Tony "mike-head" Abbott (Image via @TonyAbbottMHR)

In a remarkable achievement, it took just a single article in an obscure publication for Tony Abbott to destroy the aspirations of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. What a tremendous wrecker he is!

One of the curious things about Tony Abbott – that lingering political ghost from the recent past – is that he himself willingly provides most of the evidence needed to conclude that he is one of the best wreckers ever seen in Australian public life.

 A brilliant case in point is the article he published in Quadrant a couple of months ago. Assuming most IA readers have probably not opened a copy of Quadrant in recent memory – and why on earth would they want to? – here is a close reading of the piece Abbott actually wrote. It is classic Abbott: a facility with words that cannot cover up the ineptitude of the substance or its effects.

Abbott manages to pull off not one but three wrecking jobs in just a few hundred words. He destroys whatever chance there might have been for his “Apologia pro Western Civilisation” (sic!) degree to ever find a home in any self-respecting university; he manages to portray Paul Ramsay the man (about whom I know nothing much) as a very average kind of person; and he has managed to have Ramsay’s legacy forever associated with a controversial, stupid stunt.

Abbott begins with a list, not of Ramsay’s fine qualities, but of all the things that make Ramsay underwhelming.

As Abbott tells us in the first paragraph, Ramsay

'... was not a dominating personality; not an organisational expert; not an intellectual giant; not an impresario of ideas; and not a financial genius.'

Damning with faint praise, indeed.

Abbott doesnt stop there. He also points out that Ramsay dropped out of his degree at Sydney University, despite his expensive private school education, that he went straight into his father’s property development business and that he was a lifelong follower of the Liberal Party. (With a private school education and a property developer father, what a surprise!)

Oblivious to the discomfort that these attributes might make friends and family of Ramsay now feel, Abbott does finally stress that Ramsay had one defining virtue. Loyalty. Who would have guessed? Abbott’s enduring obsession with his own victimhood status – done in by disloyalty – makes this a shining value, but it could also be pointed out that mafia bosses, Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un share the same obsession with personal loyalty. (That irony, of course, is lost on Abbott).

What takes the breath away about Abbott’s thinking is his superficial understanding of the academic fields to which he refers.

He writes 'the study of history was no longer narrative' as if this is obviously a bad thing, oblivious of the actual debates that historians of all stripes have actually had about the dangers of a “story” approach to history.

He refers to something called “O’Sullivan’s Law”, as if it expresses some profound understanding of organisational theory.

Here is the law in all its portentous vapidity:

'...every organisation that’s not explicitly right-wing, over time becomes left-wing.' 

Yeah, right. Perhaps Max Weber might have something to say about such a mind-bending category mistake.

 (This O’Sullivan character, by the way, is an elderly British conservative who once worked as a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher, and one of his claims to fame being a book that argued that Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II were responsible for the end of the Soviet Union. In this Anglo/Catholic world view, Gorbachev doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with it. A quick Google search shows why Abbott might like to suck up to this iconoclast: like Abbott, he also supports causes that advance the superiority of the “English-speaking peoples.”)

 But to return to the major point. Abbott makes two claims in this article that would kill the project in the eyes of any self-respecting university:

'The key to understanding the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is that it’s not merely about Western Civilisation but in favour of it.'

And:

'A management committee including the Ramsay CEO and also its academic director will make staffing and curriculum decisions.'

(I have some painful personal experience dealing with a bequest scholarship committee at a university. No matter how opinionated and intrusive they were, they never tried to have a say in academic appointments.)

To sum up, Abbott does himself no favours in this article. He has single-handedly killed off a bad idea, for which I suppose we should be grateful. And he has forever tarnished whatever reputation Paul Ramsay might have had. Sadly, Ramsay comes across as gormless putty in the hands of Abbott and his fellow culture warrriors, and Abbott comes across as so chuffed with his own recruitment efforts that he can’t resist the urge to celebrate “before the fat lady sings”.

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