Passing Bull 232 – What happened to the focus on Western Civilisation?


Donations to promote the study of civilisation provided it could be labelled as western did not get a warm response from the target market.  Some of its sponsors had been regrettably candid about what they had in mind.  While re‑reading Volume 5 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, I came across a passage where he reflected on the risks inherent in shutting out the learning of others.  I will set it out in full.

But the Moslems deprived themselves of the principal benefits of a familiar intercourse with Greece and Rome, the knowledge of antiquity, the purity of taste, and the freedom of thought.  Confident in the riches of their native tongue, the Arabians disdained the study of any foreign idiom.  The Greek interpreters were chosen among their Christian subjects; they formed their translations, sometimes on the original text, more frequently perhaps on a Syriac version; and in the crowd of astronomers and physicians, there is no example of a poet, an orator, or even an historian, being taught to speak the language of the Saracens.  The mythology of Homer would have provoked the abhorrence of those stern fanatics: they possessed in lazy ignorance the colonies of the Macedonians, and the provinces of Carthage and Rome: the heroes of Plutarch and Livy were buried in oblivion; and the history of the world before Mahomet was reduced to a short legend of the patriarchs, the prophets, and the Persian kings.  Our education in the Greek and Latin schools may have fixed in our minds a standard of exclusive taste; and I am not forward to condemn the literature and judgment of nations, of whose language I am ignorant.  Yet I know that the classics have much to teach, and I believe that the Orientals have much to learn; the temperate dignity of style, the graceful proportions of art, the forms of visible and intellectual beauty, the just delineation of character and passion, the rhetoric of narrative and argument, the regular fabric of epic and dramatic poetry.  The influence of truth and reason is of a less ambiguous complexion.  The philosophers of Athens and Rome enjoyed the blessings, and asserted the rights, of civil and religious freedom.  Their moral and political writings might have gradually unlocked the fetters of Eastern despotism, diffused a liberal spirit of inquiry and toleration, and encouraged the Arabian sages to suspect that their caliph was a tyrant, and their prophet an impostor.

It does seem to me that only the most determined defender of the local learning could deny that however you define or describe the relevant highway, the traffic is two‑way, and that if you were to presume to make it one‑way only, you might be invoking serious trouble.

Nor would we wish to emulate China in sealing ourselves off behind a wall – a notion that is not getting a good press because of one particularly inane advocate of such exclusion. The claim that a university might open minds – but only from one direction, seems to be at best quaint.


Leadership solidarity vital in coronavirus challenge.

Premiers have been exposed as unreliable and reckless

The Australian, 24 March, 2020.

The headline to an editorial reveals a factional fracture in a quest for solidarity.  It is also arrogant.  And the notion that the federal government is doing better than the states in this crisis is bizarre.  Not surprisingly, there are areas where reasonable minds may differ.  An attempt to conjure up some kind of cabinet solidarity is a reflection on the inability of some to tolerate uncertainty.

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