It seems that the academic left in Australia, the same New Class left that captured the Australian Labor Party and the union movement during the years of Gough Whitlam’s leadership and have only cemented their power since, has emerged yet again to take a stand against the Ramsay Centre’s plan for a university degree on Western Civilisation.
The Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, took to the pages of the Australian newspaper last Friday to castigate the left-wing academic unionists at the ANU who rallied to “deny Australia’s history and culture, including freedom of speech that’s supposed be a facet of our universities.” Unfortunately, he showed an appalling lack of knowledge of the fundamental difference between culture, history and what Western civilisation actually meant.
The Left’s rejection of a course on Western Civilisation cannot be called ironic, despite their belief that their theories are essentially those of the second last chapter of Western political philosophy. It’s not ironic because the Left, in drawing on Nietzsche’s nihilistic existentialism, attempt to harness the theoretical horses of the two greatest tyrannies of all time, Communism and Nazism, to their tiny chariot, blissfully ignorant of the opposing evils to which the horses draw them.
The problem that the Ramsay Centre has is that it does not appear to have anyone who actually understands that the essence of Western Civilisation is the capacity to judge between civilised and barbarian nations and that is a distinction that can only be made by gentlemen.
If the ANU recruits British academics, even those from Oxbridge, it would result in a course that was little different from what is already available here in Australia and which produces such outstanding sociological scholarship as Safe Schools. Australian universities, like their British counterparts, are captives of the twin methodologies of positivism and historicism. The former assumes that all moral choices are subjective and incapable of objective proof which contradicts the express purpose of Western Civilisation; the latter assumes that all moral values are relative to their time, an assumption which logically leads to nihilism and the complete repudiation of Western Civilisation.
The Western Civilisation course which the Ramsay Centre proposes was once known as a liberal education, an education in literacy and books which cultivated an open-mindedness, freeing a person from false opinions. In his 1959 lecture, What is Liberal Education, Professor Leo Strauss explained both the purpose and the meaning of a liberal education: that it consists in studying with the proper care the great books which the greatest minds have left behind. He explains that “Liberal education is the antidote to mass culture and to its corroding effects” which explains in part why it is so hated by the left. Anything which examines the premises of their lifestyle is a danger to their existence.
When Strauss states that an education in the great books is “a study in which the more experienced pupils assist the less experienced pupils, including the beginners” he is cautioning of the need for a certain kind of teacher, one who is a product of a liberal education. The dangers inherent when recruiting for such a course are highlighted by the Ramsay decision to allow the ANU, which has never previously offered a liberal education course, to recruit the teachers. The left in the United States has openly attacked the liberally educated, especially those men and women who were students of Strauss.
A liberal education is only available in America and only in a small number of campuses. Recruiting competent staff from there will be difficult if the university is unable to distinguish those who claim to have studied the great books and those whose constant intercourse with the greatest minds, shows as the highest form of modesty, not to say of humility.
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