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More “new” Colleges

April 3, 2022

The late Paul Ramsay, an Australian pharmaceutical baron established a foundation dedicated to fostering understanding of Western civilization. Why? Because “We” denizens of Western civilization began–sometime in the 1970’s–to lose interest in the truths of Western civilization that we trace from ancient Israel, through ancient Greece and Rome and the Middle Ages.

Along the way, our academic institutions no longer emphasized classical languages–Latin and Greek–that open our intellect to these philosophic and theological eras. When at university in the 1960s, prior to the eventful student disruptions against the war in Vietnam, most universities required that students take a two semester course in the History of Western Civilization.

Religious colleges and universities required more–studies in philosophy–that explored the truths at the center of Western civilization.

That traditionalist approach was challenged by events in France in 1789 that unleashed an ideology that Tocqueville called esprit revolutionaire. This ran directly counter to the Western philosophic tradition and throughout Spain, England, and to some extent Germany, a rear-guard war was waged in defense of tradition. In Spain Donoso Cortes, in England Burke, and others established and grounded opposition to esprit revolutionaire.

More than two hundred years later that same rear guard action was sustained by Michael Oakeshott in England, Russell Kirk in the United States, and a host of émigré scholars forced to leave Europe as Nazi and Marxist totalitarian movements destroyed civil society in the West.

I played a small role in the United States by founding a solely Internet university dedicated to the teaching of law, philosophy and the history of Western civilization. Others, principally at the National Association of Scholars commissioned a study that tracked the decline of courses in the history of Western civilization. Always present was a “Great Books” movement present in a handful of colleges where scholars committed to the learning found in Great Books taught generations of American students.

Here in the United States, we were not surprised that Australian National University would reject overtures to adopt a Great Books curriculum developed by the Ramsay Foundation’s director, Simon Haines.

That expectation was confirmed in correspondence with Keith Windshuttle at the journal Quadrant who replied to my concerns, long before Professor Haines was chosen to lead the Ramsay Center.

“I’m afraid to say,” Windshuttle wrote, “that the situation in Australia is much the same as in the US where leftists have taken over our universities, certainly in the humanities and social sciences, so that a traditional liberal arts degree to give students a grounding in Western civilisation is no longer available at any of them. This is just as true in our two nominally Christian universities, Notre Dame University and the Australian Catholic University, as it is in the giant state-run universities where most students go.”

I’ve argued that we must begin by starting new colleges, not attempt to reform ones that have gone bad. In the United States where there are more than 3,000 colleges and universities, it should not be too extraordinary to suggest that we can easily found 10 new colleges a year. Eight more than have been founded in the last twelve months!

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