Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Demise of the Daggy Dad?

"Who would want to be a TV dad?" begins a recent item by Wendy Tuohy in The Age newspaper. "If you're in a sitcom you are most likely a man-boy buffoon, clueless about fatherhood or marriage, self-indulgent but not self-aware, unreliable, immature, and usually the butt of the family joke."

Fathers, it seems, are either made absent in TV families (eg The Gilmore Girls) or are portrayed as harmless buffoons (The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, Everybody Loves Raymond). It's hard to think of a single example on TV today of an intact family in which a father exercises a wise and protective paternal authority.

I don't think this is accidental. Paternal authority is fixed and unchosen, and therefore runs counter to the liberal principle that we should choose for ourselves according to our own will. Liberals are more comfortable with forms of authority with which we can "contract," or give individual assent to. We simply don't "contract" to place ourselves as children under the authority of our fathers: it's not something decided by individual will at all, but rather by the chance of inheritance.

Even in the nineteenth century you can find signs of a discomfort with the idea of paternal authority. Even the generally conservative Jane Austen often portrays both Anglican ministers and fathers as vain and inept (Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice).

American popular culture seems to have preserved the conservative ideal of fatherhood for the longest time. There was a very popular series of American films, made mostly in the 1940s, called the Andy Hardy series. The father in these films, Judge Hardy, is a very traditional representative of fatherhood: in sharp contrast to modern entertainment, it's the teenage son who provides the comedy, whilst the father provides knowing guidance.

I have (vague) memories of watching American TV shows of the 1970s in my childhood, such as The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie. My recollection of these programmes is that the fathers were strong and respected by their families, whilst the mothers were lovely and maternal.

But American popular culture no longer redeems itself by presenting such positive images of family life. There are even some male scriptwriters who are getting annoyed by the relentlessly negative image of fathers on TV. For instance, veteran Australian television writer, Bevan Lee, says,

My personal idea of TV viewing hell is these (dopey dad) sitcoms, things like Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, Malcolm in the Middle, where the father figure is a central figure running around like an idiot, and he's the butt of everyone's jokes. It's my idea of The Hague war crimes torture to tie me to a chair and make me watch those on loop.

Similarly, Queensland University television course coordinator, Alan McKee, complains that,

In the last 10 years there have emerged new representations of families where the characters, the dads in particular, are incredibly flawed - to the point of being moronic. The kids are often terrible to point of demonic and mother is strained to the point of hysteria.

It seems that some people in the industry recognise the problem, but their solution is not too promising. They want to replace the "daggy dad" with the "complex, damaged, dramatic dad". Thus script editor Diane Cook believes that The Sopranos is a turning point in portraying a more "engaging" father figure (a mafia mobster) who is "conflicted" and has "deep and complex feelings about family and fatherhood."

And similarly Neighbours script writer, Luke Devenish, says that the show's "daggy dad" prototype is being left behind, with the reintroduction of a founding character, Paul Robinson, described as follows,

The character is desperately trying to pick up where he left off, with five children by three failed marriages, carrying the baggage of a murder, time on the run and a jail term, as well as the stigma of three divorces. It is a coming-of-age for fathers on the show, and something of a turning point for them in Australian soap history.

I'm not sure which is worse: to be portrayed as harmlessly incompetent or to "come of age" through divorce, murder and imprisonment. Either way it seems that there is still no room on TV for a moderately competent, respected father who lives together with his own family.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Jay's conservative nationalism

I always like finding examples of genuinely conservative thought in history. It makes a nice change to be able to present these gems, rather than to be always a critic of liberalism.

So I was pleased to find the following piece of writing by John Jay, who was a Founding Father of America and the first Chief Justice of the United States. Jay wrote that,

It has often given me pleasure to observe that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. Providence has in a particular manner blessed it with a variety of soils and productions, and watered it with innumerable streams, for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants. A succession of navigable waters forms a kind of chain round its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, present them with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities.

With equal pleasure I have often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people - a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous and alien sovereignties.

Jay is very clearly upholding the benefits of an ethnic nationalism. For him it is important that people be "united to each other by the strongest ties" which include having the same ancestry, language, religion, manners and customs, form of government, as well as a shared history of sacrifice. Jay considers it a providential blessing that America is to be ethnically, as well as geographically, connected and bound together as a nation.

What went wrong? Jay's traditional understanding of nationalism did not survive the inroads of liberal ideology. Liberals believe that to be fully human we must be free to create ourselves by our own will and reason. Therefore, they don't like the idea that something as important as national identity should depend on an inherited ethnicity, which is something that lies outside of individual will.

Hence the liberal hostility to ethnic nationalism, and hence the liberal preference for forms of identity which are "fluid," "complex" and "diverse" (since fluid, complex and diverse forms of identity can be "individually negotiated").

For a little sample of the way that academic liberals talk about such matters, consider Michelle Lee's assertion that "identity must be seen as much more fluid and as crossing boundaries rather than being defined by them" or Mary Kalantzis who claims that,

Instead of a nation as it might be represented through some 'distinctively Australian' essence, the essence of a postnationalist common purpose is creative and productive life of boundary crossing, multiple identities, difficult dialogues, and the continuous hybrid reconstruction of ourselves. This is the new reality of Australian identity, multicultural and multilingual.

Note the great phrase "continuous hybrid reconstruction of ourselves." It sounds like academic gibberish, but it encloses an important meaning for liberals: that our identity has to be kept open to an active, individual self-creation. And this is exactly what John Jay's conservative vision of a people unified by a common ethnicity (understood in the broadest terms) does not allow.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Canadian freedoms?

Damian Penny runs a Canadian website called Daimnation. It's very much right-liberal in its politics.

As we know, left-liberals are keen to declare "I am ashamed of my nation because we aren't yet free and equal". Right-liberals like Penny are different. They declare "I am proud of my country because it embodies liberal freedom."

At one level, the right-wing form of liberalism is more appealing to conservatives. It at least allows for a bit of national pride. Unfortunately, though, it has a negative side. It leads a lot of right-liberals to define whatever happens in their society as a positive example of human freedom. Even hopelessly corrupt things are treated as important aspects of liberty.

For instance, Penny recently discussed the case of Kassim Mohamed. He is a former Muslim resident of Canada who returned to make some videos and was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist. His defence was that he was taping some of the decadent aspects of Canadian culture to prove to his family the benefits of returning to a Muslim country.

For Penny this was proof positive that the "Islamofascists" hate the West because of our "freedoms". Penny wrote "I defy anyone to read this article from today's National Post and still deny that Islamofascists do have a problem with the free, open societies of the West."

The problem is that many of the things Mr Mohamed objected to are indeed examples of Western decadence: he didn't like a billboard of a naked woman being hung over a Toronto mosque, prostitution, drug addiction and Canadian men abusing young girls in the Caribbean.

For Damian Penny the fact that Mr Mohamed objects to these things is enough to prove that he is an "Islamofascist" who hates the "freedom" of the West. So we are supposed to embrace things like drug addiction and prostitution and sex tours as proof positive of our Western liberty.

Better just to admit that the modern West does have corruptions and decadence. It doesn't mean we have to become self-hating left-liberals. There is the option of doing what our ancestors were forced to do often enough: to undertake long-term reforms to improve the situation.

Irreversible harm?

Studies are increasingly showing that marijuana is not the soft drug that many users believe it to be.

A Melbourne research team has found that weekly cannabis use in teenagers "predicted an approximately two-fold increase in the risk for later depression and anxiety." So marijuana, it seems, should not be associated with being cool and relaxed, but the very opposite: with low, depressed moods and being anxious.

Meanwhile a Dutch research team from the University of Maastricht has found that "exposure to cannabis during adolescence and young adulthood increases the risk of psychotic symptoms later in life."

Why does cannabis use by young people cause such problems later in life? The answer is quite disturbing. It's increasingly thought that our brain development continues until at least our early 20s. At this late age the frontal lobes are still developing and increasing our more sophisticated mental abilities.

It's thought that cannabis use by teenagers impairs this important stage of mental development. What this means is that some of the damage done by marijuana use may be irreversible. Young people may be missing out on developing "higher cognitive functions" by their use of cannabis.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Moving further away

Lawrence Auster made the following observation in a recent item at VFR:

This is what liberals and leftists ALWAYS do. They sense something is wrong. But instead of going back and revivifying things at the root, which is the answer, they move further away from the root, in search of something new.

This is a valuable insight. When left-liberals describe history they are sometimes surprisingly kind to tradition. They'll say that a certain tradition once bound people together, but that it's now broken down (because of capitalism etc) leaving people uncertain and confused. The answer, say the left-liberals, is not to return to the tradition but to abandon it more completely in favour of an intensified modernism.

(It's almost like saying that a little bit of poison hurts but that a larger dose will cure.)

There's a clear example of this in the writings of Alexandra Kollontai. She was a Marxist (a radical left-liberal) who became a leading figure in the Women's Department of the Bolshevik Government in Russia.

She wrote an article called Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle in 1919. She begins the article by describing the "long and drawn-out" crisis in the relationships between the sexes. She writes of "troubled people" and "frightened people" unable to untangle the "confused knot of personal relationships."

No doubt, she is exaggerating the crisis in family life and gender relations in 1919. However, it's worth noting that by 1919 first wave feminism had been around for over 50 years and had reached a peak of influence just a few years previously. Many of the features of the modern feminism that we know were also in existence at this time.

The solution according to Alexandra Kollontai? She writes,

The conservatively inclined part of mankind argue that we should return to the happy times of the past, we should re-establish the old foundations of the family and strengthen the well-tried norms of sexual morality.

The champions of bourgeois individualism say that we ought to destroy all the hypocritical restrictions of the obsolete code of sexual behaviour. These unnecessary and repressive "rags" ought to be relegated to the archives - only the individual conscience, the individual will of each person can decide such intimate questions.

It's to her credit that Alexandra Kollontai describes here the basic dynamic of things reasonably well. She understands that liberal individualism has undermined the traditional family by requiring the destruction of restrictions on individual will. Furthermore, she writes of how in history the "triumphant principles of individualism ... grew and destroyed whatever remained of the idea of the community" leading men to wander "confusedly".

So, you have here a radical leftist who believes that modern people are alienated, and who believes that liberal individualism has broken down a once stable and unifying tradition of family life.

So does she wish to conserve at least a part of this tradition? The answer is decidedly no. In another article, Communism and the Family, she describes her ideal of a new family life. Marriage, in the new communist family, is to be,

a union of two equal persons of the communist society, both of them free, both of them independent ... the woman in the communist city no longer depends on her husband but on her work. It is not her husband but her robust arms which will
support her.

So, the underlying aim is little different to the modernist liberal one. It is to maximise individual independence, in particular, female independence. This is necessary, thinks Kollontai, so that a woman may have a "will of her own". We are back, in other words, to the "bourgeois" liberal idea that politics is about removing impediments to individual will, as a means to achieve higher levels of personal autonomy.

Therefore, Kollontai comes up with a strategy familiar to modern times. She insists that women no longer depend on men as providers. This in turn means that women have to go out to work and that the tasks of motherhood are taken over by the state. That's why Kollontai proudly boasts that,

Here, also, the communist society will come to the aid of the parents. In Soviet Russia, owing to the care of the Commisariats of Public Education and Social Welfare, great advances are being made ... There are homes for very small babies, day nurseries, kindergartens, children's colonies and homes, infirmaries, and health resorts for sick children, restaurants, free lunches at school ... the more the workers became conscious of their rights ... the more society would show itself to be concerned with relieving the family of the care of the children.

These measures were no doubt radical in 1919, but the fact that they rest on familiar liberal principles is shown by the fact that other Western societies have gradually "caught up" with the more radical liberalism of the Bolsheviks.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Not so redundant after all

Chris Bonnor wants Australian boys to be more like girls. In 1997 he was a principal of a boys' school in Sydney when he gave an influential speech on the issue of boys and education.

The gist of the speech was that the world of work had changed. Male skills were no longer required and therefore boys would need to learn to "cross gender boundaries" to succeed in life. According to Bonnor "gender is something that is socially constructed" which meant it was his school's "core business to reconstruct boys". What about the influence of traditionally masculine teachers? A simple solution: "Schools need to simply sideline those male teachers who spend their school lives and probably their other lives simply perpetuating destructive gender messages."

Several years ago Chris Bonnor repeated this message in an address to schoolboys. He said,

It's a new world out there, boys ... When dad left school it was a more predictable world for boys. Boys could get a reasonably long-term job, and one in which 'male' skills were more highly prized. If you were good at woodwork or metalwork, there were plenty of these jobs ... Many of these things have changed. You now have little chance of getting one of these traditional 'male' jobs full-time, and for the rest of your life ... The new types of jobs want people who can think and communicate ...

So what do you do, boys? Some men want ... the workplace to change ... to give boys a chance once again. Apart from being a silly idea, this simply won't happen. Boys need to gain a wider range of skills, especially the skills that girls so often display. Boys also need to cross the gender divide and become good at the things that the workplace now needs. If some of these things are traditionally 'girl's skills', then so what!"

Sure. Even back then it was hard enough to get a plumber. And now we read in this morning's Age newspaper, that there is such a shortage of tradesmen that one Melbourne company has flown in 60 welders from China as guest workers. These men, I presume, don't speak English. So it seems that at least some Australian boys should just have kept up with their metalwork and not worried too much about competing with girls' communication skills.

Chris Bonnor is simply another liberal who wants to overthrow the influence of gender and is willing to use junk arguments to justify it. Why is he really so keen to argue against masculinity? Because liberals believe that we are truly human and free when our individual choice is unimpeded. We don't get to choose our sex. Therefore, for a liberal we can only be free if our masculinity or femininity is something that is socially constructed and can therefore be overthrown, preferably in the direction of something that is gender neutral.

That's why Chris Bonnor talks of the need "for boys and girls to develop in an atmosphere free of restrictive and potentially damaging stereotypes." Note the kind of language employed. Traditional masculinity or femininity is a "stereotype" (negative connotation) which is a "restriction" from which we have to be freed.

It also explains why Chris Bonnor is so hostile to boys playing sport. Sport encourages what most of us would think of as a healthy masculinity in boys. This is a problem for someone wanting to deconstruct this masculinity. So Chris Bonnor is moved to write,

Sport. Heavily masculinised contact sports celebrate and reinforce dominant roles of gender. These sports serve to define dominant masculinity, connecting manhood with violence and competitiveness and often marginalising girls and women.

Two final points. Although most right liberals wouldn't carry on like this, they do often share the underlying idea that traditional manhood and womanhood are restrictive stereotypes which need to be overcome. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, for instance, claimed happily in 2002 that the feminist battle had been won for young women, the "good thing" being that "we have broken through some of the old stereotypes". Nor are these mere words: the Howard Government has actively tried to break down gender "stereotypes" by providing funds to get women onto boards of management and into engineering courses. (Let me, though, compliment Mr Howard for promising today to provide funds to train Australians to fill the tradesman shortage.)

The second point to be made is that gender is not just a product of socialisation. It's also hardwired into human biology. Therefore it won't be shifted as easily as the Chris Bonnors of the world think it can be.

I witness the resilience of gender difference in my job as a school teacher every day. I recently supervised a class of junior high school students who had an hour of free time on the computer. The girls spent their time looking through class photos or playing a game in which you place different fashion accessories onto pictures of celebrities. The boys played sport or adventure quest type computer games, or watched humorous cartoons. There was no overlap at all in what the boys and girls chose to do. When given any chance at all, the natural differences between boys and girls readily assert themselves.

Monday, December 20, 2004

What are men for?

There was once a time when it was considered the role of men to be protectors.

This role can be imagined as men forming a kind of defensive outer circle or wall, within which the more vulnerable qualities of women are able to flourish.

Such a concept only works, of course, if men highly regard what they are protecting; in other words, it implies a respect by men for the more feminine life that exists within the realm they are defending.

The male protector role operated firstly at the family level. Men, whether as husbands, brothers or fathers, were expected to provide material comfort and security; to physically defend the family from attack; and to be a source of emotional reassurance.

The role operated also at a larger social level. Men physically defended the larger community from foreign armies and they upheld the formal public structures needed to support a human community.

A dying role?

The American actress Meg Ryan recently had this to say about modern men:

Why are men confused? Is it because they have this role to play and women don't need them to play that role any more? Because women are more self-reliant. I don't understand why it's so mystifying for men.

Meg Ryan is expressing here the modern attitude in which women are no longer supposed to need male protection, because they aim to be independent and self-reliant. The male protector role is supposed to be redundant.

How did this change of attitude come about? Primarily, it's due to the political philosophy which Western intellectuals have adopted en masse. Western intellectuals follow an ideal of liberal individualism, in which human dignity requires that we be self-created by our own individual will and reason.

The aim is that we become unimpeded, autonomous individuals. It's hardly surprising, given this aim, that it should be considered wrong for women to be dependent on male protection. According to this philosophy it is more correct for a woman to aim at independence.


A young man of today will grow up in a world which can be demoralising to his protective instincts. He is likely to see endless images of kick-boxing women, of women in the army and the police force, and of female body-builders. He is likely also to observe the intense careerism of women in their 20s and an ever-rising number of single mothers.

He will often hear women like Meg Ryan talk of the redundancy of the male role in society and of the need for men to take on a more feminine role in relationships and in society.

Most of all, he is likely to have a sense that it is useless to try and protect what no longer exists. If women join men on the outer defensive wall, then what exactly is it at the centre of life that is being protected? What is all the effort of society for?

Should a young man give in to all this? I don't think so. If you look carefully, the protector role still has its place, even within a radically liberal society.


In what ways has the male protector role survived?

Firstly, many women haven't lost the general psychological need for masculine protection. For instance, journalist Jane Freeman notes the complaints of some of her female friends regarding their husbands,

Like my friend Anna ... who has just had her first baby. "I guess every so often when I was pregnant I thought it would be nice if he was taking heavy boxes out of my arms or insisting that I stop work at six months and have a nice rest ..."

Similar experience for Belinda ... "When I was hugely pregnant, I was still staggering around lugging all the groceries in. And even when we go on holidays now he expects me to pack the car, whereas I remember when I was a kid that was always Dad's job. I guess it's a sign that he sees me as competent but ..."

Caroline, the capable businesswoman, was lamenting the disappearance of chivalry when she had to join her husband in Sydney ... "He was already up there so he told me I should just lob into the airport, grab a cab and join him at the hotel. It did occur to me that my dad would never have dreamed of letting my mum walk into the airport alone, wrestle with her own bags and then queue for a taxi while he sat around in a hotel room. I know it's because my partner thinks of me as so independent and self-sufficient, which is true, but ..."

But what? Women are perfectly capable of doing all those traditionally "male" jobs ... But where does this odd yearning for the occasional piece of male protection come from? ... maybe it's human nature." (The Age, 8/3/98)

In fact the three women quoted above aren't alone. A 1997 Australian survey asked whether it was a husband's role to provide protection for his wife. 75% overall agreed with this statement (although amongst younger people the figure dropped to 68%).

Nor is this surviving support for masculine protection simply a psychological leftover from an earlier age. It still has its practical benefits for women.

For instance, a woman is still likely to feel more physically secure in the company of her husband. Deborah Forster gives a glimpse into this when she writes,

The other night I went for a walk in Melbourne just before the sun set. I walked with my husband through the inner city streets ... We walked through the cold air in our coats. It's not something you'd want to do alone; people swim towards you out of the dark and somehow these days we seem to fear so much, but with my tall companion beside me, it was all right. (Age, 12/7/96)

Men can also still help to protect women by providing emotional strength, stability and reassurance. The American comedienne Ruby Wax has paid tribute to her husband Ed Bye in this regard, calling him her "human Valium".

It's important to remember also that even in modern life a woman needs some amount of protection if her softer, feminine nature is to survive. Kate Fischer, the Australian model and actress, has spoken of this when describing her efforts to forge a film career. She has admitted that,

The people in Hollywood can be very pushy and will walk over you unless you have very strong boundaries.

I've found I've had to become a bit pushy in return, and sometimes a bit tough, and I don't like that.

I don't want to become a hard woman. (Herald Sun, 15/11/ 2000)

Similarly, there is Juanita Plas, married to an American farmer, who admits that she has been hardened by the struggle to survive on the land. She says, "He married me because I was soft and sensitive but I would not have survived the last few years if I was so soft and sensitive as I was then." (Age 3/2/200)

It's still the case, then, that a man can help the more feminine qualities of his wife to unfold if he is able to shield her from some of the harsher aspects of making a living.

Finally, male protectiveness is still an important part of creating stable relationships between men and women.

The independent modern girl ethos tries to make sex appeal alone the basis of relationships. That's why there's so much emphasis in magazines like Cleo and Cosmo on sexual technique, and it's also why films like Charlie's Angels combine a high level of female independence (women who can more than take care of themselves in physical combat) with a high level of sex appeal.

But there's a flaw to this. If relationships are based on sex appeal alone, then the more self-confident men will go from one relationship to another, taking their pleasure with many different women. This isn't what most women want to happen.

Those men, though, who choose to follow not only the sex instinct, but the protector instinct as well, are more likely to prefer monogamy. These men will want to set up their own family life, through which they can exercise their protective instincts, and they will be reluctant to harm through infidelity what they have sworn to protect.

Making it work

It's true that it would be unwise for men with wives or girlfriends in their 20s to be too open about male protectiveness. Women in this age group often believe fervently in the independent modern girl ethos.

By the early 30s, though, many women don't want to do it alone anymore. If men can fulfil the protector role intelligently at this time, it can be well-received.

In the meantime, we need to work to overturn the underlying liberal principle of individualism which creates the ideal of autonomy in the first place. Rather than seeking an atomistic independence, we need to return to the goal of a balanced interdependence of men and women.

(First published at Conservative Central 09/11/2003)

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A real danger

Helmut Schmidt was a leader of the left-liberal SPD and Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1982. He recently gave an interview to a Hamburg newspaper in which he spoke freely about his attitudes to Turkey joining the EU.

He told the newspaper that though he supported favourable trade deals for Turkey, he opposed Turkish membership of the EU. Why? His answer was as follows:

I'm against it because it means giving free movement to Europe for 70 million Turks. If Verheugen were to say yes to the entry of Turkey, but without emigration, then it would be a different situation. But I haven't heard that either from him or from the members of the European Parliament. Secretly though they're hoping for a change in the situation, so that the free movement doesn't need to be adhered to. They're just not saying it openly.

Helmut Schmidt was then asked why he was so much against the provision for free movement. He replied:

The living standard in Turkey is fundamentally lower not only in relation to Western Europe but also even to the new entrant countries. The European diplomats have been deceived because they only know Istanbul, Ismir or Ankara. But they don't know Turkey. And this enormous difference in living standard will lead to emigration. We know this from history.

Helmut Schmidt is being clear-sighted in making these observations. If Turkey joins the EU then there will be a mass immigration of Turks into European countries, especially into northern Europe. This will lead to a radical change in the demographic makeup of Europe. It's possible that countries like Holland will be propelled even more quickly toward an Islamic majority.

For evidence of this consider the following. The Melbourne Herald Sun reported this morning that, "A recent poll in Turkey revealed almost half of all Turks want to move to another EU country."

This poll result is made all the more credible when you consider what has happened to the small country town of Kulu, which is situated only 100km south of the Turkish capital of Ankara. Kulu has a population today of 34,800. Yet, 35,000 of its residents have already packed up and moved to Europe, many of them to Stockholm in Sweden, with Holland being another favoured destination.

In other words, even with some immigration restrictions in place more than half of the town's population has shifted to Europe. So if Turkey's population is already at 70 million (and growing rapidly) it's more than likely that many millions, perhaps tens of millions, of Turks will move to Europe when Turkey is finally admitted to the EU.

It will be very difficult for the smaller EU countries, like Sweden, Holland and Denmark to absorb such an immigration stream without very radical changes to their population makeup.

Meanwhile, another small northern European country, Norway, has been targeted for staying out of the EU. A propaganda campaign for the EU, aimed at children, features a "Captain Euro" who battles for a "Europe without borders" against the residents of a country closely resembling Norway, who are depicted as "evil dirty terrorists".

Finally, there is the question of why so many European leaders are said to privately oppose the free entry of Turks into Europe, but are unwilling to act on these private opinions. I think part of the explanation is that these politicians have committed themselves to a civic nationalism, rather than an ethnic one, and therefore find it difficult to intellectually justify their personal feelings on the issue.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Insulting law

A law has passed through the French lower house making it illegal to insult women or homosexuals. More exactly the law prohibits "defaming a person or a group of persons on account of their sex or their sexual orientation." The punishment is up to six months in prison.

Two things stand out about this law. First, it was passed by a "centre-right" government rather than a left-wing one. In fact, some members of the "centre-right" party rebelled in order to make the law even stricter. Which goes to show that conservatives need to be critical not only of the mainstream left-liberal parties, but also of the mainstream right-liberal ones.

Second, the French Human Rights Commission opposed the law as being too much against free speech. If even a human rights commission can't stomach the legislation, then it really must be radical in its intent. The French Human Rights Commission warned that not only might individual words, as well as books and films, be deemed outside the law, but so too might the Bible.

In the end, the claim by liberals to be the champions of free speech has been revealed to be false. Liberals are perfectly willing to curtail free speech in order to uphold their own version of political morality.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

South African land siezure

Will South Africa suffer the same fate as Zimbabwe? There are some ominous signs. The following Age newspaper report tells the story of white South African farmer Abraham Duvenage who once ran a successful 1780 acre farm. That all changed when 40,000 immigrants from Mozambique took over the property. The courts have upheld the rights of Mr Duvenage to his property, but the local and national authorities have ignored the court orders. The squatters have effectively expropriated the land, the farm is no longer productive, and Mr Duvenage has so far failed to gain any compensation.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Do supermarkets make us free?

The main political debate in Western societies isn't between conservatives and liberals. It's between two different wings of liberalism.

Both wings of liberalism share the same underlying understanding that the purpose of life is to maximise individual autonomy. What all liberals want is to leave individual will and reason unimpeded, so that we can act in any direction and be whatever we want to be.

However, all liberals then have to solve a basic problem with this philosophy. How do you stop millions of individual, competing wills from conflicting with each other and causing chaos?

One group of liberals believe that they have found a solution to this problem in the free market. According to these liberals the market, if left alone, will take millions of people acting "selfishly" (according to their individual wills) and create positive outcomes of prosperity and technological advancement.

Not surprisingly, these right wing liberals focus their attention on the Economic Man. For them it is through the economic market that society is best regulated and that the liberal goals of freedom (the unimpeded individual will) and progress (economic growth and technological advances) are best realised.

Right liberalism became a very popular creed in the nineteenth century when the urban middle class, whose money often came from trade and manufacturing, sought to break down the political dominance of the landowning classes.

Today, not surprisingly, it gets its support mostly from the commercial classes (stockbrokers, corporate lawyers, managers and so on).

A major revolt against right liberalism occurred toward the end of the nineteenth century. For right liberals it was only important that each man was allowed to compete in the market without impediment. Right liberals accepted that there would be unequal outcomes: that some would succeed more than others.

For a right liberal philosopher like Herbert Spencer this meant that even large scale inequalities in life ultimately served the public good. He wrote, in 1851, that,

Pervading all nature we may see at work a stern discipline, which is a little cruel that it may be very kind ...

... those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many 'in shadows and in miseries,' are the decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence...

It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of a universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of the highest beneficence─the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents.

Obviously, the idea that their sufferings were for the long-term good of humanity was unlikely to appeal to the mass of the working class. Furthermore, some liberals couldn't accept philosophically the idea of an unimpeded "right to compete" leading to unequal outcomes; they believed instead that individual autonomy would best be achieved when everyone was set upon equal conditions of life.

The result was the rise of the social democratic movement. This was a movement with much working class support and led by left wing liberals. Such left liberals did not believe in the "solution" of the market to the problem of regulating individual wills.

Instead, they looked to the state to create social conditions in which each individual could follow his own will and reason, and be self-created in any direction.

What this meant was that left liberals replaced a focus on Economic Man with one on Social Man. They also emphasised the idea of public goods (man acting deliberately through the state to achieve social outcomes) rather than private goods (man acting to achieve personal benefits and thereby unwittingly creating a positive social benefit).

So, by the early twentieth century Western societies were already caught in the debate that we are still having today: the debate between left and right liberalism.

It's usually easy to spot which side of the fence liberals are on. Here, for instance, is the Australian journalist Phillip Adams writing about modern childhood:

Yes, there are hundreds of millions of kids running about, but they're not meant to be children any more. This is not permitted. They are, instead, to be little economic units. Diminutive adults with fully fledged appetites for junk - junk food, junk films, junk ideas, junk toys and junk culture ...

Let them be children for a few, short years before they're turned into cannon fodder for the Great God Economy that modern societies seek to serve.

Here we obviously have a left liberal complaining about the right liberal focus on Economic Man. The same complaint pervades the following comments by a President of the Uniting Church in Australia who asks,

What about the estimation of human life where the only value applied to each individual is economic? Or, more precisely, where each individual is only valued as a consumer or as a value-adder? What does that say about life?

What about the totalitarianism of economics, seen in economic rationalism and globalisation ...

Are human beings to be measured primarily, or even solely, as consumers and value-adders?

What does it say about human life if the fundamental factors required for human existence are to be totally at the mercy of the market─the Great International Croupier?

... a society thus defined and based on the totalitarianism of economics can be described as no less than an evil empire. (Age 17/7/2000)

It's not just left liberalism which is easy to recognise. Consider the following statements by George Will, a Townhall columnist. He begins by quoting the left liberal Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson who once asked,

With the supermarket as our temple and the singing commercial as our litany, are we likely to fire the world with an irresistible vision of America's exalted purposes and inspiring way of life?

George Will can see in this a left liberal attack on his own right liberal beliefs and so hastens to defend,

a society that produces the abundance, and honors the emancipation of choice and desire, that results in supermarkets, advertising and other things that are woven inextricably into the fabric of a free society. (Town Hall, 26/10/03)

So, for the right liberal George Will, achieving liberal individualism (the emancipation of choice and desire) means accepting all the trappings of the free market. Individual freedom and supermarkets go together in this world view.

For conservatives, of course, the aim is not the "emancipation of choice and desire" at all, but rather the fulfilment of our higher, given nature as men and women.

What conservatives need to avoid, therefore, is being trapped within the confines of the debate between left and right liberalism.

At times we will agree with left wing criticisms of free market ideology, at other times we will agree with right wing criticisms of the left. What we shouldn't do is react against right wing free market ideology by identifying with the left or vice versa.

As conservatives we will be best placed when we can present ourselves clearly as an alternative to both left and right forms of liberalism.

(First published at Conservative Central 02/11/2003)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Biased History Award 2004

There's a lot of history with a left-wing bias out there, but I think I have found a clear-cut winner for the Biased History Award of 2004.

In a Year 8 textbook used widely in secondary schools here in Victoria, students are taught the following about the Christian knights who went on the crusades:

They were all fanatics. Crusaders were fundamental extremists - mad warriors who were intent on causing havoc for whatever they believed. They were virtually religious terrorists.

For an alternative, more grounded view of the crusaders click here.