Monday 23 April 2018

Robert Tombs: universities now teach civilisations, not western civilisation

In an article in The Times today historian Robert Tombs says that Cambridge now avoids the history of Western civilisation.
'In my own university, Cambridge, once-popular courses called “The Expansion of Europe” and “The West and the Third World” have long been replaced by a decentred “World History”. Simon Schama and Mary Beard now celebrate not “Civilisation” in their BBC TV series but “Civilisations”.'
Oxford is as bad. 

Robert Tombs was young and handsome when he supervised me. What can have happened?

Dr Tombs says,

Is there a core of ideas, practices and institutions that provide a bedrock? Most of us would perhaps optimistically say yes, and even agree broadly on what they are. We would say tolerance; largely an invention of the 18th century. Then rationality and the scientific method; also largely from the 17th and 18th centuries, but with a link back to ancient Greece. We would probably say “the rule of law”, which derives from the ancient world and the Middle Ages. We would surely too say “democracy”, although only a 19th and even 20th-century development, with distant links to the Greek and Roman republics. We would also say “equality”, or at least some notion of equality before the law, or equality of opportunity as an ideal: that too goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. We would probably also say things like rights, justice, fairness, which we could trace back to the Middle Ages and to documents such as Magna Carta. And deep in the foundations are Judeo-Christian principles: charity, love, peace, justice, forgiveness.

I disagree with this in part. Equality is not part of the bedrock of civilisation, not in the socialist or liberal or French Revolutionary senses, but only in the sense of equality before before the law, which has nothing to do with equality in any other sense and simply means fair trials. Equality in the other senses are arguably antithetical to civilisation.

I agree that Christianity is the basis of Western civilisation, melded to Greek and Roman civilisation. The late Sir Alfred Sherman, himself a Jew, was probably rightly impatient with the weasel words 'Judeo-Christian', but there is no point in arguing about that.

And now Christian faith is an outgoing tide leaving Europe and most 'Western' countries high and dry.


  1. I disagree with this in part.

    I disagree with pretty much everything he says. Tolerance is a fancy word for weakness and indifference. Democracy has been a catastrophe. Equality and fairness - meaningless emotional waffling.

    He comes across as the kind of woolly-minded liberal airhead who has brought our civilisation to ruin.

    1. Western Civilization without tolerance, equality, fairness, and democracy is Nazism.

    2. Equality is a dreadful principle except equality before the law. Democracy only became something generally thought a good thing in England in 1917, after our ally the Czar lost his throne and the Americans became our allies. Tolerance and fairness are very good things but not all civilised states are very tolerant. Nero's Rome comes to mind. Fairness in the sense of the rule of law is necessary for civilisation. Nazi analogies are very boring.

  2. He is very rare among Cambridge dons in being, as far as one can guess, a conservative. Or if not certainly in favour of Brexit.

  3. It is not liberals or Muslims or Jews or anyone other than Westerners who are undermining their own civilization, by being weak, nihilistic, indiferent, lazy. Democracy is made for moral, Godly people. It is made for small communities. Just like the maligned 'Capitalism' democracy doesn't exist outside maybe Switzerland and further in history, the Greek city states. Neither does 'Capitalism', it has been long aho abolished by regulations.
    It's been at least 200 years of failures since the French revolution. If we haven't learned anything by now, I guess we never will. The tone of the article is timid, apologetic and sheepish. Might as well join Islam, since there is nobody left in the West strong enough to resist it.