A DEGREE OF LACKING SELF-AWARENESS – I haven’t thus far blogged about the decision by the Australian National University not to host a course in Western civilisation, proposed by the Ramsey Centre. It seems now that pretty much every Australian university contacted by the Centre with the offer of assistance to run such a course has declined the opportunity, so the ANU is hardly alone here. I still would have left the matter alone, as it has been extensively commented on by the proponents and the opponents, but for me chancing upon an opinion piece posted today by News.com.au and authored by an ANU student Luke Kinsella. The piece shows such lack of self-awareness and indeed any political awareness that even the cynical me, stooped in a quarter of a century of ideological battles, experienced an involuntary eye-roll.

I’m a student at the ANU and I can tell you that this controversy has divided politically active students at the university.

Almost immediately after talks with the Ramsay Centre began, students and academics feared the program would become a magnet for Liberal Party supporters wanting to confirm their pre-existing beliefs about the superiority of Western civilisation.

And given everything we know about the Ramsay Centre, these fears aren’t completely unfounded. The centre has a branding problem among ANU students.

Former prime minister John Howard is the chairman of the organisation, and he is joined on the board by one of his successors, Tony Abbott.Earlier this year, Mr Abbott wrote in online publication Quadrant that the Ramsay Centre was “not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it”.The degree quickly became a joke among students. Several memes were created about it, which is never a good sign. It looked like the political version of gender studies, but right-leaning.

If the project went ahead, I’m confident that the so-called “students of Western civilisation” would have been mocked their entire undergraduate careers.

The whole degree would have been ridiculed as brain training for budding conservative commentators and Liberal politicians.

That’s simply untenable. An academic program that wants to survive can’t be plagued by accusations of political bias.

You can’t just pay a university to host your own partisan political training ground. That was the backlash.

Oh sweet Jesus. Where does one even start? Take any particular comment from the above paragraphs – or indeed take them all together – and it pretty much describes the left’s modus operandi in its long march through the educational institutions since at least the late 1960s. This is what the left has turned large parts of our universities into – all of the humanities and social sciences, and increasingly law and other, seemingly harder disciplines – an instrument for confirming and perpetuating their political biases and creating new generations of activists to spread their ideology into all corners of society. “An academic program that wants to survive can’t be plagued by accusations of political bias. You can’t just pay a university to host your own partisan political training ground.” Well, I’ve got a news for you, Luke; it can and you can, and it had for as long as I have been alive – as long as it leans to the left.
Imagine the following scenario: a cashed-up left-wing think tank offers to fund a degree in Western civilisation to a prestigious university. On the board of this think tank is Greens Party leaders, feminists and socialists.Suddenly looks like a very different degree, doesn’t it? Doesn’t look so appealing, right?
The problem with the higher education today is that no such imagined left-wing think tank needs to exist. The faculties themselves are controlled by the Green supporters, feminists and socialists (as well as all the other 50 shades of leftists and progressive opinion) who design and deliver their degree accordingly. What Luke is describing is not a left-wing version of the Ramsey Centre – he is describing pretty much every modern university. And no, it indeed doesn’t look appealing. The only reason the Ramsey Centre’s offer is there on the table is precisely because the Western civ is not otherwise getting any but deeply biased and critical look at the universities.

Luke, however, contrary to what you might have thought so far, actually would support some sort of a Western civilisation degree:

A degree that examines the rights and wrongs of Western civilisation might actually be the perfect degree for the times we’re living in.

Would you rather young people learn about Western civilisation from charismatic YouTube intellectuals, or experts with well-researched, balanced perspectives?

It would certainly be much better than the black-and-white status quo, in which the West is either a shining light of freedom and democracy or a racist and sexist imperial power that brings bigotry and destruction wherever it goes.

Like always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Great idea, Luke. Now ask yourself, why then no university actually offers such a useful and balanced degree? Maybe if the ANU – or anyone else – did, there would be no need for “charismatic YouTube intellectuals” or the Ramsey Centre trying to put their case across. It’s lovely to stake the reasonable middle ground between the extremes (“the West is either a shining light of freedom and democracy or a racist and sexist imperial power that brings bigotry and destruction wherever it goes”), but where is that middle ground, and why isn’t there anyone on it? As he stands on the moral high ground, Luke has got an excellent and expansive view in front of him, so maybe he can tell us this: what lecturer, what course, what university in Australia at the moment is teaching the presumably white part of his “black-and-white status quo”, namely that the West is “a shining light of freedom and democracy”? Not only there is no “middle” in our universities, there is no “right” either.

More than ever, students could benefit from a critical analysis of the faults and virtues of the society they live in.

What if that was the Ramsay Centre’s intention all along, and this is just one big misunderstanding? In that case, all the Ramsay Centre has to do is convince people of it.

If that’s not what they intended, they can get stuffed.

The left is the left, but the right needs to be even-handed or it can get stuffed. And the middle is the best (except it doesn’t exist). Congratulations, Luke, your tertiary education in the 21st century Australia has been highly successful.