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Dr Kevin Donnelly: Hope amid the dumb darkness

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Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: now la a vehicle of white heteronormative patriarchal sexist oppression and cultural hegemony. Really? IMAGE: WIKIMEDIA

A Senate vote last month offers hope that all may not be lost in the struggle for truth, beauty and goodness

The Australian Senate was on a winner on 21 June by passing a motion 30-28 calling “on the federal government to reject critical race theory from the national curriculum”.

In their book Cynical Theories Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay define critical race theory as the belief “race is a social construct that was created to maintain white privilege and white supremacy”. Adherents argue Western societies like Australia are riven with structural racism where non-whites are always marginalised and disadvantaged.

Vandalising Captain Cook’s statue and the statue of Britain’s war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill, arguing that Australia Day must be renamed Invasion Day and that future generations of Australia’s must feel guilty about past events over which they have no control are all motivated by critical race theory.

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Other examples include academics at the University of Sheffield arguing Western science is “inherently white” and associated with “European imperialism” and academics at the University of Leicester suggesting students no longer study Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Norse saga Beowulf.

And those senators who voted to approve the motion put forward by One Nation’s Pauline Hanson deserve to be congratulated. As argued by the liberal senator from Tasmania Jonathon Dunium: “Critical race theory is predicated on the belief that the laws and institutions of our nation are inherently racist. This theory is patently false, discredited and without any basis in fact”.

As I and others have argued, the national history curriculum is especially biased and guilty of political correctness. In addition to prioritising Indigenous history and culture it ignores the beneficial impact of Western civilisation and Judeo-Christianity (‘Teach students history in all its richness’, The Catholic Weekly 1 June 2021).

Even worse, students are presented with a black armband view of history where the focus is on the sins of the past instead of acknowledging, despite all its faults, there is much to celebrate. It’s no accident Australia is a peaceful, democratic nation where citizens’ rights are protected by the law.

As I and others have argued, the national history curriculum is especially biased and guilty of political correctness.

It should not surprise us. Those responsible for writing the national curriculum have embraced a negative and disparaging interpretation of the nation’s history, its institutions and way of life. As Jennifer Oriel and I argue in our respective chapters in Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March, universities and schools have long since been captured by the cultural-left.

Arising out of Germany’s Frankfurt School established in the 1920s is the argument capitalism can only be overthrown by engaging in the culture wars. A key strategy in this battle of hearts and minds is taking the long march through the institutions to ensure cultural-left ideology based on critical theory prevails.

Associated with critical theory is the belief education must be used to liberate and empower the marginalised and dispossessed and to ensure society embraces a neo-Marxist inspired godless utopia based on the mantra “from each according to ability, to each according to need”.

Drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony the argument is that Western societies enforce dominance and control and reproduce themselves by conditioning citizens to believe all is well. Even though society is characterised by inequality and injustice, as a result of false consciousness, citizens are happy to accept their fate.

Associated with cultural hegemony and false consciousness is what the Marxist Louis Althusser terms the state ideological apparatus. Similar to Gramsci, Althusser argues in addition to violence and coercion capitalist societies use institutions like schools and universities to indoctrinate and condition citizens and workers.

During the cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s, especially in arts, history, sociology, English and education faculties, a rainbow alliance of theories, including neo-Marxist critical theory, postmodernism, deconstructionism and feminist, gender, queer and post-colonial theories, took control of the academy.

As a result, the liberal concept of education involving what John Henry Newman (canonised by Pope Francis in 2019) describes as “the cultivation of the intellect” in the search for wisdom and truth disappeared to be replaced by a pragmatic, utilitarian approach dedicated to overthrowing the status quo and radically reshaping society.

Such is the success of the cultural-left that Pierre Ryckmans in his 1996 ABC Boyer Lectures argues “the university as Western civilisation knew it, is now virtually dead”. More recently, Jennifer Oriel in her chapter in Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March argues “Today, the university is a hollow man stripped of purpose and devoid of substance”.

Proven by the recent senate vote to reject critical race theory there is cause for optimism. Add the fact that 68 per cent of respondents to the 2019 ABC survey Australia Talks opposed political correctness and a number of American states have banned teaching critical race theory in schools and not all is lost.

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