I happened to catch a couple of minutes of a discussion on one of those right-wing news shows on Sky News last night. The subject was the Australian National University’s decision to ban a course on western civilisation. The fact that Australian universities are opposed to western civilisation is of course no surprise.
What caught my attention on this segment was the supposedly conservative female journalist’s passionate defence of western civilisation. Apparently western civilisation is awesome because it gave us feminism and LGBT rights.
The really depressing thing is that when you think about it she’s right. That’s pretty much what western civilisation has amounted to. The last three or four hundred years of western civilisation has been the story of the rise and triumph of liberalism. So what is destroying the West is in fact western civilisation.
We probably need to think a bit here about what we mean by western civilisation. In common usage it’s often assumed that it begins with classical Greece and encompasses European civilisation for roughly the past two-and-a-half thousand years.
I don’t think that’s a workable model. The classical Graeco-Roman civilisation, mediaeval European civilisation and the modern West seem to me to be so different as to constitute three separate civilisations. While the Renaissance is usually seen as the watershed between the mediaeval and modern worlds I think the key event was the Reformation. The Reformation shattered Christendom, not just as a reality but even as an ideal. It made the eventual triumph of secularism inevitable. The Reformation did not transform the mediaeval world – it destroyed it utterly.
The problem is that while the new civilisation that took the place of mediaeval society was bright and shiny and exciting there was a fatal flaw in the new operating system. It came with its own built-in auto self-destruct mechanism and no-one has ever been able to find a way to switch it off. It’s a dynamic civilisation but it’s doomed. It will fly high for quite a while and then suddenly explode in mid-air. That mid-air explosion is what we’ve been witnessing over the past few decades. Unfortunately it’s not the result of sabotage by nefarious external forces. It’s just inherent in the design that sooner or later it explodes.