We risk being remembered as the generation that forgot history

We risk being remembered as the generation that forgot history, by Janet Albrechtsen.

Bad ideas flourish in dark places. “The Rise of Identity Politics: An Audit of History Teaching at Australian Universities in 2017,” ­released on Monday by the Institute of Public Affairs, exposes the dirty ­little secret about history teaching in Australian universities. Rather than rigorous learning about ­important historical events that underpin our dem­o­cracy, history teaching in this country is drenched in identity politics. …

In a healthy liberal democracy, we contest ideas and we know our democracy is in good shape when the best ideas triumph and the bad ones are sent packing. The Berlin Wall wasn’t dismantled by soldiers but by ideas about individual freedom that appealed more than communism. Today a different menace threatens our democratic health, one that seeks to dismantle our tool for trouncing bad ideas. We’re not just quibbling over different ideas; we’re also arguing over the value of having a healthy contest of ideas. Skewed history teaching is symptomatic of a contest that will determine the future of our democratic project. …

If students arrive at university with little curiosity about the historical triumph of freedom, it’s ­because we haven’t passed on that legacy to them. Students aren’t taught the astonishing story of Western civilisation at school or university. And the adult realm of politics is equally useless. …

And taxpayer-funded public broadcaster ABC, committed to all kinds of diversity except a diversity of voices, signals a preference for ideological homogeneity, not a healthy contest of ideas that emerged from the Enlightenment. …

The historic battles, physical and metaphysical, that shaped our modern liberal project, where we are all equal, regardless of skin colour, creed, sex or sexuality, should be the foundation stone of every history department across Australian campuses. Instead, history teaching is mired in the politics of race, sex, sexuality and identity. …

This intellectual regression has its roots in postmodernism, and identity politics has become its political arm. Under the dishonest rubric of “progressive” politics, postmodernism cemented into universities the notion that history and language are corrupted by those who hold power. Ergo history needs to be told through the lens of oppression and language needs to be proscribed to protect victims of the oppressors. …

Determined to police words and speech, proponents of identity politics label opponents as racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes and Nazis. The aim is to drive a spoke into that critical piece of ­intellectual machinery known as the marketplace of ideas because critical thinking threatens their ­regressive ideas.

Worse, the demand of identity politics that people be treated differently according to race, sex, sex­uality and other forms of identity threatens the core premise of our liberal project that all individuals are of equal moral worth. It’s a staggering inversion of the great civil rights battles of the past century, and a reminder that when people are ill-informed about the past, they are likelier to ­embrace a less liberal future. The latest Lowy Institute Poll where only 52 per cent of people aged ­18 to 29 believe that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government” is not shocking, it’s inevitable.

Halting the momentum of ­regressive identity politics depends on an intellectual army of iconoclasts who understand that the story of our liberal project must be learned, defended and passed on to the next generation. …

And let’s not mince words. When the heritage of Western civilisation is devalued in Australian schools and university history departments, debased by our political parties and human rights ­bureaucracies, and snubbed by sections of the media too, it ­becomes a numbers game. I joined the IPA years ago because the ­voices of freedom need critical mass so that the virtues of freedom can be nurtured, defended and passed on to the next generation to do the same.

hat-tip Stephen Neil