I belong loosely to a group that I would call the pro-Labor social justice liberal intelligentsia.
This is Professor Robert Manne's way of telling us that he's a left-liberal. A popular one, too, as he once topped a poll to decide Australia's leading public intellectual.
One of the other place getters in the poll was Michael Leunig. I discussed a while ago an odd feature of Leunig's politics, namely that he praises the Australian Aborigines for the traditionalism of their communities, whilst loathing the same qualities amongst white Australians.
As it happens, Robert Manne also holds to exactly the same double standard. There is something, therefore, about the left-liberal mindset in Australia which produces this strange inconsistency, in which Aborigines are admired for the very qualities which white Australians are damned for.
Let me give two examples of Manne's double standard. Manne recently defended the traditional Aboriginal way of life by referring to the work of white anthropologists who, Manne believes, observed:
not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being held a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning.
It's difficult to imagine anything more out of line with liberal modernism. At the moment the bookshops are full of works by the liberal intelligentsia claiming that religion is a dangerous threat to humanity. Yet here the Aborigines are given a free pass to live in an enchanted world in which there is not only religion, but a world "soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual" and "pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning".
Why isn't the ethos of liberal rationalism and scientism applied to Aborigines?
Similarly, liberals have pressed for an ideal in which we are unimpeded in choosing who we are and what we do. We are supposed to be self-determining individual agents, who aren't constrained by unchosen forms of identity based on gender or ethnicity, or by traditional social roles or patterns of family life.
Again, Manne doesn't apply the logic of liberalism to Aborigines. Not only do they get to keep basic forms of family life and gender identity, they are even praised for having "an intricate social order, in which, through kinship structure, every human held a precise and acknowledged place".
It is almost as if there are two Robert Mannes. The one who faces white Australia proclaims himself a member of the "pro-Labor social justice liberal intelligentsia". The one who ponders customary Aboriginal life is drawn to the most non-liberal vision of society imaginable.
And there's more. In 2001, Manne defended the existence of traditional Aboriginal communities this way:
... if the traditional communities are indeed destroyed, one distinctive expression of human life - with its own forms of language, culture, spirituality and sensibility - will simply become extinct. Humanity is enriched and shaped by the diversity of its forms of life. It is vastly impoverished as this diversity declines. If contemporary Australians allow what remains of the traditional Aboriginal world to die, we will be haunted by the tragedy for generations.
If this is true, and if Manne really believes it to be true, he should apply it to all of the world's peoples, including Europeans. But he doesn't. When it comes to mainstream Australia the defence of "distinctive expressions of human life" simply disappears from view, to be replaced with an ideal of multiculturalism, diversity and open borders.
Again we have the two Mannes. One laments the possible destruction of traditional Aboriginal communities as a loss of a distinctive expression of human life; the other has laboured for, as a matter of justice, the destruction of traditional Australia and its replacement by a multicultural society.
I'll leave a consideration of why Manne's double standard exists to the comments. What I've really tried to show in setting out Manne's views is that left-liberalism must have a profound defect - if it didn't it wouldn't generate such disturbing inconsistencies.