Health services and media billionaire Paul Ramsay died three years ago, his money going to an umbrella foundation, which will be funding a Paul Ramsay Centre For Western Civilisation. The new centre got a full-court press in the meeja with chairman John Howard launching it in his usual whiny fashion — “Western civilisation had its faults, all civilisations do …” — and board member Bomber Beazley spruiking it in the AFR.
But it was another board member’s piece in the Oz that caught our eye. Tony Abbott (oh, it’s a very pluralist board) went out of his way to compare Paul Ramsay to … Cecil Rhodes. What were the similarities between Ramsay, whose other donations had been to science education funds and, erm, the Kevin Spacey Foundation? Well, they were both childless, and they both created scholarships. Ramsay, however, ran a hospitals corporation; Rhodes ran a brutal empire across southern Africa, murdering and enslaving millions of Africans, and formulated an Anglo-Saxon racialist ideology that influenced the Nazis.
Why would Tone mention in such context a man whom even his contemporaries thought to be a murderous thug? Because he doesn’t want a quiet little centre for Western civilisation bubbling away somewhere; he wants the campus war, and mentioning Rhodes — whose statues Oxford students are trying to bring down — will help to spark it. Abbott doesn’t want people to debate Western civilisation; he wants uncompromising loyalty to it. Rhodes’ lethal racism isn’t a barrier; it’s a test of your mettle.
And that’s what a Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation — currently looking for a university home — would be: a rigid propaganda unit. Lord knows, there is room to criticise the postmodern hall-of-mirrors of the contemporary humanities. But this is just an attempt to balkanise the university, and shield right-wing ideologues from academic scrutiny. It’s as sleazy as the failed Bjorn Lomborg centre, and deserves the same response: resistance and rejection. If Abbott wants a campus war, he should get one.