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November 24th 2016 print

Kevin Donnelly

The West’s Foes, Foreign & Domestic

Instead of acknowledging the strengths and benefits of a heritage dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, the Left rails against a culture it denigrates as eurocentric, misogynist, imperialistic, racist and rapaciously self-serving. Is it any wonder common cause has been made with Islam?

gays for islamWhat makes Western culture unique and is it worthwhile defending? Given events, both foreign and domestic, the question is a vital one as the answer will determine whether countries like Australia survive and prosper — or whether, as we currently know them, they cease to exist.

T. S. Eliot in Notes Towards a Definition of Culture defines culture as “a way of life of a particular people living together in one place” and includes a people’s social system, habits, customs and, most importantly, religion. More recently, in his 1996 Boyer Lecture, the Australian academic Pierre Ryckmans describes culture “as the true and unique signature of man” and, in the same way a garden is cultivated, it is vital that society cultivates the young to enable them to preserve and enrich the culture in which they are born. Based on the example of China, Ryckmans goes on to argue it is impossible to understand a foreign culture unless you have a “firm grasp of your own culture” and, as a result, “the luxury which no country can ever afford, in any circumstances… is to dispense with its memory and its imagination”.

One only has to study history or be aware of current events around the world to appreciate that cultures rise and fall and that Western culture, in particular, is under attack by enemies both foreign and domestic. The violence and terror associated with Islamic fundamentalism and illustrated by attacks in London, Paris, Nice, New York, Boston, Melbourne and Sydney represent an external threat that strikes at the heart of our way of life. Indiscriminate and random acts where innocents are killed and maimed, in addition to creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, lead to governments introducing security laws that are in danger of compromising the freedoms and rights so often taken for granted.

As noted by the Somalian activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her recent book Heretic, Islam is not a religion of peace and terrorist groups like ISIS, in addition to waging violent jihad against the West, are committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate where non-believers face conversion, subjugation or death. The mass migration of Muslims from the Middle East and Northern Africa to England and Europe also represents a clear and present danger to the liberties and freedoms central to the West’s way of life. Whether it is Islamic youth rioting in the suburbs of Paris, German women being physically and sexually accosted in Cologne and Hamburg during New Year, the incidence of female genital mutilation in England or the ever increasing incidence of rape in Sweden by Islamic men, the reality is that our way of life is under threat.

As well as the enemy without, Western culture is also facing the enemy within.  Instead of acknowledging the strengths and benefits of Western culture dating back to ancient Greece and Rome the cultural-left condemns the West as Eurocentric, misogynist, imperialistic and self-serving.  Beginning in the late 1960s and early ’70s, students on American campuses began to chant “Hey-hey, Ho-ho Western Civ has got to go”.

As the result of a rainbow alliance of cultural-left theories, including poststructuralism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, neo-Marxism, feminism and LGBTQI gender theory our universities are no longer committed to objectivity and the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and truth.

Feminists argues that the Western concept of rationality is a binary, phallocentric construct employed to dominate and subjugate women.  Deconstructionists argue that it is impossible to agree on the referential quality of words and that meaning is both subjective and relative.  Post-colonialism, instead of accepting there might be something worthwhile about Western culture, sees it as simply concerned with the subjugation and exploitation of the Third World. Such is the parlous and fraught nature of scholastic endeavour that Pierre Ryckmans in his 1996 lecture argued that “to deny the existence of objective values is to deprive the university of its spiritual means of operation”.

More recently, the Melbourne based academic John Carroll writes, “(the Left’s) carping negativity continues to thrive.  Using neo-Marxist categories of exploitation and oppression to find ‘victims’ of their own country’s mendacity, as a device to whip it – so Australia becomes racist, cruel to refugees, misogynist, homophobic and increasingly riven by inequality.  The tropes endure, with Islam the current exploited and oppressed repository of virtue.”

And the school curriculum is also being subverted by the cultural-left.  As noted by the National Curriculum Review that I co-chaired, whether history, civics, art, literature or music, the contribution made by Western culture is ignored in favour of indoctrinating students with the politically correct trinity of indigenous, Asian and environmental cross-curriculum priorities.

Many on the cultural-left also argue that there is nothing superior or preferable about Western science, as it is only one science among many and cannot be considered privileged. Western science and technology, instead of improving the health and well being of millions across the globe, is condemned for polluting and destroying the planet. Ignored are the millions in the Third World who are healthier and better fed because of advances in agriculture and public health as a result of innovations and discoveries brought about by Western science, technology and medicine. The International Food Policy Research Institute measures global hunger according to the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under the age of five who are underweight and the mortality rate of children in the same age group (termed the Global Hunger Index or GHI).  Instead of doom and gloom the Institute reports:

“Compared to the 1990 GHI score, the 2014 GHI score is 28 percent lower in Africa south of the Sahara, 41 percent lower in South Asia, and 40 percent lower in the Middle East and North Africa. The score for East and Southeast Asia fell by 54 percent and Latin America and the Caribbean saw a drop of 53 percent”.

While many on the left argue that Western culture is oppressive and that victim groups such as women, migrants, working class and LGBTQI people are denied equity and social justice, as proven by an analysis undertaken by the American-based Freedom House, the opposite is the case. In our own region, while Australia and New Zealand are given the highest ratings for protecting civil liberties and political rights, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia are given a lower rating and are categorised as least free.

What the American Declaration of Independence describes as the right to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has not happened by accident and is unique to Western culture.  Liberty, equality, freedom of speech, the right to vote, the concept of being innocent until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial, to own property and to make a profit can only be understood and valued in the context of Western culture. Beginning with the ancient Greeks’ concept of demos and evolving over hundreds of years and including Magna Carta, the Westminster form of government, common law and the Enlightenment, those lucky enough to live in Western cultures enjoy a legacy of unparalleled freedoms.

In what is an increasingly secular age, it is also important to recognise the historical and on-going significance of Christianity, especially that of the Catholic Church.  As detailed by Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Christian concepts such as the sanctity of life, free will and all being equal in the eyes of God underpin Western legal and political systems. The Perth-based academic Augusto Zimmermann also argues that Christianity has had a significant influence on our legal system when he writes:

“It can, at the very least, be said that Judeo-Christian values were so embedded in Australia so as to necessitate the recognition of God in the nation’s founding document.  When considered alongside the development of colonial laws, the adoption of the English common-law tradition and American system of federation, it is evident that the foundations of the Australian nation, and its laws, have discernible Christian-philosophical roots.”

While ignored by the Australian National Curriculum, it is also true that to study music, art, literature or architecture without a knowledge and appreciation of Christianity is to be culturally impoverished.  Whether it be Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Inferno, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Vivaldi’s Requiem, Michelangelo’s Pietta or the Sistine Chapel, the reality is that Christianity has had, and continues to have, a profound impact. Like the air we breathe, we are surrounded and immersed in Western culture and the danger is, like oxygen, once we discover it is no longer there it is too late.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and his monograph The Culture of Freedom is available from the  Institute of Public Affairs

Comments [14]

  1. Homer Sapien says:

    How true, a much appreciated article! I’m delighted to see a true Christian like Dr Ben Carson in America to put his stamp on the Trump team to make America great again. He teaches Donald, who is actually quite cerebral in private, as to how to pray. We would sorely need a person like him in our government.

  2. Jody says:

    I had to teach Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” to Year 12 Advanced English alongside the film “A Simple Plan” for the module “Comparative Texts”. I spent a good 2 or 3 hours plus having to explain to them the basics of Christianity and the system of pardons and indulgences practiced by the Catholic Church back in the time of Chaucer and these were what he was satirizing in his morality tale. They just didn’t get it, poor things, no matter how much we went over and over the ideas. Neither did they understand basic value systems which the church was trying to enforce, notwithstanding the ‘racket’ that these indulgences became!!

    Same with “Emma” and the class the year before. They never got Austen’s gentle irony and humour – it was way beyond their orbit and they were intelligent and willing students. They’d simply been dumbed down with too much dross in popular culture. The language seemed verbose to them and the tone condescending. Sad for a variety of reasons.

  3. Don A. Veitch says:

    The first battle in the war to retake civilisation begins about now, by ending and exposing Obama/Clinton duplicity on terrorism/Islam. Trump has General Michael T Flynn as the new national security advisor.

    Flynn was forced out by Clinton/Obama because Flynn attacked Obama’s waffle, warned the USA’s attacks on Assad’s Syria, that Obama’s policy of supporting ‘moderates’ in fact helped extremists such as Al-Nusra, ISIL/ISIS.

    Flynn also warned of helping those who want a new Khalifate in North-East Syria, the goal of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
    Flynn argues jihadism/Islamism has nothing to do with religion, and has introduced into Donald Trump’s team the Lebanese professor Gabriel Sawma, the author of a work on the Syriac origins of the Quran, which leads to a tolerant interpretation of Islam.
    Trump talks the talk, lets see if he NOW walks the walk with Flynn (and Putin)!

  4. Richard H says:

    Thank you for a compelling summary of our most pressing threat.

    The external threat from Islam is real and profoundly dangerous. But it is dangerous only because the neo-Marxists and their useful-idiot supporters have been so successful in damaging Western culture. (Jody’s examples are tragic reminders of this success.) Just imagine what the West would have done about such a threat, say, 60 years ago! Problem solved in a trice.

    We are burdened by the fatal combination of civilisational self-loathing and a large population of Muslims living in Western countries (the latter to some extent a symptom of the former). As a result, our ability to defeat the external threat is severely (hopefully not terminally) hampered.

  5. Alistair says:

    Ive never really understood where the concept of “Eurocentric” comes from. When one lot of Europeans were full on Hobbsians and another lot were Rousseauians the idea of a unified “Eurocentric” world-view, just doesn’t seem to make much sense. “Eurocentric” is just another meaningless empty pergorative rather like “Islamophobe”. Just which vesion of “Eurocentricity” are they refering to?

    Incidentally, I would always subdivide culture into three components:
    1/ one is inherited traits that we share with our simian ancestors
    2/ second is the superficial culture of kilts and curries and even law.
    3/ the third is the deeply instilled attitudes and lore one learns on one’s mother’s knee

    It is interestiong to hear so many people here in Australia arguing that Australia “has no culture”

  6. Keith Kennelly says:

    The radical view is that we are seeing the end of monotheism. To cling to the structures of the past will see us lose the battle with those who wish to retain the simplicity and domination of the religions.
    The west will hold to the values that are based in aspects of Christianity, the scantily of life, free will and equality of all etc, but abandon the structures that of Christianity.

    New structures will be created. That’s what we’ve done in the past to enable us to cope with greater knowledge and better educated individuals.

    Clinging to or wanting a return to Christian structures is wrong.

    • Jimbob says:

      Keith your view that we are seeing the end of monotheism is hardly radical. It’s been the great dream in the humanist west at the very least since the French Revolution. What we are seeing in fact is the replacement of the Christian version of monotheism with the Islamic version of monotheism in the European west only (at this stage). The Christian version of monotheism is alive and well in Africa, South America and most definitely in the great empire of the East which looks set to replace “New Rome” in the 21st century.

      The great rescue mission is not yet over and continues unabated in other parts of the world. Until it is complete at kingdom come, I think it’s quite true to say the “gates of hell shall not prevail”….

  7. Ian MacDougall says:


    In what is an increasingly secular age, it is also important to recognise the historical and on-going significance of Christianity, especially that of the Catholic Church…. Christian concepts such as the sanctity of life, free will and all being equal in the eyes of God underpin Western legal and political systems.

    This ignores the Reformation. It was not because of the hierarchy of Catholic clerics that modern liberal democracy arose, but in spite of that hierarchy. It was in Northern Europe, particularly in Holland and Britain that Mediaeval Catholicism most thoroughly collapsed, and along with it feudalism. The overall result is best seen in the different histories of North and South America. South America was colonised early, from the largely feudal and religiously unreformed Iberian Peninsula, resulting in colonies in which feudalism, and its more modern manifestation – military dictatorship, has been the historical norm, and liberal democracy is weak (but growing). North America was colonised by British, Dutch and (largely anticlerical) French immigrants, resulting in something else again. The pressure vessel that was French Catholicism exploded in 1789, resulting in a country which became and still is, largely atheist.

    The great artistic creations of Catholic Europe were largely the product of the Counter-Reformation, wherein the clerics realised that their church was headed straight down the plughole unless they changed their game and got their act together. That meant not only Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the rest of it, but a more liberal (ie less authoritarian) policy generally. So no more witch hunts and trials of subversive freethinkers like Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei.

    (Cue ‘en passant’ and his two prize questions.)

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      As you were (preview button needed here):


      In what is an increasingly secular age, it is also important to recognise the historical and on-going significance of Christianity, especially that of the Catholic Church…. Christian concepts such as the sanctity of life, free will and all being equal in the eyes of God underpin Western legal and political systems.

      This ignores the Reformation. It was not because of the hierarchy of Catholic clerics that modern liberal democracy arose, but in spite of that hierarchy. It was in Northern Europe, particularly in Holland and Britain that Catholicism most thoroughly collapsed, and along with it feudalism. The overall result is best seen in the different histories of North and South America. South America was colonised early, from the largely feudal and religiously unreformed Iberian Peninsula, resulting in colonies in which feudalism, and its more modern manifestation – military dictatorship, has been the historical norm and liberal democracy is weak (but growing). North America was colonised by British, Dutch and (largely anticlerical) French immigrants, resulting in something else again. The pressure vessel that was French Catholicism exploded in 1789, resulting in a country which was and still is, largely atheist.

      The great artistic creations of Catholic Europe were largely the product of the Counter-Reformation, wherein the clerics realised that their church was headed straight down the plughole unless they got their act together. That meant not only Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the rest of it, but a more liberal (ie less authoritarian) policy generally. So no more witch hunts and trials of subversive freethinkers like Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei.

      (Cue ‘en passant’ and his two prize questions.)

  8. Ian MacDougall says:

    Curses! Foiled again!

  9. pgang says:

    On a point of accuracy, our heritage goes back to Judea and Egypt.

  10. Brett_McS says:

    The hard core left (most lefties are just useful idiots) pretend to hate the west, but it is not the west itself that they hate – they live here after all. What it is that they really hate are universal western liberties (“universal” meaning “for all citizens”, not for just an elite ruling class). These liberties, in the hands of the people, are a bulwark against the absolute power they yearn to wield.

    It is not that they agree with Islamists; it is that they seek to use the accommodation of Islam and indeed the accommodation of various other perverse minority cultures (which includes college students demanding ‘safe spaces’) as a strategy to push the barrier to their power – universal western liberties – aside.