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The Benedictine Contribution to Western Christianity

Fr Pius Mary Noonan, OSB

Hobart, 5 April 2017

 

First of all, I am no historian. So, when Dr Daintree was so kind as to ask me to deliver this lecture, after giving it some thought, I suggested having a look at the Benedictine contribution specifically from the inside. Many historians have documented with meticulous detail what has happened in the west under the influence of sons and daughters of the Patriarch of western monasticism. I could not possibly add to that. What I think I can do however, is point out some of the reasons for which it happened: the spiritual genius of the man who left such an indelible mark, not only on his own order and on the western Church, but even on the whole world.

 

I propose to have a look at several texts of the Rule which, in my opinion, have contributed not a little to shaping our culture. I would divide them into three categories which present our holy Father St Benedict as:

  • a man of prayer
  • a man of work
  • a legislator.

 

St Benedict the man of prayer

Quite a few people, when mention is made of monks, think almost spontaneously of what they produce: wine, beer, liqueur, olive oil, cheese, etc. But, as you probably are aware, the Benedictine motto is “Ora et labora — pray and work” in that order. A monk is first and foremost a man of prayer. What then are the key aspects of Benedict’s life of prayer that have helped shape civilisation in the west?

Let’s mention first of all a few phrases of the Rule that are foundational for any serious life in the divini schola servitii, the school of divine service, as St Benedict calls the monastery. Benedict, whose only desire, according to St Gregory the Great, was to please God (soli Deo placere cupiens), tells his monks that they must prefer nothing to the love of Christ (nihil amori Christi praeponere). Such desire for God and love for Christ gives direction to the monk’s life, orients it continually towards our final goal. It also gives shape to the practical way prayer is offered in Benedictine communities. Even though St Benedict did not invent the 8-fold prayer of the divine office (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline), his legislation in the Rule did set the standard for all subsequent legislation in religious orders up until the 20th century. Alongside other spiritual masters, his insistence that the entire psalter be recited each week left an indelible mark on ecclesiastical legislation, even for the secular clergy.

It is not possible to overly stress this point when one considers the role of the liturgy in the Church. If it is true, as Vatican II said so powerfully that “the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s entire life”, and if the various hours of the Divine Office are like the rays of that Eucharistic sun which shines over the life of the Church, it can only be the case that Benedictine monasteries have contributed not a little throughout the centuries to giving form to the Church in its most sublime aspect: a city built on a mountain gathered around its Lord in prayer, receiving from Him the light which it then radiates over the rest of the world. The centrality of the Divine Office throughout the day, with the apparent loss of time it involves, is the most important manifestation of the otium sanctum, the “holy idleness” so dear to our fathers and fundamental not only to monastic life, but to any life in the spirit. Whereas our modern technological era makes it more and more difficult for the mind to rest in thoughtful appreciation of reality, our ancestors knew how to “stop and smell the flowers”, to make leisure time in which one could pray and meditate, all indications of a healthy society in which the supreme value is not material production but spiritual progress, not doing but being.

The focus on the Sacred Liturgy in the Benedictine Tradition goes hand in hand with lectio divina. This “reading of divine or spiritual things” includes first and foremost the Holy Scriptures themselves but also all that it has inspired such as the commentaries by the Fathers of the Church as well as everything that prepares the mind to understand it and profit from its lessons. St Benedict reserved several hours a day for this activity, more in winter than in summer. He clearly wanted his monks to be well-read, well-instructed, well-armed to practice their profession of singing the praises of God. In prescribing this attentiveness to the content of Divine Revelation, he was also equipping his monks to become experts in the ways of God, to teach others, to preach the Gospel. It is no surprise if the Benedictine Tradition very quickly gave rise to exceptionally gifted monk preachers, apostles and missionaries.

 

St Benedict the man of work

The other half of the Benedictine motto is “labora”. St Benedict specifies that “Idleness is an enemy of the soul; and hence at stated hours the brethren ought to occupy themselves in the labour of their hands” (Rule, ch. 48). He goes on to prescribe just how much time is to be devoted to this labour according to the diverse seasons of the year.

Thanks to manual work, the monk conforms himself to the example of the Fathers, the Apostles, Saint Joseph the Worker, nay Christ himself, obeying the common law and preaching the dignity of humble work by which man is associated with the work of the Creator. He finds therein the sure and excellent way of self-denial and humbly takes part in helping the monastery provide for its needs and those of the poor. Manual work also teaches the monk solidarity with all the working sectors of people and makes him personally experience what it means to slog to earn a living.

It is easy to see how such an ethos of work has contributed to building up Western civilisation and to this day inspires solidarity among various classes of people. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of the monk’s life which favoured in a special way the implantation of monastic communities in missionary countries: the monks, being men of work, not only gave the good example of making a living for themselves, but also taught the people of other countries the skills they had developed in Europe.

The value of manual labour, not only for providing for one’s own needs, but also for giving peace to the soul, is admirably exemplified by a touching incident in the life of St Benedict recounted by St Gregory. “At certain Goth,” he writes “poor of spirit, that left the world, was received by the man of God; whom on a day he commanded to take a scythe, and to cleanse a certain plot of ground from briers, for the making of a garden, which ground was by the side of a lake. The Goth as he was there labouring, by chance the head of the scythe slipped off, and fell into the water, which was so deep, that there was no hope ever to get it again. The poor Goth, in great fear, ran unto Maurus and told him what he had lost, confessing his own fault and negligence: Maurus forthwith went to the servant of God, giving him to understand thereof, who came straightways to the lake: and took the handle out of the Goth’s hand, and put it into the water, and the iron head by and by ascended from the bottom, and entered again into the handle of the scythe, which he delivered to the Goth, saying: “Behold here is thy scythe again, work on, and be sad no more.” Labora, et noli contristari.

“Work on, and be sad no more”. A profound thought lies behind this expression. Work, and be sad no more. There is here an entire ethic of work as a remedy to sadness and all it can lead to. Is it not significant that, along with an increase in “leisure” in our modern world, we see also an increase in sadness, depression, and suicide? “Work on, and be sad no more”, says St Benedict. If you want to avoid sadness, find yourself some healthy form of work adapted to your capacities, and work on. Seek to reach your potential by ardent work. Such a philosophy of work, inspired by the Gospel and implemented by monks throughout the centuries, is one our world is in dire need of. Instead of finding fulfilment by the development of talents in and through work, our present day world seems hell-bent on avoiding work as much as possible. To make the most money with the least effort and have the longest weekends and holidays seems to many the ideal, and yet, how terribly depressed our contemporaries are as they go feverishly about their daily affairs, eyes glued on their mobile phones, or ears squeezed between a set of headphones, ever in search of some new distraction to dissipate the boredom, and totally unconscious of the neighbour at their side. St Benedict is there to repeat again and again: “Work, and be sad no more”. Man was created in a garden, one he was commissioned to cultivate, and so it is that man must busy himself in tranquility with healthy work if he wishes to be happy.

I might share here an incident that struck me profoundly, and which will illustrate the correlation between the “ora” and the “labora” of the Benedictine Tradition. At the abbey of Flavigny in France many years ago I welcomed an American couple who had never visited a monastery. After a bit of conversation, I offered to show them the audio-visual presentation of the community which consisted at the time of photo slides and a commentary by one of the monks, interspersed with Gregorian chant. When it was over, the lady looked at me and said: “When I came here, I was thinking: ‘These monks must really spend all their time in idleness; no wonder they get nothing done. But now, I’m wondering how you actually do everything you do!”. What she meant was that it is rather astounding how much work monks actually get done, even though they sacrifice long hours each day to activities which seem an idle waste of time, namely silent prayer, chanting psalms, reading the Bible. Well, that’s precisely why they are so effective. Spending time with God in liturgical prayer, sacrificing time to listen in silence to His Word, knowing how to “lose time” reading really good and wholesome books that nourish the mind and heart, such activities actually sharpen the acuity of the soul, and give it redoubled capacity for work. It also places things in their proper perspective, and allows the heart to be fully conscious of priorities. In the world, so much time is wasted on futilities. But the monk has no time for futilities. Every minute of his day is put to good use. Labora, et noli contristari.

A presentation of monastic work would not be complete however without making mention of intellectual and pastoral work. As mentioned above, the Rule provides for a few hours a day of lectio divina. That study of divine things inevitably led the monks to becoming scholars and missionaries. Think only of St Augustine of Canterbury, the apostle of England who was sent there by another great Benedictine, none other than St Gregory the Great himself. Think of St Boniface the apostle of Germany, of Venerable Bede, St Anselm of Canterbury, Hildebrand (St Gregory VII), initiator of what came to be known as the Gregorian reform, the first five Abbots of Cluny (Odo, Odilo, Maiolus, Hughes, Peter the Venerable) Rabanus Maurus, John of Glastonbury, Jean Mabillon, Blessed Columba Marmion, Blessed Alphonsus Schuster. Here in Australia, one cannot fail to mention men like Bede Polding, William Bernard Ullathorne, Rosendo Salvado, all Benedictine monks who became missionary bishops and found no contradiction between their life of praise learned in the cloister, and the mission to souls which was destined to give rise to other “schools of the divine service”. It is no secret that Archbishop Polding’s dream was to make of Australia one big Benedictine diocese.

We cannot fail to mention as well the legions of monks who have assisted the Church throughout the centuries by their expertise in all the sacred disciplines. Suffice to mention that, at the beginning of the 20th century, when St Pius X wanted to have a new revised edition of St Jerome’s vulgate, he entrusted this work to the Benedictines of the abbey of St Jerome in Rome. The reputation of quality work achieved in the silence of the cloister was well earned by generations of monks and nuns. For we must not omit to mention some of the illustrious women, Benedictine nuns, have illustrated the Church by their learning: to the names of Gertrude, Mechtildis, Hildegard, we should add those of modern nuns who left an indelible mark on monastic spirituality in recent times, such as Mother Cécile Bruyère, first abbess of Solesmes, or Mother Marie Cronier, foundress of Dourgnes in France. The spiritual, moral, intellectual, pastoral impetus given by St Benedict has carried through to our own day.

 

St Benedict the Legislator

St Benedict is not ordinarily conceived of as a political figure. And yet, I think it worthwhile to say a few words about the mode of government which is given form in the Rule and which has prevailed in Benedictine monasteries throughout the centuries. Benedict makes the abbot responsible for everything, everything that goes right and everything that goes wrong. Consider such phrases as this: “Let the Abbot be ever mindful that at the dreadful judgment of God an account will have to be given both of his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let him know that to the fault of the shepherd shall be imputed any lack of profit which the father of the household may find in his sheep” (ch. 2); “the Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called, and to know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required; and he must consider how difficult and arduous a task he hath undertaken, of ruling souls and adapting himself to many dispositions” (ch. 2); “the Abbot is bound to use the greatest care, and to strive with all possible prudence and zeal, not to lose any one of the sheep committed to him. He must know that he hath undertaken the charge of weakly souls, and not a tyranny over the strong” (ch. 27). It is not without trepidation that a man would take upon himself such imposing duties that will have everlasting consequences.

Let’s pause for a moment. By placing the abbot before his eternal destiny, St Benedict places things in their proper perspective, just as the Lord Himself did in the parable of the talents. Upon his return, the master of the household shows no mercy to the evildoers, to the shepherds who had no care for the flock entrusted to them. Such a teaching has a profound and lasting effect on anyone in authority who truly takes to heart what is said here. The reminder that in the end one must give an account to an eternal, non-corruptible Judge who has power to open the gates of heaven or condemn to hell was a timely one that shaped not only monasteries but also the solid European governments of the middle ages. Admirable figures such as King St Louis IX who prayed his Hours each day in the midst of his administration of the kingdom or Emperor St Henry II, a Benedictine Oblate, were the logical, sublime products of this evangelical truth. It was only when eternal realities were ignored that princes became tyrants. I might add that the very same considerations are perhaps what is lacking most in our modern governments. Our lawmaking bodies no longer have the conviction that they are but servants of an eternal law expressed in nature and therefore given by God. They no longer believe that they are accountable to the Supreme Being who will judge, reward or condemn. Modern political leaders would do well to take to heart St Benedict’s stern remonstrances to the abbot.

But if St Benedict makes the abbot responsible for everything, this does not mean he considers him to have direct and infallible inspiration at every step. Such a concept of authority has never been a Catholic one, in which even the divine right of popes and kings was never considered to be absolute, but always subordinate to the higher authority of Christ. Indeed, St Benedict stresses also that the abbot must take counsel. Immediately after the chapter on the abbot’s role (ch. 2), chapter 3 evokes the way in which the abbot must call the brethren to council every time there is an important question that needs to be treated and decided. Interestingly, whereas for the ordinary, everyday decisions, the abbot is encouraged to take counsel only of the seniors, that is, the elder monks who are experienced, when there is some more important issue at hand, the abbot is to convoke the entire community, even the youngest members. Here we see the common sense of the legislator perfected by the insight of the saint: “all should be called to council, because it is often to the younger that the Lord revealeth what is best.” In chapter 63, on the order to be kept in community, the patriarch gives us a deeper insight into why he insists on taking advice even from the juniors: “in no place whatsoever let age decide the order, or be prejudicial to it; for Samuel and Daniel, when but children, judged the elders”. This magnanimous appeal to all the members of the community concludes with a double admonition: “let the brethren give their advice with all subjection and humility, and not presume stubbornly to defend their own opinion; but rather let the matter rest with the Abbot’s discretion, that all may submit to whatever he shall judge to be best. Yet, even as it becometh disciples to obey their master, so doth it behove him to order all things prudently and with justice.” In other words, all are invited to express their opinion, but always with humility. But in the end, it is the abbot who must make the decision, and he will answer to God for it.

This form of government is one that has proved itself as solid and has survived the centuries. Even our democratic age has a lot to learn here in terms of the way in which one expresses one’s opinions, the way in which one listens to the opinions of others, and the way in which the ultimate decision lies with one man who will answer to God.

 

Conclusion

On 1 April 2005, just one day before the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, upon receiving the St. Benedict Award for the promotion of life and the family in Europe, pronounced what has come to be known as the “Subiaco Address”. In this discourse, Ratzinger, after seeking to draw the lessons from the crisis Europe now finds itself in, concluded that today, what we need are “men who, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world”. After evoking a fact that we are all acutely and painfully aware of, namely, the negative testimony of Christians who speak about God and live against him, thus darkening God’s image and opening the door to disbelief, he added: “To understand true humanity, we need men who have their gaze directed to God. We need men whose intellects are enlightened by the light of God, and whose hearts God opens, so that their intellects can speak to the intellects of others, and so that their hearts are able to open up to the hearts of others. Only through men who have been touched by God, can God come near to men. We need men like Benedict of Norcia, who at a time of dissipation and decadence, plunged into the most profound solitude, succeeding, after all the purifications he had to suffer, to ascend again to the light, to return and to found Montecasino, the city on the mountain that, with so many ruins, gathered together the forces from which a new world was formed. In this way Benedict, like Abraham, became the father of many nations. The recommendations to his monks presented at the end of his Rule are guidelines that show us also the way that leads on high, beyond the crisis and the ruins”. And to conclude by quoting the Rule, ch. 72, this chapter which is as it were the final testament of St Benedict:

“As there is an evil zeal of bitterness, which separates from God, and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal, which keeps us from vice, and leads to God and to life everlasting. Let monks, therefore, exert this zeal with most fervent love; that is, “let them give precedence to one another”. Let them most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind. Let them vie with one another in obedience. Let no one follow what he thinks good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. Let them cherish fraternal charity with chaste love, fear God, love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection, and prefer nothing whatever to Christ. And may He bring us all alike to life everlasting.”

 

Dr Cunich (University of Hong Kong History Department) gave a public lecture at Parliament House, Hobart, on Thursday 17 November.

This is the full text of his paper:

‘When Civilisations Meet: What East Asia wants from the West’

It is both an honour and a pleasure to be here in Hobart to share some of my thoughts on the relationship between Asia and the West in the early twenty-first century. It is not often that an early modern historian such as myself, whose academic interests are firmly anchored in the history of Europe in the sixteenth century, is given an opportunity to muse about the part of the world that he has called home for the last twenty-five years. But my intellectual engagement with East Asia goes back even further than that, for when I was at school in the 1970s, the curriculum was being transformed as Australia become aware of the need to engage more wholeheartedly with the countries to our north, and their ‘teeming millions’. In my last two years of secondary school, the history and geography curriculums in particular gave me an opportunity to learn about Asia for the first time. While our geography classes tended to focus on Southeast Asia and the former British colonies of Malaysia, the history course, although still dominated by the West and the two world wars (as I believe it still is to this day), had several units of study on East Asia. I learned about the Meiji Restoration in the mid-nineteenth century and the modernisation of Japan, all with a view to explaining the horrors of the Japanese aggression in the Pacific War. I also learned about the much slower opening of China to Western influence, the revolutionary activities of Dr Sun Yat-sen, the reluctance of the Qing dynasty in general and the Empress Dowager Cixi in particular to embrace change, and the eventual civil war which proved such a disaster for the most populous country in the world. Little did I realize when I was sitting at my desk all those years ago in intellectually isolated country NSW, that I would one day be teaching at Sun Yat Sen’s own university, the institution that he acknowledged as the ‘birthplace’ of his revolutionary ideas, or that I would be writing about him and his place in the evolution of modern China in my recent history of the University. So in some ways I feel that this talk is a particularly welcome opportunity to bring my own personal engagement with East Asia into some perspective as I begin to prepare for a retirement back in the familiar embrace of the West.

I am also glad to be giving this talk under the aegis of the Christopher Dawson Centre. While Dawson is, of course, best known for his work on the cultural history of Western civilisation and the role of Christianity in the long development of the West, he also had a keen interest in the impact of Western civilisation on the rest of the world – and especially Asia. He made some preliminary observations in 1952 when he devoted a whole chapter to ‘Asia and Europe’ in his book titled Understanding Europe.[1] In 1955 he published The Mongol Mission, a selection of the written accounts of Catholic missionaries who were sent by the medieval popes to the Mongol emperors of China in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.[2] Dawson brought these musings up-to-date in 1956 when he published two influential articles in the Tablet on the impact of the West in contemporary Asia, released as a pamphlet in 1957 under the title of The Revolt in Asia.[3] Dawson was fascinated by the paradoxical role of Western nationalism in this Asian revolt, a movement that was rallying Asian peoples against the political, economic and cultural influence of the West, but at the same time was removing the age-old barriers that had prevented communication between East and West, ‘doing all in its power to diffuse Western education, Western science and Western political ideologies’. In the third and final phase of the ‘world revolution’ in Asia, Dawson asserted that ‘the internal transformation of oriental society by the spread of Western education and the rise of nationalist movements … represented at the same time a revolt against the West and the acceptance by the East of Western culture and political ideology’.[4] It seems to me that Dawson’s interpretation of the Asian Revolt is as relevant to us today as it was in the 1950s. Here we are sixty years after Dawson wrote The Revolt in Asia, and Asia appears to be revolting yet again.

David, you asked me to speak ‘on any aspect of the history and influence of Western Civilisation, with particular emphasis perhaps on your own experiences in Asia’. I have taken you at your word and plan to give a very personal interpretation of where East Asia finds itself at present with respect to its relationship with the culture of the West. I am not a specialist in this field; in fact, when one of my colleagues heard about this talk he said, ‘But you have no expertise in that area!’ While that is true – I am not an expert on Asian history, politics, economics, society or culture – I have nevertheless lived in East Asia for nearly twenty-five years and have experienced some remarkable times of rapid change. I have also travelled widely throughout the region; this has given me an opportunity to watch the transformations that have been taking place in Asia over the last quarter of a century, especially in China. My own university attracts speakers from all over the world who regularly lecture us on Asia; moreover, I have learned a lot while simply listening to my students from different parts of East Asia as they discuss their aspirations, fears and hopes for the future. I am also an inveterate newspaper clipper, so I have trawled through my collection of news clippings from the last few years in bringing my thoughts on the present situation in Asia into focus for this talk. So what I lack in expertise, I hope I will make up for in basic experience.

But first, let me define the geopolitical area that I have described as ‘East Asia’ in the title of this talk. It is that region which used to be known as ‘The Orient’ until such terms became taboo in the academic world because of political correctness. But even in the old days, ‘The Orient’ was a difficult term to pin down: it referred more to a set of cultural norms that were placed in opposition to the dominant Western belief systems than an actual place on the map. My definition of modern East Asia is based on a geographical and political understanding of a globalised world which has chopped the globe up into ‘regions’. It has always struck me as curious that, in an age of so-called ‘globalisation’, we still need ‘regions’ to understand how the world works, but this is, of course, linked to the way in which we try to understand the economic and political functioning of a global system that is far to difficult intellectually to swallow in one gulp. To me, then, East Asia consists of five major states bordering on the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, and perhaps one other developing nation which was for centuries associated with Chinese overlordship. These modern-day nation-states are:

China, with a population of 1.357 billion in 2013, and the Chinese satellites of Taiwan (23 millions), Hong Kong (7 millions) and Macau (600,000)

Japan, with a population of 127 millions

The Philippines, with a population of 98 millions

South Korea, with a population of 50 millions, and

North Korea, with a population of 25 millions (we think!)

The final state that I would want to include in this list is Vietnam (population 90 millions) because I think that in many ways it is more integrated with the East Asia nations than it is with the Southeast Asian countries further south, both economically and culturally. Together, these six countries have a population of 1.778 billion people (25% of the world’s population) and are home to some of the most dynamic and fastest growing economies in the world – even Japan, which is now economically stagnant, was for a time in the second half of the twentieth century a similar economic dynamo, but it is worth remembering that Japan still the third-largest economy in the world in terms of GDP. It is self-evident that this area is one that is of enormous importance for the future of the world, especially in an economic sense. China and Japan are the second and third largest economies in the world by GDP ($11.4 trillion and $4.7 trillion), and South Korea is fast catching up to the other countries in the top 10 ($1.4 trillion, currently in eleventh place).[5] Everyone predicts that China will be the largest world economy by 2021, even though it is notoriously difficult to know exactly what China’s current GDP is.[6] With economic power comes political and cultural clout, so the whole world is watching East Asia as it moves forward to becoming the centre of the world economy in the next few years. Within the next decade, we are told, China will once again be the Middle Kingdom of old, albeit a Communist kingdom!

            There is, of course, a problem with using nation-states as the basis for an interpretation of East Asia’s place in the world today. In doing so we leave out a very significant part of the East Asian land mass – the Russian Far East, a huge area stretching from Lake Baikal to the Sea of Okhotsk. The problem is that this area has never really been included in the Western notion of the ‘Far East’ because its connections are largely with Russia and always have been. While it may be geographically East Asian, it certainly does not fit in economically or culturally. I have also left out Mongolia because, even though it is closely linked to China especially in sharing its very long southern border, it has no access to the Sea of Japan and is not generally thought of as part of East Asia – it is more normally spoken of as a Central Asian state. The other problem with taking the modern nation-state as the basis for an evaluation of East-West relationships is that we might be tempted to consider only the formal national policies as being valid measures of a people’s engagement with the outside world. I have rejected this approach, as you will see, because in many East Asian states today there is a marked and growing dichotomy between what the state says and what the people actually think.

I would like to start this analysis by telling you what I found in East Asia when I first visited in the late-1980s. While it was already possible to visit China at that time, my only incursion into the sleeping giant of Asia was a brief hour-long walk over the border from the Portuguese enclave of Macau into the ‘special economic zone’ of Zhuhai to the north of the Gongbei gate. What I found there was extraordinary: a long narrow street brightly lit with fluorescent lights and lined with shops selling every type of modern consumer goods and appliances – I had not expected this in Communist China – but only a few yards on either side of the street the traditional China was still evident in all its faded and grimy dullness. The point at which we turned back was the local market, where we saw all manner of animals for sale in cages. As we watched the haggling going on we saw a pangolin being removed from its cage and being killed by clubbing its head against the pavement. This ghastly introduction to so-called ‘modern’ China will always be engraved in my memory.

Back in Macau, I was amazed not by the Chinese-ness of the place, but by the feeling that I had seen it all before. Macau was, in many respects, a Baroque European city, with tree-lined civic squares, neo-classical public buildings and dozens of beautiful churches, all reflecting the cultural aspirations of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe. Most of the signs were in Portuguese, and the whole place closed down for the Mediterranean fiesta in the middle of the day. I found this both quaint and rather confronting. I had not expected Macau to be caught in such a time warp because Hong Kong had by that time lost most of its colonial charm and its public places had given way to the sorts of concrete and steel skyscrapers that you see in any other modern city. I have been going back to Macau every year since I arrived in Hong Kong to teach in 1993 because for me it is the perfect teaching resource for any course in early-modern European history. Not only does it have the architecture and the ambiance of a Mediterranean city, it was also the place where Europe’s modern engagement with East Asia began. It was Macau that St Francis Xavier used as a forward base for his missionary activities in Japan in the mid-sixteenth century; Macau then became the headquarters for the Jesuit missionary encounter with China, led by Matteo Ricci and a succession of priest-scholars who were among the few Westerners ever allowed to gain access to the imperial capital of Peking and even the Emperor himself.

It was through this acquaintance with Macau and its history that I came to understand that contact and cultural interchange between China and the civilisation of the West stretched back over many centuries, from the diplomatic and trade contacts between the Roman Empire and China in the first century BC, to the great Nestorian migration of the Tang dynasty in the seventh or eighth centuries AD, and the European emissaries sent by the medieval popes to the Mongol emperors in the thirteenth century. The relics of the early Christian settlers in China can still be seen in Xian, even though the Chinese authorities like to play down the significance of the fact that Christianity was a well-established religion in the cosmopolitan court of the Tang emperors more than seven hundred years before the Portuguese reached south China in the sixteenth century. But there is even earlier evidence of contact between China and the West in the red-haired and big-nosed Westerners who settled in the Tarim basin of present-day Xinjiang nearly 4,000 years ago. Our historical gaze regarding the contact between China and the West tends to be directed by historians of the modern world towards the attempts by European imperialists in the nineteenth century to ‘open’ China to Western trade, but how many people realise that the Chinese economy, the largest in the world at the time, had been sucking the majority of European silver hewn from the mines in Mexico and Brazil out of the international system for three hundred years between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries. The ‘unequal treaties’ of the nineteenth century therefore represented an attempt by the Europeans to take control of a long-standing globalised economy that had for centuries been largely controlled by the Chinese, despite Western notions that they were in control. At the same time, the Philippines had been colonised by the Spanish from the middle of the sixteenth century and integrated into their global empire and, like the Portuguese in Macau, was used as a bridge to China.

            I have started with this long historical aside because it is important for us to understand that the so-called ‘dominance’ of the West in Asia is a relatively recent phenomenon. The ‘modernisation’, or perhaps we should say the ‘Westernisation’ of Japan and China beginning with the Meiji restoration in the 1860s is therefore considered by many Asian scholars to be an aberration in the longer span of the world’s history. Consequently, they also have a rather different take on the current resurgence of Asian economies than we do in the West. What we can be certain of, however, is that the two dominant East Asian civlisations of the nineteenth century had a lot of catching up to do when they came face-to-face with the technologically superior Christian civilisation of the West. Japan was, of course, an early adopter of all things Western, even if she did retain the essential elements of traditional Japanese culture. For the Chinese it was a rather different path to modernisation, with Sun Yat-sen’s early attempts at bringing modern Western nationalism and democracy to China eventually descending into the chaos of a decade-long civil war and the ultimate victory of communism in 1949, at a time when the West was itself divided between democratic and communist blocs. By 1949, however, China had experienced one hundred years of intensive cultural interchange with the West, especially through missionaries who had come primarily to convert pagans, but in the process also brought with them Western education, Western medical advances, and a whole new system of ethics that was willingly adopted by many in the burgeoning urban middle classes. Western missionary activity also made significant inroads in Vietnam, Japan, and especially Korea after 1945; today, around 30% of the population of South Korea are Christian.

In the years that followed communist victory in China, the Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese all revolted against both the imperialism of the West and Western values in general. As Christopher Dawson realised with such insight in the 1950s, the century-long presence of the West in Asia was leading to a revolt against Western political dominance, but paradoxically that revolt used the very same cultural and ideological tools of the dominant Western civilisation. In each part of East Asia this revolt was slightly different – anti-colonial in Vietnam, anti-imperial in China, and a programme aimed at beating the Westerners at their own economic game in Japan – and for that reason it led to different results in different parts of East Asia. In Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, there were stunning economic gains through full participation with the global economy from the 1950s. China, Vietnam and North Korea closed their doors to outside influence and aimed at self-sufficiency through a series of disastrous economic policies that blighted people’s lives and left their economies out-of-step with worldwide trends. Even their own cultural history was annihilated in an iconoclastic cataclysm that left millions dead and national treasures destroyed. The Philippines just muddled on, relying on Western aid and military support for its corrupt government and lackluster economy. When China opened itself to renewed economic engagement with the West from the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping’s policy of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, a new age of economic development was ushered in which led to startling GDP growth of up to 10% per annum. China’s ‘economic miracle’ rapidly caught up with the rest of East Asia and has ultimately dragged Vietnam into the modern globalised economy through Mainland and Taiwanese investment schemes.

            This story of engagement between East Asia and the West obviously did not have an even impact across the region. The Vietnamese did not reach out to the West until after the 1991 Paris Agreements, and the Kim dynasty in Pyongyang has always seen the West (but more particularly the United States) as its enemy. More recently, Rodrigo Duterte has upset his country’s international relations by moving closer to China and rejecting Western concerns about extrajudicial killings as part of his war on drugs. His belligerent rhetoric towards Western nations and the Catholic Church (calling the bishops of the Philippines collectively ‘sons of whores’) has proven popular in a country that has always proudly boasted of being Asia’s only Christian nation, with 86% of the population being Catholic. In Japan, it has been pointed out that the current economic policy, popularly known as Abenomics, represents a rejection of Western fiscal and monetary norms. While Shinzo Abe’s ‘three arrows’ have fallen far short of their target in reviving Japan’s flagging economy, the policy has nevertheless allowed Japan to position herself more favourably in regional geopolitics and begin to dilute some of the pacifist provisions imposed by the West after the Second World War. Abenomoics is seen by many as a means of reasserting Japan’s place in the world, unrestrained by Western influence and more closely allied with her old enemy China.[7] Some commentators have recently argued that all East Asia really wants from the West is respect. Perhaps these anti-Western measures are simply part of a continuing campaign by East Asian powers to demonstrate that they deserve a respected place among the old Western nations in the twenty-first century?

Unfortunately, all of these developments seem to indicate the gradual closing of doors that were previously open to Western influences of various kinds, but it is in China that opposition to the key elements of Western civilisation has recently been most startling. The confrontational actions of the Chinese government under the presidency of Xi Jinping since 2013 have sent a chilling warning to those of his comrades who would wish to continue accommodating prevalent Western cultural norms within China. While Xi’s determination to exercise control over the minds of the Chinese and rid the country of harmful Western ideas have been likened to a ‘Maostalgia’ for the good old days of the Cultural Revolution when Mao Zedong was prepared to do anything to crush opposition to the regime, the current programme of de-Westernisation in China has not been as brutal as that of the 1960s.[8] Nevertheless, worrying signs of an all-out war against Western ideas and beliefs have been growing over the last four years. In July 2012, the General Office of the Communist Party of China issued a confidential internal document warning against the infiltration of seven dangerous Western values that are representative of the ‘liberal ways of thinking’ by which the West attempts to subvert other cultures and polities. This warning was widely circulated within the Communist Party in 2013, becoming known as the notorious ‘Document Number 9’,[9] whose implementation led to a sudden crackdown against human rights lawyers, media outlets, academics and various other independent thinkers and artists. The document announced that ‘disseminating thought on the cultural front [is] the most important political task’ of the Party, especially the need to proclaim that ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Chinese dream are the main theme of our age’. Party members were encouraged to ‘expand and strengthen positive propaganda’, and ‘strengthen the management of ideological fronts’ because ‘we must clearly see the ideological situation as a complicated, intense struggle’. The seven areas of concern to the central party machine were listed as:

Promoting Western Constitutional Democracy as an attempt to undermine the current leadership and the socialism with Chinese characteristics system of governance;

Promoting ‘Universal Western Values’ in an attempt to weaken the theoretical foundations of the party’s leadership;

Promoting Civil Society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation;

Promotion of Neoliberalism (unrestrained economic liberalisation) in the guise of Globalisation by Western powers in an attempt to change China’s Basic Economic System;

Promoting the West’s Idea of Journalism (‘freedom of the press’), thereby challenging China’s principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to Party discipline;

Promoting Historical Nihilism in the guise of ‘reassessing history’ in an attempt to distort Party history and the history of New China; and

Questioning the Reform and Opening of China Policy in a way that deviates from the dogma of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Party members were enjoined to guard against failures in the so-called ‘ideological sphere’ being promoted by ‘Western anti-China forces’ in their ‘attempt at carrying out Westernisation’. Protection and strengthening of the ‘ideological sphere’ was to be achieved through:

Strengthening leadership in the ideological sphere: key leaders must react swiftly and effectively and preemptively resolve all problems in the ideological sphere;

Guiding party members to distinguish between true and false theories: resist ‘false tides of thoughts … uphold strict and clear discipline’; ‘We must not permit the dissemination of opinions that oppose the Party’s theory or political line’;

Unwavering adherence to the principle of the Party’s control of the media: in political matters the media must be ‘of one heart and mind with the Party’; and

Conscientiously strengthening management of the ideological battlefield: the management of propaganda ‘on the cultural front’ must be reinforced and absolutely no opportunity or outlet must be allowed ‘for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread’.

The ‘conscientious strengthening of the ideological battlefield’ that has been attempted through the implementation of Document Number 9 since 2013 has taken various forms, but chief amongst them are (1) a crackdown on media outlets selling Western books, (2) tightening of control over publications entering China (including the kidnapping and detention of five publishers and booksellers from Hong Kong),[10] (3) monitoring of textbooks used in schools and universities to ensure that Western ideologies are not taught in the Chinese education system,[11] (4) close surveillance of academics in universities to ensure that ‘further advances in Marxism’ are made in the social sciences and philosophy,[12] (5) tightened control over news media, (6) greater supervision of the internet in China and the blocking of ideologically unsound content, (7) a clampdown on political activists promoting democracy or Western liberal principles (including in Hong Kong where students involved in the Umbrella Movement of late 2014 have been arrested and convicted for their political activities), (8) the targeting of artists who use political satire in their work, (9) making it more difficult for Western expatriates to enter and stay in China for work,[13] and (10) implementing tighter controls over Christian churches whose religious practices the Party has long perceived as an ‘existential threat to its rule’.[14] In all these areas, the Chinese government has attempted to enforce its control over the minds of its citizens in order to rid China of politically destabilising Western ideas. How successful have they been?

            In answering this question I would like to start by making an obvious point of which the Chinese government is itself fully aware. People do not always believe what they are told to believe or do what their governments tell them to do, even within a totalitarian state such as the People’s Republic of China. While it is clear that the Chinese government wishes to restrict the continuing impact of Western ideas through repressive measures, it seems to me unlikely that they will achieve these aims given the existing penetration of Western ways of thinking throughout China, but particularly in the cities. In assessing why I think China and the other countries of East Asia will continue to be influenced by the West, whether they want it or not, I am going to be focusing on the agency of individual people as a conduit for these ideas to spread. In my experience, people within a state such as China actually continue to do whatever they think is right or most expedient for themselves, despite what the government tells them. In exploring the continuing relevance of Western civilisation to East Asian peoples I am going to use the analytical categories that David employed in his book, Soul of the West.[15] These seem to me to be a good starting point for understanding why it is impossible in the modern world for Western civilization NOT to continue to have an impact on East Asia, with the one possible exception of North Korea.

            David’s first category in analyzing the ‘primary structural components of our complex [Western] culture’ is language. While he focused on Latin as the ‘principal vehicle of Western civilisation’ in the past,[16] I think in the modern world most people would agree with me that English is now the universal language of Western ideas. This is something which is readily recognised by people in East Asia. People living in Hong Kong or the Philippines have a valuable cultural advantage in the modern globalised economy because they possess higher levels of competence in the use of the English language. Other East Asian nations understand this and have been pursuing national programmes of English language instruction for many years. In China, English is the most popular foreign language (having long overtaken the previous favourite, Russian), but there are a number of other languages that are also thought to have practical value in today’s world, especially French, German and Spanish (all European languages), which are considered to be the most important means of communication (apart from English) that people use for international business transactions. Places on foreign language programmes in Chinese universities are highly sought after, and the same is true in Japan and South Korea. You will no doubt be surprised to learn that Latin is also flourishing at China’s top university, Beida in Beijing, where an American Benedictine monk has been teaching Latin to large classes for several years after running a similarly successful programme at a Catholic university in Taiwan for more than a decade. Almost everyone in East Asia seems to want to learn a Western language. The importance of this development for cultural interchange is obvious: in order to acquire a foreign language these days, students do not just learn grammar and vocabulary, they also read Western texts, many of which are drawn from the great canon of our Western civilisation. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to learn a Western language in Asia without being exposed to Western ideas.

This brings us to David’s second category: literature. David made the point that ‘echoes [of the Bible] are everywhere’ in Western literature, from the early church fathers through to Dante, Shakespeare and most of the modern authors before the twentieth-first century.[17] What we do not realise in the West is that so much of our literary canon has been translated into the vernacular languages of East Asia. I am not sure how Shakespeare’s plays would sound in Chinese, or whether Petrarch’s sonnets still have a noticeable rhyming scheme when translated into Japanese, but the extraordinary truth is that so much of the West’s great literature is being published and circulates relatively freely within East Asian nations. While most of this literature is perhaps known only by the intellectual elite, we should remember the old Jesuit maxim about what you teach a boy when he is young – some of the future leaders of China are already deeply imbued with Western literature, and this literature has been consumed within the seemingly closed intellectual borders of China, not in courses taken in Western universities. But it is not just the Chinese intelligentsia who are frequently exposed to Western texts. One of my favourite statistics is the fact that the world’s largest publisher of Bibles is located in Nanjing: the Amity publishing company printed 13.22 million Bibles in more than 100 languages in 2014. Established in 1987, Amity had printed more than 130 million Bibles by the beginning of 2015, 60 % of which were distributed within China.[18] When a communist country such as China allows the Western civilisation’s Sacred Scripture to be printed and distributed so widely within its borders, it is surely impossible for Western ideas not to have some impact on an increasingly large percentage of the population who can now read. The same is true in Taiwan and Korea where active evangelisation of the non-Christian population has been in progress for many years.

            In the field of law, philosophy and government, East Asia is similarly exposed to a whole range of Western ideas. Half of my East Asian nations are democracies (Japan, Taiwan and South Korea), while the other half are ‘communist republics’ (China, North Korea and Vietnam). Only Japan retains its ancient imperial monarchy, although these days that is stripped of its old powers. The point that I want to make here is that both representative democracy and communist totalitarianism are Western inventions, and even though China may insist that her political system is ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, the basic political philosophy is a nineteenth-century Western notion. Even within present-day China there are two small islands of executive-led representative government which are closer to Western democracy than Chinese communism – Hong Kong and Macau. Although tiny by comparison with the enormity of the Chinese state, both places represent a serious threat to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party through repeated demands for a more representative and responsible system of government. Beijing realises the threat that is implicit in such calls, and is reacting by trying to suppress the democracy movement in Hong Kong. Despite attempts to restrict news media and the internet, many Mainlanders (Chinese Mainlanders) are fully aware of the battle that is taking place in Hong Kong. I am told by my students that one of the reasons that some Chinese people want to visit Hong Kong is so that they can see the local democratic movement in action, especially at the key annual events such as the June 4 Vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. While resistance to Western democracy will no doubt continue for a long time as communist regimes in China, Vietnam and North Korea attempt to retain political control of their countries, an awareness of democratic principles cannot be easily purged from the collective memory, especially in China which had nearly fifty years of democratic government in the first half of the twentieth century. North Korea may, of course, be a slightly harder nut to crack!

            We must also remember that the reach of Western law in both its common (British) and civil (European) manifestations has been so extended beyond their home jurisdictions in the last half century that Western legal norms are now considered to be the guiding principles of international trade, business and finance. With the possible exception of North Korea, all the East Asian nations are now major players in the world economy and all have surrendered to the need for contracts to be negotiated and adjudicated according to Western norms. Major international law firms (mostly American, British and Australian) are present throughout East Asia, as are the world’s largest accountancy firms, which also operate under Western principles. Tens of thousands of East Asians are being trained in Western legal and accounting standards so that they can take part in the global boom in trade and finance. Once released, these principles will be difficult to restrain. And as David says, these principles are based on the fundamental Christian notion that ‘each human being has absolute value’.[19] To uphold Western ideas of ‘the intrinsic value of every individual’ goes completely against the traditional Asian belief in ‘the total subordination of the individual to the sacred traditions that have been handed down from antiquity’,[20] yet East Asian nations, particularly China as the emerging economic superpower of the twenty-first century, know that they must play by the legal and accounting rules that govern international trade and finance. In this way, notions of basic human rights have been creeping into China for decades, a trend that has not gone unnoticed by the Communist Party. Whether China will be able to maintain its international presence economically and not eventually embrace the wider ramifications of using Western legal codes is yet to be seen.

            Another major factor in bringing Western influence to East Asia has always been education. Initially it was the foreign missionaries who brought Western learning to the orient, but now such learning is fully embraced by the state, even when it is carefully controlled, as is the case in China and Vietnam. It is simply not possible for modern professionals to function in the global economy without a comprehensive Westernised education. This is fully recognised by all East Asian nations, even North Korea. You will be well aware that millions of Chinese have been educated outside China over the last thirty years in every field of academic endeavour, some of them at my own university in Hong Kong and very large numbers here in Australia. Not all of these graduates return to China, but those who do return take with them not just a theoretical knowledge of how the Western system works, but an intimate acquaintance with daily life and how it reflects the intellectual foundations upon which the Western academy is founded. There are many senior people in China who choose to tow the party line, but who nevertheless hope for a better future when Western principles become more acceptable to the masses and the Party.

            There are already some important cultural areas in which it is clear that Western ideas dominate. Whenever I visit a Chinese city I am absolutely amazed at the extent to which the built urban environment that has suddenly arisen over the last twenty years is an almost exact copy of what we have in the urbanised West. You might expect to discover in China, or Japan or South Korea architecture in an established vernacular style, but you would be wrong. Most of the large public, commercial and residential buildings that are being constructed with such alarming speed in these countries today are recognisable to the Westerner as neo-classical in style. It is as if someone had taken all the architectural conventions of the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries in Europe and applied them religiously to the new urban landscapes of East Asia in the early twenty-first century. You will also hear Western music played everywhere in East Asia; not just the pop tunes that are churned out by the modern Western music industry, but also the great music from the classics of the Western repertoire. Colin Thubron was surprised in the mid-1980s when he heard ‘The Blue Danube’ being broadcast over the tannoy in a public park near Beijing.[21] Many Western visitors to China have had similar experiences of cultural dissonance in China; just a few weeks ago I took an Australian friend across the border to Zhuhai and we heard ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ being played in a shopping centre! Moreover, the Chinese have long had some of the best Western orchestras in Asia, and many Chinese children learn a Western musical instrument. Many of you will also be aware of the Suzuki method of violin education, pioneered by the Japanese musician Shinichi Suzuki. I could say more about Western music in East Asia and also Western art in general, but my time is running short. Suffice it say that western art, music and architecture have penetrated deep into the East Asian psyche and will be difficult to evict.

            There are many other areas that I could have quoted to show you that Western civilisation is alive and well in East Asia. Mass tourism to the West from Japan, China and South Korea over the last forty years has brought tens of millions of East Asians into direct contact with the wonders of Western art, architecture and culture in cities across Europe. Modern consumer culture has placed a high premium on Western goods that reflect and refract Western culture to an eager East Asian market. Western sport has slowly become another prism through which East Asians learn something of Western values of co-operation and teamwork. Just consider the baseball-mad Japanese and the soccer-crazy Chinese, or the way in which Rugby has been spreading its tentacles throughout Asia.[22] This is surprising because East Asians were always considered to be disinterested in sport and not very good at it. We might also want to consider the national priority that is placed on being selected to host the Olympic Games: China desperately wanted to host the 2008 Olympics to showcase its role in the modern world, and Japan did everything it could to secure the 2020 Games in Tokyo. People cannot play and watch Western sport without being influenced by it. I would also perhaps want to talk more about the new ‘Belt and Road’ policy of China, a scheme which seeks to connect China indirectly via Central Asia to Europe through a new twenty-first-century Silk Road. This will be a permanent and powerful artery for the transfer not just of trade goods and resources, but also of people and ideas. I agree with David that, ‘Ideas are the most powerful things in the world’,[23] and for this reason I believe that the great tradition of Western civilisation will become more visible to East Asia as the years go by.

            When Dawson wrote The Revolt in Asia in the mid-1950s, he suggested that ‘the oriental world is being transformed before our eyes’ and that the influence of Western civilisation was ‘seeping in by a hundred channels and nothing can prevent its ultimate triumph’.[24] While I think it would do us well to be cautious about the Western triumphalism of Dawson’s rhetoric, I find the metaphor of Western civilisation ‘seeping’ into the cultures of East Asia to be very convincing. As I have tried to argue this evening, Western culture IS seeping into East Asia, and has been for centuries. I do not think that this process is reversible – when even the brutal totalitarian machinery of communist China has failed to arrest the spread of Western ideas and beliefs in the People’s Republic, it seems unlikely that any other political or intellectual system will be able to prevent this seepage in the modern globalised world of the internet and the relatively free flow of information. There will always be gaps and fissures in any system of mind control, and into these crevices will seep ideas and beliefs, especially ideas and beliefs that are already partially known or even familiar. So I believe that the ‘great tradition’ of the civilisation of the West will continue to meet and mingle with the even older traditions of the East. And while some of East Asia will continue to embrace the gifts of Western civilisation, even those nations that are currently resisting its influence will ultimately be engaged and changed by it. Like Dawson, then, I believe that this process is unstoppable. Once the genie is out of its bottle, it cannot be squeezed back in.

[1] Christopher Dawson, Understanding Europe (London & New York: Sheed and Ward, 1952).

[2] Christopher Dawson, Mission to Asia, originally published as The Mongol Mission in 1955 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980).

[3] Christopher Dawson, The Revolt in Asia (London & New York: Sheed and Ward, 1957).

[4] Ibid., p. 35.

[5] While different institutions have their own means of calculating GDP, China and Japan come second and third in ranking tables of the IMF estimates for 2016, World Bank calculations of 2015, and the United Nations list for 2014.

[6] Prableen Bajpai, ‘The World’s Top 10 Economies’, Investopedia (18 July 2016), http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/022415/worlds-top-10-economies.asp, retrieved 9 November 2016.

[7] Tom Holland, ‘The hidden agenda behind Japan’s Abenomics’, This Week in Asia (12 September 2016).

[8] Niall Ferguson, ‘In the grip of a new cultural revolution’, South China Morning Post (26 May 2016).

[9] Its full title is ‘A Communique on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere’, see https://www.chinafile.com/document-9-chinafile-translation, retrieved 27 May 2016. See also Chris Buckley, ‘China Takes Aim at Western Ideas’, The New York Times (19 August 2013), and The Washington Post editorial, ‘China’s pathetic crackdown on civil society’ (22 April 2015).

[10] Raquel Carvalho, ‘Official booksellers to be missing from Guangzhou event’, Sunday Morning Post (23 October 2016).

[11] Mandy Zuo, ‘Warning to private schools in Shanghai’, South China Morning Post (27 October 2016).

[12] Cary Huang, ‘Academics must remake Marxism for 21st century: Xi’, South China Morning Post (18 May 2016).

[13] Julia Hollingsworth, ‘Good old days may be over for expats in China’, Sunday Morning Post (23 October 2016).

[14] Mimi Lau, ‘The New Commandments’, South China Moring Post (24 October 2016).

[15] David Daintree, Soul of the West: Christianity and the Great Tradition (Ballarat: Connor Court, 2015)

[16] Ibid., p. 29.

[17] Ibid., p. 33.

[18] Cang Wei, ‘Spreading the Word: China’s Bible Industry’, The Daily Telegraph (21 April 2015).

[19] Daintee, Soul of the West, p. 45.

[20] Dawson, Revolt of Asia, p. 32.

[21] Colin Thubron, Behind the Wall, originally published in 1987 (London: Folio Society, 2016), p. 13.

[22] Jun Mai, ‘China lays down plan to dominate World Cup’, South China Morning Post (12 April 2016); Nazvi Careem & Chan Kin-wa, ‘Ambitious plan to grow rugby in China’, South China Morning Post (11 April 2016).

[23] Daintree, Soul of the West, p. 70.

[24] Dawson, Revolt in Asia, p. 39.

Full Text of Prof Jeff Malpas’s address to the Centre on 25 August.

“Good Government Starts Today”: On the Death of the Public, the Triumph of Private Interest, and the Loss of the Good

The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufacture, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public…The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it – Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.[1]

“Good government starts today”, declared the then Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, after surviving a potential leadership challenge in February of 2015.[2] The question is, what sort of government does the Prime Minister think is good? It seems unlikely that the conception of good government he was referring to was the same as the famous portrayal of good government in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the 14th century.[3] There good government is seen as based on the promotion of the common good for which “it is indispensable that our rulers should be lovers of justice”.[4] Lorenzetti contrasts good government with bad, and of the city characterised by bad government, we are told that “because each seeks only his own good, in this city Justice is subjected to tyranny”. [Insert image 1: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘Allegory of Good Government’ (1338-40), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy]. I will come back to Lorenzetti in a moment, since in spite of the distance between Siena and Canberra, in both time and space, Lorenzetti has something to say about good government that remains true today. To return to Tony Abbot, however, it would seem, on the face of it, that the short answer to the question as to his own conception of good government was essentially that it was a government in which he remained Prime Minister. Viewed more broadly, and looking to the actual practice of government under Abbot, as well as under other administrations both Liberal and Labor, good government in contemporary Australia would seem, in contrast to 14th century Siena, to be taken as defined by a relatively narrow of set of considerations, almost all of them, with the exception of electoral success, economic – and almost all of them also short-term (this seems not have changed under Abbott’s successor, Turnbull). Moreover, in taking the economic as their over-riding principle, they do indeed seem, in the terms of Lorenzetti’s portrayal, to subject Justice to Tyranny, since what typically underpins the economic in its contemporary form is the assumption that “each seeks his own good”, rather than the good of all.

Such a narrow orientation seems to have become typical of governments across the English-speaking world from Australia to Canada, and, in addition, often infects governmental and policy discussion at international levels. It is a focus that takes the economic to be the primary concern of public discourse and the primary consideration in the determination of the public good. It might be objected, however, that even though contemporary public debate is indeed often focussed around matters economic, this is not to say that the public and the economic have therefore been conflated or the one reduced to the other. The realm of public discourse includes other topics than the economic as its focus, while the public remains distinct from the economic as a realm of debate and discourse that is apart from the realm of commercial transaction, monetary exchange, and financial management. Although such an objection may appear to be correct, what it overlooks is the way in which the realm of the public is now indeed structured in a way that takes economic considerations as primary, and in which the economic and the commercial themselves enter into and often determine the very character and context of public discourse and decision-making. The so-called ‘business-model’ now determines almost everything from art to health. Not only does the economic provide the terms in which public activity is almost invariably framed and by which it is assessed, but increasingly our public engagement with others takes place in economic and commercial spaces, by means of electronic communication and information systems that are commercially owned and operated, and often itself has the character of a form of an economic or commercial transaction. The realm of the public – or indeed the ‘civic’ – does indeed seem to have become almost identical with the realm of the economic.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on the starkness of the contrast here between

this conception of good government and that which we find in Lorenzetti. ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’ does not neglect the economic – economic activity, in this case,

buying and selling, is clearly portrayed in the fresco among the ‘Effects of Good Government’ – but it is secondary to Justice, as well as the other virtues, and secondary also to Wisdom, to which Justice herself attends [insert image 2: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘Allegory of Good Government – Effects of Good Government in the City’, (1338-40), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy.]. Economic success is indeed one of the effects and not a cause (whether effective or constitutive) of good government, and neither can economic success be said to be a principle of good government or that which rules over it. One might argue that the ideal of good government that arose in Siena was one dependent on Siena’s own rise to prosperity, but the ideas of good government portrayed in Lorenzetti’s fresco are nevertheless not peculiar to Siena alone, reflecting ideas prevalent in much pre-humanist and humanist thinking, and in the Latin traditions on which Lorenzetti seems to draw as well as the Greek.

What characterises the conception of good government, and so also rules the domain of public life in Lorenzetti’s portrayal, is virtue. The economic is itself subject to virtue, and is indeed made possible by it. Lorenzetti’s account is not peculiar to the pre-modern, but can also be seen as present in modern conceptions of good government. Most significantly, it is clearly present in the work of Adam Smith whose Theory of Moral Sentiments should properly be regarded as the essential preliminary to The Wealth of Nations. Indeed, not only does Smith contest the idea, popularised by de Mandeville, that the pursuit of private interest is sufficient for the advancement of the public good, but he also argues for the need for the activities of the marketplace to be constrained by considerations of morality if the public good is to be preserved (moreover Smith, as the lines at the head of this essay suggest, warns strongly against allowing business interests to lead governmental policy). The contemporary dominance of the economic is not something endorsed by Smith any more than by Lorenzetti (and Smith’s thinking is itself heavily influenced by the Stoic conceptions that are also present in Lorenzetti). In this respect, both Smith and Lorenzetti offer important counters to the contemporary mode of ‘economistic’ thought and governmental practice.[5]

Yet although the contemporary situation is one in which the public, and so too the political, seems to have been engulfed by the economic, the economic nevertheless appears as an anomalous category to be associated with the public. The economic, that which pertains to the oikos (to use the original Greek term from which ‘economy’ comes), is a category that originally belonged with the domestic and the familial. That the term might indeed encompass the public is indicative of a shift in the understanding of the economic and the public, but also of the increasingly problematic character of the traditional distinctions between the domestic and the civic, between private and public, between the ‘social’ and the ‘political’. The idea that the public good – that which is the concern of ‘good’ government – might be first and foremost an economic good, further reinforces the breakdown that appears here.

The understanding of the public good as an economic good, and of that good as determinative of public and governmental decision-making, typically leads to the transformation of the public good into a set of private interests, and government comes to be oriented to the fostering of those interests, while public discourse becomes a domain in which differing private interests compete for the right to be viewed as the means by which the public good is to be furthered. Contemporary liberal political theory has reinforced this tendency towards an economistic form of government though its refusal to recognise any ‘metaphysical’ or properly moral underpinning to the political – its refusal, for instance, to recognise the pre-eminence that is given in Lorenzetti’s portrayal, to Justice, to Wisdom, and the virtues that flow from them – instead treating the political as essentially a realm for the negotiation of private interest and preference. The liberal model is thus itself already predisposed towards ‘economism’ and so also stands, so I would argue, in a problematic relation to the very idea of the public as distinct from the economic. It does so precisely because it can no longer provide any articulation of the public good, or indeed, of the good as such, that stands apart from private interest. What the public might itself be thus also become uncertain – the public becomes merely an agglomeration of the private.

One could view the process that I have begun to sketch here as one in which the idea of the public (along with the notion of the economic, and perhaps even of the political and the moral) has simply changed, but I would suggest that it is better viewed in terms of the death of the public. There is no longer any clear sense to be attached to the idea of a public domain – or a public good – that goes beyond private interest. In the brief discussion that follows I want to explore some of what is at issue here, and especially the way in which the rise of a privileged economic discourse contributes to this death of the public, not only through the triumph of private interest that is associated with it, but also through the transformation it brings in the very idea of the ‘good’ – whether in association with the notion of the public, in association with ideas of government, or, in more general terms, as it might refer to the ‘good’ that is the focus for ethical discourse and around which a properly human life might be said to be oriented. Moreover, inasmuch as I would talk of the ‘death’ of the public, so the seeming ‘transformation’ of the good that occurs with the rise of economism actually amounts to a loss of the good – though part of the way this occurs is precisely through a shift in language that obscures the very fact that it is a loss.

Talk of the ‘death’ of the public is immediately suggestive of Richard Sennett’s famous work from the 1970s, The Fall of Public Man. Sennett’s book does not focus on the economic in quite the way I have sketched here (although the economic is certainly not absent from his discussion), but Sennett does argue for a problematic tension between private and public as that emerges in modern, and especially contemporary culture. For Sennett, what occurs with the rise of modernity is a turn away from the public towards the private, not construed in terms of a shift from private good to public interest, but rather in terms of a shift from the outward engagement with others to an inward engagement with the self – although it turns out to be an engagement that cannot be satisfied.

There is much in Sennett’s argument with which I would agree, except that, when read against the background of contemporary ‘economism’, it seems that the turn to the private that Sennett identifies should actually be understood as a turn towards a self that is now almost entirely constituted and shaped by the primarily economic context in which contemporary modernity situates it. I would argue that part of what is problematic about the contemporary world, and part of what underpins Sennett’s own analysis, is an emptying out that has occurred, not only in relation to public space and its forms – an emptying out that is tied to the turn ‘inwards’ – but also in relation to the private. Moreover, this has occurred precisely through the reshaping of human life through economic forms and their associated structures – forms and structures that are focussed around interest and preference, but also around interest and preference as these are taken up within the frame of the economic and the commercial, as they appear within systems of consumption and production, as they are amenable to surveillance and manipulation, as they operate to drive systems of authority and power.

The rise of social media is an important example of this. Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter ostensibly offer new forms of social engagement – apparently allowing the opening up of new forms of intimacy and new possibilities for the articulation of the self. They also have a prominent role in contemporary forms of public and political engagement – even politicians tweet and every politician has a Facebook page. Yet Facebook and Twitter are first and foremost commercial systems that sit within a framework of production and consumption, but in which consumption, in this case consumption of the service Facebook and Twitter offer, is itself immediately productive and in multiple ways. Facebook users themselves generate the content that Facebook users also consume; while Facebook users also generate the content – the informational content and the access to a consumer marketplace – that Facebook sells to its commercial customers, and the same is analogously true for Twitter. Not only have the consumers of Facebook and Twitter become the unpaid producers of what it is that Facebook and Twitter sell (the collapse of consumption into production that is evident here being a characteristic feature of late capitalism), but the consumption and production that occurs here, as well as the seeming transformation of social engagement into itself a form of commercial exchange based around the accumulation of ‘followers’, and binary expressions of preference in terms of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, also depends upon and exemplifies the peculiar collapsing of the private into a form of public discourse, and of public discourse into the realm of the private.

This collapse occurs in several ways. One of the factors that drives it as well as being in turn driven by it is the tendency towards individualisation. On the one hand this leads to increased focus on individuals as they stand apart from more complex forms of social relationality, instead reducing them simply to subjects, and so as the focus for systems of production, consumption, surveillance and control. This sort of individualisation, because it involves a reduction down to a form of empty individuality, is itself compatible with forms of mass socialisation, and is a key element in contemporary systems of individual disempowerment and impoverishment. On the one hand, the tendency towards individualisation also leads to the concentration of power, authority, and attention in specific individuals – hence the contemporary cult of celebrity, the over-valuation of ‘leadership’ and excessive individual reward for those in ‘leadership’ roles, the increasing tendency towards top-down systems of management and decision-making, and the rise of arbitrary, narcissistic, and sociopathic behaviours on the part of those in positions of power and authority.

In contemporary discourse, individualisation and economism seem to go together, and they certainly reinforce one another – especially given the economist presumption of an essentially market-oriented model of social interaction as occurring among individual ‘consumers’. In a world of individual subjects, the very idea of any form of public good becomes opaque – if it remains, it seems it can only be as something constituted out of individual preferences and concerns, in which case public good seems to become nothing more than a multiplicity of private goods. This does indeed look to be what has occurred across much of the contemporary English-speaking world (it is less common outside it): what was previously understood as a genuine public good, such as education, is now increasingly construed as a private good, and access to it determined accordingly as something that could be privately funded – or if publicly funded then on an individual basis. Almost all of those goods that were previously provided by the State have been transformed or are in the process of being transformed in this way. The transformation of public good into private interests also leads to the privatisation of the means by which public goods were previously made available. Not only do public goods become private, then, but the realm of what was public activity is transformed into a domain of private entrepreneurship. Indeed, even worse than that, the public realm itself becomes a domain for commercial exploitation by private interests. Thus public administration is increasingly infiltrated and driven by private commercial interests, most notably, especially in contemporary Australia, by the interests of the big accounting and audit forms who even get to define the ethical standards under which they will themselves operate. Indeed, the peculiar situation now exists in which those firms essentially set the constraints – often given regulatory as well as ethical force – on how public administration should itself operate at the same time as those firms also stand to benefit directly from the constraints they impose. One particularly striking example of this, affecting both the private and public sectors, is the imposition of the International Accounting Standards – formulated by the same firms who directly benefit from the implementation of those very standards.

The conversion of public good into private interest also leads to the effective identification of the public good, inasmuch as that notion still retains any content, with certain particular private interests, namely those corporate interests who command the greatest influence within government through the sheer weight of lobbyists employed, through personal influence, or through the personal and professional connections that link politicians and political parties to the business and commercial sphere, often linking them directly to corporations and their CEOs. The ‘governing class’ thus becomes almost indistinguishable from the ‘business class’. It should be no surprise that the dominance of economic discourse is accompanied by the increasing dominance of the most powerful economic interests. Indeed, when economism prevails, there is an inevitable tendency – reflecting the tendency for concentration and centralisation identified by Marx as a feature of capitalism itself – towards the dominance of particular sectional economic interests and groups over others that reflects the economic dominance of those same interests and groups. Economic dominance thus brings discursive dominance, and that in turn institutionalises, in the very discourse, underlying forms of economic power and inequality. This is one reason why contemporary economism is so starkly opposed to any genuine concept of the democratic, and perhaps also partly explains why anti-democratic measures are so readily embraced by economistically-inclined governments.

The predominance of economic and business interests in contemporary public discourse is underpinned by the economistic prejudice towards what might be termed economistic universalism or foundationalism: the idea that economic interests are the bedrock on which any and every other interest is founded. The satisfaction of economic considerations is thus taken to be the absolute precondition for the satisfaction of any and every other consideration. On the face of it this may seem such a common-sensical idea as to be beyond challenge. But it only appears so because of the prior dominance of an unquestioned economistic prejudice – a prejudice that, never acknowledging itself as a prejudice, presents itself as somehow neutral between interests, or as promoting an interest that belongs to all, at the same time as it implicitly promotes an identification of certain particular economic interests as privileged over others.

In many cases, the prioritization of the economic is presented in a fashion that make sit looks as it were merely the discourse to which other discourses must attend if they are to have any chance of satisfying their goals, but which is neutral with respect to those interests. The economic thus pretends not to differentiate between goods, but to be that which allows other goods to be realised. In this way the focus on the economic converges with a ‘liberal’ political sensibility that refrains from any adjudication of the nature of the good, but instead supposedly aims merely at an impartial negotiation between competing claims and conceptions. Yet at the same time, any and every economic decision or judgment, and the political decisions with which they are implicated, involves the differentiation between interests and the realisation of some interests over others. Thus although the Greek oikos does not name that which is valuable, but rather concerns the management of the domain in which that which is valuable resides, the manner in which such management operates is itself expressive of a commitment to the value of that which it aims to preserve and protect. The idea of economic discourse or indeed of liberal political discourse – as somehow evaluatively neutral is thus doubly problematic in that it obscures the inevitable evaluative partiality that it supposedly abjures – allowing the promotion of sectional interest under the banner of sectional impartiality. The realm of the economic can only function on the basis of decisions about what is valued, and yet those questions are kept outside of the realm of public discussion by the very prioritization of the economic as such.

Of course, sometimes, the prioritization of the economic is presented in terms of the prioritization, not merely of what facilitates value, but of that which is indeed valuable in itself, and equally valuable to us all, namely, economic prosperity and success. Here the supposed ‘neutrality’ of the economic resides in the supposed universality of the value enshrined within it. Once again, however, this obscures the way in which the idea of economic prosperity or success is often itself geared to very particular measures of such prosperity or success, and, in addition, also involves a fundamental misconstrual of the nature of value and of the economic. To refer again to the Greek notion of oikos, even though this domain is predicated on valuation, oikos does not name anything that is in itself a value (unless it be a secondary value). To take an analogy from business, profitability, here the analogue to economic success, is not itself a good or value in its own right such that business can take the maximisation of profitability alone as its guiding principle. Profitability becomes a partial measure of the effectiveness of business management (and so might be construed as a secondary value) given an already determined set of decisions about the nature and orientation of the business in question. This is reflected in the fact that those business that are oriented only to the maximisation of profit are businesses that typically lack coherence, lack effective organisational and managerial integrity, and typically also lack longevity (there ought to be an important lesson here for those contemporary public institutions, for instance, universities, that have taken economic considerations as pre-eminent in driving the operation of those institutions – on the basis of what can learn from the business sector, the future of such institutions is likely to be a grim one).

A characteristic feature of the contemporary dominance of the economic is that it is a dominance not mitigated or constrained by any countervailing interest or group – and this is largely because no other interest is recognised as an interest that is not already an economic interest. A useful illustration of the dominance of the economic, although a very specific one, can be seen in the climate change debate in which scientific views have routinely been discounted on the grounds, in part, that scientists have what is essentially an economic interest in promoting climate change as a result of the research grants to which they gain access as a result of the acceptance of climate change as a scientific orthodoxy. Outside of the scientific community, scientific opinion tends only to be given significant weight in contemporary discussions where it is itself translatable into an economic interest that connects with the dominant economic interest. On this basis, there is indeed no interest that is not an economic interest or convertible into such; no interest that, if set against economic interests, is not challengeable through being reducible to an economic interest (or that can be treated as such). Those interests that cannot be reduced to the economic in this way, for instance, the interests of some green or environmental groups, are thus characterised as irrational or fanatical – even as standing against normal society –– a characterization that can be seen to follow almost inevitably from the dominance of the economic, the assumption of economic interest as the only rational interest, and so the automatic exclusion from rational discourse of any discourse that is not predicated on the primacy of economic interest.

The situation here is made more complex by the fact that even though what has occurred, and is still occurring, is indeed the transformation of public goods into private interests, and the effective death of genuinely public discourse (the latter being perhaps best defined as discourse that takes the public good as its primary focus), still the language of public life retains much of the language of the public good, though it now effectively functions to disguise the very transformation and loss of the public that is also underway. Since the way the notion of the public figures here is generally in tension with the fact that it is actually private interest that is dominant, we can say that part of what also occurs is a transformation in the language of public discourse – a transformation that can be characterised as a ‘subversion’ of the good. That is, the language of the good, and not only of the public good, but of the good as such, and so of a host of normative concepts including ideas of justice, excellence, virtue and so forth, has itself become a language that now functions to support and sustain modes of discourse, types of behaviour, and forms of social, political, and institutional structure, that would ordinarily be taken to run counter to those ideas. The good thus becomes attached to that which is actually an emptied-out conception of the good.

This is not merely an emptying out of ethical language that reduces it to some form of neutrality, but more than that, a subversion of that language – a transformation of it into that to which it would ordinarily stand opposed. Something like this was already described by George Orwell in 1984. His description of elements of ‘Newspeak’, and more specifically his account of the various ministries that make up the governmental apparatus of the state of Oceania under the leadership of ‘Big Brother’[6]: the ministry of love, which uses torture as a means of subjugation, the ministry of truth, which propagates lies, the ministry of plenty, which manages rationing, and the ministry of peace, whose responsibility is war. Significantly, the ministries’ names are not ironic – within the social and political order of Big Brother, each minister is seen as aiming at bringing about that which is given in its name, it is just that the meaning of those names, love, truth, plenty, peace, become strangely different from what we might ordinarily imagine – language is indeed subverted, put in the service of that which ought to be considered contrary to it. The good is thus put in the service of evil – in the service of that which stands again any conception of humanity. In Orwell’s account it is not private interest that has taken over, not any notion of the public good either, even though the latter notion is indeed used to justify the existing political order. Nevertheless, the state of affairs Orwell describes is not so far removed from that of the present, not only in its emptied out and subverted normativity, but in its removal from any sense of human value by which it could be limited or constrained. The world of Orwell’s 1984 is thus different from the present world, and yet in many respects not so far away from it either – in neither case is there any value outside of the value already prescribed, any value other than that of the ‘good’ as determined by the existing political order or of the existing economic system.

Like the political totalitarianism described by Orwell, contemporary economism recognises nothing that constrains or limits it – economic discourse is that which encompasses all rational discourse (so in many circles the ‘market’ is taken, somewhat counter-intuitively, to be the epitome of rationality) and may even be said to be taken as identical with rational discourse. The refusal of limit is perhaps the most problematic aspect of contemporary economism and the public discourse that it constitutes. Not only does it mean that contemporary economism has to be itself counted as a form of discourse that is ‘totalitarian’ in character, but it also means that it lacks any capacity to engage in genuine self-critique, may even be said to refuse such critique, and so is blinded to its own shortcomings and failures. Moreover, in its refusal to recognise its own partiality, it also limits the capacity for public discourse to function in a genuinely democratic fashion (which can itself be seen as part of its ‘totalitarian’ or ‘authoritarian’ tendency), limits the capacity for dissension and debate, and vitiates the possibility of genuine public engagement on critical issues. The dominance of the economic does not just entail the death of the public and the triumph of private interest, but it also brings with it the effective disabling and shutting down of public discourse, and so even of the possibility that the question of the public good might emerge as a subject for discursive public engagement.

The question of good government ceases to be a question if good government is already assumed to be completely determined within an economic frame. Indeed, that assumption essentially sets the question of the good to one side – in many cases, explicitly taking it to be a matter that is itself secondary to the economic. In this way the economic comes to take priority even over the political (which is effectively subsumed into the economic) and over the ethical – the economic itself takes priority even over the good. Part of what is lost in the dominance of the economic is even the sense of what the good consists in and its binding character. The good cannot be set aside because of pragmatic considerations that seem to lead in a contrary direction, and in the absence of any ethical deliberation – any deliberation in regard to the good – there can be no adequate estimation of how even pragmatic considerations should be weighed, assessed, or even determined. Indeed, it is at this point that the extent to which the loss of the good has occurred, and the absolute dominance of the economic, becomes even more clearly evident. All too often, the attempt to reintroduce notions concerning the good or the ethical into existing public discourse, such as it is, take the form of attempts to show that ethical considerations, and considerations relating to the good, ought to be taken account of because of their economic relevance – because, for instance, ethical investment portfolios actually turn out, so it is sometimes said, to have historically performed better financially, or because unethical business practices do indeed undermine long-term business viability, or because a society that is actively engaged with questions of the good is also likely to be a society given to more creative and vibrant economic activity. In all such cases, the attempt to re-found a mode of public discourse through re-founding the idea and relevance of the good in its supposed economic virtue is not only deeply confused, but is itself destructive of the very attempt that it enacts – effectively serving only to reaffirm the very economic framework that it seeks to contest.

We cannot reclaim a sense of the public unless we also reclaim the idea of the good, even if as a contested notion, on which the public is itself founded and from which it draws it real vibrancy and viability. Reclaiming the public thus means reclaiming a genuine public discourse that already recognises the good as standing before any idea of the economic. It will not help us in that task of reclamation if we constantly give in to the discourse of the economic by trying to reinterpret the good in terms of the economic. The reclamation of the public will only begin in a reclamation and reassertion of the idea of the good. It is precisely with such a reclamation that good government has the possibility of beginning anew. Without it, the only government that remains is bad government. The latter begins when Justice, which we can also understand here as identical with the idea of the good, is removed from her pre-eminent position, and is instead bound by tyranny. The Tyrant himself sits in company with Cruelty, Deceit, Fraud, Fury, Division, and War, and is ruled by Avarice, Pride, and Vainglory. [insert image 3: Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘Allegory of Bad Government’, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena] Not only does contemporary public discourse, including the discourse of contemporary politics, seems to lack many of the virtues identified by Lorenzetti, but it also seems all too easy to find in it exemplifications of the vices that Lorenzetti associates with bad government. Perhaps one has to take Tony Abbot’s confident assertion about the new beginning of good government as itself an example of the subversion of the good, and the inversion that inevitably accompanies it.

Notes and References

[1] The Wealth of Nations edited by A. Skinner (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), p.359). The “dealers” referred to here are those who “live by profit”, namely, “the merchants and master manufacturers”

[2] He finally succumbed – being ousted by Malcolm Turnbull – some seven months later in September 2015.

[3] The images included in the text are each from the series of frescos together known as ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’ painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti  between 1338 and 1339. The frescoes are located in the Sala dei Nove (Salon of Nine, which is actually the Council Room) in the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) in SienaItaly. The first shows Justice (Justicia) with Wisdom (Sapientia) placed above and Harmony (Concordia) below, from ‘The Allegory of Good Government’, the second shows ‘The Effects of Good Government in the City’, and the third shows ‘The Effects of Bad Government in the City’. Images of the frescos are readily available online.

[4] Quentin Skinner, ‘Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The Artist as Political Philosopher’, Proceedings of theBritish Academy, 72 (1986), p. 15 [1-56].

[5] Antagonism towards the demands of the ‘economic’ can be seen to be present throughout almost all of the philosophical tradition prior to the twentieth century. This is not merely indicative of the philosopher’s suspicion of the merchant (although this certainly runs deep – it is part of what underpins Plato’s scorn for the Sophists who turn the teaching of wisdom into a commercial transaction), but of a deeper concern for the priority of the ethical over the merely prudential or pragmatic. One might even say that what is at stake here is the very possibility of the ethical and also the philosophical as distinct from the prudential and pragmatic. The contemporary attack on the critical disciplines, including philosophy, that make up the Humanities, is thus directly related to the assertion of the dominance of the economic.

[6] The use of ‘Big Brother’ as the name of a reality TV show has changed some of the connotations that might now attach to the name. Indeed, the use of the name for that show seems to have only a tenuous connection with Orwell’s original use – primarily in terms of the idea of continuous surveillance – although the way the show can itself be seen to fit into a larger system of corporatized entertainment that itself seems to reinforce problematic forms of social interaction may be thought to represent one respect in which the show does indeed connect quite directly with aspects of Orwell’s vision in ways presumably not intended by the producers of the show itself.

CDC HOSTS TOP CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER JOHN HALDANE

 Eminent Scottish philosopher and Vatican advisor, Professor John Haldane was in Hobart recently as a guest of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies.

Centre Director, Dr David Daintree said it was an honour to host one of the world’s leading Catholic philosophers.

“It was a huge privilege to have him visit us in Hobart,” he said.

St Mary’s Cathedral Centre was close to capacity on Friday 15 April for Prof Haldane’s address on the topic Is Civilisation under Threat?

Throughout his presentation Prof Haldane pointed to social changes that have increasingly lead to the sexualisation of children as one of the central anti-civilising factors.

“When people look at histories of civilisations they, and not only religious writers, have been interested in a feature in some of the later stages of civilisation, which is the movement of sexuality outside of the context of fairly strong social structures,” Prof Haldane said.

“I do think that we are in a very interesting state of affairs of cultural development in which there is something quasi-pathological going on,” he continued, “in the disconnection of sexual interest from anything that one could see as serving the interests of family or community as well as the interest of the individuals themselves.”

He described the current culture as suffering from what he called “sexual schizophrenia.”

“What is interesting is that in the very culture that is denunciatory of paedophilia there is also an explosion of the barely legal pornography,” Dr Haldane said. “It’s a genre of pornography that is growing very, very rapidly.”

Dr Haldane went on to speak about the threat of terrorism as an anti-civilising force in the world, especially for Western Countries in Europe, such as Britain, France, Holland and Belgium where terror attacks have occurred.

He also gave insight into the Islamic State’s (IS) barbaric two-fold terror strategy.

“Transgressive behaviour breaks down the norms of practice,” he said. “Then the idea is that you degrade the culture to such a degree that you then step in as the saviour of that culture.”

He also mentioned that within this strategy IS co-opts children in their barbarous beheadings and ritualised executions.

“I do think that the sexualisation of children on the one hand and this kind of barbarism on the other both represent profoundly counter-civilising influences,” Prof Haldane said in his concluding remarks. “I think there is a serious threat to civilisation and I think Western Societies are not well placed to meet those threats, partly because they are themselves engaged in the degradation of the human, but also partly because as Yeats says they have lost all conviction.”

During his time in Australia Prof Haldane has also appeared on the ABC’s Q&A and Compass programs.

“His recent television appearances reveal him as a man of sensitivity and tact in difficult situations, but with a towering intellect,” Dr Daintree said.

 See also

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/26/conservatives-love-to-hate-political-correctness-but-the-left-should-rail-against-it-too

and

 http://www.abc.net.au/religion/

Professor Benno Zuiddam’s address on 7 April is now available at http://www.bennozuiddam.com/The%20Shadows%20of%201516,%20Zuiddam.mp3.

DR KEVIN DONNELLY 5 NOVEMBER

Dr Kevin Donnelly is one of Australia’s leading education commentators and authors.  He is currently Executive Director of the Education Standards Institute and Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University.  He was co–author of the Review of the Australian Curriculum.

Topic:  The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum.

Thursday 5 November at 5.00 pm in Law Lecture Theatre 2, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania Sandy Bay

Dr Donnelly taught English and Humanities for 18 years in Victorian government and non-government secondary schools. He has also been a member of state and national curriculum bodies, including: the Victorian Education Department’s Post Primary English Committee and Post Primary Taskforce, the Year 12 English Panel of Examiners, the Victorian Board of Studies and the federally funded Discovering Democracy Programme and inquiry into the Australian Certificate of Education.  Dr Donnelly has written extensively on contemporary developments in education for Australia’s print media and is the author of Why our schools are failingDumbing DownAustralia’s Education Revolution and Educating your child: it’s not Rocket Science.

Gala Musical Concert

St Mary’s Cathedral Centre

(corner of Patrick and Harrington Streets, Hobart)

2.00 pm Sunday 31 May

Bid the season farewell with autumnal tones selected from Bach and Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel, as well as some contemporary compositions

The Programme

6-7.30 pm on Tuesday 12 May

FORUM:  Religious tolerance in an age of extremes

Professor Fred Woods and Professor Neville Rochow SC

 A public forum on religious freedom and respect for minorities and how they enhance social cohesion and economic performance

Tuesday 12 May, 6 -7.30 PM

Law Lecture Theatre 2, Law Building, University of Tasmania

We live today in what some claim to be one of the most religiously intolerant periods in history. Not only are some religious minorities believed to be fomenters of disharmony in other countries but, in our society, they are seen to mix only with their peers, wear distinctly un-Australian clothing and live together in ethnic ghettoes into which no-one else is allowed to enter.

As part of the South Pacific Speakers of Excellence series, prominent American professor, Dr Fred Woods, is coming to Australia in 2015. Over a period of two weeks (2-20 May), he will meet with many Australian political, legal and academic leaders to speak about this complex issue: “Religious tolerance in an age of extremes”.

 “I will examine the current situation facing religious minorities in the context of a unique experience 150 years ago that affected people in many countries,” says Dr Woods. “Then, a religious minority, the Mormons, suffered severe persecution. Unable to practise their beliefs in the Eastern U.S., converts from all parts of the world, including Australia, were forced to move to the western territory, often suffering severe depredations and death on the way.

“Today,” he continues, “the Mormons are an American success story, filling the senior ranks of politics and business, even including a presidential candidate, after decades of being religious and social pariahs. We will talk about why religious tolerance is a breeding ground for multicultural success while discrimination and ostracism leads to societal failure.”

 Accompanying Professor Woods on his tour is Professor Neville Rochow, an Australian barrister and legal theorist. He will address the subject of freedom of religion and the implications of marginalisation of religious thought and practice resulting from growing secularism.

“Some secularists have contended that religions are a financial albatross around the neck of state. They often cite tax concessions as a problem,” says Professor Rochow. “The evidence, considered as a whole, points the other way. Where there is religious freedom and tolerance, a country’s economic performance is at its greatest. Religious organisations provide monetary benefit to communities where congregations are located. They make their capital assets and other resources available in ways that would be economically hard to replicate except at great additional cost to the government and possibly reduced efficiency.

“On our tour, I will give evidence that religious freedom should be enhanced rather than restricted.”

Fred Woods, a religion professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, has lectured in many countries on the subject of interfaith relations and the importance of religious tolerance in an age of religious extremism. He held the Richard L Evans Chair of Religious Understanding for five years at BYU.

Neville Rochow is an adjunct professor at Sydney’s University of Notre Dame and adjunct associate professor at the University of Adelaide. He has over two decades of experience as barrister, being appointed silk in 2008. He has spoken and published nationally and internationally.

 5.30 pm on Tuesday 28 April

Professor John Armstrong, Professorial Fellow at the University of Tasmania:

The Two Sources of Western Civilisation

Prof Armstrong (http://www.johnarmstrong.com.au) was born in Glasgow, educated in Oxford and London and moved to Australia in 2001. He is the author of nine books, including In Search of Civilisation, Love Life Goethe, The Secret Power of BeautyHow to Worry Less About Money, Life Lessons from Nietzsche. For five years he was Senior Advisor in The Office of the Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne. In 2014 he became a Professorial Fellow at the University of Tasmania. John works closely with The School of Life news website The Philosophers’ Mail (http://thephilosophersmail.com).  His latest book Art as Therapy was written jointly with Alain de Botton.

OUR FIRST LAUNCESTON FUNCTION

26 MARCH 2015

Thursday 26th March saw the inaugural presentation from the Christopher Dawson Centre in the north of the state.

Almost forty people gathered in the Launceston Pastoral Centre to listen to the Centre’s Director Dr David Daintree speak on the topic ‘What has gone wrong with education?’

He spoke of the failure of moral purpose with the resulting rejection of objective (absolute) truth together with the virtual disappearance of the teaching of History from the syllabus. The fragmentation of the syllabus together with the increasing trend towards premature specialisation enforced upon our students has been detrimental to both their moral and academic growth. The neglect of great books by humane writers of universal importance and the primary place given to pleasure in learning (together with the tendency to avoid or dumb-down more difficult subjects that call for a degree of discipline) has resulted in our inability to teach students but merely to entertain them.

After an all too brief presentation (we could have listened for very much longer) a lively and lengthy question time followed. It was agreed that the presentation was very successful and so it was decided that Launceston will have a bimonthly presentation. The next event will be on Thursday 28th May, when the speaker will be Mr Joshua Martin on J R R Tolkien.

Janet Hoare

Friday 28 November 5.00 pm: Prof Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University

Religious Freedom

Frances Parsons Building, Jane Franklin Hall

Tuesday 2 December 6.00 pm

Mr John Dawson, from Youth With A Mission (YWAM),

The Fundamental Importance of Christianity for our Civilisation

JOHN DAWSON and his wife Julie operate out of several locations around the world. They have four children and seven grandchildren. Author of the bestselling book Healing America’s Wounds and founder of International Reconciliation Coalition (IRC), John has spoken at hundreds of citywide gatherings in the US and around the world.

Book LaunchA short biography of the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson was recently launched by Archbishop Julian, at the Cathedral Centre in Hobart.

Christopher Dawson-A Biographical Introduction was written by Karl Schmude, a former Head Librarian of the University of New England in Armidale and founder of Australia’s first tertiary ‘liberal arts’ college, Campion College in Sydney.

Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was an English Catholic historian who devoted a lifetime of learning to exploring the relationship between Christianity and Western culture.

As a Catholic scholar, Dawson looked closely at the historical sources of the Christian way of life and the secularisation of contemporary culture.

He believed strongly in the necessity of spirituality to every living culture and the importance of religious foundation to society.

Christopher Dawson-A Biographical Introduction was published by the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, which was officially launched in Hobart earlier this year to promote greater awareness of the richness of the Christian intellectual tradition

Copies of Schmude’s book are available for $11 plus postage. Click here for your order form

FR BILL MISCAMBLE CSC – 31 JULY 2014

 The venue, through the kind offices of the Hon Madeleine Ogilvie MHA, will be The Reception Room, Parliament House, Hobart.

 All welcome.  To help us plan seating please advise us on director@dawsoncentre.org if you intend to be present.

 Rev. Wilson D. (Bill) Miscamble, C.S.C. joined the permanent faculty at Notre Dame in 1988. The Australian native was born on July 23, 1953, and educated at the University of Queensland, from which he graduated in 1973 and obtained a master’s degree three years later.  In 1976 he came to Notre Dame to pursue graduate studies in history.  He received his doctoral degree in 1980.  He then served for two years as North American analyst in the Office of National Assessments, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, Australia. In August of 1982 he returned to Notre Dame and entered the priestly formation program of the Congregation of Holy Cross.  He was ordained a priest on April 9, 1988.  In the History Department he teaches at all levels from first year courses to doctoral seminars.  He chaired the History Department from 1993 to 1998.  In addition to his responsibilities on the history faculty, he has served (2000-04) as Rector and Superior of Moreau Seminary, the principal formation site for the Congregation of Holy Cross in North America.  Fr. Miscamble’s primary research interests are American foreign policy since World War II and the role of Catholics in 20th century U.S. foreign relations.  His book entitled George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950 was published in 1992 by Princeton University Press and received the Harry S. Truman Book Award.  He also has authored Keeping the Faith, Making a Difference (2000), and edited American Political History: Essays on the State of the Discipline [with John Marszalek] (1997), and Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses (2003).  His 2007 book From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War was published by Cambridge University Press and received the Harry S. Truman Book Award in 2008. More recently Father Miscamble has published  The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs and the Defeat of Japan (2011) and For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University (2013).  He also has published a number of other articles, essays and reviews. Father Miscamble has notable interests in the areas of Catholic higher education and Catholics and public life and he lectures and writes on these topics.  During the 2013-14 academic year he held a visiting appointment as the Paluch Chair in Theology at Mundelein Seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

DR CONOR SWEENEY:

CHRISTIANITY – HIGH IDEAL OR PERSONAL FAITH?

THE CENTRE’S FIRST  PUBLIC LECTURE, 20 MAY, 2014

After a successful launch last month, the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies hosted our first public seminar on Tuesday May 20 at Jane Franklin Hall, a college of the University of Tasmania, South Hobart

An appreciative group was privileged to hear Dr Conor Sweeney, lecturer in Sacramental Theology and Postmodern Philosophy at Melbourne’s John Paul II Institute. The seminar was held in the Frances Parsons Building at Jane Franklin Hall in South Hobart. Dr Sweeney remarked that the panoramic view of the city reminded him of his hometown in Vancouver Canada.

His talked focused on the link between the Catholic culture and Baptism.  He referenced the thought of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), Christopher Dawson, Heidegger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Blaise Pascal and even Friedrich Nietzsche.

Dr Sweeney agree with Ratzinger’s claim that there is no such thing as pure reason. “Before faith can be an idea or an encounter” he said, “it must be a practice.” Baptism is a washing away of the old person, someone who is alienated and cannot see reality as it truly is. That self dies in the waters of Baptism and a new self is born. It is this new self that discovers the Father and enters the Trinitarian world where God and humanity can touch in a filial adoption.

Dr Sweeney acknowledged the eschatological nature of our baptism – the tension of there, but not there – which means we continually pick ourselves up again and again as we fall back into the dark waters of sin. We are given both grace and a challenge to live our lives as a Christ to others.

Dr Sweeney spoke of his personal journey, having been born to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. He said his upbringing was not within a liturgical environment, but he travelled through a metaphysical search for the universal back to the particulars of faith

Now, as he said: “My sense of reality is utterly influenced by my faith.”

Dr David Daintree, Director of the Centre and the host for the evening, thanked Dr Sweeney for his ‘lucid and charming talk”.

The future of the Centre looks very promising after such a thought provoking evening.

By Mary-Anne Johnson

THE CENTRE’S OFFICIAL LAUNCH, 10 APRIL 2014

L:R David Daintree, Rev Warwick Cuthbertson, Peter Mansour

L:R DAVID DAINTREE, REV WARWICK CUTHBERTSON, PETER MANSOUR

Hobart Hobart Hobart HobartThe Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies was officially launched at Parliament House in Hobart this week. The Centre, which formally came into existence in November 2013, was launched enthusiastically by the Hon. Tim Fischer AC in the presence of the patron Archbishop Julian Porteous along with other church, academic and civic dignitaries and invited guests.

Host for the evening, Dr David Daintree welcomed guests who had travelled from around Tasmania and interstate for the celebration. They were entertained by anecdotes from Mr Fischer who told guests, among other things, that Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, visited Rome in 1902 where he met Pope Pius X and conversed with him in Latin.

Archbishop Porteous recognised that Christopher Dawson had quite unique insights into the nature of human civilisation, the basic message being that cultural development depends on a religious foundation.

Christopher Dawson (1889 – 1970) was a British historian who was brought up an Anglican, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1914, and is principally known for his powerful defence of the vital role of the Christian religion as a major strand of Western culture.

The Centre is planning a number of talks throughout each year and will invite distinguished guest speakers from Australia and abroad. In 2015, a colloquium is planned with the title: ‘Ideas dangerous to a secular world’. Other activities will include the provision of short courses in philosophy and theology.