Only the students in the queue awaken me from my complacency. Where do we turn for comfort, they ask, when our reading lists are gibberish about which we can understand only that it is all left-wing? Is there no network, no secret society, no alternative reading list to get us through the next three years? Is there, in a modern university, no “safe space” for conservatives?
—Roger Scruton, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, August 2016
These observations by the English philosopher Roger Scruton at a book signing of his recent work on the dominance of neo-Marxist and postmodernist intellectuals in Western universities, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, describe a situation that is now ubiquitous throughout the English-speaking world. The humanities faculties of our public universities have been so comprehensively captured by the Left that they create an intellectual environment that leaves students of a conservative disposition completely out in the cold.
If anything, Australian students are in an even worse position than those in Britain and the United States. Most finish their degrees today largely ignorant of the great canon of Western literature that once formed the bedrock of academic degrees. Instead, they are indoctrinated in anti-Western theory from the gurus of cultural studies, critical theory, radical feminism, neo-Marxism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism and postmodernism.
So it was an heroic decision on the part of healthcare and media entrepreneur Paul Ramsay, who died in 2014, to bequeath a large part of his $3 billion estate to the establishment of a foundation to promote the study of Western civilisation. Chairman of the board of the Paul Ramsay Foundation now administering the fund, John Howard, has explained that Ramsay “became concerned that as a people we had begun to lose sight of the collective impact of culture, history, religion, literature and music, comprising Western civilisation, which had been so important in conditioning the modern Australia. Not least of these was the great Western tradition of liberal democracy.”
The foundation has appointed the expatriate literary scholar Simon Haines as chief executive. Haines takes up the job on May 1 with the aim of establishing new degree programs in Western civilisation at some of our major universities. In an interview in the Higher Education Supplement of the Australian, Haines said the foundation would design the degrees but the universities would be free to manage their own teaching programs.
Unfortunately, none of Australia’s major public universities that would be in the running for the reported $25 million a year funding are fit for the task. They are all dominated by left-wing politics intent on seeing the civilisation created in the West turned upside down. Instead of cultivating the culture, history, religion, literature and music of Western civilisation, their humanities departments and arts degree programs are dedicated to at best belittling and at worst crushing the traditional study of these fields, and replacing them with their own perspectives that profess to liberate the purportedly oppressed minority group victims of Western civilisation. Of course, when the universities apply for the funding they will deny all this, but when those that are successful appoint the teachers and administer the classes, that is what the foundation will get for its money.
This essay appears in the May edition of Quadrant
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As an alumnus of the University of Sydney, last month I received an e-mail newsletter announcing the appointment of a new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Looking at the front-page photograph of the dean standing next to a bicycle, hands in trouser pockets, I couldn’t tell whether this was a man or a woman. When I read the accompanying text, I found this was intended. Here is the newsletter’s description of the new dean’s qualifications:
Annamarie Jagose is internationally known as a scholar in feminist studies, lesbian/gay studies and queer theory. She is the author of four monographs, most recently Orgasmology, which takes orgasm as its scholarly object in order to think queerly about questions of politics and pleasure; practice and subjectivity; agency and ethics.
Professor Jagose was formerly a member of the Department of English with Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne and is the former editor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. She lists her research interests as “queer theory, feminist theory, cultural studies and everyday life”. She has received recent research grants for projects such as “The individual, the couple, the society: Rethinking relationality in queer social theory” and “Real sex in the cinema: revisiting indexicality, realism and temporality”.
If the Paul Ramsay Foundation funds the University of Sydney to run its Western civilisation program, Professor Jagose is one of the key personnel who will appoint lecturers to teach it and decide how it will be administered and assessed. The foundation should also note that her speciality, queer theory, has no connection whatsoever to any traditional Western academic discipline. It is a recently concocted ideology from identity politics.
Within the mindset now prevailing at the highest ranks of the University of Sydney, there is nothing freakish about the appointment of this new dean. Before her, the longest-serving recent Dean of Arts was Stephen Garton, who held the position from 2001 to 2009. Garton was the former Challis Professor of the university’s Department of History. He made his career as historian by emulating the studies of madness and sexuality written by the French post-structuralist, anti-humanist and gay theorist Michel Foucault. Two of Garton’s books are Medicine and Madness: A Social History of Insanity in NSW (1988) and Histories of Sexuality: Antiquity to Sexual Revolution (2004). Like his successor, Annamarie Jagose, Garton has only written a paltry four books but that was enough to get him close to the top of the pile. Since 2009 he has been the university’s Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
You can see the future prospects for the study of Western civilisation at the University of Sydney in the calibre and interests of its rising staff members. One of Stephen Garton’s protégés is Dirk Moses, who joined the history department as a lecturer in 2000 and in 2016 was appointed Professor of Modern History. Instead of Garton’s focus on madness and sex, Moses’s fixation is genocide. He is currently the editor of the Journal of Genocide Research, from which position he excoriates the country that has given him all he has. He argues that Australia is not only guilty of genocide but is one of its worst perpetrators in world history.
In his book Genocide and Settler Society (2004), Moses claims genocide is built into the structure of colonial societies like Australia:
I am not suggesting that the entirety of Australian history can be reduced to genocide. (No one suggests that studying the Holocaust reduces German history to Nazi genocide.) But neither is it possible to regard the country’s genocidal moments in the manner of an industrial accident. They are not contingencies, attributable to misguided or wicked men, but intrinsic to the deep structure of settler society.
To maximise the data behind his claims, Moses defines each separate Aboriginal tribe or clan as a whole people, so he can claim that the demise of each clan, many of which amounted to no more than fifty people, amounted to a separate act of genocide. Hence, he argues: “Australia has many genocides, perhaps more than any other country.”
Moses also compares the “genocidal pasts” of Nazi Germany and Australia and concludes that, of the two, Australia was the more culpable. Australia’s sense of nationhood was more recent, he reasons, and, in contrast to Germany, the foundation of the Australian nation lay in genocide itself:
Unlike Germany, Australia is a settler society, and its genocidal moments are the result of a colonisation process. Strange as it may seem, this fact makes the viability of Australian nationality more precarious than the German one, which long preceded the Holocaust. For in the Australian case, the very existence of the nation state and the nationalised subject is predicated on the dispossession, expulsion, and where necessary, extermination of the Indigenous peoples … The settlers were at once intrepid farmers and ethnic cleansers, even genocidal killers. They had to be.
Moses is one of a small band of Australian historians who have promoted the work of the American author Ward Churchill, who argues that the European settler-colonies established after 1492 in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, are not only potentially but inherently genocidal. In 2001, the Australian academic journal Aboriginal History devoted an entire edition to the question of genocide in Australia, based largely on the theory about settler societies advanced by Churchill in his book A Little Matter of Genocide (1997). Moses contributed to this edition with an article titled “Coming to Terms with Genocidal Pasts in Comparative Perspective: Germany and Australia”.
In a 2002 paper, “Genocide and Colonialism”, Moses endorsed Churchill’s claim that the “American Holocaust” was unparalleled both in its magnitude and its success in meeting its goals. He argued that the demand for land in America was the chief cause of the genocide of the Indians. This meant British colonists who wanted to settle and farm the land, unlike French colonists who were only interested in the fur trade, were the real merchants of genocide. In the anthology Genocide and Settler Society, edited by Moses in 2004, Churchill is treated as a citable authority by three separate authors: Henry Reynolds, Paul Bartrop and Moses himself, who reverently describes Churchill as “a Native American activist and scholar”. However, Churchill was neither a scholar nor a Native American.
In 1999, a University of New Mexico specialist in Indian law, John Lavelle, accused Churchill of fabricating evidence in no fewer than six books and eleven published academic articles. In 2005, Churchill’s employer, the University of Colorado, appointed an academic panel to investigate seven of these allegations. The panel found Churchill had engaged in falsification, fabrication, plagiarism, failure to comply with established standards, serious deviation from accepted research practices, and had even been disrespectful of Indian oral traditions. In July 2007, the University of Colorado’s board of regents dismissed him. At the same time, real American Indians accused Churchill of being a fake. The American Indian Grand Governing Council said:
Ward Churchill has fraudulently represented himself as an Indian, and a member of the American Indian Movement, a situation that has lifted him into the position of a lecturer on Indian activism … Ward Churchill has been masquerading as an Indian for years behind his dark glasses and beaded headband.
In May 1986, the University of Sydney philosopher David Stove wrote a prophetic article in Quadrant titled “A Farewell to Arts”, about both the Marxist politics that had split his old Department of Philosophy into two, and the rise of feminist anti-intellectualism on campus. “The Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney,” he wrote, “is a disaster area, and not of the merely passive kind, like a bombed building, or an area that has been flooded. It is the active kind, like a badly leaking nuclear reactor, or an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.”
Today’s complete capture of the Faculty of Arts by the Left was something Stove, who died in 1994, confidently predicted, but even he would have been surprised to find it now has a dean who applies “queer theory” to the study of “orgasmology”, and a Professor of Modern History who thinks Australia is a more genocidal country than Nazi Germany. And he probably would have been left speechless to find that an institution that disseminated such intellectual trash could be in the running to receive a substantial bequest intended by its benefactor to revive the study of Western civilisation.
Stove’s preferred solution was for governments to stop subsidising arts faculties so that students would have to pay for their tuition. This would, he thought, greatly improve the quality of students and at the same time drastically reduce their numbers, as well as the number of academic staff. However, Australia has tried expensive university fees now for two decades through the state-funded HECS scheme, and it doesn’t work the way Stove thought. Indeed, thanks to HECS, the number of students has gone up, their standards of entry have gone down, and their tuition has got steadily worse.
Roger Scruton shares Stove’s despair but offers a better remedy. “I know of only one solution to leftist takeovers,” Scruton writes, “and that is to start again.” From 1979 onwards, Scruton was involved with a number of Czech dissidents from the communist regime in establishing an underground university in Prague. “We composed a curriculum entirely of classics on a budget of £50,000 a year,” he writes. “We the teachers, and they the students, were volunteers; our shared concern was knowledge, not ideology; conversation, not conscription.”
Around the same time, a group of academics similarly concerned about the ideological takeover of English universities established the University of Buckingham in 1976. It was Britain’s first private university, a not-for-profit corporation consciously independent of government, and dedicated to traditional, small-group Oxbridge-style teaching over a longer academic year than state universities. By 1984 it had 500 students for its two-year bachelor degrees in humanities, science, law and business. In 2016 the Times Good University Guide named it University of the Year. In recent national student surveys it has been ranked first in graduate employability, first in staff-student ratios, first in course satisfaction, and first for upholding freedom of speech.
Scruton calls the University of Buckingham, where he is now a research fellow in its Humanities Research Institute, “probably the least politically correct university in Europe”. He says the difference between it and state-run universities is the quality of staff it appoints. “Once the state takes over, and its vast resources are made available to people otherwise incapable of earning a penny, the fakes and the frauds muscle in,” he writes:
Since in most humanities departments teaching is no longer required and the only tests are political, there is no answer to those desperate students except to start something new. That is what we are doing at the University of Buckingham.
Instead of throwing good money after bad into Australia’s state-run universities, this is the model for the teaching of Western civilisation that the Paul Ramsay Foundation should be contemplating.