The Institute of Public Affairs’ forensic analysis of how history is now taught in our universities proves, once again, that the cultural left now controls the academy. And as I argued in Why Our Schools Are Failing, the left’s long march has been ongoing for years.
University humanities departments once were committed to a liberal view of education, one described by TS Eliot as involving the “preservation of learning, the pursuit of truth, and in so far as men are capable of it, the attainment of wisdom”.
Central to a liberal education is the recognition that the grand narrative associated with Western culture, for all its shortcomings and faults, is a story worth acknowledging and celebrating as it distinguishes the civilised from the barbarian and the educated from those remaining in ignorance.
The peace and prosperity we now take for granted and the fact that our legal and political systems enshrine the inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are products of this narrative — one that began with the philosophers and sophists of ancient Greece and Rome and that embraces Judeo-Christianity and epochal historical events such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Reformation. As argued by Allan Bloom, a liberal education is based on the deepest thinkers of the past on the basis that “their works constitute a body of learning which we must preserve in order to remain civilised”.
Such is no longer the case. Beginning in the late 1970s and early 80s, the cultural left in England, the US and Australia attacked this liberal view of education as imperialistic, elitist, patriarchal, misogynist, racist and inequitable.
As noted by the American academic Christopher Lasch, instead of education involving a “universal transcendent truth”, the cultural left argues it simply cloaks the self-serving power of “white Eurocentric males”.
Australia’s John Carroll makes a similar point when he argues that universities no longer embrace the type of rationality and objectivity exemplified by “the Western tradition since classical Greece”.
Instead, cultural relativism prevails and subjects like art, literature, music and history are deconstructed in terms of power relationships and, as noted by Carroll, “exposed as rationalisations for entrenched wealth and privilege”.
In relation to history, the result is that graduates have an episodic, fragmented and doctrinaire understanding of the past. Even worse, many become teachers in schools where students are indoctrinated with a politically correct view of Australia’s history and the debt owed to Western civilisation.
Given the threat of Islamic fundamentalism it is also true that at the very time Western civilisation should be celebrated future generations remain either ignorant or hostile to what makes us unique and what must be defended.
Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of the IPA’s The Culture of Freedom.