May 30, 2018

Rundle: with guardians of Western civilisation like these, who needs barbarians?

The Tony Abbott-championed Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation will not only be witheringly cynical, but structurally racist as well.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Well the right has got its latest inept culture war on. They’re ramming through the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, the creation of late healthcare baron Paul Ramsay. Ramsay, a conservative Catholic, bequeathed several million in his will to establish a ring-fenced Centre for Western Civ, ideally to be housed at the heart of a pagan cultural Marxist university.

Trialed for a couple of years by the Institute of Public Affairs -- in their ludicrous "state of history teaching" survey, in which they found out what a supermarket the marketised university they wanted has become -- the Ramsay Centre has now found a willing host in Social Sciences at the ANU, and a chief spruiker in dean Rae Frances.

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16 thoughts on “Rundle: with guardians of Western civilisation like these, who needs barbarians?

  1. Jack Robertson

    I think better to let it live/be politely ignored/ossify further still on the cloister’d quad vine in full-view, more living museum piece than ‘dangerous ideas’. I suspect the Dean knows exactly what she is doing: she now has a domesticated living fossil in the back yard to chuck sticks to and amuse visiting grown-ups. Fed, watered & toileted by someone else. And the cute scraggy thing will have even less reason now to yap about cultural censorship. Obviously, too, its key strategic ambition is really just to provoke silhouetting/defining/’justifying’ responses like…erm, this one/the NTEU’s/etc, no? Without something solid to bang away on/at/against – a desk? – this fading culchawarzcrew, let’s face it, barely registers in the public ear any more…just sayin’.

    1. Decorum

      I think you give the ANU and the relevant Dean way too much credit, Jack. “Yes! We’ll take it!” is an instinctive Pavlovian response to the ca-ching! of future cash registers and that’s it. They may back off if it fails the cost-benefit analysis in the market of public opinion but otherwise they’ll be all over it like Bill Shorten’s ton of bricks.

      1. Jack Robertson

        Quite possibly, Dec. But we are not talking about cloistered ivory-dwelling naifs nowadays, when it comes to culture war hit-ups. The Dean’s cohort of academics is, what, battle-hardened third-gen pomo stormtroopers, raised to run on the smell of an oily rag, without tenure anyway and all over the new information vocabularies. In ‘competing academic narrative’ terms I even feel a bit sorry for the Ramsayites. It’ll be like my dad in his cardy up against the gang from SNL in a hipness competition.

        The corrupting stink of the dollar? That bolting horse shat all over the quad over two decades ago (as GR pointed out last week, & here today again). When I worked as a bumf-drone in humanities at Syd Uni around the turn of the last millennium – contract, piecework, grub-grade, utterly unqual’d – one of my less fun tasks (all the proper, tenured actual academics were too ashamed) was to rewrite dozens of Classics and Philosophy unit prerequisites, ditching hard standards for weasel word mush (‘Must have completed KNT291 Kantian Dialectics’ becoming ‘…should be able to demonstrate an understanding of…’ etc.) Reason? To vastly expand the commercial catchment area for them as ‘extant saleable assets’, adapted into quasi-degree satellite courses, largely pitched at adult summer school/overseas undergrad populations. This was under Gavan Brown, the first of the neoliberal barbarian chancellors, even back then coining nearly a million bucks a year (!) to turn these canonic pillars of what Ramsayites would call a ‘Western Civ Enlightenment’ education into, firstly, academic Big Macs, and then…landfill, since a Readers Digest version of a classical/phil education is an oxymoronic dud of a thing only a minuscule cohort of paying punters would be dumb enough to stump up for: to whit, the privileged chinless sprogs of the kind of rich, old, white culture war bloviator who’d found a Ramsay Centre! Because, you know, the ‘public’ universities no longer teach that wonderful stuff ho ho!

        So funny: neoliberal Economics hounded the authentic ‘classics education’ out of the Academy. Now neoliberal Economics is trying to buy a Disneyfied facsimile a way back in…so exquisitely apt, yet another beyond-satire strand of contemporary conservatism’s anus-eating death spiral. But poignant too, in a way. These sad old buffers, these blinking, bewildered, huffing puffing shuffling old white Quadrant subscribers…they are just…lost. They fell off their own truck. They just…couldn’t keep up with their own rush to…but, what ever was it they were rushing towards? Can anyone remember? And atlas, too, just…shrugs. Nah. So so sad, all that they lost: of, to, for…themselves.

        Academic/culture war ‘threat’ to ANU? Worthy of student protest? ‘Dangerous’?! Huh. If only. GR again, last week: it’s to elsewhere but our Universities that anyone hungry/hopeful for the next real intellectual subversions must now turn…

        Ach. Pardon my blah Crikeyrians, I’m all over the place like the dutch pox these last few days…so much splendid, fantastic content of late, bravo. Will shush again now.

        Cheers Decorum.


        1. Jack Robertson

          Soz, woz referring here – same jockey & stable, diff nag. Is it, in a nutshell.

        2. covenanter

          Well written Jack, and very entertaining.
          It reads much like Adam Smith’s scathing criticism of the English Universities of his time.
          Do neo-liberals simply embrace everything that Smith deplored?

  2. BeenAround

    Abbott must be a mortifying embarrassment to every other ‘Rhodes Scholar’. Abbott proves that you can be pretty stupid, yet still win the scholarship.

    1. rhwombat

      He didn’t “win” it in an open field – Emmett Costello rigged it.

  3. Rais

    “The cultural inheritance of countries like ours” is that of Western Civilisation? About 60,000 years of it, at a conservative estimate, is not. It’s the oldest living continuous culture in the world. The Western bit starts just over two centuries ago with colonisation. There’s an Asian bit that started more than four centuries ago with the Makassarese. Another Asian bit is blending nicely now. If the new Centre can manage to document and trace these elements in the context of Westernised Australia it might not be a bad thing. It might even educate some people who think in the Abbott mould.

  4. Vasco

    Simon Birmingham, the very model of a modern education minister; following on the fine tradition of stuffing our universities started by a great little bloke, John Dawkins all those years ago.

  5. Eve Sinton

    How is this not white supremacism made respectable for academia?

  6. AR

    I hope that ANU milks this sheltered-workshop for undead headbangers for as much as it can.
    “You want lights? That’ll be extra and about that premium on a/c to fend off climate change, you’ve not put enough zeroes on the cheque.”
    The Lomborg climate denial centre did not find a venue because there wasn’t enough cash to soothe the “so embarrassment” factor.

  7. klewso

    Will this “Centre for Western Civilisation” be including the dark bits, or just the white ones?
    …. Pass the tea and opium kaffa.

    1. klewso

      “Rimming that black hole” if you like?

  8. John Bryson

    Mahatma Gandhi, visiting London, was asked, ‘What do you think of Western Civilization?’ He replied, ‘That would be a wonderful idea.’

  9. The Curmudgeon

    At times like this, one recalls with affection the comment attributed to Gandhi when asked his views on western civilisation: “It’s worth a try”.

  10. kyle Hargraves

    Guys (and Guy), we do tend to ‘sit in judgement’ on such matters. Replying to one contributor the reply from Gandhi was: “it might be a good idea”. “Worth a try” was (clearly) an Americanism in the 1930s. Yet the remark is germane.

    One the one hand such institutions may be the “shape of things to come” given the abundance of information and the rather inept skills by the electorate to use the information. There is also the matter of funding. Universities have to be “relevant” (whatever that adjective means since the days of Dawkins) nowadays – read (more or less) self-funding and thus (one example) wholly
    dependent upon international students (yep $28b market – which isn’t going to last forever).

    Universities, once upon a time, were centres of research. One obtained a degree by attending lectures, maybe tutorials, and passing exams
    with the aid of a reading list for essays etc. In other words if a student could not teach himself he was screwed. Nowadays, universities bang-on about the “excellence” of their teaching. Its all about money. Glorified universities, in their former capacity of ‘Centres for Advanced Education’, offer (cough) PhDs. Such being the case it is not obvious that the Ramsay Centre {attached / annexed(?) to ANU} is in any way inferior.

    As a third consideration, there is the matter of “degrees”, indeed higher degrees, in Theology by various (most) universities. [Does anyone perceive a trend?]. Such certification was offered, previously (and in some cases remains so), by Theological Colleges. Now, at least in principal, a committed atheist ought to be able to obtain a degree in Theology and thus, with a bit of training etc, present for ordination. In other words, institutions intended for vocational training possessed objectives quite distinct to those of universities. It was sufficient to pass at a university by demonstrating an understating of the content of a particular course to a reasonable (albeit declining nowadays) standard. Such implied (in fact illustrated) academic freedom.

    Now, take a look at a Grad Dip. Education. It is indistinguishable from training for missionary work. Ditto for the IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) ), a much higher standard than VCE, courses in the humanities which are replete with UN drivel (although the science text books are writen by the same authors who write the (English {as in England} A-Level A2 books – and the standards in science are comparable). So much for P.C. which is the antithesis of academic freedom.

    With regard to statements of “cultural inheritance of countries like ours” Rais is correct in insisting that the statement be made clear and it is anything but clear in its present form. Yet the assertion, by Ras, and those that have attained Yr12 in general – along with any number of the population “… 60,000 years of …. living continuous culture” is much less clear. Pascoe (Dark Emu) asserts the point (of continuous habitation) but does not establish it. Cane (First Footsteps) comes a lot closer to the mark but the three intervening ice ages make the assertion problematical – as implied but only covertly acknowledged. As to a recent work, viz., Griffiths (Deep Time Dreaming) I offer a review to the readership of Crikey when I have completed the reading – if Crikey will offer the space. The book was published in Feb/2018. It may well be the case that modern (i.e. arrivals in the last thousand years or so have no association to those of ten thousand years ago; much less sixty thousand years ago. The myriad of languages, and significant language differences, suggests recent arrival (a few thousand years) and non-integration. More research will yield more info no doubt.

    Returning to the point, in regard to academic freedom – to say noting of veracity, The Menzies Centre and now The Ramsay Centre could be the institutions that we had to have. The matter could be considered as a reaction to what was implemented by Dawkins.

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