Kevin Donnelly: The Culture of Freedom

Nov 22, 2016 by

An Interview with Kevin Donnelly: The Culture of Freedom

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

The book The Culture of Freedom is published by the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs and can be ordered at 

1)  Kevin, your latest book, The Culture of Freedom is now available. What prompted you to write it?

Approximately 20 years ago Samuel Huntington argued: “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural”.  Best illustrated by the cultural-left’s condemnation of Western culture and the threat of Islamic terrorism it’s clear how prescient Huntington was.  Western cultures like the USA, England and Australia are facing the threat of enemies foreign and domestic.  Now is the time to defend Western culture and to recognise and celebrate its strengths and successes.

2) Your basic premise is that Western values, beliefs, attitudes, philosophies are under attack- not just by Islam but by the liberal left. When did all this start?

The cultural-left condemns Western culture, supposedly, for being Eurocentric, patriarchal and oppressive.  Recent attacks represented by a rainbow alliance of theories and ideologies including neo-Marxism, feminism, postcolonial and gender theory, post-structuralism and postmodernism can be traced back to the cultural revolution of the late 60s.  The cultural-left made a decision to take ‘the long march through the institutions’ and to subvert and overthrow Western culture from within.  Institutions like the family, schools and universities, the church and the media have been radically re-defined in light of the cultural-left’s ideology.

Radical Islam represents an external threat that seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate by using violence and terrorism.  While, historically, the fight between Islam and the West can be traced back to the Crusades the recent emergence of ISIS and similar international terrorist groups represents a new and more insidious threat that strikes at the heart of Western culture.

3)  When did universities stop celebrating the Western Canon and literature?

In my monograph, The Culture of Freedom, I quote the Australian scholar Pierre Ryckmans who argued in 1996 that Australian universities no longer defended academic freedom and the search for truth.  American writers like Allan Bloom and Dinesh D’Souza trace the advent of the culture wars to the late 70s and early 80s.  This was a time when radical students chanted ‘Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western civ has got to go’ and argued that the traditional disciplines associated with a liberal-humanist view of education had to be banished in favour of cultural studies, feminism, gender theory, post-colonialism, peace studies etc,

4) As the population grows, socialism seems to creep into our political systems- where are we heading?

Proven by Brexit in the UK, the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the fact, in Australia, that many voters are deserting mainstream parties for conservative, practically minded and grass roots candidates I’d suggest the tide is turning.  Increasing numbers of people are fed up with political correctness and cultural-left ideologies that undermine and attack mainstream values.

5) The basic concepts of separation of church and state, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, seem to be at odds with Sharia Law and Islam. Or am I wrong on this?

The Somalian activist now living in America, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, argues that Islam is not a religion of peace and that aspects of the Koran and Sharia law are inimical to Western values and beliefs.  Unlike the West, where there is the separation between Church and state, and all are committed to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ Islam is theocratic and oppressive.  While there is no doubt that moderate Muslims are able to live peacefully in Western cultures, the reality is that more extreme advocates represent a clear and present danger to Western societies.  The way non-believers, women and gays are oppressed and mistreated in Islamic cultures proves how oppressive aspects of the Koran are.

6) Certainly capitalism has its flaws (who really needs 100 million dollars) but why is it better, in your mind than socialism?

History proves that socialism, compared to capitalism, is an abject failure.  Whether Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Cambodia’s Pol Pot or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un the reality is that the socialist utopia only leads to poverty, misery and death and a totalitarian dictatorship where fear and violence rule.  George Orwell’s Animal Farm proves that the mantra ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs’ is a myth that disguises oppression and domination by the party’s elites.

7) Terrorism, and the fear that we are no longer safe, seem to permeate our culture. Other than a police state, where can we look for answers?

As well as governments and their agencies fighting for our freedom and being ever vigilant we need to confront the reality that there are aspects of Islam that are violent and anti-Western.  We also need to more openly celebrate and acknowledge what makes Western culture unique instead of belittling and undermining it.  There is no place for cultural relativism or the belief that our freedoms and liberties are there by accident.

8) We seem to be in a class of cultures- Using a spectrum- what seems to be the extremes in this regard?

Karl Popper refers to an open and a closed society – Western culture ensures that we are an open society where there is a commitment to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.  Our Westminster parliamentary system, common law, the belief in liberty, minimal government and checks and balances all ensure our freedoms.  At the other extreme are totalitarian regimes best illustrated by theocracies like Iran where citizens are oppressed and denied their basic rights.

9) Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. What do we have in terms of past cultural clashes to learn from? If any?

History tells us that cultures rise and fall and eternal vigilance is required to safeguard what we take for granted.  Cultures can also be threatened by enemies within and enemies without as proven by the fall of the Roman Empire.  Islam’s near conquest of Europe all those years ago proves that there will always be challenges and threats that must be confronted.

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