Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why did Luhrmann make Australia?

I wasn't exactly overjoyed when I found out that Baz Luhrmann was making an epic film set in Australia in the 1940s. When the Australian political class turns to our history, it's usually to follow a narrative in which whites feature as racist oppressors and Aborigines as noble victims.

It seems that I was right to be apprehensive. The actor Hugh Jackman let slip in a recent interview that the real purpose of the film was to highlight the "stolen generations", with other more glamorous parts of the film serving to bring in the audience:

But, Jackman adds, "Baz said if we made a very didactic and earnest story about the Stolen Generations, we'll have about three people watching the movie." Hence, the romance, the drama, the Japanese bombing of Darwin (an actual although little-known event) and a treacherous cattle drive through the desert.

Australian readers will already be familiar with the "stolen generations". For overseas readers, it is a controversial claim that racist white authorities stole generations of Aboriginal children, particularly half-caste children, from their mothers in order to bring them up as Europeans and to breed out the Aboriginal race.

It's difficult, though, to know how much truth there is to this claim, if any. When individual cases are investigated, a different story often emerges. For instance, in the case of activist Charles Perkins it turned out that his mother had begged a Christian boarding school to take him in to give him a better future (he went on to become the first Aborigine to head a government department).

Similarly, Zita Wallace grew up believing she had been stolen, but when she eventually returned to visit her mother it turned out that she had been abandoned:

Said Wallace: "It really hurt me badly. I thought, she doesn't want me, I won't worry about her. It was a really big thing to be rejected by someone who was supposed to be your mother."

Inquests conducted in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory have found that there was "no formal policy for removing children".

So what is the evidence for the stolen generations? The only definite evidence I'm aware of is a note from A.O. Neville, who was a chief protector of Aborigines in Western Australia in the 1930s:

Every administration has trouble with half-caste girls. I know of 200 or 300 girls, however, in Western Australia who have gone into domestic service and the majority are doing very well. Our policy is to send them out into the white community, and if a girl comes back pregnant our rule is to keep her for two years. The child is then taken away from the mother and sometimes never sees her again. Thus these children grow up as whites, knowing nothing of their own environment. At the expiration of the period of two years the mother goes back into service so it really does not matter if she has half a dozen children.

This is the right-liberal, assimilationist attitude to Aborigines - a view which is still around today. For right-liberals what counts is not preserving ethnicity, but adherence to a set of universal liberal values. Right liberals generally support the idea of the European and Aboriginal populations merging together within a universal liberal culture.

Peter Howson, for instance, was the Liberal Party Minister for Aborigines back in 1971-1972. A few years ago, he wrote a newspaper article celebrating the fact that 70% of Aborigines had moved into towns and had married non-Aborigines. He wanted measures introduced to push the remaining Aborigines out of their own communities and into the mainstream.

If the right-liberal view has credibility it's because the separate Aboriginal communities aren't always great places for the raising of children. Levels of drug abuse, alcoholism and violence are high in some of these communities, which are often reliant on government welfare.

So even today there are large numbers of Aboriginal children who are removed from their families:

Welfare workers in NSW are removing Aboriginal children from their homes in numbers far greater than during the Stolen Generations, and the recruitment of Aboriginal staff has done nothing to stem the tide.

... The Australian can reveal that a staggering 4000 Aboriginal children are now in state care in NSW.

This compares with about 1000 Aboriginal children in foster homes, institutions and missions in 1969.

Black children are being removed at 10 times the rate of white children, despite a tripling in the number of Aboriginal welfare workers.

The total suggests that about one in six Aboriginal children in NSW is now a ward of the state.

The alternative to the right-liberal assimilationist policy has been a left-liberal separatism. Left-liberals often look up to the traditional Aboriginal culture and lifestyle and compare it favourably to Western societies. This has led to a policy of supporting separate Aboriginal communities, but to a lack of practical concern with how these communities might adapt and survive in the modern world. The communities are often left to survive on government welfare, which then encourages social breakdown - and the removal of children which the left is so outraged by.

In some ways, the idea of the stolen generations is part of the culture war between left and right liberals. The right-liberals use the breakdown of social norms in Aboriginal communities as an argument for assimilation; the left-liberals have countered by portraying assimilation as a racist attempt to force Aborigines to live as Europeans, up to and including stealing Aboriginal children from their mothers.

The evidence seems to suggest that Aboriginal children who were removed from their families were not stolen. There was no formal policy of removing Aboriginal children and when individual cases are examined the removal was usually for welfare reasons - just as still occurs today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In order to promote diversity in Canada .....

Things are getting ever more Orwellian in Canada:

Queens University in Kingston, ON is coming under criticism for hiring six "dialogue facilitators" to roam its campus and intervene in student conversations in order to promote “diversity” and deal with what they deem to be any “offensive" material.

The six graduate students from diverse backgrounds have been hired to encourage discussion on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and other social issues, as well as step-in when they hear conversations that could be deemed "offensive." Each facilitator went through an 11-day training course to prepare them for their roles and have been granted free room and board as well as a yearly stipend as payment.

The phrase "in order to promote 'diversity'" reminds me of a something Jim Kalb wrote in his new book, The Tyranny of Liberalism:

The fate of liberalism is displayed in the fate of words like "diversity" and "tolerance." Contemporary liberalism honors diversity and tolerance above everything else, but its diversity excludes and suppresses people with a traditional understanding of normality, and its tolerance requires speech codes, quotas, and compulsory training in correct opinions and attitudes.

... substantive tolerance requires pervasive administrative control of human relationships. (p.92)

Queens University is apparently determined to prove Jim Kalb 100 per cent correct.

If you're interested in Jim Kalb's new book, there's a good, brief review over at the Conservative Book Club, an interview with the author at the publisher's site, and it's also available via Amazon.

Hat tip: Pilgrimage to Montsalvat

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The failure of liberal modernity: four proofs

We live in a social order in which there is no higher good recognised, but only the individual and his desires. What is supposed to matter is that individuals have the autonomy to pursue these desires and that individual desires are treated as equally valid. Society is to be organised centrally along clear and rational lines to put these principles into effect.

It is a view of society which is shared by nearly everyone in the political class. It has been a dominant orthodoxy now for many years. And yet, there are people born into this social order who come to the realisation that things are wrong - that something is seriously out of order.

What triggers this doubt about liberal modernity?

A) The arts

As a teenager I had a love for the high arts, in particular, for classical music, painting and poetry. I was very much struck, though, by the obvious decline in the high arts, beginning in the early twentieth century.

Where were the Bachs and Beethovens of my own time? The Europe of the past was poorer and less populated. It was supposed to be more backward. And yet it produced a wealth of great composers - a whole tradition of high art - which fell away during the 1900s.

Why hasn't liberal modernity produced high culture? One reason, perhaps, is that if we only recognise man and his desires, with no higher order toward which man aspires, then there is nothing for a high culture to successfully orient itself to.

And if there is no higher order for art to orient itself to, then anything can be art. What, for instance, was voted the most influential piece of modern art by the British art establishment? Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" of 1917 - a urinal.

There is something seriously wrong with a culture which puts forward a urinal as its most influential artwork. This is a clear sign that liberal modernity is deeply flawed and won't produce a worthwhile civilisation.

B) Relationships

How are relationships between men and women in an advanced liberal society? Are things organised efficiently so that we get what we want (which is what liberal modernity claims to do as a matter of principle).

The answer is no. One problem is that there is too great a sense that men and women have competing interests. Another is that there is too little encouragement for men and women to live up to the best of their masculinity and femininity. Nor is our culture protective enough of the emotions through which men and women come to love and trust each other.

A lot of young men and women, trying to find the right partner, are likely to conclude that things are not as they are meant to be.

It's not surprising that things have gone wrong. If we only see things in terms of individual desires, then how can we legitimately make claims on others? It's only if we see relationships as a higher good, toward which we should orient ourselves, that we can better fit the expectations and desires of men and women together.

C) Fertility

A successful civilisation reproduces itself. Liberal modernity doesn't: it looks to immigration from non-liberal societies to maintain its population. If having children is a vote for the future, then liberal modernity is losing the election.

D) Emigration

If liberal modernity really was such a success story, then why are so many native citizens emigrating from the most advanced liberal countries.

For instance, in 2006 over 130,000 people left Holland; in 2007, 207,000 left Britain.

When you read the reasons for the decision to leave, often factors like crime and a changing cultural identity are mentioned.

Yes, it's true that many people from poorer countries would happily move to places like Britain or Holland. Even so, it's significant that many of the native-born population are so discontent that they have packed their bags for elsewhere.

When people left East Germany for the West it was thought to be a sign of the inherent weakness of communism. Now there are large numbers leaving the most liberal Western countries. Why would they do so if their own countries really were organised along the most beneficial lines?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Age: mothers "a waste of the nation's resources"

Melbourne's Age newspaper has an editorial today on the issue of paid maternity leave. I was particularly struck by this passage:

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick points out today that the employment rate of Australian mothers with a youngest child under six (49.6 per cent) is 10 per cent below the OECD average of 59.2 per cent. She further writes that although Australia is rated number one for women's educational achievement, we are ranked 41 in women's workforce participation. This is a waste of the nation's resources ...

So according to the editor of The Age it is a waste of the nation's resources for women to look after their young children at home. Motherhood, it seems, fails the test of efficiency.

The thing to remember here is that paid maternity leave is a radical policy. It assumes that it is not men as husbands who are responsible for providing for their wives, but the state. It is a further shift toward the idea that the fundamental relationship in society is between ourselves as an individual and the state.

Why are the elite so keen on it? Sometimes it's justified in terms of autonomy. The argument runs that autonomy is the key good; that money and a career is the basis of female autonomy; and that therefore as a matter of justice women should aim primarily at careers. Paid maternity leave means that women's lives are organised through their careers rather than through membership of a family.

When I first read the editorial I was also reminded of Jim Kalb's descriptions of the modern managerial elite. This elite assume that society is a system for the equal satisfaction of desires. They therefore look to organise society in a technocratic way to achieve this aim. This means creating a system which is centralised and which only recognises distinctions relevant for the functioning of a market or a bureaucracy.

Kalb describes the attitude of the managerial elite as follows:

Their affiliations lead them to look at society from above, as a neutral system to be supervised, controlled and reconfigured by experts and functionaries to advance the goals that seem sensible to them. They think it rational to replace traditional institutions like the family, religion and local community by principles that seem simpler, more direct, and easier to understand and manage - contract, expertise, individual choice and bureaucratic regulation. (The Tyranny of Liberalism, pp.276-277)

And again:

The fundamental principle—the demand for the abolition of distinctions that relate to social arrangements other than markets and rationalized bureaucracies—remains the same, while its application has grown ... to yet more fundamental institutions such as the family.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Singer's tram rage

Jill Singer, a left-liberal columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun, had an especially bad experience on a tram recently:

While it stops in Middle Park, a loud and boisterous cluster of teenage girls shove me aside as they make to leap aboard.

"Get out of our way, you effing slut," says one of these charmers ...

The aggression of the girls did not seem fuelled by alcohol or drugs - but by an apparent sense of absolute entitlement.

... It was the "Out of our way!" that inflamed, and the sheer arrogance ... to my shame, I fired back a barb ... "Well, I might be an effing slut but at least I'm not fat".

With this I jump off the tram. The five screaming banshees leap off after me, screaming: "You effing slut" - and worse.

... one girl throws a drink in my face, while another whacks me over the head.

What can we make of all this? It's not something that would have happened a generation ago in Melbourne. Girls didn't generally swear in public in the way described by Singer 30 years ago - let alone assault an older female traveller.

Singer herself doesn't offer much help in suggesting what has gone wrong socially to produce such an incident. She focuses mostly on the personal rather than the civilisational. She feels terribly guilty about calling the girls fat, and she reflects on her own experience of being bullied at school.

So what has changed in society to produce girls like the ones who attacked Jill Singer? I can think of a number of contributing factors.

A more unstable family life probably has an effect. Not all women cope well as single mothers. There are numbers of single mothers who lead difficult and insecure lives, and this seems to breed a survivalist concern for oneself, and a certain kind of toughness, in their daughters. Nor are such families ideal vehicles for transmitting civilisational ideals across the generations - they are too disrupted and vulnerable to really attempt such a larger role.

Certain cultural messages about sex roles don't help either. If people believe that society has been set up as an oppressive patriarchy, then two things follow. First, masculinity will be defined in terms of an aggressive, dominant assertion of power. Second, since men are assumed to be leading the privileged good life at the expense of deprived women, then masculinity will be thought of as the desirable role.

So it's not surprising that women are given the message that it is liberated to act like men, and that "acting like men" is defined coarsely in terms of aggressive self-assertion.

Then there's the understanding, in liberal societies, that a freedom to choose for oneself is the highest good. If this is true, then whatever impedes the sphere of human choice is a restriction to be overcome. It is then thought liberating and empowering to break moral taboos. It is thought moral, or modern, to be transgressive.

And so there is a tension between the idea that a girl swearing in public, or behaving like one of the lads, is liberated, modern and cool, and an instinctive dislike of all this as unfeminine and unattractive. The latter instinct gets less airplay, but it's there all the same. In his latest column, James Foster writes of a friend who also had a problem with trams, girls and swearing:

"One thing that really turns me off when dating women these days is their foul mouths," this guy wrote.

"I was on a first date the other day and she was driving and a tram dinged the bell at her. She said, 'What are you dinging at you (insert rude word)'. I couldn't believe it, I almost fell out of the car. The date only got better, with numerous F bombs being dropped in conversation."

Foster himself then admits that he finds it a turn off if girls swear, boast about their sex life or get seriously drunk.

Other factors? One of the problems with classical liberalism is that it takes selfishness to be a virtue. Spinoza, for instance, wrote that:

The more every man endeavours and is able to seek his own advantage, the more he is endowed with virtue.

Steven Kautz, in a book defending classical liberalism, admitted that:

Classical liberalism is a doctrine of acquisitive individualism, and teaches that man is by nature solitary and selfish, not political or even social ...

It's possible that such ideas were once balanced out by the influence of religion and an aristocratic ideal of gallantry and duty. But as religion and an older gentlemanly code of honour declines, we're left with the political philosophy in which selfishness rules.

Finally, manners and mores tend to be passed on informally from generation to generation. This seems to work best in settled, traditional communities. If the life of a settled community is disrupted, then cultural standards are less likely to be successfully handed down to younger generations.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Exposing the white ribbon campaign

It's interesting what you can unearth when you take the time to check things out. Today the ABC ran a news item as follows:

[A] study into the impact of violence on young people has prompted calls for violence prevention programs in schools.

The report called An Assault on our Future was commissioned by the White Ribbon Foundation, a body that campaigns on the issue of violence against women.

The report's co-author, Dr Michael Flood, says among the most worrying findings was that one in three young people had witnessed their fathers being violent towards their mothers and one in every three boys believe it is not a "big deal to hit a girl".

The report is available online. Dr Flood draws his statistics from a 2001 study called Young Australians and Domestic Violence - also available online.

This study did find that 23% of young people had witnessed male to female domestic violence; it also found that 22% of young people had witnessed female to male violence.

These are relatively high figures, though they do include threats of violence and hitting in self-defence.

The main point to note about the 2001 study, though, is its explanation of what causes violence. The study points out that when children live with both parents the rate of violence drops to 14% compared to 41% for those living with a mother and her boyfriend.

Furthermore, if the father drinks a lot the rate of violence rises to 55%. Aboriginal children are also more exposed to violence (42%), as are those living in poverty (one and a half times more likely).

Children who are exposed to violence are also more likely to perpetrate violence as adults (i.e. there is a cycle of violence).

The 2001 report therefore reaches this conclusion:

The most important policy implication of this research is the reinforcement it provides for an approach to domestic violence prevention that recognises the differences that exist in the community.

Certain sectors of the Australian community experience levels of domestic violence that are much higher than other sectors ... (p.5)

The implication is that strategies to prevent domestic violence must have particular relevance to disadvantaged communities ... an integrated approach is needed ... to identify pockets in the community where risk factors exist ... (p.6)

Dr Flood does not draw the same conclusions as the report he relies on so heavily. He is much more interested in "traditional gender roles" as the source of domestic violence:

Males are more likely to accept violence against females if they have traditional gender role attitudes. (p.25)

He claims that domestic violence is a social norm amongst men:

Violence-supportive attitudes are grounded in wider social norms regarding gender and sexuality. In fact, in many ways, violence is part of ‘normal’ sexual, intimate, and family relations.

In the same vein:

The most well-documented determinants of violence against girls and women can be found in gender norms and gender relations.(p.24)

We are even told that:

Some men have rape-supporting social relationships ...(p.26)

Unsurprisingly, Dr Flood concludes:

Given the evidence that social norms, gender roles, and power relations underpin intimate partner violence, strategies that address these will be critical to successful prevention efforts. (p.31)

Why would Dr Flood have such a strong focus on gender roles and power relations? The answer is that he is committed ideologically to patriarchy theory. He believes that masculinity was constructed as an act of power and aggression to oppress women and homosexuals. Therefore, he sees it in negative terms as something to be either overthrown or radically reconstructed.

He is, in other words, anti-masculine.

In one of his articles, for instance, Dr Flood considers those domestic violence campaigns which focus on the idea that real men don't hit women. He isn't comfortable with such campaigns:

We should be wary of approaches which appeal to men's sense of 'real' manhood ... These may intensify men's investment in male identity, and this is part of what keeps patriarchy in place (Stoltenberg, 1990). Such appeals are especially problematic if they suggest that there are particular qualities which are essentially or exclusively male. This simply reinforces notions of biological essentialism ... (Engaging Men, p.3)

The book by John Stoltenberg cited by Dr Flood is titled Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice. In this book, Stoltenberg claims that the "belief that there is a male sex" is a complete fiction, a "political and ethical construction" created by men for the sole purpose of oppressing women.

Stoltenberg tries to be consistent in his view that there is no such thing as a male sex. Instead of using the term "man" in his book, he frequently employs the alternative expression "human beings who happen to be penised".

Dr Flood is sympathetic to such ideas:

Nor should we take as given the categories "men" and "women". The binaries of male and female are socially produced ... (Between Men and Masculinity, p. 210)

So the situation is this. Dr Flood is a patriarchy theorist. He believes that masculinity is a mere construct, created for an aggressive, dominating oppression of women. He therefore associates traditional masculinity with dominance, aggression and violence.

Therefore, he explains domestic violence primarily in terms of an existing masculinity, and his solution is to launch a large-scale effort, involving all levels of government, to "profoundly" alter men's lives.

The White Ribbon campaign is being used as a battering ram to attack masculinity, when it should be focusing on practical and targeted ways to reduce the incidence of all forms of domestic violence.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Who does Catherine Deveny want to purge?

Catherine Deveny is impatient. There are too many middle-aged, middle-class white men holding responsible positions in the workforce for her liking. They're not easy to get rid of. Catherine doesn't want to wait for them to fade away - she wants them culled. They're standing in the way of change.

That's the gist of a recent column Catherine Deveny penned for the Melbourne Age. Here are some choice extracts:

... there are too many rich, middle-aged, middle-class white men in suits running the place. They are the ones who got us into this financial and economic mess. An impenetrable wall of them is not the answer to getting us out of it ...

We're not saying Ians should be exterminated. God knows we need them. Who else would file the tax returns, perform hip replacements and keep Harley Davidson in business? We're just saying it wouldn't hurt to cull a few. My suggestion is to organise a program to reduce the number of Ians by 70% ...

Even more terrifying than the disproportionate number of Ians who have always held the power is the mindless chant of "It's just the way it is" when you mention it. This may be true, but it doesn't mean that ... it's not time to subvert the dominant paradigm ...

The Ians are not taking the involuntary redundancies ... The Ians are too expensive to sack ... Many being strapped to the rocket of power at the moment are Ians who've been waiting patiently in line ... Blokes being rewarded for playing the game by the rules ... They're out of touch. They're not the answer ...

The Ians set up the power structure and it's tricky for anyone else to get in without knowing the password, the secret handshake and the magic dance. Apparently you had to have your name down before you were born.

It's interesting to consider the way Deveny crafts this piece. She's trying to tell an audience of "Ians" - white male professionals - that they are redundant, holding back progress and should be shunted aside. She humanises the message somewhat by throwing in some humourous quips. Written any more bluntly and the message would come across as more obviously vicious.

Note too the way that Deveny slips in the idea that white Australian men are responsible for the world financial crisis. She doesn't debate the idea or make any arguments for it. She simply assumes it as a given.

Yet it's a ridiculous claim. The crisis began in America at a time when the Australian economy was strong. The origin of the crisis was a misguided egalitarianism promoted not by the average white collar worker but by those in the political class who demanded that banks equalise mortgages given to ethnic minorities in the US, even if this meant approving loans to those unable to repay them.

Deveny also simply assumes that she is a deprived outsider, locked out of a power structure dominated by white men. Again, we are supposed to simply assume this to be true.

It's difficult, though, to see Deveny as a marginalised, excluded outsider. She has a cushy, influential job, writing for a major newspaper with an audience of hundreds of thousands. How many men really have a greater chance to influence society than she does?

She wants us to think of her as the outsider, the dissenter, the maverick, the creative innovator. In reality she is yet another member of the left-liberal political establishment, which has fashioned the course of Western societies for generations now. She is an orthodox insider offering us the same politics and the same ideas which have dominated the West for decades.

There's craftiness too in her portrayal of white men. On the one hand, she emphasises the idea that white men have power that others lack. She doesn't want to give the impression, though, that this makes white men strong or capable. No, white men are old, stale, burnt out, and incompetent. White men are "Ians" - all too ordinary and comfortable. Pretenders in cardigans.

It's an odd picture; white men are "terrifying" in their power but at the same time to be ridiculed as bumbling suburban uncle types. We are invited to smugly look down on white men even as we complain about their "impenetrable" power.

Which raises an important question. Why would any self-respecting white man go along with the politics of the left? Why put up with this kind of treatment?

Lawrence Auster made a similar point in a column posted yesterday. He observed that the real development of liberalism is not toward a race neutral society, but toward the disempowerment and denigration of whites. In other words, if you're white then you're not going to be treated neutrally:

Liberalism is not a journey from a historically white society to a society in which race neutrality is the guiding principle. It is a journey from a historically white society to a society in which the advance of nonwhites as nonwhites—along with its corollary, the disempowerment and denigration of whites as whites—is the guiding principle. And if those are the rules of the game, why should any self-respecting, non-suicidal white person play?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guest worker scheme expensive

The Rudd Government has a plan to bring thousands of Pacific Islanders to Australia as "guest workers" on farms.

Yesterday it was reported in the Herald Sun that the scheme will have to be propped up by taxpayers:

Taxpayers will pay almost $10,000 for every unskilled Pacific Islander brought to Australia under a new guest worker scheme.

This news, sourced from the Government's own economic update, isn't surprising. I reported back in May that the Department of Immigration had warned about the costs of a guest worker scheme:

The department argues further that the level of management and extent of controls necessary to ensure employer and employee compliance with program conditions, and to safeguard seasonal workers from exploitation, would render such a scheme prohibitively expensive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Tyranny of Liberalism

I've been looking forward for some time to the arrival of Jim Kalb's new book, The Tyranny of Liberalism, and I'm pleased to say that I now have my copy.

I've only read the introduction so far. I was most struck by Jim Kalb's description of the orthodox status achieved by liberalism in modern society:

Liberalism so surrounds us that it is hard to imagine an alternative. Even those who see difficulties with it almost never reject it fundamentally, but attempt to reinvent it in some way or another. Complaints that liberalism is not really free, equal or democratic end not in its abandonment as misconceived and unworkable, but in proposals for some more authentic form of freedom, equality, and popular rule, and thus in a call for a more liberal liberalism. In contrast, traditionalist concerns about cultural degradation and deterioration of fine-grained social order are treated as secondary matters and handled by appeals to creativity, therapy, or ad hoc stopgaps.

It's fine writing. I'll post a more detailed review later, but in the meantime the book is available for purchase through Amazon and through the publisher ISI. (There's an interesting interview with Kalb posted at the ISI site.)

Spinoza and classical liberalism

I've now finished reading The Courtier and the Heretic by Matthew Stewart, a study of the intersecting lives of two important philosophers, Spinoza and Leibniz.

In my first piece on the book, I commented on the way Spinoza's philosophy seems closely allied with classical liberalism. Spinoza did not believe in a transcendent God, and so he looked for a way to base ideas of morality, purpose and freedom in nature.

He did so by identifying the "conatus" as a central principle: the striving of all things to preserve their own self. Self-preservation is therefore not, in Spinoza's philosophy, an important but mundane aspect of existence; instead, acting according to our self-interest to preserve our being is the key aspect of morality; and the absence of external constraints in pursuit of this self-interest is the definition of freedom.

Here is how it is put in Stewart's book:

Spinoza, like most modern theorists, grounds the legitimacy of political authority in the self-interest of individuals. He argues not only that everyone, and every thing, for that matter, is driven by self-interest but that they ought to be as well. "The more every man endeavours and is able to seek his own advantage, the more he is endowed with virtue," he says in the Ethics. "To act in absolute conformity with virtue is nothing else in us but to act, to live, to preserve one's own being (these three mean the same) under the guidance of reason on the basis of seeking one's advantage." (pp.101-102)

For Spinoza, man is defined by his desires:

"desire is the essence of man," as Spinoza puts it. To be clear: this desire is fundamentally self-centred. (p.175)

Leibniz was initially attracted to Spinoza's philosophy, but he recoiled at some of its implications, especially the denial of an immaterial soul. He prophesied that Spinoza's materialistic philosophy would undermine Western culture and civilisation.

Leibniz attempted to establish an alternative philosophy, one in which there was no single material substance in the world (a world soul) from which everything else emanated, but instead one built on a variety of substances called monads.

A difficulty in Leibniz's philosophy is that the monads are thought to be set in a pre-ordained harmony with each other - which then makes Leibniz something of a determinist (p.285). Another difficulty is that Leibniz thought that the purpose of life was for each monad to become autonomous, the better to realise its own self. Autonomy was achieved by the correct use of reason, by which monads were delivered from the influence of the passions (p.291).

Conclusions? Stewart sees Spinoza as carrying the day, but at a considerable cost:

Leibniz, perhaps alone with Spinoza, grasped the general direction of modern history. But, unlike his eerily self-sufficient rival, he had a far greater concern with the price that humanity would have to pay for its own progress.

He understood that even as science tells us more and more about what everything is, it seems to tell us less and less why; that even as technology reveals utility in all things, it seems to find purpose in nothing; that as humanity extends its powers without limit, it loses its faith in the value of the same beings who exercise that power; and that, in making self-interest the foundation of society, modern humankind finds itself pining for the transcendent goals that give life any interest at all. (pp. 254-255)

I'll finish with a rough conclusion of my own. Spinoza saw himself as a revolutionary who aimed to overthrow Christian theology and replace it with another, "naturalistic" theology.

His efforts to create this new theology led him to certain principles. This included certain ideas about life and liberty, namely that virtue means acting according to self-interest to preserve our being and that freedom is an absence of external constraints in the pursuit of this aim.

To the extent that these ideas were brought into classical liberalism through the influence of Spinoza, classical liberalism can be seen as the product of an attempt to replace Christian theology with a theology based on a concept of an immanent God.

But, I admit, I don't know to what extent the existence of such ideas within classical liberalism can be attributed to the influence of Spinoza.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A defence for Gilmore?

Kate Gilmore has found a defender. In my last column I criticised Gilmore for claiming that all men are equally to blame for domestic violence. Back in 1994, Gilmore went as far as to claim that:

You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it's that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.

Lynn, a uni student from South Australia, submitted a comment on the column. Lynn describes herself as follows:

I have a vivid interest in the dynamics of domestic violence, childhood abuse, poverty and inequality, women's rights and feminism and violence against women, not just locally but on a global scale. I'm passionate about learning and spreading the truth of violence committed against women and children within our community.

Here is the key part of Lynn's case for Gilmore:

As for the comment about it the tyranny of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, boyfriends...consider these numbers, taken from the Australian Institute of Criminology for 2006/06.

63% happen in a dwelling. 69% of females are killed by an intimate partner or family member, and only 11% of females are killed by strangers.

You can see the kind of picture Lynn wants to create here: women are at risk from the men they marry; women are much more likely to be killed at home by an intimate partner than by a stranger. Therefore, suggests Lynn, Gilmore is right to complain about the tyranny of fathers, husbands, grandfathers etc.

I searched the internet and soon came up with a survey from the Australian Institute of Criminology (1999). It's a study of female homicides in Australia from 1989 to 1998.

It contains some really useful data on the issue - data which feminists won't want you to know, as it cuts right through the picture of ordinary women being at risk at home from their husbands.

It's not that Lynn is wrong in her statistics about female homicide. Women who are murdered usually know their attackers: only 14.8% of murder victims were attacked by strangers. When women are murdered it is most usually by "intimates" in their own home.

However, there are a number of important facts to keep in mind.

First, it's uncommon for women to be murdered. This is partly because most murder victims are male (63%). It's also due to the fact that the murder rate in Australia is very low. The very first conclusion drawn in the Australian Institute of Criminology report is this:

It must be borne in mind that homicide is a rare occurrence in Australia, and the killing of women is even less common. (p.37)

When we look at female deaths from external causes, homicide is one of the smaller categories. Women are much more at risk from suicide, car accidents and even accidental falls.

For instance, if we take Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 1997, we find that women are five times more likely to die from self-harm (suicide) than from homicide. Women are also five times more likely to die from accidental falls than from homicide.

It should be remembered too that when the Australian Institute of Criminology talks about women being murdered by "intimates", they don't just mean husbands. Included in this category are:

spouses, ex-spouses, persons in current or former de facto relationships, current or former boy/girlfriends, extra-marital lovers or partners of same-sex relationships. (p.9)

This is a large category of people to consider. It would be useful to know what percentage of homicides are committed by husbands in a stable relationship with their wife, rather than by the many different kinds of "intimates" listed above.

Which brings me to the most significant data. The kind of women who are likely to be influenced by feminist claims on domestic violence are young middle-class women attending university. But it is exactly these women who have the least to worry about.

Why? It turns out that the overwhelming majority of homicides occur among an underclass of people who are unemployed and affected by alcohol. Consider this: in 63% of cases in which women are murdered, both the female victim and the male perpetrator are unemployed. 73% of men who murder women are unemployed. (p.24). Furthermore:

James and Carcach (1998) suggest that almost 85 per cent of victims, and a little over 90 per cent of offenders, belong to what can be described as an underclass in Australian society.

Similarly, in a study of homicides that occurred in New South Wales between 1968 and 1981, it was found that marital violence resulting in death only very rarely occurred in the professional, semi-professional and managerial classes (Wallace 1986). (p.24)

So 90% of the men who murder women belong to a mostly unemployed underclass in Australia.

Alcohol also plays a part in homicide: it was a factor in about one third of homicides committed by an intimate. (p.27)

Therefore, when Kate Gilmore denied in 1994 that "men that are violent are different from every other man in the country" she could not have been more wrong. 90% of homicides committed against women are perpetrated by men from a largely unemployed underclass.

Homicides against women in Australia are rare and they are committed not by powerful men seeking to enforce patriarchal control, but by an underclass of men exposed to "stress" factors such as unemployment, alcohol and poverty.

I am not excusing the fact that these murders occur, but I don't want the average woman to be misled into thinking that marriage to an ordinary, employed male puts her at dire risk of becoming a murder statistic.

The feminist take on violence is way too gloomy. It is also too driven by ideology - by a concern to prove the theory that domestic violence is "systemic" within a patriarchy.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kate Gilmore hopes we have forgotten 94

Kate Gilmore must be hoping that we all have short memories. She wrote a column for The Age on Monday which begins:

One in three Australian women faces violence at some stage in her life. As a nation, we must find the leadership and the conviction to tackle effectively this blight ... That one in three women is subjected to violence is a scandal.

One in three women? Back in the mid-1990s, third wave feminism reached a peak in Australia. Kate Gilmore was in the midst of it, being the spokeswoman for the Government's campaign against domestic violence.

The feminism of the era was so pervasive that eventually there was a backlash against it from a section of the left. Gilmore was criticised by a film maker named Don Parham and by a fellow feminist, Moira Rayner. Rayner said that the "1 in 3" claim about domestic violence was "guesswork and should be dropped" (The Age, 01/06/1994). The Australian Bureau of Statistics released a survey showing that only 2.6% of women reported that a partner had been violent (including pushing or shoving) - a long way from 33%.

In the middle of the backlash against feminist excesses, Kate Gilmore fessed up. She wrote that it was important to make the 1 in 3 claim, not because it was accurate, but because it helped to drum up support for feminist causes. She wrote:

Fact is an elusive notion ... feminists have no more distorted the truth than any other advocates of disadvantaged groups fighting for public support.

What's going on here is trying to get something up on the public agenda that hasn't had any public attention. For all the excesses of which the field might be deemed to be guilty, it is only through these advocates that law reform ... has come. (Age 24/09/1994)

Gilmore admitted in The Age newspaper back in 1994 that the 1 in 3 figure was made up to further a cause; now, 14 years later, she is back making exactly the same claim in the same paper!

Gilmore is a follower of feminist patriarchy theory. This is the theory that society was organised by men to oppress women - which means that domestic violence is not an aberration from social norms, but is a traditional part of masculine culture and family life which is intended to maintain male power over women.

That's why back in 1994, when Gilmore was in charge of a national strategy on violence against women, she used her prominent position to make this claim:

You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it's that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.

The official strategy on domestic violence, loudly supported by then Prime Minister Paul Keating, asserted that all men were equally to blame. Gilmore herself denied that "men that are violent are different from every other man in the country". All men were tyrannical wife bashers.

Gilmore is now less strident in her message, but the underlying theory remains the same. For instance, she runs an argument in her column that male culture is accepting of violence against women:

... an effective national plan will create long-term change through sustained education and programs to ... challenge and change those otherwise deeply entrenched attitudes that make violence against women somehow acceptable, or at least excusable ..

... In the long run, the best protection for the women of Australia will come from a fundamental shift in social attitudes. Of course, achieving such change is tough but it is possible .... [to achieve] a fundamental change in social norms and attitudes.

To change attidues to violence against women, a co-ordinated and sustained approach must be adopted ...

It's ironic that Gilmore's article is based on a speech she gave to VicHealth. This organisation released a report in 2006 on men's attitudes to domestic violence in Victoria. The results? 97% of Victorian men not only believe domestic violence is wrong, they consider it a crime.

Where then is the deeply entrenched attitude which accepts domestic violence? What fundamental shift in social norms is required?

Gilmore's theory is wrong. Domestic violence does not exist to uphold the power of all men against all women. It does not, and never has, represented a social norm. When I was growing up in Melbourne in the 1970s, one of the strongest aspects of the male code was that you never hit women.

It was pointed out to Kate Gilmore by Moira Rayner back in 1994 that domestic violence is associated with "stress" factors, such as poverty, alcohol and unemployment. Just last month Anglicare Victoria research found that:

More than four out of five family violence cases also involve mental illness, financial hardship, alcohol abuse or housing difficulties.

Kate Gilmore writes of Australia becoming "fairer, more deeply humane and simply more just". It's difficult to see the justice, though, in unfairly attacking men and men's attitudes to women. It is not the norm for men to support violence against women, nor is such violence, as Gilmore's 1994 strategy claimed, "a product of the social construction of masculinity".

It is in families and individuals under stress that you are most likely to find domestic violence - with men not always being the perpetrators.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Murdoch's empty philosophy

Rupert Murdoch has come back to Australia to deliver the 2008 Boyer Lectures. An extract of the first lecture was in yesterday's papers. It's interesting to run through it, as it shows how deeply committed Murdoch is to a right-liberal politics.

There are two aspects of right-liberalism to remember here. First, there is the radical individualism, in which people are treated as abstract, atomised individuals without any defining attachment to a communal tradition.

Second, there is the right-liberal commitment to the free market. If society is made up of millions of competing, atomised wills then how can a society hold together? The right-liberal answer is that these competing wills can be harmonised through the pursuit of individual profit in a free market. We can act selfishly for our own profit to the benefit of both society and human progress.

Therefore, right-liberals have a vision of Economic Man, in which we best realise our human purposes through participation in the market.

So it's not surprising that the theme of Murdoch's lecture is the need for Australians to organise themselves more efficiently to compete in the global market.

Murdoch begins his lecture on a positive note: he believes that we have arrived at a golden age for humankind and that "We've seen the unleashing of human talent and ability across our world". Later, we learn that he's referring to the ability of India and China's middle classes to create wealth in the market place - this is his understanding of what human talent and ability are rightly directed to.

He then tells Australians that our greatest challenge is not cultural or spiritual but ... economic. We have to organise ourselves more efficiently to compete in the global market. We have to be a "centre of excellence" - excellence understood, of course, as success in economic competition.

Murdoch then points to the success of India and China's middle classes who, by creating wealth, have shown that they are "intent on developing skills, improving their lives and showing the world what they can do".

We are then informed that Australia has an advantage because we are "an open, democratic and multi-racial society". We have got with the liberal programme in which there is only the individual and our free participation in the market.

Unfortunately, continues Murdoch, radical reform is still needed. Murdoch holds to the right-liberal preference for a small state - therefore, he complains about the growing number of Australians receiving government assistance. He writes: "The larger the government, the less room for Australians to exercise their talents and initiative" (meaning economic talents and initiative).

He writes in a similar vein that what is needed is "smaller government and an end to the paternalism that nourishes political correctness, promotes government interference and undermines freedom and personal responsibility".

We're then told that we have to reform our education system - not to disseminate knowledge and culture - but to best prepare Australians to participate in a global economy. We're back to Economic Man once more.

Murdoch follows this by giving his support to reconciliation with Aborigines and to open borders.

The support for open borders isn't surprising. If we are just atomised individuals realising ourselves in the market place, then you probably won't see the need to limit immigration. It will just appear to be a restriction on the free movement of labour.

This is how Murdoch justifies his support for open borders:

Thank goodness we are beyond where we were a few decades ago. We buried "White Australia", and have raised a modern, diverse society. This does not mean we are neutral or valueless.

We must expect immigrants to learn our language and embrace the principles that make Australia a decent and tolerant nation.

It's interesting that he's defensive about Australia being neutral and valueless. He doesn't exactly disprove the claim: all that immigrants are expected to do is to speak English and embrace the value of tolerance. It doesn't exactly add up to a rich distinctive culture. It could be England, America or New Zealand or anywhere else in the Anglosphere. It's a remarkably "thin" concept of what Australia is.

Murdoch finishes by calling for free trade, the development of clean energy, Australian military involvement to combat terrorism and a republic.

I agree with Murdoch on a few points. I believe it's better to keep the role of the central government limited and to minimise welfare dependency. Nor am I against profit seeking in the market.

I can't, though, follow a philosophy which so limits the concept of who we are and what a community is for. Success in the market might be a necessary thing for a nation, but it doesn't define the purpose of a nation and its institutions.

I am not Economic Man and my abilities and talents do not primarily exist to pursue profit in the market.

When Murdoch was young, the main choices in politics were a left and right-liberalism. It's not surprising, given this limited choice, that a businessman would prefer right-liberalism.

But we now need to think beyond such political limitations. We need to develop a politics which upholds a wider set of goods in society, one which recognises in a more sophisticated way what it means to be human.

We are not just individual agents in a global market; people are not simply latent "human capital" to be liberated for economic purposes. Murdoch's philosophy doesn't do us justice.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Willing to believe the worst

We had an Aboriginal speaker visit my workplace on Friday. His theme was the challenges facing young Aborigines today, but much of his speech was a rant about the treatment of Aborigines in colonial times.

I use the word "rant" deliberately. There was little effort to be factual or balanced. The picture he presented was of settlers who had genteel parties at which shooting or poisoning Aborigines was a favoured past-time. I was most angry when he claimed that at some of these parties the white settlers buried Aboriginal babies up to their necks and then kicked off their heads to see who could make them go the furthest.

Where does this extraordinary claim come from? I looked up Keith Windschuttle's book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, and found the answer on pp.41-42. The claim about babies was made in a PhD thesis by a student named Rhys Jones in 1971. Jones was no unbiased observer - the relevant chapter of his PhD thesis about the establishment of a British colony in Tasmania is titled "The arrival of the Yahoos".

Jones claimed in his thesis that the settlers were psychopathic sadists and he listed the head-kicking of babies to prove his point. But he never mentioned where or when such incidents happened and he never cited any documentary evidence. In a 1978 TV documentary he repeated his claims and finally pointed to his evidence: letters presented to the 1830 Committee for the Affairs of the Aborigines.

Windschuttle made the effort to read through every document placed before this committee and found no mention of the kicking of babies' heads. So Jones's claim has no evidence and would appear to be another fabrication.

This is exactly what a reasonable person would have expected. Although some of the convicts sent to the colonies were violent men, the settlers themselves were both Christian and cultured. To believe that they would have cheered on a game of baby head-kicking shows a monstrous lack of understanding of the past. (Windschuttle also states in his book that you would have to be "unusually gullible" to believe this particular atrocity story).

When I spoke to my colleagues after the speech to gauge their reactions, I found that they had no feelings about the issue. They were emotionally detached. When I asked them directly if they thought it might be true that settlers had baby head kicking competitions, they shrugged and said they didn't know. They didn't share my indignation.

If you feel a connection to your own ancestors - to your own family going back in time - then you're likely to feel anger when they are unjustly maligned and accused of inhuman crimes they did not commit. It is a natural reaction to have.

I have to assume that many of my colleagues have lost this particular point of connection in life; that they don't see themselves as having a history stretching back through the generations.

Perhaps this is their way of coping with all the claims about colonial wrongdoings. If so, it's a poor strategy. It's better to insist on a more balanced account of colonial history, rather than to divest yourself of any emotional involvement in the issue.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Old Father

One of the best books on fatherhood is Fatherless America, by American writer David Blankenhorn. In one of the chapters of this book, "The Old Father", Blankenhorn notes that the traditional, masculine father arouses a strong, negative reaction in modern cultures.

The question is why? I'd like to set out my own answer to this, drawing on the useful source material (and many of the arguments) provided by Blankenhorn.

Gender splitting

Why has there been such a strong rejection of the Old Father? One reason is that the traditional father was strongly masculine. As Blankenhorn writes,

In essence, the Old Father is the paternal embodiment of ... what several analysts term "the masculine mystique.

Why is this a problem? The answer runs as follows. We live in a society shaped by liberal political principles. The first principle of liberalism is that to be fully human we must be self-created by our own individual will and reason. However, our sex - our manhood and womanhood - is not something that we can choose for ourselves. It is, in the terms of liberalism, a "biological destiny".

It's difficult for liberals to accept the idea that our lives might be influenced in an important way by something unchosen like the sex we are born into. They prefer to believe that traditional sex roles are oppressive social constructs which can be overcome. They think that we are liberated when we throw off the "confines" of such sex roles, by achieving genderlessness (androgyny) or better yet by reversing traditional sex roles.

Blankenhorn provides a large number of good quotes illustrating this kind of liberal thought process. For instance, Carolyn Heilbrun claims in her book Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (1993) that,

our future salvation lies in a movement away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen.

This is simply a very orthodox liberalism in which gender is thought of as a "prison" because gender roles are not "freely chosen" by the individual.

Another interesting quote is Judith Lorber's call for "the eradication of gender as an organizing principle of post-industrial society" and the "restructuring of social institutions without a division of human beings into the social groups called 'men' and 'women'."  Lorber is so concerned here to show that gender difference is merely an outmoded social construct, that she puts the words men and women in inverted commas and refers to them as "social groups".

Susan Moller Okin spells out the liberal view in these terms:

A just future would be one without gender. In its social structures and practices, one's sex would have no more relevance than one's eye color or the length of one's toes. No assumptions would be made about "male" and "female" roles; childbearing would be so conceptually separated from child rearing and other family responsibilities that it would be a cause for surprise, and no little concern, if men and women were not equally responsible for domestic life or if children were to spend much more time with one parent than another. (Justice, Gender and the Family, 1989)

In this quote Susan Moller Okin is calling for gender to be made so entirely irrelevant that it would be both surprising and concerning if mothers spent more time with their babies than fathers did (and note again the placing of the terms male and female in inverted commas).

Finally, there is family therapist Frank Pittman's warning that "Heavy doses of masculinity are unquestionably toxic, and no longer socially acceptable."

So liberals reject the Old Father because they are led by their first principles to reject traditional sex roles. Blankenhorn adds a further twist to this idea by noting that many theorists are especially opposed to the male sex role because they believe that it is the origin of "gender splitting" - in other words, that it's masculine fathers (rather than feminine mothers) who trigger the masculine identity of their sons and feminine identity of their daughters.

That's why family therapist Olga Silverstein specifically targets the male sex role when urging us to seek "the end of the gender split", as "until we are willing to question the very idea of a male sex role ... we will be denying both men and women their full humanity." (Our very humanity is at stake! ... as liberals see it, anyway.)

What is the conservative response to all this? I won't launch into a full-scale criticism of the liberal attitude to gender at this point. I'll simply point out that science has already proven that differences in male and female behaviour can be at least partly attributed to differences in the biological natures of men and women. So liberals are going against both nature and reason in claiming that gender differences are a social construct which can be overcome.

Paternal authority

There's a second major reason why the Old Father arouses a hostile response in modern Western societies. David Blankenhorn perceptively recognises that,

At bottom, much of this assault [on the Old Father] centers on the problem of paternal authority: the use of power by fathers in family life and in the larger society.

Why should paternal authority be such a problem? Again, we have to go back to liberal first principles for an answer. Liberals believe that we should be subject only to our own individual will and reason, but this means that liberals can only accept forms of authority that they themselves have consented to or contracted with. Unchosen forms of authority are made illegitimate by liberal first principles.

That's why early forms of liberalism were often so hostile to the power of kings and priests, as the authority of both was unchosen. The eighteenth century writer Denis Diderot captured this hostility perfectly in his famous saying that,

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

But it's not only kings and priests who wield unchosen authority. So too do fathers. We don't vote to accept our father's authority, nor do we formally assent to it. Instead, we are simply born into our father's dominion. Our own reasoned preferences don't come into it at all.

So it's little wonder that the Old Father should provoke such opposition within a liberal culture. As Blankenhorn describes it,

The Old Father wields power. He controls. He decides. He tells other people what to do. He has fangs. This aspect of his character generates suspicion and resentment ... This is the heart of the matter. Many contemporary critics view authority ... as synonymous with male identity itself.

Blankenhorn provides quite a number of examples from within popular culture in which the authority of fathers is feared or reviled. For instance, in 1993 Oliver Stone produced a television miniseries, "Wild Palms", in which there is a struggle in Los Angeles in the year 2007 between liberal humanists and malignant totalitarians. The humanists call themselves "Friends" in contrast to the totalitarians who call themselves "Fathers".

There is also the case of Sara Maitland who in describing "every dark thing that father means" confesses her desire to "cast out the Father in my head who rules and controls me ...This frightens me; I want to protect my father and my love for him. I do not want to kill him, to see him dead. I want to set the man free from having to be a father."

From the sphere of "high" culture there is also the viewpoint of poet Adrienne Rich, who believes that our unjust society is a Kingdom of the Fathers, which stands for "rapism and the warrior mentality".

Of course, the tension created by paternal authority is not only a product of liberalism. It exists also because it's an authority which is so close to home, so personal: if it's wielded unwisely it touches an especially raw nerve.

This is a point focused on by Blankenhorn who notes that "antagonism toward paternal power seems to go with the territory of fatherhood." Although maternal authority also exists, the father's power is "more rule-oriented, more emotionally distant, more aggressive, more physically coercive, more instrumental, and therefore more overtly severe."

This means, in Blankenhorn's words, that there is a "necessary but potentially explosive tension between father and child. Much of this tension is rooted in the fact that the child both craves and resents authority. So does culture."

Blankenhorn continues by eloquently rebutting those who think the solution to the question of paternal authority is to destroy it. He writes,

Here is a core irony of fatherhood. If having a father fosters anger in children, having no father fosters greater anger. If fathers generate tension and ambivalence in children that is hard to resolve, fatherlessness generates cynicism and confusion that is much harder to resolve.

If paternal authority it problematic, abdication of paternal authority is tragic. Yes, a fathered society must struggle with the inherent tensions of domesticated masculinity. But a fatherless society must accept the consequences of undomesticated masculinity: mistrust, violence, nihilism.

Adrienne Rich is wrong. Ultimately, rapism and the warrior culture mentality represent the kingdom of the fatherless, not the fathers. Male predation is not the synonym, but rather the necessary antonym, of encultured paternity.

Bringing it together

Liberals, therefore, reject the Old Father on two grounds. First, for liberals it is illegitimate to base parenting on traditional gender roles. Second, liberals don't easily accept unchosen forms of authority, including paternal authority.

So liberals need to find a way to avoid gender splitting on the one hand, and to overcome paternal authority on the other. One logical way of doing this is to have a single parental role shared by both sexes, but based on the mother, rather than the father.

Back in 1982 this is exactly what Sara Ruddick urged in her book Rethinking the Family. In this work Ruddick tells us that she looks forward,

to the day when men are willing and able to share equally and actively in transformed maternal practices ... On that day there will be no more 'fathers,' no more people of either sex who have power over their children's lives and moral authority in their children's world ... There will [instead] be mothers of both sexes.

This must have seemed a radical proposal back in 1982. Yet we can't laugh at it, or dismiss it as "going too far", because it has already become the accepted attitude to fatherhood.

In the mainstream media it is now assumed that a good father, an involved father, is one who takes on a traditional mothercare role, especially hands-on babycare tasks. It is also assumed that because the Old Father did not engage much in these tasks that he was uninvolved in family life.

It's not even considered that the Old Father contributed to his family in an important way by going to work to provide an income, by teaching discipline and morals, by actively guiding and socialising his children and by providing emotional stability and physical protection for his family.

To put this another way, there is no longer a recognised masculine role for men within the family. Effectively a distinctive fatherhood has been abolished as a social ideal. Men can now either be one part of a motherhood team, or else simply not be recognised for their efforts by the culture they live in.

Liberty & fatherhood

The liberal principle is that to be fully human we have to be self-created by our own individual will and reason. If true, this means that that the liberty to be unimpeded in our individual will is what makes us human. Liberty of will therefore becomes the trump card of politics.

Liberty of will, expressed simply as "liberty", is an attractive slogan. There are even conservatives who wish to make it a one word definition of conservative politics.

I hope, though, that what I've written above serves as a warning to conservatives not to accept the current understanding of "liberty of will" too lightly. The logic of this concept, as currently understood, requires a radical transformation of society, including the effective abolition of fatherhood.

Nor does "liberty of will" really deliver a true sense of freedom to the individual. Is abolishing our gender identity - our sense of manhood and womanhood - really felt as a personal freedom? Is it really a freedom to restrict men's participation in the family to a feminine role?

Liberty of will just doesn't work as a sole reigning principle of politics. It doesn't correctly define what is worthy and what is necessary within a social order. It cannot even deliver the one thing it promises, namely individual freedom.

Conservatives, then, will be exactly those people who reject the idea that "liberty of will" is the sole determining principle of politics. If masculine fatherhood is an impediment to individual will, conservatives will not automatically sacrifice fatherhood to remove the impediment.

This is because the worth and the necessity of fatherhood is not reasonably measured just in terms of its effect on liberty of will. Fatherhood has its own importance, residing elsewhere: in the security provided to mothers and children by a strong, protective father, in the transmission of moral values through paternal authority, and in the successful socialisation of boys to a productive and well-directed manhood through fatherly role models.

(First published at Conservative Central, 18/01/2005)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What makes someone genuinely conservative?

If you were to believe the mainstream media we are blessed with a real choice in politics between left-wing progressives and right-wing conservatives.

But do we really get such a choice? When you look at their beliefs, most of the establishment "conservatives" turn out to be right-liberals, who follow something similar to an older classical liberalism.

So our choice is, in reality, restricted to two variants of liberalism: a social democratic left-liberalism and a free market oriented right-liberalism.

I'm not alone in doubting the credentials of the establishment conservatives. In a recent article at Brussels Journal, Takuan Seiyo pulled no punches in describing the limited options for voters in the US elections:

In the United States - a country that has ruined itself through its own naïveté about human nature, about the world and about itself, the presidential election is being contested between a right-liberal candidate of the Stupid Party and a left-liberal candidate of the Evil Party.

Over at What's Wrong with the World, a similar observation is made:

"Conservatism" is in our time not conservatism but right-liberalism: political liberalism with a few 'conservative' unprincipled exceptions ... For a while that meant that 'conservatism' was classical liberalism; now it means, for the most part, culturally 'big tent' neoconservatism ...

So looking beyond the election of this very moment, the way to beat the Left politically ... is to stop becoming the Left ... the hard Left has a whole core worldview which anchors it and which it will not give up for anything. The Right has nothing of the kind: the political Right is basically a classical liberalism / neoconservatism ...

... as long as 'conservatives' are willing to support liberals like McCain just because he tepidly throws them a few policy bones, conservatism will be not merely neutralized, but will remain complicit in the inexorable march of liberal modernity/postmodernity. (Hat tip: Vanishing American)

It's important then for a newer generation of conservatives to support something other than right-liberalism. Which raises the question of how we define a genuine, non-liberal conservatism.

I won't attempt here to give a definitive answer to the question. I just want to kick things off by making a few relevant points.

First, you can't be a conservative unless you are seeking to conserve some aspect of the society you live in.

The thing you want to conserve, though, cannot be liberal values. If this is what you want to conserve, then you are a liberal and not a conservative.

The former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, attempted to define conservatism as conserving liberal values. In a speech he made while in office, he stated openly that:

.... ours is a liberal government holding liberal principles.

He went on to argue that:

I have stressed the commitment of the Government to liberal principles and values. Precisely because of that commitment it is also concerned to conserve and protect those principles and values.

Once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must in some sense be conservative.

The idea that conservatism means preserving liberal values is a losing one for genuine conservatives. Fraser in his subsequent political life has proved this over and over by adopting all the latest "progressive" liberal views.

There's a second pitfall to be avoided. It's no use seeking to conserve a particular entity in society on the liberal grounds that the entity can be defined any way we want it to be.

Former Liberal Party minister Tony Abbott took this road not so long ago. In a speech full of eloquent references to Edmund Burke, he sought to defend the family as follows:

Supporting families shouldn’t mean favouring one family type over others. We have to resist yearning for “ideal” families and “traditional” mothers. Every family is a source of nurturing and security for its members.

This is useless. What are we really seeking to conserve if it's thought illegitimate to favour one family type over others? If all kinds of living arrangements are equally valid, then the task is not to conserve any existing arrangement, but to overthrow any preference or advantage for the traditional type. We are back with a radical liberalism, rather than a genuine conservatism.

So a genuine conservatism must seek to conserve a distinct entity of society that is not a liberal value or institution.

People are most likely to be drawn toward a genuine conservatism if what they wish to conserve is their own larger communal tradition, i.e. their ethny or nation.

I'll give as an example a recent defence of fatherhood by American columnist Kathleen Parker. She wrote:

as long as boys are bereft of strong fathers and our young men and women wage sexual war, then we risk cultural suicide.

In the coming years we will need men who are not confused about their responsibilities. We need boys who have acquired the virtues of honour, courage, valour and loyalty. We need women willing to let men be men – and boys be boys. And we need young men and women who will commit and marry and raise children in stable homes.

I'm not exactly sure where Kathleen Parker stands politically. She may not be consistently conservative in the way I'd prefer. Nonetheless, the above quote is useful because it shows how an aversion to 'cultural suicide' encourages a wider concern for the traditions which sustain a society.

Kathleen Parker is right to suggest that unless boys are brought up to be confident about the masculine virtues, they are less likely to make adult commitments, particularly to family life.

If there is no tradition you identify with, then this won't seem so problematic. If there is no larger entity you are trying to keep going, then you're less likely to be concerned if young men lack confidence and direction and if family formation is disrupted.

So it works best if conservatives set out to conserve their own larger communal tradition - their ethny or nation - rather than one aspect of it alone (such as family, church, language, culture or history).