News & Events

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: www.ramsaycentre.org

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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History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce"
- Karl Marx