20 November, 2023
THE CHRISTOPHER DAWSON CENTRE
It all started in mid-2013 when the Archbishop-elect of Hobart, Julian Porteous, asked me if I would help him ‘raise the profile of the Catholic intellectual tradition’ in his new diocese. The cynic might say that raising the profile of something that was below the radar of public awareness wasn’t a big ask, but the undertaking did present formidable challenges. Not the least is that in this hypersensitive PC age any attempt to speak up for traditional values or a conservative view of history will inevitably attract charges of racism, imperialism, chauvinism and plain old-fashioned arrogance: I need hardly say that for many thinking people in modern Australia the Catholic intellectual tradition is about as preposterous an oxymoron as it is possible to imagine. But we pressed on, put our heads together and came up with the idea of a Centre. Not a geographical centre, really, but a sort of abstract one, like so many other academic centres. And His Grace had a special request: let it be named after Christopher Dawson!
So here we are, ten years later, with a database of over a thousand supporters, a website, an ambitious sequence of annual colloquia behind us, and several books on the market. We have hosted a number of distinguished guest speakers in Hobart, which we now regularly video and upload to our YouTube channel. Say what you like about the internet, but it allows a small organisation in Ultima Thule to speak to the whole world: 75% of our readers and followers live interstate or overseas. Another of our achievements is to run a series of summer schools here in Hobart. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to take these online, but we are hoping to do so.
The Archbishop of Hobart is our Patron, though he always insisted that the Centre should be ‘at arms’ length’ from the Church. We have sought to welcome not only other Christians but all sorts of people of good will to our functions. Being at arms’ length has nothing to do with the Church disowning us or vice versa, but is a generous gesture towards academic independence that makes it easier for non-Catholics to relate to the sort of work we do. I am proud to say that we have several Orthodox and Protestants among our supporters, as well as not a few unbelievers who admire and trust the Western Tradition. There are also Catholics who mistrust us or even radically disagree with us. God bless them all!
I’m reasonably satisfied that we’ve met some worthwhile targets during our decade, but this is no time to rest on our laurels. We live in a western world in which hostility to all forms of religion, but particularly Christianity, seems to be on the increase. In Tasmania we also have MONA to contend with: they are not openly inimical to us, but their intellectual underpinning is atheistic relativism and for that reason they are extraordinarily and inevitably attractive to almost everybody nurtured in today’s cultural environment, including (sadly) many who would consider themselves Christian. We have our work cut out for us.
There’s a saying: you can’t see the wood for the trees. We talk sometimes about crises in education, but the real crisis is almost too big to be visible. It’s not about class sizes, or funding, or lack of physical resources.
The real crisis is specialization, too much and too soon. It’s the loss of the common, shared culture. It’s the failure to ground students deeply in history and language, ethics, reasoning skills and faith.
We’re producing generations of people who are spiritually blind and historically tone-deaf.
The result is moral and intellectual atrophy: people who have no sense of history can have no sense of direction, no formed or mature sense of where they’re heading; belief in God, which should be the most natural thing in the world, has been side-lined so effectively that it now appears perverse and crazy to people who put their trust in crystals, and astrology, and reincarnation, and silly pseudo-scientific notions of multiple universes.
To many now in this dysfunctional and disordered world, whales are more important than babies, endangered possums more precious than old people in nursing homes, smoking a more grievous sin than infidelity.
The way back, if by God’s good grace it’s not too late, will be hard to win. Perhaps you can’t teach wisdom, but you can certainly cultivate and nourish the seedbed in which wisdom can grow.
I tend to quote Edmund Burke, even (some might say) ad nauseam: ‘No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’ But it’s true. Our vital purpose is to put the axe to the roots of the crisis, not merely the symptoms, with all the power we can muster, modest though it be.
OBITUARY: PROFESSOR MICHAEL ALEXANDER
We are saddened by the news that Professor Emeritus Michael Alexander died on 5 November at his home in Oxford. Prof Alexander was appointed to the Berry chair of English at the University of St Andrews in 1985. For the past five years he has been a member of the Dawson Centre’s International Advisory Board.
A wise, witty, kind, and exceptionally learned man, Michael was befriended by many poets including Ezra Pound, who he had met in Italy. Michael was widely published himself: his many distinguished books included The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound (1979), a magisterial History of English Literature (2000), A History of Old English Literature (2002), a ground-breaking study Mediaevalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (2007), and Reading Shakespeare (2013). A volume of Twelve Poems appeared in 1978. His acclaimed edition Beowulf: A Glossed Text appeared in 1995 and his translations of Old English poetry, continuously in print for more than half a century, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies: The Earliest English Poems (1966), Beowulf: A Verse Translation (1973), and Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book (1980). Michael also had a long public career as a broadcaster and was for many years a member of the Scottish team in Radio 4’s Round Britain quiz show.
His Funeral will be at Oxford on 28 November. Please pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his loving family.
With best wishes to all,
We must now firm up numbers for our three five-day intensive courses in January – in Western Civilisation, Latin and Biblical Greek. Full details appear below, and on our website. You can easily enrol using Humanitix. NB – Enrolments for Greek are poor, though we had six last year. Would it interest more people if we held it in Hobart instead of Launceston? Please advise me urgently if that would be helpful.
IN THE NEWS
ALLIANCE FOR RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP
This group met recently in London. There was a stellar array of speakers, including Jordan Peterson, John Anderson, Tony Abbott, Bishop Robert Barron, Senator Jacinta Price, Jonathan Haidt, Michael Gove, and many more.
‘These are the major predictive facts about suicide: being male; being divorced, widowed or separated; living alone; being unemployed…. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are 47 male deaths from suicide per week. Meanwhile, there are 71 females who die from fatal domestic violence per year, that equals 1.36 per week. So male suicides, which are 35 times as numerous as deaths from DV, should also be everyone’s issue. But where is the advertising campaign? Where is the support? The ads that are all about “gendered violence” just blame men, and boys, and the support for men at risk of suicide, except for veterans of the armed forces, is almost nil.‘ (Angela Shanahan, The Australian, 18 November)
Classical Education is not a Right-Wing Project, by James Hankins. A very good read.
GIVING EDUCATION BACK TO THE PEOPLE
The Burston School Strike of 1914 was an extraordinary event with enduring consequences. In some ways the work of Toby Young and the British Free Schoolsmovement follows that tradition, though it is arguable that the need is much greater today as governments more and more interfere in the content of education. Our own ACES is doing excellent work in the same area, as are those new institutions mushrooming around the world that aim to free education from the constraints of social re-programming.
‘THE GRAVE SIN OF JEW-HATING’
This is a very fine piece by George Weigel, from the online journal First Things. As support for Palestine and opposition to Israel become more frenzied, we have to work harder to maintain our balance.
‘COVID IN THE AGE OF WOKE’
A WIN FOR CHRISTIANITY?
News of the conversion to Christianity of one of the world’s best-known atheists, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, will be joyful to many, though we suppose disappointing to others. Michael Cook tells the story here. There’s nothing new about stories like this, they’ve been circulating since St Paul went to Damascus. Anthony Flew, C S Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge and countless others ‘transitioned’ in this way! We wonder if Richard Dawkins is getting jumpy…
COLLOQUIUM 2024 – DATE CLAIMER
The 2024 Colloquium will be on SATURDAY 6 JULY
Topic: Authentic Humanism and the Crisis of Culture
SUMMER SCHOOLS JANUARY 2024
SUMMER SCHOOL ON WESTERN CULTURE 2024
Monday 8 to Friday 12 January 2024 inclusive
Hobart – Royal Botanical Gardens
The Dawson Centre was founded to advance the notion that the Christian Faith and the intellectual tradition that grew up with it are essential components of our civilisation, not optional extras, but core elements in the very fabric of the culture. Christopher Dawson maintained that a true human culture cannot exist at all without a religious component, and the Christian religion is inherent in and inseparable from our Western culture. ENROL HERE
What are some of the great and distinctive achievements of the West?
We are offering this course for the third time as a sort of a ‘taster’, a broad and sweeping view of the terrain and some of its principal landmarks. It cannot claim to be any more than a sketch of the panorama, but we hope it will meet a need and inspire participants to delve further into our fascinating and rich heritage. ENROL HERE
SUMMER SCHOOL – LATE AND ECCLESIASTICAL LATIN
Monday 15 to Friday 19 January 2024
at Notre Dame Priory, Colebrook, Tasmania
The Latin school assumes some prior knowledge of the language and leads participants through a selection of important readings in poetry and prose, sacred and secular, from authors such as Augustine, Jerome, Bede, Peter Abelard, Aquinas, the Carmina Burana, and even Dante. In date our selections range from the poet Virgil to the abdication speech of Pope Benedict! Accommodation is available on request at Bethany House in the Priory grounds. ENROL HERE
SUMMER SCHOOL – BIBLICAL GREEK FOR BEGINNERS
Monday 22 to Friday 26 January 2024
Launceston or Hobart
The New Testament and Koine Greek school is for beginners who want to experience the excitement of reading parts of the Bible in the original language. We shall read extracts from the Gospel and Epistles, as well as some important passages from the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament), as well as some pieces from the early Fathers of the Church and the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Accommodation at the Centre is available on request. We are trialling the Emmanuel Centre for the first time – it sounds ideal. ENROL HERE