Monday, December 26, 2005

A great papal homily

There are still signs of life in the Catholic Church. Earlier this month Pope Benedict delivered a homily which firmly and eloquently rejected the modernist liberal mentality. It is a refreshing thing when a religious leader dares to move beyond accommodation to a hostile philosophy and actually attempts to refute it.

I must say that I was not so impressed by the first part of the homily. It is yet another attempt to place Mary at the centre of Catholic worship (“In her lies the true center in which we trust”).

However, further on we come to a passage which effectively rejects liberalism in the religious sphere. As you read the passage, remember that liberalism is the idea that to be fully human we must be free to create ourselves through our own individual will and reason. It is the philosophy of the sovereign, autonomous, independent, self-authoring individual.

Pope Benedict says, regarding the famous Bible passage in which Eve is tempted by the serpent,

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbors the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom: Only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God's will. For God's will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

There is more. Pope Benedict says that we all carry a drop of the poison of thinking this way and that,

We call this drop of poison "original sin." Precisely on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one's own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles -- the tempter -- is right when he says he is the power "that always wants evil and always does good" (J.W. von Goethe, "Faust" I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: The person who abandons himself totally in God's hands does not become God's puppet, a boring "yes man"; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself.

I hope the significance of Pope Benedict’s words is clear to readers. In effect, the Pope is asserting that the liberal concept of what makes us human, namely a freedom to choose for ourselves, as autonomous individuals, who we are and what we do, is a false concept.

Instead, the Pope is arguing that there is a given truth to our being (not something we create for ourselves), which is not an impediment to freedom, not a “limitation,” because it forms the higher part of ourselves. We are free within a part of our nature, and therefore if we want freedom it is logical that we should aim, in what we will, to live in accordance with this higher part of our nature.

I do believe that this corresponds to the real experience of human freedom. Liberals would have us believe that we experience freedom when we are unconstrained in our choices. For example, liberals believe that we are liberated when we are not influenced in any significant way by the sex we are born to. Liberals want it not to matter whether we are born male or female.

So I am meant to feel free when I as a man am “unconstrained” by masculinity. But in reality I don’t feel free. I feel dismayed when I see signs of effeminacy in other men, or when I am hampered in fulfilling a masculine role in society. I feel most free when I witness the better and stronger masculine qualities in myself or others.

Which leads to a final point. It is encouraging that the Pope should reject the liberal mentality so firmly in the religious sphere. But the challenge for the Church is to understand how liberalism has also distorted other important spheres of life.

(I have already mentioned the issue of gender; the Church did, in fact, release a letter on gender last year which clearly rejected a liberal feminism, but only to replace it with a Catholic one.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Is ethnicity a prison?

I was saddened during the week to read that Britain is extending work and residency rights to 73 million East Europeans joining the European Union on May 1st.

This is a further dilution of immigration controls which ought to function to uphold the traditional ethnic identity of the existing British population.

The question some Britons might now be asking is why the European elites are so ready to deconstruct the existing national identities of their own countries.

The answer, I believe, is simple: the political and intellectual elites of Europe have accepted liberalism as their guiding philosophy. Liberals want individuals to be self-created by their own reason and will.

Traditional nationalism is not something that we get to choose by our own reason and will. It is something we are born into: a longstanding tradition based on a shared ancestry, language, history, religion, culture and so on.

For liberals, therefore, traditional nationalism, based as it is on ethnicity, is looked on negatively, as something that restricts, or confines, or contains, the sphere of individual choice.

That's why liberals tend either to reject nationalism altogether in favour of internationalism, or redefine nationalism to make it more fluid and interchangeable.

Right liberals

This negative attitude to traditional nationalism is not just found on the left. It is held just as firmly by right liberals.

One case in point is the right liberal Australian journalist, Andrew Bolt. He wrote a column recently on the local arts industry, in which he criticised the National Gallery of Victoria for hanging works by Aboriginal artists which crudely attacked the white mainstream (The art of politics 11/2/04).

For Andrew Bolt the problem is not just the crude politics of the artwork, but that the National Gallery even recognises ethnic categories like "Aboriginal". For Bolt, the best thing about art is that it helps us to "transcend differences of race and country"; therefore, it was wrong for the National Gallery to "drive us back into our racial prisons".

This is reminiscent of the views of the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, who once in a Future Directions document, chose to attack multicultural programmes on the basis that they "simply ensnare individuals in ethnic communities."

The language here is liberal speak. Race or ethnicity is rejected on the grounds that it imprisons or ensnares the individual. This kind of talk assumes that: what we seek is unimpeded individual choice, we don't get to choose our race or ethnicity, therefore race and ethnicity are "fetters" on our individual will from which we need to be liberated or emancipated.

Liberal nationalism

The philosophy of right liberals means that the right liberal parties are unlikely to support the further existence of traditional nationalism in Britain or elsewhere.

If British voters think that supporting the right liberal Conservative Party is going to restore the situation they are likely to be disappointed. They only have to look at what other right liberal parties are doing overseas: George Bush of the American Republicans wants to give residency rights to millions of illegal immigrants and John Howard of the Australian Liberal Party has chosen to increase the level of immigration into Australia.

That's not to say that the right liberal parties won't uphold some form of nationalism. However, it will be a liberal form of nationalism rather than a traditional one. It will be a form of nationalism based on ideas or values or cultural attributes to which anyone can choose to give their individual assent.

It's not realistic to expect people with a liberal philosophy to uphold an ideal of traditional nationalism. Yet it is traditional nationalism which gives us an important part of our individual identity. Traditional nationalism still needs to be defended, but to do so we need to reject the central place of liberalism in our political culture.

Our prison is not our ethnicity; it is the influence over us of a liberal orthodoxy so dominant that few are able to think outside its first principles. Western societies will be freer when a genuine alternative is more widely considered.

(First published at Conservative Central 29/02/2004)

Tying it all together

Please don't miss this short piece by Lawrence Auster at View from the Right.

Auster looks at two of my own commentaries and ties them together to explain why Australian liberals think that opponents of multiculturalism must be "white racists" or "white supremacists".

The key passage is the following:

Among the "socially imposed" categories that liberalism wants to liberate us from are ethnicity, race and nationality. From the liberal point of view, people who have been so liberated should not care if their culture is transformed, since all that people really care about and should care about is their own free and fulfilled self. People such as the Cronulla rioters who resist the disruption of their society by cultural aliens must be Nazis. In fact there are no Nazis ...

But there is a lot more worth reading in the Auster piece, including a response from a beleaguered Swedish conservative, who rightly understands that liberalism (which he calls cultural leftism) is effectively the "prevailing religion" in the West.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A false freedom

Where have we gone wrong? My answer is that the Western intellectual class follows the principles of liberalism as if it were their religion.

The basic idea of liberalism is that we are fully human when we have the freedom to choose, through our own will and reason, who we are and what we do. It’s a principle which sounds nice but which has destructive consequences. Over time, anything which is part of our nature or which is part of our tradition is rejected as something we don’t get to choose for ourselves. Nature and tradition come to be seen negatively as impediments to individual liberty.

Take the following as an example. Spenta Cama is an American woman who is part of a feminist “mothers’ movement”. She is married and is happiest being a stay-at-home mum, so she is not personally denatured. But politically she is committed to a blank-slate liberalism, in which our own nature as men and women is seen as a sexist impediment to freedom. She writes,

As a feminist, I made a promise as a teenager to treat any children I would have equally, regardless of their gender. No extra protection for a girl or societal reinforcement of gender stereotypes through toys. My son can play with trucks and cars as well as dolls if he wants. After all, I’m the mom who played the “Free To Be … You and Me” compact disc over and over to him when he was in utero. What better message could I send to my baby than he is a unique individual who can do and be anything he wants irrespective of the gender constraints society may attempt to place on him.

Note how liberalism gives a particular meaning here to the word equality: we are “equal” when we are treated androgynously, without reference to our gender.

Note too the specifically liberal understanding of what it means to be “free”. We are free, in Spenta Cama’s view, when the “constraint” of being male or female is overthrown, so that our individual will can decide all.

But what is wrong with this liberal view of freedom and equality? First, it is false because masculinity and femininity are not just a product of socialisation but are hardwired into us. Second, our nature as men and women is important to our self-identity, to our basic sense of who we are. Third, our sexuality is based on an appreciation of gender difference. Fourth, our concept of the good includes virtues associated with masculinity and femininity.

That’s why for most people the liberal attack on gender will not be experienced as a “liberation” but as an oppressive part of modern political life.

[The normal preference for gender difference comes out in the following reminiscence by the Australian authoress, Miles Franklin. She is writing about an experience which occurred when she was living in Chicago sometime between 1908 and 1915.

I can see Floyd clearly in memory with his black stock and walking-stick, on Dearborn Street, as he and Charlie announced to me the glad tidings that they were feminists. I was so uninstructed that distaste awakened in me. It seemed to me that the word was related to feminine, and for a man to be feminine was to be effeminate, and utterly obnoxious to me, reared where men were men.]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cronulla - media blames who?

A week has now passed since the events at Cronulla in Sydney. Where are we now?

First thing to mention is the large-scale police response. Two thousand police were assigned to guard the beaches today (Sunday), and six popular beaches were declared unsafe for public use.

Most remarkably, an entire suburb, Brighton-le-Sands, was placed in total lockdown under new laws, after five men (it’s not specified whether Australian or Lebanese) were arrested driving a car laden with a large drum of petrol, police scanners, and equipment for making molotov cocktails.

A police statement declared that there had been “an escalation in anti-social behaviour,” though newspaper reports have described the beaches themselves as quiet.

That, briefly, is the situation on the ground. But what of the political response?

There have been at least three major lines of thought circulating through the Australian media. The first is the one I have already described, namely, that Sydney is different and that the events at Cronulla couldn’t happen elsewhere in Australia.

After the course of the week I have further reason to doubt this claim. Listening to talkback radio in Melbourne during the week, there were many calls from young working-class Australian men aggrieved by bashings at the hands of Lebanese, or at the mistreatment of local women. One man rang in to explain why he and twenty of his mates were planning to go to Sydney “in solidarity”. A work colleague, too, told me that his son wanted to go to Sydney to support the Australians, and some of my students indicated the same thing.

The second political response has been a debate within the political class about whether or not Australians are racist. This debate is significant because it touches on important ideological differences between left-wing and right-wing liberals in this country – but I’ll go into this in a future post.

Which leaves the third political response. Increasingly the media is blaming Cronulla on the activities of what they call neo-nazis or white supremacists. There is a mood in the media and among the police to attack these “far-right” groups.

For instance, a story in today’s Herald Sun is headlined “Neo-Nazi link in race riots” and begins by informing us that “Australia’s intelligence services are investigating the role of neo-Nazi groups in Sydney’s race riots”. Another recent story in The Age was headlined “White supremacists hide in quiet suburbs” and began by claiming “The shadowy far-right may be behind Sydney’s race riots”. Academic James Jupp has written an article for The Australian in which he declares that multiculturalism won’t work unless “poisonous racist groups are crushed with the force of laws”.

Which is all very odd. The groups being talked about here are minuscule, poorly organised and are probably best described as white nationalist groups rather than white supremacist or neo-nazi. They themselves claimed to have fifteen people at Cronulla, which is probably a fair assessment of their numerical strength.

The Age article I cited above, in which two intrepid reporters tried to track down white supremacists in Melbourne, is particularly revealing. The journalists found a defunct post office box, a woman living in the country town of Shepparton and a man rumoured to be living in a Melbourne suburb. Not exactly a revolutionary force.

And yet we are supposed to take seriously the idea that such forces were responsible for an unprecedented rally of 5000 people at Cronulla and that the might of the Australian state should be mobilised to counter the challenge of the “far-right”?

It’s absurd – so much so that it poses the question of why the liberal political class should arrive at such an irrational response.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Was Cronulla left unprotected?

All week I have been asking people I know this question: Why were convoys of Lebanese men allowed to drive into Cronulla and other Sydney suburbs smashing cars and shops and bashing local residents? Surely, these large convoys must have been noticed by the police. Why weren’t they stopped?

My work colleagues gave me some unconvincing answers: that the police couldn’t be everywhere, or that the police could not have stopped the cars.

But now a different answer has surfaced. The Seven Network claims to have a police report instructing officers to stay away from Punchbowl Park where a convoy was gathering in order not to “antagonise” the young Lebanese men. The convoy then moved into Cronulla unimpeded by police.

I can only hope that the media pursues this incident vigorously. Who was responsible for the directive? What was the thinking behind it? It was a decision with serious consequences: it left the residents of Cronulla unprotected from a serious attack.

Police tactics will be different for this Sunday, though. A force of 1500 officers is being organised to patrol Cronulla and surrounds.

Meanwhile, there have been four attacks on churches in Sydney, the worst of which was an attack on a Catholic primary school during a Christmas carols service. Shots were fired into cars and parents abused.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Exceptions dwindling

There have been many riots in Western countries in recent times: Britain, France and America are obvious examples.

The response of the Australian political class to these events has usually been to claim Australian exceptionalism. We are different, they would assert, we are a multicultural success story the rest of the world should learn from.

I have always thought these claims to be complacent and arrogant. If multiculturalism leads to rioting in most countries which adopt it, why shouldn't the same thing eventually happen in Australia?

And now it has happened in a major way in Sydney.

So what has been the response of the political class down here in Melbourne to the rioting in Sydney? Well ... more exceptionalism. Now, though, the claim is that Sydney never got multiculturalism right, but we down here in Victoria have. It is we who are the exception and the rest of the world should learn from our example.

Our state Premier, Steve Bracks, for instance, has said that Victoria's multicultural history makes a Cronulla-like riot unlikely here. And Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Hass Dallal said Victoria's multicultural success was an example to others.

Now, there are several things to note about this idea that Victoria is exceptional. First, the territory claimed by exceptionalists is always shrinking. Which parts of the Western world haven't now been hit by multicultural hostilities? Canada and not much else, it seems.

Second, Victoria is not so different to Sydney. Two months ago, 17 Muslim men were arrested in Melbourne and Sydney, many of them Lebanese, because they were planning major terrorist attacks in both cities.

And if you read through this article you find mention of recent ethnic brawling in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine (no Anglos involved, but Africans, Asians and Maoris) as well as long-running tensions in the country town of Robinvale (Aborigines vs Islanders).

Third, one of the experts who claims that Melbourne is different, does so because Melbourne has fewer ethnic enclaves. Melbourne, for instance, has only about 14,000 Lebanese born immigrants compared to about 50,000 in Sydney.

The problem with this argument, though, is that Premier Bracks has announced plans to use mass immigration so that Melbourne's population overtakes Sydney in the next 20 years. He wants to add an extra 700,000 migrants to Melbourne during this time.

So, if Mr Bracks has his way we won't even be different to Sydney in this regard either - our ethnic enclaves will grow to an equal size.

What then is needed as a political response to the events in Cronulla? Well, we should not continue to cling to vain hopes that things will somehow work out for the best in our part of the world, despite the policy of multiculturalism having failed elsewhere.

Eventually the defects built into multiculturalism will catch up with us all. So we need to do what hardly anyone in the political class is doing right now. Instead of accepting multiculturalism as something untouchable, and doing ever more of the same to try to make it work, we need to reject the policy itself as being misguided and mistaken.

Why force people of different races, cultures and traditions to live together? Why should we accept that this policy is the only "moral" one to adopt?

Isn't it actually more logical to follow the older ideal, in which each culture and tradition could reproduce itself within its own homeland?

Multiculturalism is a false ideal. It is time to recognise this openly and to reform the policy of mass immigration into Western countries.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A multi-faith Christmas?

In most Melbourne suburbs there is a night of carol singing shortly before Christmas. This year in my suburb there is going to be a "multi-faith Carols" organised by the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting churches.

I can understand these three major Christian denominations getting together to sing carols. It makes sense, as they all share Christmas as an important festival.

But the ecumenical spirit has taken hold to such an extent that this is how my local paper, the Diamond Valley Leader (7th December 2005) describes the forthcoming event:

Wurundjeri elder Dot Peters will welcome guests to the country and tell an indigenous story. A Muslim woman will talk about her religion and Islam's practices around Christmas time and a Hindu woman will explain the customs of her faith.

A Buddhist blessing with gongs and Baha'i songs sung by children will also feature in the celebration, which begins at 7.30pm.

So there you are. The Christian residents of this area (we are not yet a multicultural suburb) are to begin their night of celebration with a reminder that they are "guests" in their own country (that should establish a festive atmosphere!) and rather than simply sing carols, they will be forced to adopt the all too familiar role of observing and celebrating other cultures. The passive look-on role.

There is too much self-erasure in all of this. How do these churches hope to maintain the pull of their own religious tradition, if their main concern, even during Christmas, is to celebrate the multicultural other (even in places where it doesn't yet exist)?

One further thing to note. There is a photo in the paper showing children rehearsing the carols on stage. Behind them are four equal size banners. One says "Jesus Christ" and has the emblem of a cross. The next says "Muhammed" and has the crescent emblem. Then there is "Krishna" with a Hindu emblem and "Bahaulla" with a Baha'i insignia.

It looks odd. It looks like a smorgasbord of divinities all stuck together and all made equivalent at what is supposed to be a Christian celebration.

What's happening at Cronulla?

This story has received a great deal of publicity in NSW, but none that I know of so far in Victoria.

It seems that groups of Middle Eastern men have been journeying from west Sydney to Cronulla beach and attacking locals, including the surf lifesavers. After the bashing of three lifesavers, locals are responding.

There is now a major police presence on the beach.

A report on the situation is available here.

Boys will be boys

This piece of research won't please feminists. American academics have found that boy monkeys prefer to play with toy cars whereas girl monkeys choose to play with dolls.

This is yet more evidence that sex differences are not just due to the way that children are brought up by parents, but that they are hardwired into us as a very longstanding part of our nature.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Aiming low

What do women want? Not much, if Age columnist Julia Baird is anything to go by.

In her latest column, Gender back on the agenda (3/12/2005, not online), Julia ponders the Maureen Dowd controversy. Maureen Dowd is a pretty, but single and middle-aged, American columnist, who has complained that men won’t go out with intelligent women like herself because the male ego is too fragile.

She’s wrong. It’s actually normal for university educated men to seek partners of a similar background. But most men won’t be attracted to women who aren’t feminine, friendly and family-oriented. And that’s why men, quite understandably, run for the hills when they meet women like Maureen Dowd. Who would want to spend a lifetime with a woman who takes men to be the enemy, who is conflicted about her own womanhood and who is unlikely to commit herself in any significant way to marriage or motherhood?

But back to Julia Baird. She accepts the alternatives posed by Maureen Dowd: that women are either going to aim for intelligence or physical attractiveness, and that the trend is for women to accept the “sex object” option. Julia Baird is aghast that women should be “intent on being sex objects again” and that they would turn to plastic surgery in a narcissistic effort to achieve self-esteem.

What then does Julia Baird call for? How does she want a woman’s life to be? In her own words,

Our fears, anxieties and identities continue to be carved into our faces and our bodies, with “self-esteem” increasingly defined by our curves and the agelessness of our skins, instead of access to education, well-paying jobs, health and respect from our partners. We are extraordinarily compliant about a culture that values booty over brains.

I must admit I was disappointed with Julia Baird when I read this. Is the modern Western girl really so shallow? The problem is not her rejection of the body perfect ideal. It’s that there is so much missing in her description of what might fulfil a woman’s life.

Look at what she thinks a woman needs: education, a well-paying job, health and respect from a partner. Access to education women already have. Across the western world, women are forming the majority of university undergraduates. It’s the same with access to jobs. An increasing number of young doctors and lawyers are female. Health is certainly important, but women continue to do better than men on this front too, outliving men on average by several years. And respect from partners? Is this all that Julia Baird would wish for from a man?

If these things were enough to truly satisfy a woman, then women would have satisfaction and self-esteem in abundance.

But she leaves out too much. What about love? Doesn’t a woman need, as a girl, the love of her mother and father? Doesn’t she naturally seek romantic love as a teenage girl and marital love as a grown woman? Don’t most women want the experience of a maternal love for their own children?

And what about the life of the spirit? Hasn’t Julia Baird ever felt a responsiveness to nature? Has she appreciated the arts, or felt a love of country? A pride in the accomplishments of her own family?

And what of her own womanhood? Hasn’t she experienced her own identity as a woman, including a sense of female physicality, of female sexuality, of female emotions, and of the feminine virtues?

What Julia Baird proposes for women is drab. It reads like a political agenda: be a good feminist girl and get a career and a respectful partner. It has little to say to the real, personal, inner life of a woman.

It is as fake as the plastic, paid for beauty which Julia Baird in her column criticises as a “madness we both perpetuate and consent to”.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I make no claim to be a Shakespeare scholar. Even so, I think a case can be made that Shakespeare was opposed to a key aspect of what has become the modern liberal philosophy.

One piece of evidence was discussed recently by Lawrence Auster. It’s a quote from the play King Lear, in which Albany speaks harshly of the evil daughter of Lear, Goneril, with the words:

O Goneril!
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face. I fear your disposition:
That nature, which contemns [scorns] its origin,
Cannot be border’d certain in itself;
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use.

This runs directly against the grain of modern liberalism. A key idea of liberalism is that we are made truly human when we choose who we are through our own individual will and reason. Therefore, liberals prize the idea of an individual “freedom” in which there are no limits to our individual will. For liberals, individuals are free when they are not impeded in their will by an inborn nature, or by tradition, or by inherited identities.

Albany, though, does not praise Goneril for having liberated herself from her unchosen nature. Instead, he condemns such a project as likely to lead to vicious outcomes. He talks of a person who chooses to “sliver and disbranch from her material sap” as withering – which is a similar thought to the more modern conservative view that people who are made rootless suffer a loss from being denatured.

[All of which reminds me of the fate of Alice James, sister of the famous novelist Henry. She did not relish her spinsterhood as a freedom from a “biological destiny” as liberals might have it, but confessed that it could not be “anything else than a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and ‘do for’ daily is not only a sorrow, but a sterilizing process”. When she spent time with her brothers, she was happy to lose her “floating particle sense”.]

There is another passage from Shakespeare which appears to run directly counter to the liberal concept of freedom from an inherited nature. The quote is from the play Coriolanus. In this play, Coriolanus is unjustly expelled from Rome and so allies himself with Rome’s enemy to seek revenge. However, just prior to his attack on the city, his Roman family visits him to plead with him to call off the attack.

At first, Coriolanus tries to ignore their pleas. He tries to brace himself by telling himself that,

I’ll never
Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand
As if a man were author of himself
And knew no other kin. (5.3. 34-37)

Shakespeare here uses language which is very familiar to modern liberalism. The idea of being self-authored, or of writing your own script, is part of the terminology of our own times.

But Shakespeare does not intend us to sympathise with this attitude. It is clear from the text that natural bonds and loyalties, including the ties of kinship and patriotism, are rightly felt to be stronger than the merely personal will or desires (for revenge in this case) of an atomised individual.

Coriolanus, for instance, at the sight of his wife, is reminded of the “bond and privilege” of nature; at the sight of his son he declares that “my young boy / Hath an aspect of intercession which / Great Nature cries ‘Deny Not’”.

One writer on Shakespeare, Anthony Law, has summarised this passage from Shakespeare as follows:

Coriolanus most explicitly embodies the modernist desire for total autonomy ... Shakespeare has him deny his family and his country in the face of three generations of that family – mother, wife, and son – who beg him not to destroy Rome ...

Since the nineteenth century, the word “instinct” has had a particular scientific meaning, but for Coriolanus it means to be bound by an unselfconscious inward stain or tincture to the obligations of family, culture, citizenship, and tradition. Now Coriolanus will throw off all these instinctive restraints. He will become the “author of himself,” forget all other ties, and act from unnameable internal principles, which we now recognize as the underlying axioms of autonomous individualism.

In Shakespeare’s play the forces of autonomous individualism lose out. Coriolanus is reminded of his natural loyalties and brokers a peace. His nobility is restored. Unfortunately, in England and across the West, there was a radically different outcome and one, I think it is safe to say, which would not have pleased our most famous playwright.