ thinking’ – by Bernard Lane

Corrupt activist scholarship in gender, queer and other identity fields is training the teachers who shape children and executives who run business, warns visiting culture critic Helen Pluckrose.

“This is not a problem confined to esoteric arguments between intellectuals – liberal academia has great cultural power,” Ms Pluckrose, a Britainbased medievalist, said last night in a Sydney lecture at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

“A generation of students were exposed to these ideas and went on to become leaders of various industries.

“(Activist academics) turn out the teachers of our children and the heads of our industries.” Together with US scholars James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, Ms Pluckrose ran a 2017-18 sting on academic journals which published “grievance studies” such as critical race studies and queer studies.

Editors enthusiastically accepted seven papers for publication: one touted insights into male rape culture based on the inspection of 10,000 dog genitals, another recycled material from Hitler’s Mein Kampf with feminist rebadging, and a third declared bodybuilding “fat exclusionary”.

One of the trio employed by a university – Professor Boghossian at Portland State University – faces disciplinary charges and may lose his job.

At one point it was suggested he could be punished for data fabrication because he had not in truth inspected 10,000 dog genitals, not even one.

In her lecture The Rise and Whys of Grievance Studies, Ms Pluckrose traced the rot to postmodernism in the 1980s-90s, its rejection of objective truth, and a French-inspired variation which portrays society as a power struggle between the victim and the oppressor groups using language and knowledge as tools of control.

“Because of this, language is analysed in a highly paranoid and offence-seeking way,” she said.

“Micro-aggressions are detected, racism and sexism identified. Heteronormativity, acting as though heterosexuality is the default sexuality, is called out. Cisnormativity, acting as though people usually identify with the sex their reproductive systems indicate, is condemned.”

Her comments go to controversies such as the Safe Schools gender fluidity campaign in Victoria and the clash between Christian footballer Israel Folau and corporate sponsors sensitised to identity politics.

Ms Pluckrose said individual human rights had been overthrown in favour of collective guilt (as in structural white racism), and biology had been banished so scholar-activists could pretend gender identities and any male-female differences were “socially constructed” and therefore amenable to “social justice”.

“Freedom of speech and viewpoint diversity are not valued within this system,” she said.

The Ramsay Centre has struggled to find an elite university willing to accept funding in exchange for running undergraduate programs in Western civilisation. Sydney University linguistics expert Nick Reimer claimed the Ramsay Centre “validates the worldview” behind the March 15 massacre of Muslims in Christchurch. Other academics say the degree proposal is “racist”.

Ms Pluckrose defended the Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution and other achievements of the modern period: “We know the modern period saw slavery, colonialism, tyranny of monarchs and the church, war, genocide, famine, racism, sexism and homophobia.

“So did every other period. Modernity was the one in which we gained the capacity to realise they were wrong.

“So uncommon to human societies was this that the societies that have benefited from it are referred to as WEIRD societies – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic.

“They are the reason I, an atheist woman, am able to read and develop my own ideas and speak and write them. They are also how I travelled across the world in a day to speak to you, having not died in childbirth.

“Progress is no myth. It is measurable in ways including poverty, education, fatal diseases, as well as human rights. (Yet postmodernists) see modernity as a time of empire, exploitation, patriarchy and white supremacy.” 

Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article.

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18 June 2019

Helen Pluckrose – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday 18 June Helen Pluckrose, Editor in Chief for Areo Magazine  delivered the fourth Ramsay Lecture for 2019 at the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel. The title of her lecture was “The Rise and Whys of Grievance Studies”.

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18 June 2019

The Rise and Whys of Grievance Studies

‘Grievance Studies affair’ hoaxer Helen Pluckrose to deliver the fourth Ramsay Lecture for 2019

Sydney, Tuesday 18 June: To test their theory that some fields in the humanities have become over-run by a ‘victim mentality’ that overrides genuine scholarship, a UK-based magazine editor and two US academics submitted 20 deliberately absurd, unevidenced papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Seven papers were accepted and seven more were “actively considered” for publication before their ruse ended late last year, following suspicion from the Wall Street Journal. The trio gained international notoriety. Their hoax became known as the ‘Grievance Studies affair.’

Tonight, one of the ‘hoaxers’ and editor of Areo magazine Helen Pluckrose will deliver the fourth Ramsay Lecture for 2019, outlining the threat she believes ‘grievance studies’ pose to real academic progress in fields that should continue the work of the US civil rights movement.

“Studying social justice issues around race, gender and sexuality is important but this cannot be achieved by shoddy scholarship and inconsistent ethics and that is what we are seeing in these fields right now,” Ms. Pluckrose says.

“Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant. Increasingly we are shifting away from a society where everyone is free to argue anything, so long as they use evidence and reason, to one where identity and experience determines who speaks. This has major ramifications for scholarship and activism which will help inform the next generation.”

The most famous of the Grievance Studies affair hoax papers was the fake ‘dog park study’ which suggested that dog parks are petri dishes for canine rape culture after examining ‘dog humping’ in hundreds of dog parks. The study was titled “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon,” and received praise as having the potential to make “…an important contribution to feminist animal geography”.

Another hoax paper suggested white and male university students should sit on the floor in chains, as a form of “experiential reparation”, and listen and learn in silence. The paper was rejected but the author was encouraged to resubmit and received applause for identifying ‘specific approaches’ to redress epistemic injustice in the classroom.

Helen Pluckrose is the editor-in-chief of Areo, a digital magazine focusing on humanism, reason, science, culture and art. She has research interests in late medieval and early modern women’s religious writing, receiving her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of East London and her Master’s in Early Modern Studies 1300-1700 from Queen Mary University London. Last month she was announced as a finalist for the UK Contrarian Prize, along with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, to be presented by broadcaster Jeremy Paxman on June 25.

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. Printed versions of the lectures and video recordings are available on our website:

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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31 May 2019

Rod Dreher – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday 21 May Rod Dreher, Senior Editor for The American Conservative, delivered a Ramsay Lecture at the State Library of NSW.  The title of his lecture was “Recovering and Sustaining Cultural Memory”.


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10 May 2019

Les Murray’s ‘second funeral’ and his everlasting poetry

Les Murray will be farewelled today at St Bernadette’s Catholic Church, Krambach, just out of Bunyah. It will be his second funeral.

More than 20 years ago, Murray suffered an abscess on the liver and was in a coma for three weeks. Coming to, he discovered well-wishers had sent “a Spring-in-Winter love-barque of cards, / of flowers and phone calls and letters”. Waking to the nation’s love, which he’d “never dreamed was there”, meant everything to him. He called it his “State Funeral”. Now that he really has gone, the accolades have been even more numerous and good willed.

To be sure, some commentators have felt the need, in praising Murray, to indicate they were on the “other side” to him politically. What side would that be? Were they on the other side of Murray when it came to the working poor and marginalised? Were they on the other side to his advocacy, long before it was fashionable, of Indigenous Australians? Were they on the other side when he called out – long before anyone else – the problem of schoolyard bullying and its reverberations through the culture?

“Nothing a mob does is clean,” Murray believed. That was the main thrust of his politics. Like the eponymous hero of his remarkable 1998 verse novel, Fredy Neptune, Murray would often step in to protect individuals from a mob, even if he disagreed with them. In an era of “Safe Schools” programs, this is a lesson that should be part of the curriculum, and there is no better way to teach it than through the work of our greatest poet. But there are, of course, many good reasons to encourage the young to read Murray. Indeed, there is an obligation on our schools and universities to do just that.

When I was 16, my father handed me a copy of the 1983 collection The People’s Otherworld. I was confronted by the brazen dedication to the Glory of God, but I was even more challenged by the language itself: “Flashy wrists out of buttoned grass cuffs, feral whisky burning gravels, jazzy knuckles ajitter on soakages… migrating mouse-quivering water.”

A year later, my interest was fostered by John Watkins, later deputy premier of NSW, who introduced his Year 11 English class to the early poetry, including Driving through Sawmill Towns, Spring Hail and An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow. The difference between these poems and the more mature ones was stark, and intriguing. How to account for it?

Honestly, I was a slow learner. When I first encountered them I could make little literal sense of the more mature poems, but I felt their electric charge and kept returning to them, year after year, delighting when something suddenly became clear. The last line of the poem, Shower, for example: “Only in Europe is it enjoyed by telephone.” What on earth was he talking about, I wondered for years, until I took a shower in Italy in 1997 and lifted the shower-head with its trailing cord from its fitting: a telephone!

I taught this poem to undergraduates over 10 years in an Australian literature course. Their reaction to the closing line was more often than not the same as mine had been, but I couldn’t bear to make them wait as long as I had to to discover its meaning. I can still see their smiles of recognition when they “saw” for the first time what Murray was describing.

And when I see them in my memory, it is another poem of Murray’s that captures their reaction: “Streaming, a hippo surfaces / like the head of someone / lifting, with still-entranced eyes, / from a lake of stanzas.”

We owe it to every student in Australia’s schools and university English departments to give them this experience.

Stephen McInerney is executive officer (academic) at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and author of The Enclosure of an Open Mystery: Sacrament and Incarnation in the Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, David Jones and Les Murray.

Article published in The Sydney Morning Herald 10 May 2019

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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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10 April 2019

Best-selling author and journalist Greg Sheridan to speak at the Ramsay Centre

Sydney, Tuesday 09 April 2019: Can Western Civilisation be sustained without belief? How much do we owe to our Christian tradition, and what will be the impact of the steep decline of Christian belief in western societies?

That’s the line of inquiry to be addressed by Greg Sheridan AO, Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, and author of the best-selling, God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity In Troubled Times, in the second Ramsay Lecture for 2019.

Speaking to an audience of high school and university students, business, political and community leaders, Mr. Sheridan will argue that Australians need to be better educated about the role Christianity has played in securing our democratic freedoms. And he will outline his belief that Christianity should remain an important continuing influence, even in our multi-ethnic, pluralistic society, where fewer and fewer Australians are identifying as believers or practicing the faith.

“What did we ever get from Christianity – apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics?” Mr. Sheridan says. “Whether people recognize it or not, Christianity has been central to the development of our western societies and civilisation, and its principles remain integral today.”

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines says that its Judeo-Christian inheritance is one of the two key pillars of Western civilisation. He applauded Mr. Sheridan’s conscientious study of the role of Christianity in our society, including interviews with political leaders from all persuasions on the impact of their Christian faith on their lives and work.

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.

Mr. Sheridan is the second speaker for the Ramsay Lecture Series this year, following last month’s address by former Australian of the Year and burns treatment pioneer Professor Fiona Wood. Other speakers to address the Centre have included economist and columnist Henry Ergas, internationally acclaimed author David Malouf, historian Geoffrey Blainey, sociologist Professor John Carroll, and Dr Pano Kanelos, President of St John’s College Annapolis.

Printed versions of the lectures and video podcasts are available via the ‘News and Events’ section of our website:

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098.

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26 March 2019

National living treasure Fiona Wood delivers first Ramsay Lecture for 2019

Sydney, Tuesday 19 March 2019: What is the impact of western science on today’s society? That’s the question world-renowned burns surgeon and former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Wood pondered this evening as she delivered the first Ramsay Lecture for 2019.

Speaking to an audience of high school and university students, medical professionals, journalists, business people and political leaders, Professor Wood argued that despite science’s significant and undeniable benefits, we need to pause and consider what we want science to achieve.

“I witness lives changing in an instant and I strive to bring to the bedside all that modern, or western, science and technology has to offer to reduce suffering,” Professor Wood said. “It is in this context that I am optimistic about the role science plays in our lives. However, I also believe we need to stand back and look at our history to understand and acknowledge the foundations upon which this is all built. As we look to outer space, we need our feet on the ground to consider the impact of our scientific advances on our society.”

Professor Wood, a consultant plastic surgeon from Western Australia, is best known for pioneering the innovative ‘spray-on skin technique’ focusing on reducing the time to healing and life-long scarring in burns survivors, a technique now used world-wide. She is also regarded as a national hero for her work on burns survivors from the 2002 Bali Bombings.

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines said the great story of western medicine is one we often take for granted, whether it be progress in Fiona’s area of burns, disease eradication, infant mortality, immunization, dentistry and infection control, or the more general truth that we live longer and far more comfortable lives than human beings ever have before.

“As a medical pioneer herself, Professor Wood is in a unique position to analyse the impact western science has had and might continue to have on all the cultures and societies of the world,” Professor Haines said.

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.

Professor Wood is the first medical professional and scientist to address the Centre. Her address following lectures last year by economist and columnist Henry Ergas, internationally acclaimed author David Malouf, historian Geoffrey Blainey, sociologist Professor John Carroll, and Dr Pano Kanelos, President of St John’s College Annapolis.

Printed versions of the lectures and video podcasts are available via the ‘News and Events’ section of our website:
Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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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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25 March 2019

To blame Ramsay for Christchurch atrocity is facile vilification

By Simon Haines
March 25, 2019 — 12.00am

The tragedy in Christchurch has understandably produced a variety of responses, most of them characterised by horror at the appalling evil inflicted on innocent people at prayer. But there was opportunism and cynicism too. The massacre was enlisted in the continuing campaign to prevent the University of Sydney entering a partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Nick Riemer has been a vocal critic of this partnership since it was first mooted. To date his principal argument has been that the goals of the centre are an exercise in white triumphalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. The centre seeks, through partnering with universities in creating “great books” programs, to encourage a holistic and balanced understanding of the civilisation which has done so much to shape the world in which we live.

Last week Riemer went much further. He wrote in a column in these pages that “this is all the more reason to reflect on how the Ramsay curriculum validates the world view behind the massacre”. That is a truly extraordinary claim and it should be emphatically rejected, even by others who for whatever reason oppose a partnership between the centre and University of Sydney.

We have all been shocked by the terrible slaughter in New Zealand. Our responses should be compassionate and measured. The victims should be mourned, and those who have lost loved ones comforted. There is a special obligation to avoid the type of sordid political point-scoring that emerges in the Riemer column. By all means attack the Ramsay Centre. That is one of those priceless rights we have been given by our civilisation. But don’t smear its proponents with the monstrous claim that what they seek, in some way, prompted the murder of 50 innocent people.

The Ramsay Centre’s speaker program also came under scrutiny. This program is completely separate from our university partnerships. It is a varied program and includes individuals from different backgrounds who have in common interesting and sometimes controversial things to say about different aspects of Western civilisation.

We have heard from a novelist, a historian, a sociologist, a medical scientist, a columnist and a university president, and will hear from other highly credentialled academics and authors this year. None of them is speaking to us from a party-political perspective. Several of them, however, are well known public figures who run their own commentaries on current events, as they have every right to do. We would urge readers to look carefully for themselves at the credentials and comments of our speakers before trusting the distorting and tendentious snippets offered by Riemer and others.

We and our close friends across the Tasman are fortunate in that we can rely on one of the great pillars of Western civilisation, the rule of law and our justice systems, to ensure that the perpetrator of the dreadful crime in Christchurch is brought to justice.
Meanwhile, our cherished freedoms, including those of religion and speech, which need to be respected at all times, are especially important in such crises as this, when they are most under pressure. This is not a time for facile and irresponsible vilification.

Professor Simon Haines is the chief executive officer of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald – click here to read the full article here

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27 February 2019

Cross-disciplinary path to broader learning

Integrated great books programs fill a major gap

There have been various reactions to the idea of Ramsay Centre funded degree programs getting a foothold in our universities. At first glance the most sensible argument against a new program focused on the great books of the West is that our universities already teach many of these books and epochs.

What need is there then for a specific degree in Western civilisation? After all, as Dirk Moses, professor of modern history at Sydney University, has said, the content of European culture is the default mode of Western universities.

This is certainly true of most of our major universities, most of the time. Homer, Virgil, the Bible, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Locke, de Tocqueville, Nietzsche, Marx, Mill, Freud – all usually find a place in various departments.

Shakespeare is studied in the English department and Plato’s Republic may still even be read in its entirety in some philosophy departments. Homer and Virgil will appear in the classics syllabus, and Machiavelli and de Tocqueville will no doubt be found over in the history and politics departments, while the Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral may well feature in the school of art history, and Don Giovanni in a school of music.

What you will not find, however, in any university in Australia, is a program that attempts to integrate these works into a coherent whole.

There are no integrated, chronologically ordered programs in our major universities that require students to read great works across the disciplines of history, literature, politics, philosophy, psychology, religion and science, and to be immersed in art, architecture and music from that chronological history of thought, beliefs and practices.

This is a major gap in our research-oriented, disciplinarybased university system that desperately needs to be filled. This is where integrated great books programs come in.

One argument against such courses is that they are too general in their focus. For some specialists, the idea that Cervantes doesn’t just belong to students in the Spanish department, or the Old Testament to students studying religion and Hebrew, is anathema. The university, as they conceive it, is principally a place for specialised knowledge and research.

But this is contrary to the best tradition of liberal education, which seeks to initiate students into a broad awareness and critical appreciation of their own cultural heritage across disciplinary boundaries.

At the oldest English universities, this ideal survives in the advice often given to students that they should attend the best classes at university, across the various schools, irrespective of the degree for which they are reading.

In the US, a different and more coherent attempt to realise the vision of a broad education emerged in the 20th century with the rise of the Great Books movement championed by John Erskine, Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins. This gave rise to the Columbia core curriculum and was the inspiration for “the new program” at St John’s College, Annapolis, among dozens if not hundreds of other great books programs across the country.

Today, all students who graduate from Columbia College have read Homer’s Iliad, Sappho’s lyrics, Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars, Plato’s Republic, the Bible, the Koran, Luther’s Preface to Romans, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Darwin’s Origin of Species, Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, among so many other works. In addition, they have all studied the major movements of Western art, architecture, music and science.

Unfortunately, the same level of broad cultural literacy cannot be assumed in most students graduating from a single Australian university, not even in those emerging from humanities faculties.

This is not only detrimental to an Australian student’s understanding and critical engagement with the riches and complexities of Western thought, art and political practices. It also slows down their progress in the studies they do undertake.

Moses has argued that many teachers in the humanities are today “deeply concerned about students’ cultural literacy. It is a brave new world teaching, say, European history, to students with little or no knowledge of Western intellectual and cultural traditions, the Bible, literature and history.” To help rectify this, Moses says he would welcome extending the great books program at his own institution, the University of Sydney, which currently covers only a small number of texts and is available to only a select group of students.

There is no reason why universities generally cannot look at practical ways of making such programs available to all students, including those outside the humanities and social sciences.

Isn’t it eminently desirable that the next generation of doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, town planners and computer programmers have a broad cross-disciplinary grounding in the humanities?

As Google outreach manager Sally-Ann Williams said a few years ago in these pages, some insights and innovations are “only possible at the intersection of disciplines”. Great books programs allow the disciplines, in a very immediate way, to speak to each other, and for students to join the conversation.

And they proclaim loudly that no single discipline – whether in the humanities, social sciences, computer sciences or hard sciences – has a monopoly on the truth.

To problem-solve in a dynamic world, we need the agility that comes with being conversant with multiple perspectives across the humanities and sciences.

Such programs need not be as large as the proposed 12-16 course Ramsay-funded program, which – large though it is – still leaves room for an outside major, in Asian or indigenous studies, for example, or a second degree (in law, for instance, or engineering).

A six-course program, focusing on some seminal books, science, art, architecture and music from the ancient to the modern worlds, would be straightforward enough to establish, and would comprise at most a quarter of a standard threeyear degree, still leaving plenty of room for specialisations and professional qualifications.

Such programs would bring together students and teachers from across the university, providing them with a common enterprise and a core body of humane learning, irrespective of their own chosen specialisations. This knowledge belongs to them all.

Private philanthropy could be sought for the running of such programs. With gifted teachers devoted to Socratic class discussion drawn from across the university – who, like those in the Columbia core, would necessarily teach as generalists rather than specialists – the sky is the limit.

Anyone who has taught in such a program – or has seen them in action at places like St John’s and Columbia – knows how exciting and rewarding they can be for all involved.

Stephen McInerney is the executive officer (academic) at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

The Australian, by  Stephen McInerney

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13 February 2019

Ramsay degree fast-tracked for 2020

The University of Wollongong yesterday became the first in Australia to begin marketing a Ramsay Centre-sponsored degree in Western civilisation, promising a start date next year after fast-tracking the degree through the university’s approval process.

Details of the Western civilisation degree went up on the university’s website last night, along with a slew of endorsements that Wollongong has obtained from internationally recognised scholars.

Vice-chancellor Paul Wellings defended the decision to fast-track the approval of the course via a clause in the university’s course and subject approval procedures, which allow him to green-light a new course if certain conditions are met. It bypasses the usual ­scrutiny by the university’s academic senate.

Professor Wellings said it had been important to complete the approval process for the degree quickly because of the tight timetable to complete the prospectus and course materials, advertise to potential students, select the 30 scholarship holders, and be ready to launch in 2020.

The Western civilisation degree met the criteria for fast-tracking, he said, because it was financially sustainable (being underpinned by Ramsay Centre funding) and was academically ­coherent (which was attested to by internationally recognised scholars).

“Both those two tests are met and those are the main criteria,” he said. “We’ve used a perfectly normal pathway for the university.”

Professor Wellings said he had signed on a number of similar fast-tracked course approvals in the past two years.

Last night the university also released its signed memorandum of understanding with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which will fund the degree.

The MoU avoids the academic freedom issue that derailed the Ramsay Centre’s ­negotiations last year for a Western civilisation degree at the Australian National University.

ANU said then that the Ramsay Centre had declined to commit itself to the “principles of academic freedom”.

Professor Wellings said the issue of academic freedom had “not really” come up in Wollongong’s talks with the centre. The Ramsay MoU was consistent with other similar agreements, he said.

“There’s nothing in that MoU with the Ramsay Centre which is exceptional in any way. I don’t recall any other MoU which I have signed which has ever mentioned academic freedom,” he said.

Wollongong’s executive dean who will oversee the new course, Theo Farrell, said a provision in the MoU that permitted visits from Ramsay Centre representatives to observe the classes, inspect facilities and attend social functions underlined the academic independence of the degree from the centre. “Visits will be for observation and social functions — not for any formal teaching evaluation — so they will not impede UoW’s academic independence,” Professor Farrell said.

The MoU also provides for two qualified academics nominated by the Ramsay Centre to sit on selection panels to hire staff to teach the new degree.

Professor Wellings said the Ramsay representatives would be in a minority. “It’s not uncommon for universities to have people from outside their institutions in the appointment process,” he said.

The 30 students to be selected annually for a $27,000-a-year scholarship for the Western civilisation degree will be chosen by a panel that will include representation from the Ramsay Centre as well as university academic staff and other nominated representatives, according to the MoU.

When the course is fully up and running, the Ramsay Centre will pay for 10 academic staff and two support staff, as well as 30 student scholarships commencing every year, at a cost of about $7.5 million annually.

Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article


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13 February 2019

Lively journey across western ideas and art

The University of Wollongong says its new Ramsay Centre-sponsored bachelor degree in Western civilisation is inspired by the idea of a conversation in which: “Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak (their) mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined.”

The 1952 quote, from American philosopher Robert Hutchins, is cited by the university in the material released last night on its website to promote the new ­degree.

It says in the document on curriculum design that the course will take students on “on a chronologically ordered philosophical adventure through the major periods and epochs of intellectual and artistic change in the West”.

“At each stage of their journey, students will engage first-hand with exemplary masterpieces of Western thought, art and architecture (and) bring them into dialogue with the some of the greatest exemplars of non-Western traditions,” the university says.

Students will take 16 core subjects, including a capstone unit on Australian democracy, as well as doing a major selected from a list including: archeology and ancient history; creative writing; languages; history; indigenous studies; sociology; English literature; philosophy; politics; international relations; and global sustainable development.

The students can also choose to pair the course with another to do a double degree, or do honours in Western civilisation to help them develop more advanced research and critical thinking skills.

The university is at pains to make clear that Western civilisation students will “be introduced to non-Western and under-represented voices and perspectives”.

“To take one example, students will be exposed to alternative readings of Western classics, such as Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls (2018), which is lauded as an outstanding feminist retelling of the Iliad,” the curriculum design document says.

The university says it has taken inspiration from Yale-NUS, the liberal arts college in Singapore that is a collaboration between Yale and the National University of Singapore.

At Yale-NUS “students study not only Plato and Aristotle but also, in the same course, Confucius and the Buddha — and ask why their systems of ethics might be similar or different,” the University of Wollongong says. “They study the Odyssey and the Ramayana. They examine the ‘primitivisms’ of Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso while also looking at the woodcarvings from the South Sea islands and the ukiyo-e tradition of Japanese woodblock prints that influenced Western artists.”

The university says that, despite the course’s focus on Western thought and art, it also “initiates well-placed, high-quality conversations” on non-Western traditions in half of its 16 core units.

It also argues that the new degree is “inherently cross-disciplinary”, combining elements of study of the classics, literature and philosophy. And the university points out that students can, if they choose, take something non-Western in a double degree.

Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article  here



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6 February 2019

Professor Ann Brewer joins Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Board


I am honoured to accept the appointment to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Board.

One key value of Western civilisation is its openness to interaction between civilisations, and absorbing ideas and languages from outside itself, resulting in its principles and benefits that transcend the West and are highly relevant for the contemporary world today.

The pedagogical foundation of the Great Books approach (literature known well beyond the ‘West’) is transdisciplinary, transcultural and timeless. It requires students to engage actively and independently in their thinking. As the concept of disruption takes hold in both its positive and negative ways, this approach is highly relevant for innovation, entrepreneurship and applying wisdom in any field of pursuit. It builds capability for independence of mind, reflection and most importantly, the capability to question.

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/



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6 February 2019

Professor Ann Brewer joins Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Board – Statement from Chairman


On behalf of The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation board, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Ann Brewer as a non-executive director, effective immediately.

Professor Brewer is a senior leader in the University sector. Currently Dean of the University of Newcastle’s Sydney campus, she has also had a distinguished career at the University of Sydney. From 2004-2014 she was Sydney’s longest-serving Deputy Vice-Chancellor; from 2004-2016 she held an Honorary Professorship in its Faculty of Education; and in 2001 she was Acting Head of its School of Business. 

An academic researcher of long-standing, Professor Brewer has a Doctor of Philosophy, and Master of Commerce (Honours) from UNSW; and a BA (Behavioural Science) from Macquarie University. She has authored eight books and more than 50 publications in journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.

Professor Brewer has also served on numerous boards including New South Wales (NSW) Division Council; Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation; Music and Opera Singers Trust; the Westmead Millennium Institute and the Law Extension Committee, University of Sydney.

Professor Brewer is an accomplished University leader, passionate about higher education and providing world-class educational opportunities for the next generation.

She is an outstanding addition to the board and we will benefit greatly from her knowledge and insights into the tertiary education sector, as well as her broad business and organisational mindset, and leadership skills.

About The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation:

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 appreciation of western civilisation through the creation of university degrees, Ramsay Scholarships, summer schools and public lectures.

 The Centre recently announced a partnership with the University of Wollongong to deliver a Bachelor degree starting in 2020.

 Professor Brewer’s appointment expands the Board to ten directors.

 For more information on the centre please visit the website:

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/




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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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23 January 2019

Why I joined the Ramsay Centre, timeless issues are to the fore

Dr Michael Easson AM, writes why he joined the Ramsay Centre Board.

The Ramsay Centre is in the headlines again with news about the discussions with the University of Queensland on a major in western civilisation studies as an option in the university’s Bachelor of Arts degree. UQ intends to run a course which would teach text about the impact of the West on Aboriginal people.

This comes after an agreement with the University of Wollongong to host the first Ramsay Centre Bachelor of Arts on Western Civilisation was announced in December.

In November I joined the Centre’s board, replacing Kim Beazley. When made aware of this development, some ask: “Why Ramsay?” as if the idea of a person generally identified as centre left must be turning hues of deep blue to join this board.

I joined because its ideals are worth supporting.

The Ramsay Board Charter states its objective: “to advance education by promoting studies and discussion associated with the establishment and development of western civilisation, including through establishing scholarship funds and educational courses in partnership with universities”.

The words “studies and discussion” requires that anything offered, a great-books course for example, must be inspired by a critical spirit. Always the aim is to interrogate, debate, consider what is living and dead and worth commemorating, rejecting, and/or assimilating. To have even a passing acquaintance with “the canons of western thought” is to realise how minds, books, philosophy, opinions differ.

In an era when funding for Arts faculties in major universities is severely constrained, where some respected Departments are closing (recently the University of Newcastle announced a decision to no longer offer discrete philosophy subjects) a credible organisation prepared to fund courses is prima facie extremely important and worthwhile.

Much turns on the credibility of what is offered. Within any Board there will be differing opinions, but it is the overall consensus that matters. Not that this is foolproof. Sadly, we know that some Boards are stoked on their own juices of self-admiration, insularity, and complacency. But on the Ramsay Centre Board, there are no shrinking violets. Debate is fun. And within Ramsay, frankly, we have learnt lessons on how to better engage respectfully and collegially with those academics and institutions we hope to work with. There is no prescriptive formula that we promote.

There is high calibre academic credibility underpinning the Centre. Professor Simon Haines, the CEO, is steeped in academic laurels, in a variety of fields. Dr Stephen McInerney, Executive Officer, Academic, is an accomplished scholar in literature, including Australian poetry. I back their judgement and sensitivity to any concerns about academic integrity.

Of course Universities must ensure they are independent and fearlessly uphold the principles underpinning academic freedom, rigorous teaching and debating. Universities exist to seek truth, wherever that leads. Bertrand Russell in his On Education says that even “Utilitarian knowledge needs to be fructified by disinterested investigation, which has no motive beyond the desire to understand the world better.”

Yet many Arts faculties in Australia are starved of funds, reducing courses and scholarship. Surely it is not beyond our wits to marry the ideals of Ramsay with the needs of students, present and future, to learn and consider the works of past epochs.

The China scholar and essayist, the late Pierre Ryckmans, a former Professor at two of Australia’s great universities, wrote in his essay “Do We Need Universities?” that: “The question asked is never whether a university worthy of the name ought to teach certain subjects, but what subjects are most likely to attract larger enrolments.”

He went on to say: “The spurious relationship invoked to justify subordinating the general design of the scholarly activities of the university to mere figures of student enrolments is not only asinine, it is also deeply corrupting. It reduces the university to the level of an unseemly caravanserai, an incoherent soukh, a bazaar where a thousand wares are spread haphazardly, while the scholars themselves are turned into peddlars, touts and pimps, desperately competing to hustle a few more suckers.”

In contrast, Ramsay in collaboration with scholars and their universities can add to the diversity and richness of the tertiary education experience. This is an opportunity to re-invigorate the humanities and equip students and staff with much needed resources so universities can better concentrate on scholarship and teaching.

The Ramsay Centre’s mission is not political and it is “caricature” to say a particular ideological world-view is promoted. There are conservatives, liberals and social democrats on the Ramsay Centre board. Yet it would be false to say, despite benign intentions, that no impact is intended.

One of the characters in David Lodge’s novel Nice Work laments that: “Poststructuralist theory is a very intriguing philosophical game for very clever players. But the irony of teaching it to young people… about the arbitrariness of the signifier in week three of their first year becomes in the end too painful to bear.”

Because of cuts and the way resources are allocated, in a myriad of ways, many students are not taught the basics of texts and scholarship and encounter fewer primary texts than students of a previous era.

When I first attended university, in first year Philosophy, the Socratic Dialogues and Logic were taught, as basic foundations for learning to think, assess, and rationalise, for how to choose between competing ideas and values. The best teachers deployed classic works in interesting, provocative, and thoughtful ways to new generations of students.

Some (though only some) of the thinking underpinning Ramsay is inspired from Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, the set of common courses required of all undergraduates since 1919. The communal learning entails a series of small, discussion-based seminars exploring foundational texts, enduring documents and exemplary experiments in literature, philosophy, music, history, art, writing, science. This is one of the founding experiments in liberal higher education in the United States and thrives on debate on difficult questions about human experience. Ramsay hopes this can be emulated in Australia.

When John Howard invited me to join Ramsay I gave him a book by the late Professor of Classics at Yale University, Bernard Knox, humanist and old lefty. (He fought against the Falangist side in the Spanish Civil War). Knox’s The Oldest Dead White European Males and other Reflections on the Classics (1991) is the book I gifted. Knox considered some of the criticisms of any study of western civilisation.

The ancient Greeks, the subject of Knox’s polemic, are alien to us: with their slaves, subservient women, and ideas of bloodlust that are hard to fathom. Yet, as Knox said, they also “…invented political theory, rhetoric, biology, zoology, the atomic theory… they created in the restless turbulence of their tiny city-states that impatient rhythm of competition and innovation that has been the distinguishing characteristic of Western civilisation ever since.”

This is not to particularly celebrate anything; for scholarship and study involves thinking, understanding, and contesting. As Knox says of Plato: “In his ideal states, both the rigidly controlled nightmare of the Republic and the slightly less stifling bad dream of the Laws, the basic materials of the humanities, poetry, philosophy, history, and the arts are either expelled bag and baggage or else forced to sing an official song to please the censors.”

Understanding the ancients is not merely to contemplate angry pale dead men. Timeless issues are up for debate.

Ancient literature is certainly eye opening, and it has a wonderful capacity to make us re-examine many of our modern assumptions. Emily Katz Anhalt argues in her recent book, Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths, that some Greek myths exposed the dangers of violent rage, but also the need for empathy and self-restraint. Homer’s Iliad, Euripides’ Hecuba, and Sophocles’ Ajax show that anger and vengeance destroy perpetrators and victims alike. Such stories point to violent revenge as a marker of illogical thinking and poor leadership. Subversively, she suggests that by promoting compassion, rational thought, and debate, some Greek myths help to arm us against the tyrants we might serve and the tyrants we might become.

What Ramsay wants to achieve is this: through the study of works of classic significance the great questions are illuminated: What does it mean to be human? What is the good life – and the good society? What are the limits to individual loyalty to the state? And limits to human exploitation of the universe? As Knox remarks, “These questions and others like them are what the humanities have been asking ever since they first took shape in Athens.”

Through study, in Knox’s words again, this can “prepare the young mind for the momentous choices, the critical decisions which face our world today.”

Far from being a businessman’s fantasy to subvert universities to a narrow frame of thinking, the Ramsay Centre is a radical endeavour to invigorate a non-utilitarian spirit of fearless scholarship. That’s why I joined.

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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

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 




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17 December 2018

Ramsay Centre and University of Wollongong sign Memorandum of Understanding


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  –

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14 December 2018

Henry Ergas – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday November 27 Henry Ergas, economist, columnist and author delivered the fifth lecture in the Ramsay Centre Distinguished Speakers series 2018. The title of his lecture was “Can Columnists be Civilised?”


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25 September 2018

Dr Pano Kanelos – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday September 18, Dr Pano Kanelos, President of St John’s College, Annapolis, delivered the fourth lecture in the Ramsay Centre Distinguished Speakers series 2018. The title of his lecture was “Liberal Education in the Age of I”.

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29 August 2018

John Carroll – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday August 21, John Carroll Professor Emeritus of Sociology at La Trobe University delivered the third lecture in the Ramsay Centre Distinguished Speakers Series 2018.  The title of his lecture was “The politicisation of the western canon”


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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

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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

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31 May 2018

David Malouf – Distinguished Speaker

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”


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22 May 2018

David Malouf speaks at Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation

Sydney, Tuesday 22 May 2018: Internationally acclaimed author David Malouf will today deliver an address on the voice of women in ancient Greek drama at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Mr. Malouf said, “It is a great honour to be invited to speak at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. The contribution of the Ancient Greeks to our civilizational heritage is extraordinary and continuing. Western Civilisation is a blend of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the classical tradition.   For close to one thousand years, the classical voice was largely silent in the West but with the Renaissance, it re-emerged and is now the dominant voice – a voice open to experiment, a postulation open to argument.   What fascinates me about the voice of women in Ancient Greek drama is how they are given key statements; how critical they are of men and of the world in which they live,” Mr. Malouf said.

CEO of The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Professor Simon Haines said, “Mr. Malouf is a very fine writer and has made a lifelong contribution to Australian letters which includes nine novels, five collections of short stories, nine collections of poetry, four libretti, a play, a memoir and a number of essays. His talk today on the voice of women in ancient Greek drama perfectly illustrates the ongoing relevance of Western Civilisation to contemporary Australian writers.”

Chairman of the Board of the Ramsay Centre, the Honourable John Howard OM AC, 25th Prime Minister of Australia said, “It is terrific to have someone of Mr. Malouf’s stature speaking at the Ramsay Centre and underlines the Centre’s commitment to nurturing a greater appreciation of the many ways in which Western Civilisation enriches the lives of Australians.”

Board member and Principal of Queenwood Elizabeth Stone said, “David Malouf has made a wonderful contribution to Australian literature which has enriched the learning of many generations of Australian students who have come to know and love his work through the senior high school curriculum. It is a terrific privilege to have him speak at the Ramsay Centre.”

Board member of the Ramsay Centre and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “It’s an honour to have David Malouf speak at the Ramsay Centre and emphasizes the way in which we want the Centre to bring together Australians from many different perspectives.”

Mr. Malouf is the second speaker in the Ramsay Centre’s 2018 Distinguished Speaker series following on from the inaugural address by Professor Geoffrey Blainey in April. The Centre for was created with an endowment from the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care, to promote a deeper appreciation of Western civilisation through the creation of university degrees, scholarships, summer schools and public lectures.

Media Contact: Rebecca Weisser 0438 645 562


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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.  

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24 April 2018

Prof Geoffrey Blainey – Distinguished Speaker

On Wednesday 4 April 2018, 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’.

Video:         Glass Ballot Box, Australia, the World Powers, and Democracy

















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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.

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4 April 2018

John Howard and Geoffrey Blainey to open Ramsay Centre building

John Howard and Geoffrey Blainey to open Ramsay Centre building

Sydney, Wednesday 4 April 2018: Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC will today deliver the inaugural lecture at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation to mark the opening of its new building by the Honourable John Howard OM AC, 25th Prime Minister of Australia.

Former Prime Minister John Howard said, “Professor Blainey is one of Australia’s greatest historians. He has made an enormous contribution to the intellectual life of this nation and internationally. I cannot think of a better person to give the inaugural lecture at the Ramsay Centre.”

Professor Blainey said, “I am slightly nervous but very pleased to be giving this inaugural lecture. It is important that we understand the vital role that Western Civilisation has played in the growth of our nation, as well as the contribution Australians have made to the advancement of Western Civilisation.”

Board member of the Ramsay Centre and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “It’s an honour to have Professor Blainey speak at the opening of the new Ramsay Centre building. Professor Blainey has dedicated his life’s work to promoting a better understanding of Australian and world history, all of which is vital to the work of the Ramsay Centre.”

Board member and Principal of Queenwood, Elizabeth Stone said, “Western Civilisation is one of the great world civilisations. Crucial modern values – human rights, rule of law, the scientific method, freedom of speech – were developed over centuries of trial and error and now benefit all Australians. New challenges require further evolution so rigorous, scholarly examination through the work of the Centre is both essential and timely.”

CEO of The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Professor Simon Haines said, “The opening of the Centre building comes at an auspicious moment. For some months, we have been engaged in detailed discussions with the Australian National University regarding a new undergraduate degree in Western Civilisation. We hope to make an announcement about those talks in the very near future.”

Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Blainey, AC, FAHA, FASSA has published 40 books, held chairs in history and economic history in Australia and was a visiting professor at Harvard University. He has been awarded the Britannica Award for the dissemination of knowledge and is a Companion of the order of Australia. He will speak on the subject of Australian Democracy and Western Civilisation.

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 appreciation of Western civilisation through the creation of university degrees, Ramsay Scholarships, summer schools and public lectures.

Media Contact: Emma-Kate Bos 0414 445 453

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Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it"
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