Why would anyone looking for a solid education in the humanities bother signing up to a western university these days?
The hostile rejection/mealy-mouthed surrender by the Australian National University of the Ramsey Foundation’s sponsorship of a centre on Western civilisation is case in point. It was all “hurrumph, hurrumph” and talk about academic freedom, but that’s just a front for pure cowardice. If in fact cowardice can ever be described as pure.
Risibly, the decision to reject the sponsorship comes at a time when universities are prostituting themselves frantically with various nefarious regimes around the world.
They’re wallowing in monies from countries that despise intellectual freedom, oppress the marginalised, and kill the very groups in their cultures that university departments go in to bat for in ours. Yet Ramsay money? Beyond the pale apparently.
All of this clearly demonstrates that our university tradition has gone past its use-by-date and is starting to smell. Stink actually.
What we’re seeing is the collapse of a system under its own anti-intellectual, self-loathing hubris, in which some of the world’s most oppressive regimes can openly fund university departments in Australia to further their own interest and no one bats an eyelid. Or worse, make excuses for them in the name of academic curiosity.
Yet Western civilisation? The very grounds upon which our university system was built? Not a chance.
Still leave them to it all I say. If a system wants to dig out the very foundations upon which it is built and commit academic, intellectual and cultural suicide, let it. We just don’t have to send our kids and their money and our kids’ kids and their money to help them dig that hole.
So it’s a daunting time, especially if you’re headed towards a university humanities degree, or if you love the humanities in general. But it’s also an exciting time. Because we’re having the privilege of watching a serious moment of cultural change.
The void that the collapsed university system will leave will need to be filled by someone or some group. It’s time for Christian groups and others with an interest in the long-held Western traditions to put their heads together and come up with a plan that would encourage the Ramsay Foundation to part with some money.
The foundation itself could do worse than go back to the drawing board and research in Australia just which groups would be able to, over a couple of generations, come up with a new model for teaching the humanities. It could then meet with any interested groups and see what could be done.
And Christianity should be at the forefront of that – as indeed it was at the forefront of the establishment of the western university system. They should be knocking down the foundation’s door.
Christian church networks that I know are full of well-educated, well-thought out people who could use their contacts and gifts to establish educational systems for secondary and tertiary students.
In fact it’s already happening. Check out Sheridan College here in Perth, Western Australia, run by some extremely bright and innovative people.
But why Christianity? Well consider this comment by the always excellent Greg Sheridan in The Australian this morning, in relation to the Ramsey debacle:
What we have … is a severely anti-Western (and incidentally anti-Christian) national curriculum that is almost a parody of zeitgeist prejudice and cultural self-loathing.
There’s nothing incidental about the link between anti-Western and anti-Christian in our universities. They know that the two are linked. They know that the vast flowering of knowledge and progress in the West was tied to the Christian understanding of truth, the unity of all things, the idea of teleology and progress. And they hate it.
Of course there are those watching from the sidelines of both church and academia who believe this thing is for turning. Those who went through university thirty years ago and who say “Well, I got on alright.” Well, they’ve got their job, their superannuation and their audience, of course they’re going to say that.
But for the rest of us? Our young people? Our aspiring academics? Sheridan is far more realistic. He says it’s a brutal fight, and anyone naive enough to think they can just duck and cover and make the bad go away is fooling themselves. He states:
Western civilisation has a huge number of enemies at universities. Ramsay looks like a businessman preparing for a Rotary Club meeting when actually he has been invited to a knife fight. It’s a literary critic in a boxing ring wanting to quote the poetic passage on page 212 when the other guy just wants to punch their lights out.
That’s a direct challenge to those who naively think they can send their young people into that boxing ring with a high school certificate and a good mark in English Literature at some Christian school.
University Arts degrees were challenging enough thirty years ago, it’s even worse now. I am really keen for my daughter to undertake a humanities degree, but I’ll be damned before I throw her to the university union cry-bullies who shed crocodile tears for the deep sense of injustice they feel about everything they hold dear, even as they no-platform, shout down, and Twitter shame anyone who challenges their hard-held, but academically impoverished, positions.
But, and this is ironic, the revolution is eating its young. The university academics of the 80s and 90s who were busy deconstructing everything, are now too scared, or too scarred, to stand up against the withered products of their own teaching, who are not merely bent on abstract deconstruction, but actual destruction.
Meanwhile the paltry number of academics in our humanities departments even owning up to being a conservative makes any idea of reclaiming what has been lost a waste of time, money and energy.
Of course the number of conservatives might be higher but when so many are willing to put a pinch of incense on the altar and mutter “Caesar is Lord for the sake of tenure – then they’re hardly likely to be those who support a harangued student or a colleague fighting for their academic reputation and future at the hands of the rapacious unions. If that’s all the spine you’ve got, then you’ve got precious little spine.
Other academics in other pursuits have learned to keep their mouths shut when this cultural battle goes on. They think that there’s some sort of firewall protecting their discipline, whether science or engineering, from the rot.
It’s not true. They are complicit by their silence. Either that or I missed the memo from the Biology department informing the Arts faculty that science proves that gender is not merely a social construct. Whatever it is, they’ll go down with the sinking ship eventually.
There are also many well-meaning Christians who believe that if we are just nice enough in the university setting, if we try to show how we just hold different belief frameworks, but that we’re all about the same thing really, then all will be fine.
You will not be fine. More to the point, you will not even end up neutral. We are shaped by our practices. Hence as you shape your responses and your essays and your classroom discussion to attract the approval – and the grades – that you need, you will be shaping your life and your desires towards those responses and that approval.
The approval of your peers will mean more to you than the truth Your humanities degree will become less and less about rigorous thinking and hard pushback, and more about pragmatic box ticking. In the end you will become part of the problem not part of the solution.
In the end all you will have to show for it will be an 80 thousand dollar debt, a compliant will, and a dropbox full of sycophantic and, – more criminally -, boring, essays that say nothing in 2000, 4000 and 8000 word increments. Oh, and perhaps a nice job in a government department. But hey, if all of the above is a career dream that floats your boat…
Which makes it all the more important to build new institutions for the coming generations now. The coming generations who want to build an intellectual and moral framework that stands them in good stead in the midst of the collapse. In fact the Ramsay conflict shows that now is too late. We should have been on to this years ago, but we took our eyes off the ball.
Our university institutions went past their use-by-date, but we didn’t notice the smell. Or we didn’t care. We were too busy building mega-churches and figuring out how the lights on the stage can be set to give the best glow off the preacher’s face.
Happily, however, when something goes past its use-by-date, inventive and clever people generally come up with solutions that bring forth new shoots, and if Christian groups and others can position themselves nimbly and with agility in the coming collapse, they can create parallel structures, counter-institutions, that will offer rich and viable alternatives.
Sure this pathway might not get you the dream job you were hoping for, but there’s a good chance the cultural crush that’s coming will ice Christians out of some of the better jobs anyway. You’re on a hiding to nothing as it is.
So what we’ll have to do, we’ll have to do from the cultural edges. And that could be for several generations. Christianity is going to find itself as a creative minority in the near future, a move which I welcome, because at the very least it will force us to be creative!
And, incidentally, one of the things we won’t do when we’re that creative minority is get into book burning, or create lists of transgressive texts that our students won’t be allowed to read. Truth has nothing to be afraid of and can put any text under the microscope without being afraid.
Of course we’ll have to do all of this without government money over an extended period of time. And that’s where groups like the Ramsay Foundation need to step in. If the foundation truly believes that the central tenets of Western Civilisation are crucial in our declining times, then they’ll know that Rome was not built in a day. It collapsed quickly, just as our current institutions are, but it takes decades, centuries to build.
Sheridan says this:
Australian conservatives have been outplayed again and again and again in institutional politics. They fritter away millions of dollars, sometimes tens of millions of dollars, into institutions that are almost without exception captured by the left. This is often because the people making the financial decisions do not understand the dynamics of institutional control. This is not an indictment of their character. They have been busy running businesses and leading good lives. But their opponents study these matters deeply.
The Ramsay Foundation needs to learn this lesson and not throw good money after bad. It needs to admit that if Christianity is the basis of this western framework that it so desperately wants promulgated, then it would be wise to source Christian groups to fund this rebuild, and throw some good money after good for a change.
And if they can admit that, and stop burning money on people who hate them, then they might see there is a group of people, brave, willing and able, to help them see their vision through to completion. Christians with an interest and aptitude need to start doing something about this now, and get a coordinated plan together.
Decline, collapse and rebuild, has happened throughout church history, so we should be well versed in how to engineer this. And now that it is happening throughout academic history in the West, not least of all because academic history in the West is tied to church history, the Ramsays of this world can learn something from the Western church. Christians can lead the way and create something with something that smells like life and flourishing, not death and decay.