At Columbia University, the famous core curriculum, founded exactly one hundred years ago and centered on a rich, rigorous two-semester freshman course covering Western civilization from Plato to the present, remains in place and is largely the same as in 1919. But it’s a rare exception. One day in January 1987, hundreds of Stanford students, goaded on by Jesse Jackson, chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go”; and go it did, two years later, when Stanford’s Western civics requirement was replaced by a program focusing on race, class, and gender.
In 2016, by a 6 to 1 vote, Stanford students voted down a proposition to restore Western Civ. And so it has gone, more or less, throughout the English-speaking world. The colleges whose humanities departments haven’t been conquered by identity politics and ridiculous postmodern “theory” and multiculturalism are few and far between.
A couple of years ago, prominent Australian citizens who were troubled by the state of the humanities in that country’s universities established the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilization, funded by a bequest from Paul Ramsay, a billionaire who died in 2014. Led by former PM Tony Abbott, the Center planned to provide Great Books courses for undergraduates at Australian universities, thus allowing those institutions to offer degrees in Western civilization. Decrying the way in which the left had politicized higher education in the West, Abbott saw the Ramsay Centre as a new “long march through our institutions” by traditionalists who would recapture Australia’s universities from the cultural Marxists.
But the left wasn’t about to have it. After the president of the students’ association at Australia National University expressed contempt for the Center’s “racist prioritization of Western history over other cultures,” ANU, professing concern that such an arrangement might threaten its philosophical independence, declined to partner with Ramsay – even though, as the newspaper The Australian noted, the funding for ANU’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies came from Iran, the UAE, and Turkey.
This past December, the University of Wollongong signed a deal with Ramsay to offer a bachelor’s degree in Western Civ (albeit over massive faculty opposition); last month, faculty members at the University of Queensland voted overwhelmingly against working with Ramsay, which they described as “trying to undermine critical analyses of ‘the West’ in favor of an anti-intellectual celebration of Western Civilization.” At the University of Sydney, where negotiations with Ramsay are still underway, a writer for the student newspaper, Honi Soit, smeared its curriculum as “colonial and elitist.”
Just for context, at the bottom of every page of Honi Soit‘s website you can read this:
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation (indigenous Australians of the Sydney area). The University of Sydney – where we write, publish and distribute Honi Soit – is on the sovereign land of these people. As students and journalists, we recognize our complicity in the ongoing colonization of Indigenous land. In recognition of our privilege, we vow to not only include, but to prioritize and Center the experiences of Indigenous people, and to be reflective when we fail to be a counterpoint to the racism that plagues the mainstream media.
Needless to say, any student body that’s been trained to think like this is hardly going to be receptive to a proper Western Civ course.
Anyway, so things stood until March 15, when an Australian citizen shot up those two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was the largest mass killing in the recent history of either of those countries, but far from their first act of terrorism. In 2015, a murder in a Sydney suburb led to the discovery of an Islamic terrorist cell there; last November, three pedestrians in Melbourne were stabbed in an ISIS-inspired attack. In both cases, however, the public response was restrained. Neither have Islamic massacres elsewhere in the world led to hysteria. The people of Sydney, moreover, have taken in stride the daily placement of armed guards outside synagogues and Jewish schools, their purpose, of course, is to protect Jews against Muslim attack. On the contrary, as Chris Kenny noted the other day in The Australian, “the political-media class has often been in jihad denial.”
Yet in both countries, the response to the Christchurch assault has been a tsunami of what Kenny called “ugly blame games.” As Kenny put it:
The so-called progressives have always been squeamish about confronting the palpable threat of Islamist terrorism but at least have always understood – or claimed to understand – the rationale behind ensuring that not all Muslims were blamed for the actions of extremists. Yet this week they have recklessly, vindictively, cruelly and dangerously sought to blame right-of-Center politicians, commentators, and media organizations for the cold-blooded killing of innocent Muslims. They try to equate any discussion of issues related to Muslim extremism, any criticism of Islamic fundamentalist practices, with inciting white supremacist extremism.
It is almost too manic and hateful to believe. But there it is. And it shows no sign of abating just yet.
No surprise. Exactly the same thing happened in Norway after the Breivik massacre.
So, it was predictable enough when, four days after the Christchurch atrocity, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an op-ed arguing that it was indeed, as has been widely charged, partly the fault of the media’s purported promotion of Islamophobia, but that the universities, too, deserved some of the blame. The article’s author, Nick Riemer, a professor of English at the University of Sydney, then introduced the controversy over the Ramsay Center. “Many academics,” he wrote, “have accused Ramsay of being the intellectual face of a Western supremacist politics, and therefore fundamentally incompatible with universities’ obligation to support multiculturalism. After Christchurch, the urgency to accurately identify and obstruct the ideological enablers of racism in society could not be greater.”
In support of his argument, Riemer cited the manifesto by the Christchurch murderer, Brenton Tarrant, who had sought “not just to indiscriminately murder Muslims, but to reset ideas in Western countries in a way that puts European culture at the Center of national life.” Riemer suggested that “Ramsay’s academic supporters should pay attention to Tarrant’s words” and “reflect seriously on how the Ramsay curriculum validates the worldview behind Friday’s massacre.” People who support such courses in Western culture, maintained Riemer, are contributing to “murderous civilizational hatred.” His conclusion: “If Australian universities really want to combat Islamophobia after Christchurch, only one course is possible: abandon Ramsay immediately.”
In his article, Riemer spoke of “murderous civilizational hatred” as if Australia and New Zealand were riddled with it. On the contrary, as that cringing statement in Honi Soit suggests, the problem plaguing the natives of both countries these days is a carefully inculcated civilizational self-hatred, at least on the part of many members of the cultural, political, academic, and media elites.
If these people respond to jihadist attacks in the West – which are motivated by an alien ideology that does teach murderous hatred of our civilization – with something close to nonchalance, it’s because, on some psychological level and to various extents, they feel as if the West deserves it. Leftist teachers, professors, reporters, and commentators have trained them to view the West as colonialist, imperialist, racist, sexist, and exploitative, and to view every other culture, from Islam to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, as its victims.
It’s a grotesquely narrow and tragically misguided image of the West, of course – but it’s precisely the kind of image you’re likely to develop if you’ve been deprived of the kind of education that a place like the Ramsay Center seeks to provide.