The first half of the book deals with the 1940s, when McAuley was part of a group of young progressive intellectuals.
As I expected, the book provides further evidence that the political class had moved away from a traditional nationalism by the 1940s.
Part of the problem was the influence of Marxism: McAuley himself said of the Melbourne intelligentsia of the 1940s that they were good people to drink with, but frozen in the attitudes of the 1930s and "completely subjugated by a quite infantile Stalinism".
But the problem went deeper than a flirtation by intellectuals with the Communist Party. McAuley himself, who was quite independent in his views, was no more a traditional nationalist than the Marxists.
In 1947 he advocated adding Papua New Guinea to Australia. He wrote,
One is tempted to think the old French dream, never capable of fulfilment under the conditions of the French Empire, of a united polity and economy shared equally by French citizens of any colour or origin, is a conception most suitable for application to New Guinea. Consciously to develop the islands so as to add to the Commonwealth of Australia, one, two or three million citizens ... would be the most fruitful and gigantic defence work Australia could undertake.
McCauley did not believe his proposal would be implemented because it conflicted with the "narrow ethnocentrism" of Australian nationalism.
So, even someone like McCauley had already reached the view by 1947 that white ethnocentrism was a negative quality.
This was not the commonly held view at Federation in 1901. At Federation it was positively asserted that the states could form a successful nation because of the bond of common ethnicity - language, ancestry, history etc - shared between them.
So between the early to mid-1900s there occurred one of those shifts in thinking amongst the political class in Australia, in which the intellectual reflex was to consider white ethnocentrism as illegitimate or unprogressive, rather than as a foundation stone of national identity.