News & Events

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

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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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12 June 2018

Message from the CEO

Since the Centre and its possible partnerships with universities to create a new degree have been much in the news, we thought you might find it interesting to see what students might encounter in the degree. Go to the indicative curriculum page on this website to see what sort of courses might be offered, subject to university approval processes. Our letter of invitation to potential partners in October 2017 set out an indicative curriculum and the one you see reflects in many of its details the responses we received.  

Also you can read on our website a long list of the kinds of questions we regularly get asked by interested students (of all ages!): go to Frequently Asked Questions.

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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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9 June 2018

Our universities recoil at how the West has won- Editorial

If we believe the “long march through the institutions” has been successful then it follows that any pushback is going to encounter resistance. That, in essence, is what is happening as the Australian National University rejects a study and scholarship proposal from the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and other university faculties prepare to erect the barricades. The episode is a sad indictment on the politicisation of academic institutions and a clear demonstration of just why self-made healthcare and media billionaire Paul Ramsay came to believe such a project would be so vital. Without doubt it is being opposed because it seeks broadly to be in favour of Western civilisation rather than to be ambivalent or antipathetic. This might not be too much to ask from any Western university or, indeed, any institution vaguely familiar with human history and the prosperity, systems and liberties that have been developed. It should almost go without saying that this does not and cannot mean any consideration of Western civilisation should be uncritical — that would be absurd. But it ought not be too much to expect that any organisation aiming to deal in intelligent inquiry can recognise the trend of progress in arts and literature, politics and democracy, academia and innovation, as well as many other spheres.

Certainly, while supporting the stated aims of the Ramsay centre, The Weekend Australian understands the need for academic freedom. Yet it seems incomprehensible that a suitable arrangement could not have been struck; indeed, our understanding is that the draft agreement ensured the ANU would have a majority on the selection panel and therefore a veto power over academic appointments. This would be similar to arrangements for other donor-sponsored programs and grant the fail-safe provision required. It seems likelier, on the evidence available, that the ANU and its vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, cowered in the face of strident and politically motivated opposition from student activists and the academic union. Now we have seen staff at the University of Sydney launch a pre-emptive strike against the centre. Led by activist academics who support odious campaigns such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, they oppose the centre because it has connections to people who have been active in the Liberal Party (never mind it includes ALP figures on its board, too) and they claim it will push a chauvinistic view about a “European supremacism”. This is jejune, even undergraduate, behaviour and it tends to underscore exactly the sort of capitulation to superficiality and green-left activism that the Ramsay centre aims to guard against in the ongoing contest of ideas.

Some well-meaning observers, in our pages and elsewhere, suggest it is just too difficult to change the ways or overcome the jaundice of universities and that, to achieve its aims, the Ramsay centre ought to establish itself as an independent institution or in cahoots with a private university. This would be a surrender to those who seek to use our publicly funded universities for their own ideological ends. The great universities of Australia should do better than this; they must become truly pluralistic academies mindful of their heritage and responsibilities, and capable of hosting a centre on Western civilisation without recoiling and becoming bastions of resistance.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

 

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8 June 2018

ANU must enlighten us on a strange decision – Editorial

What kind of society undermines itself like this? Our top academic institution the Australian National University has killed off the planned Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation where academics and students would study the founding ideas behind our own civilisation, funded from a bequest by the late healthcare pioneer Paul Ramsay, one of Australia’s greatest entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt says only that the terms cut across the university’s “autonomy”. But that’s wholly inadequate when it’s clear that there was also noisy pressure from the academics union and the ANU student association to dump the plan on grounds it was there to promote “a radical conservative agenda”. Former prime minister Tony Abbott who sits on the Ramsay centre’s board indeed inflamed things by saying that the Centre would be “in favour” of Western civilisation. But, apart from the knee-jerk opposition, in what weird world is that a bad thing? Being broadly in favour of Western Enlightenment values such as individual freedom, representative democracy, private property rights and equality before the law – now regardless of race, gender or sexuality – does not preclude criticising its historical or contemporary lapses.

For the full editorial see the AFR

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The goal toward which Western society moves is the Civilization of the Dialogue. The spirit of Western civilization is the spirit of inquiry…. Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak his mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined. "
- Robert Maynard Hutchins