Western civilisation is increasingly maligned, but the desire to study it is growing rapidly
In his recently released book, The War on the West, the British writer Douglas Murray laments the fact that the great contributions, ideas, and institutions of Western Civilisation are no longer celebrated.
In fact, the foundational principles of the West and its history are very often maligned. Values and ideas that no-one blinked an eye at just a decade ago have come under fire in the media and on university campuses as ‘hateful’, ‘offensive’ and a litany of other demonising epithets.
Murray clearly demonstrates the irrationality of these attacks that flow from the influence of fashionable intellectual ideas such as critical race theory, identity politics and cultural Marxism.
One of the key principles under attack is the dignity of human reason and the pursuit of objective truth. This is especially so in the humanities and morality, but even scientific and mathematical truth is being subjectivised.
Identity politics and intersectionality are especially nefarious in this regard, in which people are grouped according to race, gender and other categories, paving the way for an Orwellian groupthink mentality in which each person is treated as a member of the category to which they belong rather than as an individual.
As Richard Weaver argued, ideas have consequences. And these ideas have been incubated in many of our universities and other cultural institutions over recent decades and allowed to spread.
We are now feeling their consequences.
As far as education is concerned, we all remember the media storm the Ramsay Centre was subjected to for developing a traditional humanities undergraduate degree in Western Civilisation. In 2018 the Institute of Public Affairs conducted an audit of all 147 history courses taught in Australian universities, which found significantly higher instances of identity-based words like ‘race’, ‘gender’, ‘environment’ and ‘sexuality’ rather than historical terms like ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘the Reformation’.
These touch the area of Australian education, which interest me as an educator, but similar examples can be found in just about any institution in the West nowadays.
And yet we know that interest in learning about Western Civilisation is on the rise.
The meteoric popularity achieved in recent years by Dr Jordan Peterson, not to mention British academics like the late Sir Roger Scruton and Douglas Murray, attest to this growing search for truth and meaning. It is also reflected in the founding of the Heterodox Academy, the classical school movement, and here in Australia, Campion College.
As Christians, we know that there is a yearning for the truth, and for Truth Himself, in every human heart, so it should be no surprise that there is a small but growing “renaissance”.
In view of this, I’m pleased to announce Campion College’s own response to this movement, with a short online course on the foundations of the West, launching later this month.
Introduction to Western Civilisation covers a wide variety of subjects over about a 3000-year period, and is designed as a concise overview, so that those enrolled get a solid foundation in the key events, figures and texts of the Western tradition.
Each lecture is delivered by one of our academics, covering topics like the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem in forming the foundations of the West, the Person of Jesus Christ as God and Man, the importance of monasticism in the Middle Ages and the effects of the Enlightenment on modern history.
The course will also delve into foundational texts and figures like Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Divine Comedy, William Shakespeare and Friedrich Nietzsche.
This has been in the making for some time, delivered through Parousia Media, and I’m thrilled to be able to offer a taste of what we teach at Campion to the wider world.
But this all leaves us with a good question: why is it so important to study Western Civilisation?
Aside from the benefits of understanding the origins of our culture and institutions, it transcends us beyond the material world to study the insights of those motivated by a pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness.
If I may quote myself from a previous article in this paper, great thinkers like Aristotle and Aquinas, profoundly insightful writers like Dante, Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky and prolific modern writers such as Dawson, McIntyre and St John Paul II have all contributed to the canon and the formation of what we know as Western Civilisation, as well as artists like Michelangelo and musicians like Palestrina.
Far from being something to be ashamed of, the tenets of Western Civilisation and the works of its great thinkers and artists should be cherished, passed on and upheld as things to aspire to and take pride in, not to take down, demolish or denigrate.
We should be teaching our children to embrace their roots – to understand the good and the bad of the past; that we are custodians of a great tradition, standing on the shoulders of giants.
To learn more about the Introduction to Western Civilisation short course CLICK HERE