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Is Western Civilisation better?

By Allen Greer - posted Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The controversy surrounding the Ramsay Foundation’s offer to fund in one or more Australian universities a program exposing a small number of students to an intensive course centred on the documents underpinning Western Civilisation has touched on several issues, such as academic freedom. But has studiously avoided the fundamental question in designating something as “WC,” namely: Is WC “better” than the implied “other,” that is, other contemporary civilisations?

And why even ask the question? Because those who profess to believe there is no objective difference – and this includes many who are deeply embedded in that uniquely WC institution, the university - in effect debase the good and nourish the bad.

WC can be defined succinctly as the belief that all humans have a right to attain their full potential, live in liberty and pursue happiness and that society should be organised to deliver these rights.


“Better” can be measured by noting, whenever there is a choice between a WC solution and a non-WC solution, say a law trial or medical procedure, the number of individuals that choose the WC option vs the non-WC option.

The criticisms of WC and, by extension, of any course exploring WC, focus too closely on anomalies in the evolution of WC without acknowledging its enduring core and goals.

The history of WC is said to be too white male-centric. This is true, because until the 19th Century, it was men who contributed most to all civilisations. But in the 19th Century women became more prominent in the further development of WC, especially regarding the rights of women and children. Further, the influence of women in the development of WC, although still not at parity with men, is expanding, and no other culture currently enfranchises women in the development of culture to the extent WC does.

A course on WC is said to be too Eurocentric. This is also true, but only because most of the development of WC in the 17th to the 19th century was based in Europe and then in America. But where the ideas underpinning WC came from at different times in its evolution is irrelevant. It is the ideas and principles of WC, not their place of origin that is important. And since the19th Century, other geographic areas, largely past colonies of Europe, have increasingly contributed to the evolution of WC. And many non-WCs have cherry-picked some WC innovations, such as science, and made major contributions.

Another version of this criticism is that WC is seen as a world of borders and geographical places. On the contrary, the essence of WC is a set of ideas, values and processes that can take root in any mind regardless of where that mind resides.

The concept of WC is thought to “inscribe inequalities between groups and peoples.”  This is one way of looking at it. More to the point, WC inscribes inequalities between ideas and principles and seeks to choose those most compatible with individual human freedom and happiness.


It is said that to identify WC as better than other Cs would be a “boon to the most divisive tendencies in our society” and a “threat to students from non-Western backgrounds.” Yet it is the forceful expression of the freedoms and ideas of WC that will ultimately see off those divisive tendencies, not a fearful retreat from them. And why do students from non-Western backgrounds flock to WC universities, such institutions being another WC innovation, if not to assimilate WC?

WC is said to be exclusive, not inclusive. And yet no other culture is as willing to assimilate people and ideas as is WC. No other civilisation is as open to people of other cultures as is WC. Indeed, WC is constantly enriching itself by assimilating people and ideas from other cultures.

Further, WC does not mean white civilisation as white supremacists claim, because WC is not a matter of skin colour but of ideas and principles, which are open to any human to embrace and develop. But WC has dealt decisively with the idea of white supremacy, and as long as history can be read, it will only resurface as generational acne.

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About the Author

Allen Greer is a biologist who writes about science and nature.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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