The article looks at a historical re-enactment society in the Victorian city of Ballarat. The young members of this society are quite articulate when it comes to explaining why they devote so much time to their hobby. For instance, David Waldron believes that it connects him to his heritage:
His participation ... is a way of "bridging the disjuncture from my heritage - my own history. I am recreating that sense of connection."
Another member of the society, Fred Cheney, an English and history teacher, has a theory about the loss of Western identity:
Fred ... has tried to connect with Asian spirituality but found immersing himself in the essentials of northern European culture is the better fit pyschologically. He says the transported gene pool of white Australia set his social lineage adrift.
"And in the absence of knowledge about our own ancestral roots, we tend to project our internal indigenous sense onto the exotic other - the Aborigines or the Asian races," he says. "Through these processes we are reclaiming our own roots. For me, enacting the Viking period is a way of engaging with my racial heritage. We get the sense it is still there. The costumes are profoundly respectful of our ancestors, but by wearing them you get that instant consciousness of The Great Then."
There are women involved too. Anna says of history that,
"reading about it just isn't enough." And best of all is the payoff in a real sense of connection. "This sense of tribal community is vital to sustain us now because it has a real integrity. We do operate as a tribe or an extended family."
If this sounds a little politically incorrect, it's because it runs against the grain of orthodox liberalism. According to liberal orthodoxy there is no collective good, only an immense set of self-chosen individual life paths. The overall aim is to achieve an autonomy in which we self-determine every aspect of who we are. We don't choose our ethnicity or our ancestry, so these are thought of negatively as impediments to the self-creating, blank slate individual. Furthermore, because liberals associate the West with power and dominance, they see Western forms of ethnic identity as being constructed for the oppression of others. So Western identity gets tagged as supremacist or discriminatory, whereas non-Western identity is tied much more positively to resistance to Western cultural and political dominance.
So there is a profound rejection of modern liberal orthodoxy when the Ballarat history players declare that their own Western ancestry is authentic and indispensable to who they are.
I personally have no desire to dress up like a Viking. Nor do I think that re-enactment is the most effective way of challenging the liberal status quo. But I do agree with the Ballarat history players that a sense of our ancestry and roots is important in forming our self-identity. It deepens and enriches our sense of who we are. It places us within a distinct tradition, so that we identify with a set of cultural ideals and achievements, rather than always being outsiders who are not actively involved in reproducing a culture of our own.
If liberal theory treats such an identity, at least for Westerners, as wholly negative, then this only shows that liberal theory is inadequate - that it limits too severely what can be expressed within our self-identity.