The ruling principle is not a Christian one, nor even a religious one in the traditional sense. It is an all embracing political principle.
The Western nations are being shaped by a political philosophy called liberalism and at the core of liberalism is the idea of autonomy.
What is autonomy?
Autonomy means that the individual is self-determining (or self-directing or self-creating).
Why should this be considered so important? In traditional societies, it was thought that there were qualities which were good or virtuous in themselves. For instance, courage, honesty and generosity. What mattered was for individuals to live according to such virtues.
Liberals don’t see it this way. It is not the existence of such virtues which impresses liberals. The big thing for liberals is the act of choosing for yourself, autonomously, your own good. What is actually chosen doesn’t matter so much.
Should we be worried?
Liberals take autonomy very, very seriously. Our dignity as humans is thought to rest on it. It is the basis of liberal campaigns for equality, freedom and social justice. It is a transforming belief as it requires the state to radically reform society to give everyone the same conditions of autonomy.
And, yes, we should be worried. When autonomy is made the organising principle of society, much is lost.
If the key thing is being unimpeded in creating my own individual self, then community is going to be a problem for liberals. It will appear as a possible threat to my freedom and individuality. Expressions of nationalism will be looked on suspiciously or even fearfully.
This is especially true of more traditional forms of nationalism based on ties of ethnicity. We don’t get to choose our ethnicity. It is predetermined rather than self-determined. Therefore, it is looked on negatively by liberals as an impediment to individual autonomy.
A liberal society will not be protective of the deeper forms of communal identity.
Is this really of benefit to the individual? A communal identity gives us a sense of connection to generations past and future; it helps give meaning to the work we do for our families and communities; it enriches our sense of personal identity; it gives us a special sense of attachment to a particular culture and place; and it helps to motivate our efforts to maintain the standards of the society we belong to.
Most people experience a traditional national identity positively. It is only when autonomy is made the single, overriding aim that such an identity is thought morally wrong.
So the question becomes this: do we accept the underlying assumptions of liberalism with the loss of communal identity that this involves? Or do we respond to the loss of communal identity by reconsidering the liberal idea that autonomy is always and everywhere the key good in life?
Gender creates all sorts of headaches for liberals.
The theory is clear enough. We are supposed to be autonomous, which means being self-determining. But our sex – the fact of being a man or a woman – is not self-determined but predetermined. Therefore, gender is seen as something hostile to the individual, a limitation or even a prison. It must be made not to matter.
How can liberals make it not matter? Well, they declare gender to be an artificial social construct. This then means that gender can be socially deconstructed. If boys and girls are raised the same, then gender distinctions can be made to go away.
English writer Penny Red is thoroughly liberal in her thoughts on gender. She has declared:
we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries - men and women, boys and girls … I have this dream … about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender ...
Carolyn Heilbrun has the same kind of dream:
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.
Liberals do try to make gender not matter. But they run into a brick wall or two along the way. First, masculinity and femininity are not just social constructs. They are also a product of biology, as modern science has conclusively shown. So they can’t be entirely suppressed.
Nor do most men and women think of sex distinctions so negatively. If we are heterosexual, we’ll find at least some of these distinctions in behaviour highly attractive. And part of our personal identity will also be positively connected to our manhood or womanhood.
Family is supposed to involve people becoming important to each other. But autonomy requires us to maximise our independence. So there is a built in conflict in the liberal attitude to the family that’s difficult to resolve.
There are liberals who want both family and autonomy. But this might mean deferring indefinitely a commitment to family life; or making men and women less dependent on each other and therefore less necessary to each other within married life; or treating the traditional (and therefore “predetermined”) family of father, mother and children as a mere social construct, to be replaced by a variety of family types that can be self-determined.
A liberal establishment
In Australia we do not have a conservative establishment. We have a liberal one. The media, the universities and schools, the political parties and even the churches all follow a liberal orthodoxy. So we can’t look to the established powers to question the dominant belief in autonomy as the sole, overriding good. It’s something that has to be initiated at the local level. That's the task we hope to contribute to at Eltham Traditionalists.