To study a History of Western Civiliastion? To better understand the world? Why? Has human thought advanced at all since Aristotle? Probably not. He advocated participatory democracy (without women) … we now have the lesser representative democracy (with some women) comprising politicians representing mainly the rich.
WBT publishes two articles, previously in SEMPER FLOREAT, one for and one against a Ramsay Centre for the study of Western Civilisation. I studied this in 1969 at University of Queensland. My essay on the 1917 Russian Revolution was marked down. Perhaps the marker did not think Russia was really part of Europe. Maybe it was only worth a credit. I don’t know?
I do know that the case for a Ramsay Centre is flawed because it is based on the notion that the powers that be at UQ will not permit the course to be an apology for conservative politics. In 1985 the University Senate gave Joh Bjlek-Petersen an honourary doctorate of law. The powers that be at the University of Qld cannot be trusted to uphold academic integrity. Here are the cases for and against a programme for western civilisation studies.
Should UQ accept a deal with the Ramsey Centre?
Against Ramsay by PRIYA DE
Student general meeting votes NO to the Ramsay Centre on May 29th 2019, 5 PM p.m. at the Schonell theatre
In 1943 a terrible famine struck West Bengal, the part of India I’m from. The British Raj didn’t know or care for the local agriculture. They demanded huge outputs of grain for export and eroded the soil. As people starved, the colonial state diverted food aid to British soldiers fighting in World War 2. At least three million Bengalis perished.
Winston Churchill said it was the Indian people’s fault for “breeding like rabbits”. You can understand why Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, quipped ‘it would be a good idea’.
Closer to home, in Purga, thirty minutes West of Brisbane, absent is even a single plaque acknowledging that violent missions once operated amongst the rolling hills. Indigenous people were interned, forced to perform unpaid labour, brutalised and exploited. Many were separated from their families. These monstrous facilities were designed to ‘smooth the dying pillow’. This instrument of genocide, justifying ‘Terra nullius’ post facto, is one pillar of Western Civilisation in Australia.
The architects of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation don’t like that this history of oppression (and resistance) is (occasionally) taught at university, or anywhere. They’re battlers for the conservatives, racists and bigots in the culture wars.
For years, the Liberal Party, the ‘brains’ behind the Ramsay Centre, has attempted to mould education to shape their political agenda. In 2014, then-Education Minister Christopher Pyne called a review into the national school curriculum. Pyne wanted students to learn more about ANZACs and the benefits of Western Civilisation, and nothing about colonisation. The. Ramsay Centre is, conspicuously, trying this on at universities. In Tony Abbott’s words, their three-year program will be ‘not merely about Western Civilisation, but in favour of it …’ to combat “the pervasiveness of Asian, Indigenous and sustainability perspectives … and absence [of] any idea that cultures might not all be equal, and truth might not be entirely relative.”
Ramsay’s proposed degree might seem innocent at first glance. They’re crafting it around ‘Great Books’ – Plato, Aristotle, maybe some Mary Wollstonecraft to fill the “woman question”. You can study these texts, individually in English literature or Political Science already, and there’s no problem with that necessarily. What makes Ramsay’s a deeply racist project, with a deeply racist political ideology is calling a patchwork of random books a full and coherent study of the West.
Firstly and obviously, the racism lies in a study of ‘the West’ that does not talk about the plunder of wealth, dispossession of peoples, national liberation, murderous invasions and wars, is dishonest and untrue. For Ramsay, it is more important for students to learn about·vending machines, (according to their Facebook page, a token of Western genius), than the slave trade. Jim Crow segregation. Hiroshima and ·Nagasaki, Agent Orange, or atrocities at Abu Ghraib. These omissions, taken together, leave Ramsay’s program a crash course in Imperial propaganda.
Secondly, Ramsay is taking a modem concept – ‘the West’ , synonymous ,with “whiteness’ – and transposing it backwards on history. According to Ramsay’s narrative, a unified Western identity based around democracy, liberty and inventiveness has prevailed throughout the fractious and varied societies from Ancient Greece to contemporary Australia.
This is ahistorical, academically discredited bullshit. Al; though couched in discussions of ‘culture’, Ramsay’s world view is a 21st Century version of old-school biological essentialism: white people have been different (and better) forever and always, just because. It would be equally incoherent and racist to describe ‘the East’ in such terms. In fact, Hindu nationalists in India – arguably the largest far right movement in the world – are assailing the school curriculum there, to insist that an uninterrupted strand of superior Hinduism has prevailed since pre-class societies.
These essentialist narratives help justify contemporary political agendas. For the. Hindu nationalists, this invention of a pure, age-old Hinduism needs to be defended from Muslim subversives and invaders. That’s not too dissimilar from the active, racist political project that the Liberal Party pursues. As recently as 2015 their government moved to close down more than 100 Indigenous communities in Western Australia. They imprison refugees in gulags on Manus Island and Nauru, supposedly because ‘they don’t share our values’. They supported the invasion and destruction of the Middle East , where the overwhelmingly civilian casualties in lraq number upwards of one million on the basis of defending the West and absurdly, women (because what’s more liberating than a cluster bomb?).
A lot goes into constructing this superior ‘West’ to justify why human rights should be damned in its name. Ramsay wants to train up some smarmy students to suavely sell racism in politics. That these goons can even get a hearing shows how corporatised our university system has become. I could not appeal to UQ to restore the gender studies major with the $37 in my bank account. But if you have $50 million, apparently, our academic integrity and any piddling sense of social conscience is up for lease. Racism is not abstract. Ramsay’s ideas – that Western civilisation is superior, and under threat , impact the lives of real people, in our classrooms, workplaces and of course, for many, our homes. Two months ago, an Australian fascist murdered 40 Muslims at a mosque in Christchurch, in defence of ‘Western Civilisation’.
The Ramsay Centre champions violent, dangerous politics. It matters that we stop them
For Ramsay by Donnchadh Ticker
There has been a general problem in society as Humanities degrees become less important. It is apparent people have far less respect for the degree in comparison to previous generations. The typical Arts jokes and smears you hear are nothing new, jokes about McDonalds requiring an Arts degree or fast food being the only career prospect for humanities grads. It used to be the case that key Australian thinkers and influential people came to prominence , at least in part, thanks to their Arts or Humanities degree. It is precisely this critical thinking that sits outside some for the more conventional or vocational degrees (think engineering) that uniquely equips them , leaving us assured that when they sit atop boards or are directors of banks they’re not making decisions or being complicit with policies that end up charging dead people fees and service costs.
It is evident to me that Humanities degrees need co reimagine their identity , and be adequately supported co return to the prominence it once had , we will be a better society for it . Professions such as teachers, lawyers, politicians , and journalists are better for the humanities and having graduates equipped with the critical thinking and ability to view issues and events through multiple lenses and perspectives.
Financially, the humanities needs endowments to stay afloat and be impactful We forget how easy it is for other degrees like engineering to monetise and receive financial support as their undergrad programs exist as pools for the corporate sector – who gee a substantial return on investment for funding and improving their undergrad programs. 1n the sciences where research projects might not find a home with corporate partners , University companies like UniQuest can monetize the products of their research. The humanities is not so lucky. Private bequests like those left by Ramsay stand to fill the gaps in this increasingly corporatised education system.
It seems that the main contention opponents of a Ramsay degree have is their belief that the Ramsay Centre is racist , that this degree is simply a mouthpiece designed by and for conservative ideologues, used to convert a new generation of graduates to being racist leaders. I have two responses to that claim, I don’t think it’s useful to investigate the Ramsay Centre’s motives, or if Tony Abbott sitting on the board actually makes ‘all of the decisions they make motivated by the advancement of racism. I think , for UQ Students , what we should be considering is if the UQ Ramsay Degree will be racist , or create racist students.
Firstly, if you had the slightest trust in the competency and self-interest of our university you would understand they would be ensuring the Ramsay Centre’s oversight or influence over course material would be minimal if not non -existent. A brief perusal over the proposed course material reveals that the course readings and topics covered are not regurgitated quotes from Churchill, or thinkers like Smith. The material extends toward reflections on the Bringing Them Home Report and the Mabo decision. These are topics that aren’t very easy to sell or paint as positive legacies of the west or pro -western.
Very clearly UQ seeks, in its academic and employment independence to teach both the good and the bad, the advancement and the darkness that western thought and westernism has bestowed upon the world. The administration and staff signed a reconciliation plan with that in mind, declaring strongly that the University acknowledges violent colonization by Western Countries. So when the academics from the humanities faculty, who acknowledge Australia’s black history are deciding what will be included and caught in these courses, they will be guided by the knowledge that violent colonisation did lay foundations to modern Australia, and that has to be taught in courses that analyse western nation s and traditions – especially during the colonial era.
I think those that wish to attack Ramsay, and attack a ‘Western Civilization’ degree, conflate their ideological opposition to the ‘West’ as a concept, with this specific opportunity for UQ. These critical thinkers have no issue rejecting any analysis that resolve the West as a positive actor neither historically or in contemporary times. They talk about atrocities that have been carried out by the West and the ones specifically committed during the colonial era and how those things are terrible – but there’s nothing I have seen within UQ’s materials that promotes or justifies these events.
I have no suspicion that people will come to the end of this degree with the conviction that colonisation, specifically the First Fleet was ‘on balance’ good for all Australians , as Tony Abbott suggested.
Rather, students will be engaging with and criticizing the mindset that encouraged the discrimination that drove our colonial past – viewing our first Australians as uncivilised and in need of saving – and rightly criticising some of the darker elements within the western tradition .
These ‘great works’ that the late John Ramsay wished to revive will be critically engaged with and evaluated for their value in today’s world. Perhaps it is a good thing that these works which we have always taken for granted – without ever reading them will once again go under the microscope. UQ has been given this unique opportunity to raise a generation of academics who will , fresh in their memory, engage with these works and be able to incorporate them.
What is likely the case is that we will be better equipped as a society to rebuke the problematic aspects of the west during that time period, and even conclude that these books, and their comparative works – aren’t so great.
Secondly, some argue Ramsay will simply attack the academic freedom of UQ, and overrule the better judgement of our academics for their own motives. If we assume this was Ramsay’s actual agenda let’s acknowledge how likely this reality actually is. The Vice-Chancellor has declared publicly, multiple times, that for UQ our academic integrity is the red line in the sand that UQ will not cross. He’s trapped himself into rejecting any plan that removes UQ’s autonomy in controlling the courses it administers. We sit in a strategic position where Ramsay is desperate to get a deal with a Go8, having been rightly rejected by the ANU, and under extreme public scrutiny by Sydney. UQ has the chance to get a deal that is far more favourable to us than any corporate partnership we already engage in.
I think this degree is both worth considering and the humanities needs a degree like this to exist and stay relevant. This degree is essential to the revitalisation, both financial and academically, of the humanities in Australia. The obsession over manufacturing a narrative of a think tank with racist motives is irrelevant. The truth is, UQ will deliver a degree, like all the others, applying multiple perspectives to history and engaging critically with problematic and difficult concepts.