Tony Abbott

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.

The centre’s search for a home was launched last year, with Tony Abbott giving a speech celebrating Cecil Rhodes. If Abbott wants a culture war on campus, he should get one, this writer noted last year. And so he has. The National Tertiary Education Union and students are gearing up for battle. The Oz has gone into bat for it, with one of their Pravda style bore-a-thons.

It started with a piece by Simon Birmingham in the paranoid style, suggesting that any objection to the anti-intellectualism of such a ring-fenced centre would be itself anti-intellectual. It was continued in the letters page with the usual arranged chorus of near-total approval. On Saturday, Planet Janet Albrechtsen told us that a “conservative revolution” was underway; crowds of chino and pearl-clad kids brewing up trouble for tenured radicals on the “Intellectual Dark Web”.

As Mike Carlton noted, Planet gets these serial thought crushes: bug-eyed Obama-birther-truther-sovereign-citizen Lord Monckton one day, Jordan Peterson the next. Jennifer Oriel had a dull column re-using her favourite Frantz Fanon quote about African values, like a desperate first-year essayist.

Then we had, oh dear, John Anderson of the Nationals — the Nationals! — lecturing us about values. But the money quote is Tony Abbott in Quadrant. Abbott claims the Ramsay Centre was his idea, of course — and here’s this golden quote:

The key to understanding the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is that it’s not merely about Western civilisation, but in favour of it. The fact that it is ‘for’ the cultural inheritance of countries such as ours, rather than just interested in it, makes it distinctive.

Now, if that is the intent of the centre’s prime mover, how can any honest university have anything to do with it? Suffice to note that it’s not a centre of free intellectual inquiry, it’s a propaganda device, being put at the heart of a public institution.

The Abbott piece came out on May 24 – leaving Dean Rae Frances to be the latest person to do the Abbott head-desk — fuck-fuck-fucking moron. Frances is a social historian of sex work; her argument that sex work has been constitutive of Australian state and society would be the sort of thing excluded from Ramsay classes as “cultural marxism”. Ah well, good to have an expert managing the institutional prostitution, I suppose. Here’s Gary Johns assuring supporters.

Frances was asked about the lack of, for example, African studies courses, she noted: “We can [have an African studies degree] if you can find a donor to give millions of dollars to fund it”.

So the Centre is not only witheringly cynical, but structurally racist as well. I’d suggest the campaign against it put that quote on a banner and hang it from whichever building Frances’ office is in.

Really, the ANU has to reject this centre. And if it doesn’t, there should be a deliberate and sustained assault on its global reputation. The Abbott quote — he’s on the board — is enough to reject it out of hand. Abbott is a terrible cold/cultural warrior; he can’t help showing off, when the truth of such politics is that it only works if you don’t care that you get no credit. Somewhere on Mt Purgatory, Santamaria, head on desk, is moaning “Abbott, you fuck-fuck-fucking moron”.

God knows there are deep problems with the humanities in Australia, as this correspondent noted last week. But this rotten piece of politics-first anti-intellectualism makes the rest of it look good. Conceived in sin, executed in bad faith, it deserves pushback on a national level.