Thursday, March 29, 2007

Singer not so doctrinaire

Jill Singer is not as doctrinaire a leftist as I thought she was. First there was her comment late last year in support of traditional men:

Just as men hanker for women who are more gorgeous but less clever than themselves, women will generally keep seeking men who can provide for their family in material terms.

I hear many women complain they feel dudded in their relationships, that gender equality means women's workload is made unbearable by both work and home duties.

Their husbands apparently benefit from their wife's income but don't put in more at home themselves.

We're not just talking about caring for children, but old-fashioned domestic duties that men used to do such as household repairs. Sure, there are lots of good handymen out there, but they're not married to anyone I know.

Now she has written an article on the importance of our home country and culture and the dislocation of migrants living in a foreign land.

She begins her piece by quoting an ancient Indian text:

One of the paths to happiness, according to an ancient Indian text, is not to leave your homeland permanently.

The wisdom of this has struck me during my visit to Vietnam.

Singer joined a party of Vietnamese men and women and noted:

... it was remarkable to witness their love of country ... The people here are so enthusiastic about their culture and prosperity that I feel sympathy for the Vietnamese who were forced to make their lives elsewhere in the wake of the Vietnam War.

One of the Vietnamese women has a sister living in Sydney who wants to return home but won't because of her Australian born children. According to Singer,

The expatriate sister longs for her family in Vietnam, but her children are Australian.

She lives a life amputated from her culture.

Of those Vietnamese refugees who cannot return home because of "newly formed bonds" Singer writes:

They have gained new homes and new opportunities, but they are also missing out on so much.

Nor does Singer exclude her own kind from the appeal of native land and culture. She writes of those Australians who move overseas that:

Being an outsider can be exhilarating as a visitor, but can prove tiresome over time.

She tells us too that,

I have often dreamed of living elsewhere ... And then I think of being permanently away from home, friends and family, and the appeal quickly fades. Travel is a tonic, but home is a haven.

The conclusion Singer draws from all this is not a conservative one. She argues that refugees wouldn't lightly forsake their homelands and therefore should be judged as genuinely in need rather than as aspiring to a better lifestyle.

It's a pity Singer didn't draw the more obvious, albeit bolder, conclusion, namely that those claiming refugee status should be resettled in places most similar to their home country and culture. This would be an effective way to test whether refugee claimants are genuine, and it would also mean that genuine refugees would suffer the least degree of cultural dislocation.

To illustrate this point, consider the case of a white farmer driven out of Zimbabwe. Would he feel more at home resettled in rural Australia or in a suburb of Beijing? It would seem perverse to place him in Beijing, where both he and his children could never feel part of the mainstream. Yet the refugee policies in place today don't consider this issue, and claimants are resettled without consideration of their prospects for a cultural identity.

Finally, it's worth noting that Singer's article represents something of a return to a traditional view. Throughout European history exile from your homeland was considered an unfortunate fate. Dante wrote in The Divine Comedy of the exile that:

You will leave everything you love most:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You will know how salty
another's bread tastes and how hard it
is to ascend and descend
another's stairs ...

In Njal's Saga (written in Iceland in the 1200s) the hero Gunnar is sent into exile for three years. As he is leaving, though, his horse stumbles, causing him to look homeward. He decides to stay, even though this will leave him an outlaw and lead to his death.

Finally, I'm reminded too of Elizabeth Fenton, who travelled with her husband to Australia in the 1820s. In the Arab ship she sailed on were two men, both exiles of a kind, whom she pitied. Of the first she wrote:

He makes me quite melancholy. He is English by name and complexion, but his tastes, manners, and his scruples, not to say his religion, are Arab. He is the son of a Scotch clergyman, but for many years has been leading his present life, trading between Muscat and Mozambique ... Poor fellow!

The second was from Greece:

Among this crowd there is, - Oh! sad to write it, - a Greek, a native of Athens, a Moslem now by adopted faith and practice. Little reckons he of past time; Marathon is no more to him than Mozambique. He would rather have a curry than all the fame of his ancestors.

So Jill Singer, in writing of love of homeland and the loss of exile, is contributing to a longstanding tradition within Western culture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why can't Sweden just accept it as normal?

From Sweden we get the following news:

The Swedish Consumers Association has reacted angrily to one of the ice pops in GB's new line. 'Girlie', a star-shaped, pink ice-cream with glitter make-up stored inside the stick, is entirely inappropriate, according to the association ...

According to GB, the 'Girlie' ice pop signals a "sense of summer", "star status" and "a disco feeling".

The Swedish Consumers Association however uses an entirely different word: "gender-profiling".

"Girlie, GB's new ice pop, is pink and has make-up inside the stick. It says a lot about what GB thinks about girls and how they should be," said the association in a statement.

According to the consumer watchdog, Sweden does not need more products that reinforce existing prejudices surrounding young boys and girls.

"Especially with a product as neutral as ice cream," said Jan Bertoft.

He would like to see alterations made to the product to make it less gender specific.

"They can call an ice pop 'Girlie' if they want, but it doesn't have to be so clearly aimed at young girls and telling them how they should be," said Bertoft.

GB's marketing manager, Christoffer Schreil, considers it unfortunate that some people have viewed the ice cream as being directed solely at girls ...

Schreil ... admits there have been a few complaints.

"We reply to everybody who gets in touch and tell them that we certainly did not mean to reinforce or cement gender roles in any way," he said.

I think I can explain this. An important strand of liberal thought is the idea that we are distinctively human because of our ability to self-determine who we are and what we do.

We don't determine traditional patterns of gender for ourselves, and therefore such patterns logically strike the liberal mind as being impediments to the self-defining individual.

Hence the fears that pink girlie ice creams might tell girls "how they should be" and reinforce gender roles.

The story doesn't end there, though. If traditional gender roles are oppressive, liberals have to explain how they came about. It's been common for left-liberals to claim that they exist as social constructs in order to shore up male privilege.

This means that there is even more reason for liberals to fear a traditionally feminine gender identity: it is thought to contribute to female oppression and gender inequality.

The Swedes are serious about this kind of ideology. Just a few years ago a Swedish minister, Jens Orback, declared that:

The government considers female and male as social constructions, that means gender patterns are created by upbringing, culture, economic conditions, power structures and political ideologies.

At about the same time a county government in Sweden removed funding for a book because it contained an interview with Annica Dahlstrom, a leading neurobiologist, who has recognised differences between the male and female brain.

If there are differences between the male and female brain, there might be reasons within human biology for traditional gender patterns, and this would violate the Swedish government policy of social construction. So there was to be no interview with Annica Dahlstrom and no book.

A Swedish newspaper editor wrote in support of the county government that:

Our Swedish gender equality policy is based on us being equal and socialised into different gender roles. Annica Dahlstrom is an essentialist feminist and believes that boys and girls are totally different. The county government cannot publish material with that opinion.

So the ice cream story isn't just political correctness gone mad. It reflects mainstream liberal politics within Sweden.

One interesting thing to note about the above quote from the Swedish editor is the sense in which the term "equality" is used. The quote suggests that men and women can't be equal if there is a real basis for gender difference. In other words, it is assumed that gender equality is based on a fundamental sameness between men and women.

Perhaps this is an outcome of the whole social constructionist argument. If you believe that gender differences are constructed to oppress women, then you will assume that eliminating gender differences will create gender equality. So gender sameness will be associated with equality between men and women.

This isn't an easy concept of equality to defend, since few people would really want, or think it possible, for men and women to be the same. So I think we could expect liberals to run both an argument that gender sameness equals equality, and a denial that gender sameness is an outcome they are aiming for.

There is also another difficult aspect of the liberal view of gender equality. If the liberal measure of equality is how autonomous or independent we are (allowing ourselves to be self-determined), and if men are assumed to be a privileged class, then men must be assumed to be highly autonomous and independent.

This would explain the assumption that I've heard expressed by feminists that men historically could do as they wished. Yet, when advocating for a modernist view of the family, liberals often tell men that they will have a liberating expansion of "choice" if they give up the breadwinner role.

So men are being given opposing accounts of their historical role according to the particular matter at hand: that they have had too much choice historically, as a privileged class, but that they have suffered from lack of choice in their traditional role within the family.

Note too another unfortunate aspect of the liberal view of gender equality. If the measure of equality is how autonomous or independent we are, and men are identified as the historically privileged class, then the male role is the one to be envied and sought after.

So you can expect liberals to fall into the idea that women, to be equal, must have more of the "superior" male role and men more of the "inferior" female role. In particular, this will mean advocating careers for women over a more traditional motherhood role.

Again, I don't think that even liberals find it easy to embrace the logic of this position. Most liberal women will retain at least an aspect of a traditionally feminine identity and instinct and won't want to regard this as inferior. So it won't be surprising if liberal women fluctuate uneasily between the claim to a "superior" masculine role, and an identification with the more traditionally feminine.

Finally, given that "equality", understood the Swedish way, requires men to act against a deeply embedded provider instinct, and women to act against an even more deeply embedded motherhood instinct, it's not surprising that the Swedes have accepted the necessity of state coercion in achieving equality.

According to Jens Orback, the Swedish minister quoted earlier, the achievement of gender equality requires government action in all policy areas:

Our work for gender equality is governed by our understanding that a gender-based power structure exists, meaning that we see that women are subordinate to men and that this is something we want to change.

To be successful in making these changes we must ensure that a gender perspective is present in all policy areas. The gender mainstreaming strategy is therefore essential if we want to achieve a gender equal society.

I have focused on pointing out some difficulties in making the liberal view of equality coherent or persuasive. The larger task, though, which I won't attempt now, is to question the liberal assumptions on which their view of equality is based.

Meanwhile, we'll have to expect "advanced" societies like Sweden to be flummoxed by the concept of pink ice creams for girls.

Monday, March 26, 2007

An Australian Carrie?

What happens when young women are brought up, en masse, to be liberals? One possible outcome is that you get the Carrie Bradshaw kind of woman.

Carrie Bradshaw was the lead character on the now defunct TV show, Sex and the City. Carrie had a glamorous job as a newspaper columnist, dated men for romance and sex rather than marriage, and relied on female friends for companionship.

In all this, she was fulfilling the liberal principle that we are supposed to be independent, autonomous, self-defining individuals. Carrie had her own independent income, her own self-chosen career identity, and she had the unrestrained freedom to pursue sex and romantic liaisons.

The question is, of course, whether this liberal kind of lifestyle is ultimately satisfying. The TV show itself never gave a clear yes or no. To some degree it glamorised Carrie's lifestyle, but at times it hinted at the frustration, emotional hurt and loneliness experienced by the thirty-something single girl.

Sophie Cunningham is in some ways a real life Australian version of Carrie Bradshaw. She had the glamorous job (Australia's youngest ever publisher at age 28), and she was well-known in her industry for regaling others with tales of her sexual and romantic exploits.

As one journalist said of Sophie Cunningham's life in her 20s and early 30s "In many ways, she exemplified the successful young independent contemporary woman".

But how satisfying was this kind of success? As it happens, Sophie Cunningham gave up her publishing career at the age of 37 after suffering burn out. She also now admits that her generation of women did not generally experience happiness in relationships. She says that in her late 20s when she moved to Sydney she was living,

amid an epidemic of single people, particularly single women who longed not to be single. There was another epidemic of narcissism and extreme self-focus adding to this unhappiness.

Her interviewer then records her as saying that,

She saw what she describes as a tidal wave of passiveness ... Despite contemporary women's supposed independence, so many had their lives on hold, awaiting the man of their dreams to arrive ... and then their real lives could begin ... I saw so many women living in a state of denial about relationships - hanging on for years with the bloke who is never going to commit, the married man who will never leave his wife, the long-distance lover who'll never be available. The love affair basically exists in their head. (The Age 17/4/04)

The ultimate fate of the independent single girl is too often, it seems, to have a "not quite there" relationship with a man who will never commit to her. This leaves her not as an active and self-defining individual which liberalism claims she will be, but as someone who must passively prolong her wait for the normal processes of adult life to begin.

There is one further confession from Sophie Cunningham. She experienced a maternal longing for a baby, but was never able to achieve this. According to one newspaper interview,

in her early thirties she ached so badly for a child and felt such anger that she didn't have one that it drove her quite mad. 'A lot of people find it very painful not having kids ... I don't think it's brave to admit that you'd love to have children but you haven't had the chance.' (Herald Sun 2/5/04)

So the independent single girl ethos didn't help Sophie Cunningham to succeed in this important part of her life either. Instead, she felt the absence of a child as such a loss that she was driven "quite mad" by her anger.


Liberals tell young women that they should be able to do whatever they want to do and be whatever they want to be. It's repeated almost like a mantra.

But ironically it's liberalism itself which most severely limits the lives of women. If women are told that they should aim at independence and self-definition, then they are restricted to those things which you can achieve as an independent, self-defining individual.

And the things that a woman can do on this basis are career, sex, shopping and female friendships. Which is why these things are emphasised in the more feminist of women's magazines and television shows.

But these attainments are too limited in scope to ultimately bring fulfilment to a woman. Sophie Cunningham achieved these things to such a degree that she was held to epitomise the successful independent modern woman. But it is her own testimony that she and woman like her were missing out to the point that they felt their real lives hadn't even begun.

This is because there are important aspects of life which we don't achieve as independent, self-defining individuals. This is where liberalism so much restricts the lives of women, as it undermines such things as marriage and motherhood, which require not autonomy or self-definition, but a stable commitment to others.

(First published at Conservative Central, 16/05/2004)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Can it only be politics or rugger?

Not everyone understood my last post. It was an attempt to draw out the "neutrality strand" within liberalism.

What is the neutrality strand? In the 1600s there was a period of religious conflict. As a means to restore social harmony, there was an effort to base the social order not on an assertion of religious truth, but on tolerance of different religious claims.

So there was a shift from an assertion of religious truth to an ideal in which the equal claim of others, their equal right in matters of religion, was focused on.

This established a framework in which traditional identity in general came to be associated with social antagonism and superior claim, whereas repression of traditional identity was linked to tolerance, harmony, and equality

There are liberals who filter reality through this kind of framework. They assume that all forms of traditional identity are based on superior claim and a denial of equality, and that the adoption of a neutral stance is the mark of high principle and a proper basis for a harmonious social order.

Traditionalists often have a difficult time penetrating this liberal mindset. We experience traditional identity in a radically different manner. It is felt by us to be a natural and positive aspect of self-identity, based more often on feelings of love and attachment than on hostile, antagonistic superiority.

So what is wrong with the liberal framework? In my last post, I endorsed the criticism of the liberal approach made by Mark from Western Survival. He argued that most of the traditional sources of identity targeted by liberals are based on real, meaningful and immutable differences between people. Therefore, attempting to eliminate them causes, in practice, more harm than good.

I added two further criticisms. First, that adopting a neutral stance toward things which matter causes a major defect in Western man, namely a failure to project. It makes Western man, as the liberal subject, fit only to observe the "colourful other," and unable to actively assert his own identity.

Second, I noted (following Mark) that liberals made an exception for political identity, and that it was therefore no accident that liberal intellectuals often sought distinction, and group allegiance, through holding "correct" political beliefs, in particular by disdaining the working-class as nativist rednecks and presenting themselves in contrast as tolerant liberal cosmopolitans.

I described this kind of distinction seeking as a lazy form of elitism, not requiring any real effort of character or achievement.

Which brings me to the updates. First, by coincidence there was published in yesterday's Melbourne Age an article by Catherine Deveny, one of the two leftist women I quoted in my own post. Deveny's article is a classic expression of lazy distinction seeking.

First we get the disdain for the working-class as nativist rednecks. Deveny describes the grand prix auto racing fans as "knuckle-dragging petrol heads" and "flag wavers". She tells them that if they need a grand prix to feel proud of their city to "please kill yourself at your earliest possible convenience. And take your 'I'm Another Australian Against Further Immigration' T-shirt with you."

Then there's her claim to superiority: she, unlike the average joe, appreciates not just immigrants, but the most radically "other" of immigrants, the recent Muslim arrivals. Furthermore, she loves to eat their ethnic cuisine: pide, gozleme and baklava.

Finally there's her failure to project. She's a master at this. She has taken a job as a Middle-Eastern bakery tour guide in northern suburban Melbourne:

Last week and again this week, I'll show folks around Sydney Road and take them into a handful of the many Middle Eastern bakeries along this lively and cosmopolitan strip of bridal boutiques, multicultural food, funky cafes, factory outlets and rampant tolerance.

Her role is not to be an exemplar of her own culture, but to be invisible to herself and observe instead the colourful other (note the combination of adjectives she uses to describe the other: funky, lively, multicultural, cosmopolitan).

She is happy with the role of tour guide to what is most foreign within her own hometown, and is proud that she is more advanced in this role than others. She apparently likes the fact that the people she shows around, unlike herself, feel disoriented by what they see:

"I feel like I am in another country," the wide-eyed Loafers say as they openly gawk at the young girls wearing the hijab and tight jeans.

So Catherine Deveny tries very hard to earn distinction through cosmpolitan political beliefs. The problem is that you don't really earn elite status through such ideological distinction seeking.

So what non-ideological qualities might justify a claim to belong to an elite? The Wikipedia article on elitism suggests the following:

- Rigorous study of, or great accomplishment within, a particular field of study
- A long track record of competence in a demanding field
- An extensive history of dedication and effort in service to a specific discipline
- A high degree of accomplishment, training or wisdom within a given field

It would be a step forward if we lived in a society in which the elite, at the very least, engaged seriously with high culture, personal character and matters spiritual.

We are a long way from this. My call for a non-ideological form of distinction seeking was not comprehended in some quarters. It was thought to be a call for a physical, corporeal elitism, based on sporting prowess.

Over at Larvatus Prodeo, a fairly mainstream left-liberal site, it was suggested that I was leaving the "healthy mind" part out of the saying "a healthy mind in a healthy body" and that I was advocating something along the lines of "cricket and rugger for the blokes, synchronised diving and beach volleyball for the sheilas."

Someone else thought I might be excluding Catherine Deveny from the ranks of the elite because she was no good at games. There was also a comment suggesting that the sports already occupied an elite position compared to culture and the arts.

So some on the left cannot conceive what a non-ideological form of distinction might be, let alone fill the role. Nor do they seem open to the idea that they are undeserving of status given the shallow basis on which they claim distinction. They hold the opposite view: that they are not accorded enough status, particularly in comparison to non-intellectual sporting types. This is the thought which engrosses them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why don't we have an elite?

Why do liberals wish to make things which matter not matter? Mark at Western Survival gives this explanation:

I think that what is going on here is that liberals, in their well-intentioned, understandable, and laudable desire to make the world a better place, wish to "deconstruct" - i.e., eliminate - any aspect of human identity that leads to friction, with the single (unprincipled) exception of political identity.

What Mark is describing here is the neutrality strand within liberalism. This is one of the strands of thought making up modern liberalism. I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of what this strand claims, but I do know that many liberals like to view their philosophy in its terms.

The argument runs something like this. After the religious conflicts of the 1600s, it was decided to order society not by religious authority, but "neutrally" according to a concept of equal rights.

The highest principle was less to assert a religious truth than to tolerate a variety of religious claims; to repress favouritism and discrimination toward one's own religious view in order to keep the peace; and to recognise the equal claim of others, their equal right, in matters of religion.

Equality, tolerance, non-discrimination as a means to secure social peace.

However, the highest principle was gradually extended in its reach to other kinds of truths and values on which society had traditionally been based. Western man increasingly adopted a stance of public neutrality toward the things which matter.

Mark himself describes this mix of equality, non-discrimination, neutrality and social harmony as follows:

Liberal thinking goes something like this:

Egalitarianism is what is right and moral. No one is better than anyone else, so no one should have any significantly better circumstances in life than anyone else. To be a good person, you must be an egalitarian.

Ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, nationality, language, religion, and culture are aspects of human identity that lead to favoritism and discrimination and thus power and wealth inequalities and social friction.

Because these sources of identity lead to inegalitarian outcomes, these sources of identity must either be eliminated or made unimportant.

If people's only significant source of identity were as liberals - people with no religious, ethnic, gender, national, class, or cultural identity - most of the strife in the world would be eliminated.

So what's wrong with the "neutrality strand" within liberalism? Mark argues that the problem is that the sources of identity targeted by liberals can't in reality be eliminated. Therefore, a more realistic goal would be the adoption of international norms in which important sources of identity could exist without friction or strife.

Mark sets out his argument persuasively, and I encourage readers to visit his site and read the entire piece. There are, though, a few additional arguments I would like to add.

First, the adoption of a neutral stance toward things which matter leads to a major defect in modern Western man, namely a failure to project. Mark captures this defect at the very end of his description of how liberals see things (as quoted above):

If people's only significant source of identity were as liberals - people with no religious, ethnic, gender, national, class, or cultural identity - most of the strife in the world would be eliminated.

If people have no religious, ethnic, gender, national, class or cultural identity, then they are empty men fit only to observe and admire the "colourful" life they witness in the non-liberal subject, in the "other". They lack a "self" to carry confidently into the world. They have too little to project on their own account.

Second, Mark is right to highlight the free pass given to political identity. Liberals do allow themselves to be passionate about their political identity, to identify with larger political entities (i.e. with political 'teams'), and to assert superiority on the basis of political beliefs. There isn't the same adoption of a neutral stance when it comes to political identity and belief.

As a clear (although unusually extreme) example of this, consider the views of Marieke Hardy, an Australian left-wing scriptwriter:

I'm afraid I can't get past politics in a friendship. It would be difficult for me to even get to friendship stage without working out which 'team' my potential friend may bat for, but let's just say for the sake of argument that somehow I've gotten all dizzy for paldom before discovering my potential best mate is a Young Liberal. Okay.

Me: Wanna go see a movie tonight?
New friend: My word, yes!
Me: Hey, funny thing. I've never asked who you vote for!
New friend: That is funny, isn't it?
Me: Hilarious!
New friend: Haha!
Me: So who is it?
New friend: John Howard!
Me: Goodbye forever!
New friend: Cheerio!

I know my parents have Liberal voting friends ... I'm glad that they could see past politics to break bread with their comrades and neighbours, but it's just too big a deal for me. It's too important.

I have a particular group of friends who I adore. They are rabid lefties. They also have two very close mates who openly vote Liberal. When I discovered this I was very shocked, and didn't deal with it very well. I'm now able to be at larger dinner parties with them and make polite conversation, but we all know that there will be no further friendship entered into.

Another Australian leftist, Catherine Deveny, has made it known that:

Even if the Liberal Party promised me everything I wanted ... I still wouldn't vote for them because they are not my team.

For these politically correct women, politics is a source of identity which is considered important and which allows a partisan loyalty to a larger collective.

Yet this is exactly what isn't allowed for the other sources of identity, such as traditional ethnic or national loyalties.

Not only is this a double standard, it represents a distortion in the way human loyalties are understood. After all, the distinction between the Labor and Liberal Parties isn't really that important. It hardly deserves the kind of passion given to it by the women quoted above.

Furthermore, if political identity is the one area in which we don't have to adopt a stance of neutrality, but can discriminate, assert a collective allegiance or even assert superiority, then it becomes one permissible means by which individuals can seek distinction in the modern West.

It's not surprising, therefore, that our cultural elite seeks distinction through holding the right political beliefs, rather than through (real) cultural refinement, or the expression of character, or service to family or nation.

This means that, despite the egalitarian idea within liberalism, there is still an elitism in Western societies, but a lazy one based on little more than holding to certain beliefs.

A recent example of this kind of lazy elitism is the argument of English columnist, Patrick West, that Australians are "white trash" because we are "some of the most coarse, racist people on earth".

West's complaint is not only that we lack refinement, but that we fail to measure up to liberal political belief by having too much ethnic loyalty and therefore being "racist".

West even seems to suggest that our deviation from liberal belief is so great that we better fit the role of "colourful other" rather than liberal subject:

I don't mean to be rude to the Australians, who are really quite charming and part of me does warm to their earthy sense of humour and childlike joie de vivre.

The Australian writer Guy Rundle thinks the Patrick West view of Australians is common amongst the English commentariat. According to Rundle:

As an Australian in Britain, you simply get used to it. More often than not such anti-Australian sentiments find their expression in the leftish mainstream press, where ostensible liberalism often serves as a mask for cultural elitism.

It is a cheap elitism. To claim it, you don't actually have to be elite in any field or in any aspect of personal character. You simply have to look with disdain on mainstream, working-class culture and hold to liberal, cosmopolitan views.

We won't have a true elite until we return to more demanding, non-ideological forms of seeking distinction.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The silent riots

If you've been tuning into the mainstream media for the past week you wouldn't have heard the following news. There have been riots by the Dutch in the suburb of Ondiep in Utrecht.

Ondiep is a working-class suburb with a population that is roughly 70% Dutch. Locals have complained to the police about harassment and intimidation by groups of Moroccan and Turkish youths, but no effective action was taken.

Last Sunday, a 54-year-old local man, Rinie Mulder, witnessed a pregnant woman being harassed and intervened. He either took a knife or wrestled one from one of the youths. When the police arrived he raised the knife and was shot dead.

There followed two nights of rioting by the Dutch in which riot police were stoned, a former police station was set on fire and windows were smashed. 135 rioters were arrested and the suburb has been locked down by police.

After the riots, Ondiep residents organised a march to commemorate Rinie Mulder which was attended by 2000 people. They have also established their own protection group, reportedly 200 strong.

Significantly, the police and local authorities are supporting the formation of the protection group.

Conclusions? First, it's notable that these events have taken place in Holland, a country thought of as a model of the modern liberal state. If things aren't working out well there, there's little chance they will elsewhere. (Who would have thought of the Dutch rioting 20 years ago?)

Second, it's also noteworthy that the police aren't able to cope with the kinds of problems associated with multiculturalism. Rinie Mulder had rung the police to complain about harassment 30 times before he took things into his own hands. We saw this too in the case of Cronulla when there were complaints that police hadn't tackled Lebanese harassment of locals.

Third, what will happen if the EU admits Turkey as a member? Won't the kind of problems occurring in Holland become more widespread and more difficult to contain?

Finally, why is the mainstream media missing in action? As far as I know, I'm the only Australian "media outlet" to report on the riots. In fact, if it weren't for a Dutch blogger, Snouck Hurgronje, it's possible that the news wouldn't have travelled as far as it has.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Are we all American?

On what do we base a national identity? Rudolph Giuliani, a prominent American Republican, has given this answer:

Abraham Lincoln used to say that the test of one’s Americanism was not one’s family tree; the test of one’s Americanism was how much one believed in America. Because we’re like a religion really. A secular religion. We believe in ideas and ideals. We’re not one race, we’re many; we’re not one ethnic group, we’re everyone; we’re not one language, we’re all of these people. So what ties us together? We’re tied together by our belief in political democracy, in religious freedom, in capitalism, a free economy where people make their own choices about the spending of their money. We’re tied together because we respect human life, and because we respect the rule of law.

Those are the ideas that make us Americans. And those are the ideas that I leaned on when it was time to lead, both after September 11 and long before.

This is a useful quote. Giuliani begins by rejecting, as liberal moderns do, the traditional basis for a national identity, namely a shared ethnicity.

Why reject a shared ethnicity? Part of the reason, as I've argued before, is that there is a strand of liberalism based on the principle that to be fully human we must be self-defining.

Ethnicity isn't something we can define for ourselves. It's something that we're born into, that we inherit. Therefore, it has come to have negative connotations within liberalism, as something limiting or restricting to the individual.

If, though, ethnicity is thought to be illegitimate as a basis for national identity, what is to replace it?

According to Giuliani, an American identity is to be based not on ethnicity, but on ideas and ideals. In particular, it is to be based on the ideals of democracy, religious freedom, free market capitalism, respect for human life and respect for the law.

So is this a realistic replacement for a traditional nationalism? I think there are reasons to believe it isn't. I'll let Lawrence Auster explain one important defect in Giuliani's model of national identity:

having told us the things that don’t make us Americans, he tells us the things that do make us Americans: belief in democracy, freedom, capitalism, and rule of law. But other countries believe in those things too. So how is America different from those other countries? If a person in, say, India believes in democracy, freedom, capitalism, and rule of law, how is he any less an American than you or I or George Washington? And how are we any more American than that Indian? Giuliani has removed everything particular and concrete about America and defined America as a universal belief system, not a country.

The Giuliani view of what makes someone American potentially makes everyone an American. This has a number of consequences. First, it means that being an American is not such a distinctive thing. There can be (and are) many different countries claiming much the same basis for their identity.

Second, it means that being an American is not really a "national" thing - it's not about being part of a nation, since the ideals defining Americanism exist in many different places.

Third, the Giuliani view makes the concept of a "nation" unstable. It is likely to lead to an open borders policy, in which the existing population is tranformed by mass immigration, as anyone can be thought of as successfully adopting an American identity.

Similarly, there is nothing to fix the borders of America. If Canada or Mexico were sufficiently committed to a free market, democracy and the rule of law, then there's no reason, under the terms set out by Giuliani, why these countries shouldn't merge into a larger entity.

(If you think this is an unlikely consequence, think of what is happening with the European Union, or even the proposal to set up a Pacific Union comprising Australia, New Zealand, PNG and a dozen smaller Pacific nations.)

The Giuliani view of national identity has other dangers. In effect, Giuliani is defining America as a political ideal. Politics, therefore, rises above its natural place, and becomes, as Giuliani himself puts it, a kind of secular religion.

The casting of politics as secular religion hasn't had a happy history. It tends to lead to mistaken attempts to impose abstract political ideals on unwilling recipients. Politics becomes the primary morality by which we are supposed to live, and (if understood to be universal) by which others are supposed to live.

Finally, I doubt if people really feel as closely tied together by a shared commitment to political democracy as they are by ethnicity.

The depth of a traditional identity has been described by Professor West of Suffolk College as follows:

... the sense of identity is so strong that it is an inseparable part of the personalities of most of the individuals in the group. People are born and raised to conceive of themselves as being a part of the nation, and rarely lose that self-conception in the course of their lives. There is a feeling of pride and a deep sense of loyalty associated with it.

The Canadian liberal Michael Ignatieff has conceded that this "psychology of belonging" of traditional nationalism has "greater depth" than its modern, civic replacement.

Similarly, two academics from the University of Melbourne, Brian Gallagan and Winsome Roberts, have written a book titled Australian Citizenship in which they describe an Australian identity defined solely in terms of shared political institutions and values as "hollow, lacking in cultural richness and human content."

Similarly they complain of,

an empty and flaccid citizenship based on abstract principles that lack the inspirational power to represent what it means to be Australian.

So, if you think through the Giuliani concept of identity, it doesn't hold. It can't adequately define a nation which is distinct and stable in its character or deep in its identity.

It cannot successfully replace what came before.

Further reading:

What happened to nationalism?

A hollow identity?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Australian Traditionalist Conservative Network

Australian readers:

One of the aims of this website is to build up a network of traditionalist conservatives. Such a network will allow its members to keep in contact with recent events, with the progress of the movement, with social events, and with new books and publications. As the network grows, other activities will also be possible.

The network is not a formally organised group, so there are no fees, sign ups or obligations.

If you wish to join the network the only requirement is to provide some contact details via email. The minimum information you will need to send is your name, email address, town/suburb and state. It's helpful too if you send a phone number, in case the email address fails, but this isn't necessary.

Please send the information to Mark Richardson, at with a request to join the Australian Traditionalist Conservative Network. You should receive a reply confirming that your name has been added to the list within two weeks. If not, please resubmit your details. All contact details will be kept private and not passed on for any purpose.

I'd like to encourage interested readers to join the network. There's a great advantage in being part of a movement which is organised and growing, rather than remaining isolated in your beliefs.

If you want more information on traditionalist conservatism you can visit websites such as:

Oz Conservative, View from the Right and Turnabout.

You can also read articles giving an overview of traditionalist politics such as:

What is conservatism?
In defence of what matters
Conservatism vs liberalism

Friday, March 09, 2007

Who civilises men?

The modern university is now largely justified in economic terms, either as a recruiter of fee paying overseas students, or as a means to develop labour productivity.

Both sides of politics seem to agree on this. In a recent ABC debate, the Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, said that:

Well, education at the tertiary level is an international enterprise. We're in a global marketplace for students, for academics.

Her counterpart, Labor's Stephen Smith, thought this attitude not economic enough:

This Government is living in the past. We've got to strike out for the future. We've got to strike out for the future with a fundamental change of attitude. Education at every level is fundamentally important to our productivity, to our capacity to compete.

It was something of a relief, then, to read an account by Anthony Esolen of his visit to Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia (via Turnabout). Esolen isn't just concerned about the economic aspect of education, but about culture and character.

Hampden-Sydney College is a rare thing, an all-male campus. Esolen was pleased to find that the young men he met at Hampden-Sydney had a well developed sense of honour and brotherhood. He found that the young men, in their masculine environment, developed "timocracies" - by which he means organisations based on a love of honour.

Esolen believes that Sydney-Hampden has preserved a more traditional understanding of the university as compared to the modern economic view:

At Sydney, though, something remains of the old meaning of the word "college" -- a group of people, in this case all of them men, who may have come together in the first place for all kinds of reasons, but who are made one, made brothers, by the common course of study, the venerable traditions of the school, and the polities of honor into which they are brought and in which they thrive, personally and intellectually.

It's a far cry from "college" as commodity.

Esolen goes on to make another significant point. It's his experience that boys educated in institutions like Hampden-Sydney are more likely to develop polities based on timocracy, and to be influenced positively in their character by this, than those in mixed-sex environments. This leads him to challenge the idea that it is women who civilize men. He writes:

Women do not in fact civilize men; they domesticate men, as I've said before. Men civilize men. There's a difference.

What is that difference? A soldier in a cavalry unit who spends most of his time in barracks or under the skies, may well be more civilized, more trained to think of and to act for the common good, to command other men or to obey, than many a high-priced lawyer or even college professor. He's not domesticated, though, and his new bride at first might find him pretty hard to live with.

On the other hand, men who live comfortable lives apart from other men, taking no initiative for the common good, considering only their wives and children and not the welfare of anybody else's children, never to be relied upon in time of public need, may be domesticated but not civilized. You might find plenty of men of the former sort at the inception of a great nation. You will find plenty of men of the latter sort at its decline.

It's an argument worth considering. I think perhaps my father's generation might fall into the domesticated but not civilised category. They were generally good family men, but they didn't seem to take a wider responsibility in the defence of their own tradition.

I wonder, though, if men will continue to be even domesticated, let alone civilised. There are larger numbers of men now, it appears, who have made the decision not to devote themselves to the welfare of a wife and child.

So perhaps the plea to men will have to be, not only to become more civilised in their commitments, but more domesticated too.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The left & the multicult

Let's say that liberals want us to be self-defined. What kind of communal identity might allow us to achieve this goal?

Certainly not the traditional ethnic one. A traditional ethnic culture is inherited rather than self-selected, so it fails the test of allowing self-definition.

Liberals, therefore, have offered two basic alternatives. The first, most popular on the left, is multiculturalism.

The good thing about multiculturalism, from the left-liberal viewpoint, is that it apparently offers the chance to select. There is no longer a single ethnic monoculture for the individual to fit into, but many different cultures to choose from, and to construct our "self" from.

This multicultural self need not settle on any one cultural standard, but can seemingly be multiple, hybrid and fluid, further ensuring the sense of continuing self-authorship.

Here is left-wing Melbourne academic Mary Kalantzis giving her version of the benefits of a multicultural identity:

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.

To summarise, the left-wing multicultural "solution" is to replace an ethnic monoculture, in which self-definition seems limited, with multiple ethnic cultures, in which we can selectively move about and hybridise ourselves.

But it doesn't work. First, we generally maintain a primary loyalty to our own ethnic tradition and feel most comfortable within it. Second, we don't really continuously reconstruct our self-identity from multiple ethnicities paraded before us - this isn't the reality of what happens. Third, having 150 ethnicities in the same place is really the same as having none, since an ethnic culture requires its own territory to create a distinctive cultural environment, which might then be picked up on and reproduced as an ongoing tradition.

The reality is that the main effect of multiculturalism is to undermine the influence of the mainstream ethnic tradition, thereby allowing a more commercialised pop culture to extend its influence.

The left itself has noted this effect and railed against it. One of the foremost figures of the Australian left, Phillip Adams, is a good case in point. He has written on the one hand that "the things which divide us create a cultural diversity that's endlessly fascinating".

At the same time, he has attacked the influence on Australian children of a "global culture of breathtaking crassness and stupidity," which has left them with "fully fledged appetites for junk - junk food, junk films, junk ideas, junk toys and junk culture."

He has similarly complained about Aussie kids wearing "reversed baseball hats, baggy shorts and those preposterous brand name shoes" while "giving each other fives" and "talking jargon derived from rap and LA gang talk".

Adams doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that the "diversity" he finds fascinating (multiculturalism), in undermining the place of the established national culture, has inevitably allowed the internationally dominant pop culture to fill the vacuum.

Two further points. What is it which comes closest to fulfilling the multicultural ideal, in which we self-select according to multiple ethnic cultures? Restaurants! We do get to choose between a whole variety of different ethnic cuisines, and what's more we enjoy it.

So it's no surprise that liberals often emphasise restaurants and food as a justification for multiculturalism. It might seem shallow to do so - to base such an important policy on cooking - but it makes sense in that it's the nearest that multiculturalism really gets to fulfilling its aims.

Second, it's noteworthy that the established, mainstream ethnic culture isn't allowed to be celebrated within a multiculture, as the others are. Again, I think this makes sense within the terms of multiculturalism.

Wouldn't a multiculturalist fear most the reassertion of the traditional, mainstream culture? Isn't it this culture which is the only likely candidate to become a mainstream, national "monoculture"? So why would a multiculturalist want to give it equal treatment and celebrate it like the other ethnic traditions?

Furthermore, the "threat" of a return to a national culture is made all the more real by the fact that right-wing liberals often call for this to happen.

Right-liberals commonly prefer the idea of assimilation into a single national culture. They often criticise multiculturalism as being too divisive, too much based on collectives and too negative toward the mainstream.

The right-liberal "solution" to establishing a communal identity, is to have a single identity but to base it on liberal political values, rather than ethnicity. The identity, in other words, is based on a commitment to qualities like tolerance, democracy, the rule of law and so on, which do not limit individual self-definition.

Leftists often don't get this aspect of right-liberalism. They frequently express the fear that right-liberals want to go back in time and reassert the mainstream ethnicity etc. It's a little bit dopey of left-liberals to think this way, but their fear does make some sense if you remember that the big threat to multiculturalism is the reassertion of the traditional ethnic culture, and that right-liberals do often criticise multiculturalism and urge assimilation to the mainstream.

In practice, there is an overlap between the politics of the left and right on this issue, which is to be expected since both accept liberal assumptions about self-definition as a goal of individual life.

Even so, there is also room for a sharpening of political differences, given that the left want to replace the traditional ethnic culture with a multi-ethnic one, whereas the right's strategy is to replace it with a non-ethnic one.

At the moment, the right is ascendant, perhaps because the argument that multiculturalism is divisive seems more pressing given the existence of home-grown Islamic terrorism. So there is a greater stress on assimilation than multiculturalism in today's political climate.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Do women need building up?

I've written about Brett before. He's the Australian liberal who not only wants to get rid of countries, but even the very concept of countries:

Personally, I would like to see the abolition of the concept of "a country".

Brett also wishes to transcend being human:

I dream of a time when medical technology allows us to transcend the notion of being human ...

I dream of a time when our basic bipedal form, replete with somatotype and genetic heritage means nothing ...

And now we can add to the list Brett's ideas about masculinity. This is a comment made by Brett about OzConservative:

One thing I find amusing is that they lament the end of "the traditional patriachy", which in my eyes was bollocks in the first place.

After all, anyone with a working sense of sight knows that the only real advantages that men ever had are that we're generally taller and stronger than our female counterparts - women have everything else, from being able to multitask to having more senses (most guys don't really do intuition or empathy) to everything else...

So according to Brett the only thing men have got going for them is height and physical strength. He thinks it's obvious that women are superior in "everything else".

Brett made this comment at a feminist site. Did any feminist readers, given their supposed commitment to gender equality, jump in to correct Brett when he asserted female superiority? Not a single one.

So Brett was left entirely unchallenged in making what appear to be self-denigrating comments. His views on men appear to be a species of self-hatred.

If Brett is, in fact, denigrating men what could be his motivation? Perhaps it represents, psychologically, a flight from masculine responsibilities (Brett has confirmed that he has no interest in marrying or having children). Perhaps it reflects a nihilistic view of life. Perhaps it reflects a denatured geekiness (he describes himself, in part, as a geek). Or maybe he thinks it makes good flattery for liberal women.

I have a hunch, though, that there's something else at play. Liberals are committed to a certain ideal of equality, one which implies that all groups are fundamentally the same in their capacities.

Lawrence Auster has already noted that when minority groups behave badly, the response of liberals is sometimes the opposite of what you might expect. Instead of criticising the minority group, they will sometimes move to "build up" the minority group relative to the majority. They might compare their [the minority's] behaviour favourably to the majority, or even blame their behaviour on their treatment by the majority.

This is how some liberals, at least, seek to preserve the appearance of group equality.

So when Brett makes such an unrealistic claim on behalf of women and against men, perhaps the same kind of psychology is at play. It may be that Brett is paying women a backhanded compliment. Perhaps a man who thinks that women need building up in an artificial and exaggerated way, doesn't really accept a natural equality of the sexes.

What seems like self-denigration or self-hatred, might just be a failure to appreciate what women naturally bring to the equation.

This is, of course, speculation on my part. I do believe, though, that men who love women are unlikely to give way in their masculinity in the casual way that Brett does. It is, after all, through our masculinity that we are brought most closely into relationship with women.