While I am disappointed that the men of Ramsay Street, Tony Abbott and his Neighbour, John Howard… sorry, the Ramsay Centre – it has become a bit of a soap opera – do not respond to the implicit criticism that they receive from the uninformed at the various universities, even those stupid enough to believe that journalism can be taught, I am not surprised. Those living on Ramsay Street do not know why a properly taught course in Western Civilisation would benefit students and what is worse, they won’t admit their problem and ask for assistance.
Anyone who thinks of Oxford University as the epitome of learning has, to borrow LBJ’s analogy, done too much boxing without a helmet. Oxford is a Cathedral city. It was a Cathedral City and the centre of English intellectual excellence in the seventeenth century when John Locke, the English philosopher was there. If we are considered free and equal today, we owe a debt of gratitude to Locke who also was responsible for the English Bill of Rights. The fact that it was once, and still is, a cathedral city is the only thing the two Oxfords have in common.
People still visit Oxford. Some go there to study subjects like sociology; others to view the ancient buildings with their ivy-covered walls. The facade remains, but the substance vanished in the nineteenth century. The intellectual problem facing universities is one of methodology. Positivism, the methodology of science with the faux distinction between facts and values, has poisoned the university well from which British students have drunk since the nineteenth century.
The men of Ramsay Street, sorry, Centre, announced that they intended to dig a new well filled with liberal arts water; but if those who raise the chalice so students can drink carry the same poison, the deadening effect on students will be the same.
The Australian newspaper on Friday compared the ANU course material for Western civilisation and rightly concluded that it was nothing like the great books course that Ramsay wanted to offer. In the process of that article, the author referred to the great books course being taught at the St John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. If you want to hear a scholar who spent 57 years teaching at St John’s, explain the College’s great books course and the benefits that a liberal arts education bestows on its students, you can listen to Professor Eva Brann’s podcast here.
Or reflect on the scholarship that Joe Sachs brought to his students at St Johns College. Professor Sachs has made literal translations of many of Aristotle’s works, including his Politics, Nicomachean Ethics, On the Soul, Physics and his Metaphysics; as well as a translation of Homer’s Odyssey, each with its own interpretive essays and notes. Why literal translations? Because the student should be allowed to read what and understand what Aristotle or Plato or any philosopher said and meant without the translator inserting his own ideas into the works.
St John’s College coursework for a Masters of Liberal Arts can be viewed here and includes the following topics: Politics & Society; Philosophy and Theology; Mathematics & Natural Science; Literature; and History. By way of an example, the reading list for the Politics & Society Segment includes the following works:
- Plutarch Lives of Lycurgus and Solon
- Plato Republic, I 327a-II 368c3
- Plato Republic, II 368c-IV 427c
- Plato Republic, IV 427d-VI 502c
- Plato Republic, VI 502d-VII
- Plato Republic, VIII-X
- Aristotle Politics, Book I, 1252a1-1260b24
- Aristotle Politics, Book III, 1274b30-1288b5
- Machiavelli The Prince, Dedicatory Letter and I-XIV
- Machiavelli The Prince, XV-XXVI
- Locke Second Treatise of Civil Government, I-X
- Locke Second Treatise of Civil Government, XI-XIX
- Rousseau Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (Second Discourse), First Part (Include the Letter of Dedication, the Preface and Rousseau’s notes to the First Part. Use an edition that includes the Frontispiece and all of Rousseau’s notes.)
- Rousseau Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (Second Discourse), Second Part (Include Rousseau’s notes to the Second Part)
- Marx The German Ideology, Part One (International Publishers Edition, pp. 35-95); “Theses on Feuerbach” (pp. 121-123); “Letter to Joseph Weydemeyer” (photocopy available in bookstore)
- Nietzsche On the Genealogy of Morals, Preface; First Essay: “Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad”; Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like.
The disappointing fact of Australian universities is that intellectual life has been crippled by either positivism, like English universities or historicism like German universities. Only the above liberal arts courses are capable of freeing the intellect from those two virtual prisons and as we have seen, the prison guards in the university are not about to readily give up the key.
If the purpose of the Ramsay Centre is to introduce such courses into Australian universities, it can almost be guaranteed that it will be unsuccessful, or it won’t be last. The best solution, yet, however, is the provision of scholarships for young men and women to study in the United States at Colleges like St Johns so that eventually, they might bring their knowledge back to Australia.
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