Saturday, January 30, 2010

Not so stolen generations

Should we Australians be ashamed of our past? For years we have been told that we should be ashamed of the treatment of the "stolen generations". The claim is that Australian authorities forcibly removed whole generations of Aboriginal children from their parents with the racist aim of breeding out the Aboriginal population.

Keith Windschuttle has written a new volume of his important work The Fabrication of Aboriginal History which investigates these claims in detail. He has presented some of his findings in a brief newspaper article, which is well-argued and well worth reading in full.

I'll try to summarise some of the key information. The historians who originally set up the idea of the stolen generations made some key assertions, including:

  • that 50,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed
  • that authorities aimed to seize children as young as possible with the aim that they should lose their Aboriginality and never return home
  • that the children were forcibly removed solely because they were Aboriginal

Windschuttle quotes some leading historians of the stolen generations making such claims:

In his 2008 parliamentary apology, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd endorsed the estimate by Peter Read, the university historian who first advanced the concept of the Stolen Generations, that 50,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed in the 20th century.

Read had written that governments removed children as young as possible and reared them in institutions isolated from any contact with Aboriginal culture. "Welfare officers, removing children solely because they were Aboriginal," he said, "intended and arranged that they should lose their Aboriginality, and that they never return home."

The majority were allegedly babies and infants. The SBS television series First Australians claimed most of the 50,000 were aged under five. Henry Reynolds explained the rationale: "The younger the child the better, before habits were formed, attachments made, language learned, traditions absorbed."

But are these claims true? Windschuttle provides some strong evidence that they are far from being true. First, it's not true that most of the children removed from their families were aged under five. Windschuttle looked at the NSW records and found that only 10% were under five, most were teenagers.

Second, it was not "generations" who were removed from their families. For instance, at the Moore River settlement in WA, only about 10 children per year were removed at a time when the Aboriginal population of the state numbered 29,000.

Third, the children were not removed "because they were Aboriginal" but because of concerns for their welfare:

Rather than acting for racist or genocidal reasons, government officers and missionaries wanted to rescue children and teenagers from welfare settlements and makeshift camps riddled with alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

In NSW, WA and the Territory, public servants, doctors, teachers and missionaries were appalled to find Aboriginal girls between five and eight years of age suffering from sexual abuse and venereal disease. On the Kimberley coast from the 1900s to the 1920s they were dismayed to find girls of nine and 10 years old hired out by their own parents as prostitutes to Asian pearling crews. That was why the great majority of children removed by authorities were female ...

Government officials had a duty to rescue children from such settings, as much then as they do now.

The prevailing policy of the time was not assimilation but the racial preservation of the Aborigines. It's true that there were two regional officers who did propose assimilation policies: they wanted to marry half-caste Aboriginal women to white men. But they did not have government support for these plans. The plan was rejected in cabinet in 1933 and in 1934 a commonwealth minister declared in parliament that:

It can be stated definitely, that it is and always has been, contrary to policy to force half-caste women to marry anyone. The half-caste must be a perfectly free agent in the matter.

The prevailing policy was expressed by J. F. Bleakley, the chief protector of Aborigines in Queensland and the author of the commonwealth policy of the 1920s and 30s, when he wrote of Aborigines that:

"We have no right to attempt to destroy their national life. Like ourselves, they are entitled to retain their racial entity and racial pride."

This is the opposite of genocide. It is a clear statement that the government of the time wanted Aborigines to continue their own distinct ethnic existence.

There's much more in Windschuttle's article, including evidence that those Aboriginal children who were placed in welfare institutions were not cut off from their families or their Aboriginality and were treated in a similar way to white children in similar circumstances (e.g. sent out to complete apprenticeships).

We're fortunate that Keith Windschuttle has made such a determined effort to write authoritative books on Aboriginal history. He may not be a traditionalist conservative (he's more of a right-liberal) but he's provided an important contribution.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The shock, the horror!

How did the Melbourne Age celebrate Australia Day? It offered us four opinion pieces, none of which celebrated the historic culture and tradition of Australia.

The first, by Greg Day, called for a process of reverse assimilation in which the host population are supposed to assimilate into the culture of the newest arrivals:

Another example of government spin gone tragically wrong is the latest Australia Day Council advertisements, urging us all to barbecue like never before.

The advert, in the style of a 1970s Maoist propaganda poster, features three bronzed Aussies gripping their chops and snags close to their hearts in readiness for the ritual fry-up.

One can only gasp in horror at the meaning this might have for people of the Hindu faith - this is tantamount to saying throw another sacred cow on the barbie, mate.

The Age, in its wisdom, also thought it a good idea to publish a column on Australia Day criticising flag-abusers. Roel ten Cate wrote:

To an anti-social minority, every display of the flag means a vote in support of violence-based nationalism. We all know who this minority is. They can usually be seen on Australia Day with their shirt off, beer can in hand, often wearing the flag as a cape, and being generally loud ... But they are not solely to blame. All those who choose to publicly exhibit the flag - whether they have pure intentions or not - are inadvertently encouraging these flag-abusers.

Not too much joy on Australia Day from The Age so far. And the kill-joy trend continues with Stephanie Dowrick's column. She begins promisingly by stating that "we have countless reasons to be grateful". But then we get the following:

It is anyway barely possible to regard Australia Day as an unconditional celebration ... Aboriginal population ... unreflective racism and colonialism ... how difficult it is for first-generation migrants to feel at home ... exacerbated when people look and sound different...

She then offers us the prospect of an inevitable "social revolution" in which there cannot be a stable national identity:

At every level what it means to be an "Australian" is in a state of flux ... It is one of the markers of 21st-century life that populations are on the move ... While this social revolution is unrolling, we can't predict how it will alter our conceptions of nationality and belonging. But we can recognise the inevitability of this change .... A common reaction to such fears [of change] is defensiveness and bigotry.

So there's a revolutionary movement of change that will alter our conceptions of nationality. But if you question it, claims Stephanie Dowrick, you are showing mere defensive and bigotry.

At least she admits that the liberal programme is a radical one. Of the several radical/revolutionary political movements of the twentieth century, the liberal one is the sole survivor. A pity we couldn't have seen it off with the others.

So what are we to do for a national identity? Stephanie Dowrick thinks it should be based not on racial or cultural origins but on traits such as generosity, respect, neighbourliness, resourcefulness and kindness. But, as she herself admits:

These are human qualities, not national ones.

So they cannot then define a distinctively national identity. They cannot be the basis of a stable national tradition.

The final opinion piece, by Prasanth Shanmugan, is another attempt to redefine the national identity. Like a few recent migrants he feels lost in a multiculture and has picked up on how superficial it all is:

I do not agree with the policy and theory of multiculturalism, as it is defined and practised. I believe it is flawed with its narrow focus on diversity and on the other. And sadly its meaning was never elucidated beyond tasting a different cuisine each night.

But what kind of national identity does Prasanth Shanmugan endorse? He calls for a nationalism based on "attitude" rather than an ethnic nationalism based on historic kinship. According to Shanmugan, it doesn't matter what passport you hold or where you were born. What matters is simply a "clear commitment to Australia".

Unfortunately for him, he quotes former PM Bob Hawke in his support:

The commitment is all. The commitment to Australia is the one thing needful to be a true Australian.

And what does this commitment consist of? According to Hawke:

An Australian is someone who chooses to live here, obey the law and pays taxes.

You're a committed Australian simply by virtue of the fact that you choose to live here rather than somewhere else. As one commenter put it in response to Hawke:

According to Hawke, Australians have no distinct ethnic or cultural identity. In fact, they have absolutely nothing to define them as a people - no history, traditions, ancestors, customs or heroes. To be an 'Australian' is not to belong to a distinct national community; it simply means you live here and pay tax.

In short, it seems that Hawke is saying that 'Australians' don't really exist in any meaningful sense.

So there you have the four opinion pieces gifted to us by The Age on Australia Day. That is the range of thought The Age considers reasonable to offer to their readers in order to celebrate a national holiday. There's not much joy in it and certainly no sense of a tradition to be celebrated.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Silly, but makes a serious point

This is from a defunct US sitcom called Coupling. I don't think the series ever made it here to Australia.

Leftists want to be thought of as rebels or dissenters, when in reality they form a core part of the political establishment.

Hat tip: Useful fools

Australian of the Year

Who should be Australian of the Year? Here are some worthy nominations:

Dick Smith     A leading figure from the business world who has come out against open borders. He has called Government plans to increase the population by 13 million via immigration "ridiculous" and says the policy is opposed by 9 out of 10 Australians. He is working on a documentary on the issue. He loses points, though, for limiting his opposition to population increase to environmental grounds and for suggesting that women be limited to two children (the already low birth rate is one of the excuses used by the Government for large scale immigration).

Kelvin Thomson & Kevin Andrews     A joint nomination for the only two MPs to have taken an independent line on immigration. Kevin Andrews is a Liberal Party MP who wants the immigration level taken down to a population replacement level of 35,000 per year. Kelvin Thomson is a Labor Party MP who has called for a return to the more modest immigration levels of the 1990s.

But I declare the winner to be ...

Kurt Fearnley   It's hard not to admire this man's efforts. He does not have the use of his legs, but nonetheless completed the gruelling 90km Kokoda Trail dragging himself along on his hands. He did it to raise funds for two men's health groups.

Were there any obvious contenders I missed? Feel free to make your own nominations in the comments section. (They don't have to be from the field of politics.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tony Abbott prattles on about conservatism then adopts radical liberal policies

Tony Abbott, leader of the "conservative" opposition, is at it again. Abbott is a man who talks the conservative talk but then walks the liberal walk.

Consider the issue of nationalism. If you were to read the following, you might think that Mr Abbott was a traditionalist conservative:

Scruton, probably the English-speaking world's finest conservative thinker, evokes a conservatism that's founded on an instinctive love of country.

Conservatives are engaged in their country's history, proud of its symbols, concerned for its welfare, attached to its values and vigorous in its defence. The instinct to defer to authority and to respect tradition - the sense that each individual has been shaped by the past and will influence the future, having both ancestors and descendants to keep faith with - is deeply ingrained in human beings, even if it's under-appreciated by intellectuals. A conservative apprehends how so much modern thinking is actually in revolt against human nature.

But all these fine words come to nothing. It turns out that his version of keeping faith with his ancestors is to promote the fastest possible demographic change to his country via mass immigration:

My instinct is to extend to as many people as possible the freedom and benefits of life in Australia. A larger population will bring that about provided that it’s also a more productive one

So we're to have as many immigrants as possible and work harder. That's the gist of Mr Abbott's policy.

In the same speech, Mr Abbott rewrites history and denies that a distinctly Anglo-Australian nation ever existed. It seems that apart from the Aborigines, everyone else has been an immigrant and part of a multi-culti society and culture:

Except for the half million or so who identify as Aboriginal, every other Australian is an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants since 1788. Unlike any other, we are a nation of relatively recent immigrants ... This means, of course, that the immigrant who feels like a stranger in our midst is really at the heart of the Australian story.

To the extent that it is a celebration of our nation, Australia Day is necessarily a salute to an immigrant culture.

How does Mr Abbott manage to combine conservative sounding rhetoric with such radically liberal outcomes?

Mr Abbott is a member of a right-liberal party. Like all liberal parties the basic principle is "freedom" understood to be the pursuit of individual self-determination. This is Abbott explaining what the Liberal Party is about:

Edmund Burke once defined a political party as people working for the national interest according to a particular principle on which they all agreed ... The essential principle animating the Federation Fathers (whether conservative protectionists or liberal free traders, they mostly ended up in the first version of an Australian liberal party within a decade) was citizens’ greater freedom to pursue their individual destinies within the framework of a new nation.

And in the same vein:

The dream of greater personal freedom is probably the Liberal Party’s nearest equivalent to a “light on the hill”

According to Abbott a liberal is someone who embraces this freedom straight up, whereas a conservative is a bit more cautious, more of a slow learner:

In a world where nothing exists in isolation and everything is connected, “liberalism” and “conservatism” turn out to be complementary values. The difference between a “liberal” and a “conservative” is not that one values freedom and the other doesn’t or even that one asserts and the other denies that freedom comes first. The difference between the ways liberals and conservatives value freedom is, perhaps, more the difference between love at first sight and the love which grows over time.

The problem with making a freedom to self-determine the key principle is that it undermines many important traditional goods, including those of family and nation.

We don't get to determine the basic form of the family, so therefore the traditional family becomes for liberals a restriction on our personal freedom. What liberals want instead is a variety of family types for individuals to choose from, none of which is to be preferred over another. Abbott is no exception:

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.

Note that Abbott is not just saying here that we need to accept that there will be people who find themselves as single parents and that we should support their efforts to do their best for their families. He's going much further than this and saying that we cannot even uphold the traditional family of dad, mum and the kids as an ideal to aim for.

If he were a straight up liberal you could at least concede that Tony Abbott was being true to his principles here. But consider the way he praises the Howard Government (in which he was a minister):

An examination of the Howard government's signature policies shows deep concern for personal responsibility, individual choice, reward for effort, the protection of families and respect for traditional institutions and values.

He asserts that respect for traditional institutions is a praiseworthy good but then argues that we must resist supporting the ideal of the traditional family. Isn't the traditional family a traditional institution? Isn't it a key traditional institution? His position lacks coherence.

The liberal principle of individual self-determination also undermines traditional nationalism. We don't get to choose our own ethnicity, so nations that are based on a common ethnicity will be thought an impediment to individual freedom and equality by liberals. Instead, liberals often argue for a "civic nationalism" based on citizenship, or for a "proposition nation" based on shared ideals or values.

Abbott is a proposition nationalist:

Notwithstanding their frequent inability to articulate them, men and women live by ideals. Shared ideals and enduring values are what turn crowds into communities and peoples into societies and ultimately civilisations. They form the bonds of kinship and common purpose which constitute the social fabric and which allow diverse individuals to find a sense of place and belonging in something which transcends themselves.

So it's no longer kinship which forms the bonds of kinship, but rather shared ideals and values. There are many problems with this form of nationalism. First, liberals are understandably reluctant to specify the ideals and values too closely. To do so would risk excluding people who don't share these beliefs from the definition of the nation. Abbott even goes as far as to reassure migrants that:

Australia makes very few demands of its immigrants. There is no ideal of Australian-ness to which they are expected to conform.

Abbott has turned here abruptly from the idea of "shared ideals" forming a sense of Australian-ness to there being "no ideal" of Australian-ness.

A second problem with proposition nationalism is that it's much the same from country to country. When liberals do talk about the shared ideal defining the nation, it's usually some kind of liberal value. So all of the Western liberal countries end up being defined much the same way. A person could just as easily be defined as an American, or an Australian, or a Canadian.

And yet we want our national identity to be distinct in some way. Abbott makes a lame attempt to make it sound as if Australia is somehow uniquely defined as an immigrant nation:

Unlike any other, we are a nation of relatively recent immigrants. New Zealand has a proportionately larger indigenous population and North America has been settled for almost two centuries longer.

Sure. Every liberal Western nation is busy defining itself as an immigrant nation, but Australia gets to define itself as such more than the others because we were settled later and have a smaller indigenous population. It's clutching at straws. If we define ourselves as an immigrant nation, then we are not unique, but interchangeable with all the other Western national identities.

Proposition nationalism also suffers from being unstable. Not only can the demographic nature of a country change over and over under proposition nationalism through limitless immigration, but there is no reason for the national state itself to stay in existence. If Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific nations all share the same values, then why not merge them into a new regional state, if there are political and economic advantages in doing so? Why not join together the European states into a single superstate?

There's one final consequence of proposition nationalism I'd like to mention. If what binds a nation together is a shared ideal or value, then you will want to base your political party on this shared ideal or value.

But this then leads to distortions in your understanding of politics. It means that Tony Abbott can't do what a real conservative has to do in order to conserve his own tradition, which is to set himself in a clear and principled way against liberalism. Instead, he has to try and show that liberalism and conservatism are only superficially different and really on the same page. Otherwise, the belief in the national "shared value" as promoted by your party falls apart.

There's more to say on all this, but I'll leave it for a future post.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Follow her where?

Just one year ago Liz Jones was lamenting that young women were not following in her feminist footsteps:

what we all really need now ... is our very own brand of New Feminism ...

A young journalist I used to mentor got married, much to my annoyance, in her mid-20s and decided to go part time. I asked why she had not followed in the previous generation's footsteps and she said: 'God, I wouldn't dream of working as hard as you do. Who would want your life?'

The problem is that my generation of women, the one after the bra-burning trailblazers, moaned too much about how tiring it was 'having it all'.

Even those of us who, like me, chose a career over a family ... and therefore didn't even try to 'juggle' have turned out not to be an inspiration for well-educated girls.

But would it really be wise for these well-educated girls to take the feminist Liz Jones as a role model? Should Liz Jones really be the one to inspire them?

Liz Jones herself admits that the second wave feminists were too hostile to men:

OK, I admit that feminism the first time around made mistakes. It turned us into man haters (I still, to this day, whenever I am told my BMW needs a new tyre, say, yell at the hapless man serving me: 'You wouldn't dare treat me this way if I were a man!'), and set impossible standards.

As Rosie Boycott, founder of Spare Rib magazine, admitted last week on Woman's Hour: 'In the Seventies feminism was too narrow, it bore no relationship to my life: I liked men.'

Liz Jones herself did a lot of the things feminists were supposed to do. She pursued a single girl lifestyle, with a glamorous career, much shopping and travel, and a freedom to do as she pleased.

But is this pursuit of individual autonomy enough to build a life on? It doesn't seem to have been for Liz Jones. Yes, she tried to get enjoyment out of consumerism:

yesterday, with my niece's smart London wedding only days away, I went on netaporter and ordered an Yves Saint Laurent draped jacket for £1,225 and a hand-painted Vera Wang dress for £2,750 - but it really is gorgeous. Ooh, and a Bottega Veneta clutch for £602 ... I am stroking my Bottega bag now, like a pet.

But this finished when she ran up a huge debt, despite her well-paid job.

And what about relationships? Again, she did the modern girl thing. She didn't select men on the basis of their suitability for marriage. She chose them for being edgy, cool and interesting:

I think in the Nineties I fell in love with three black men partly because it was fashionable and gave me a veneer of ‘cool’ that, as a boring Essex girl, I didn’t possess.

She did finally marry when she hit 40. But it was a modern kind of role reversal marriage:

Our marriage was, on reflection, a very modern one. I am 14 years older than him. When we met I was earning a huge salary ... he was an intern on a local radio station.

He is Indian and moved, aged 26, straight from his mum's house into mine.

At first I believed that love would conquer all, that our bond was so strong that none of these things mattered. He told me he didn't want children ... I hid the fact that I did.

... I told him to give up his job so that he could write a novel: 'Take six years. What's the rush.' I took a job where I worked 75 hours a week to support us both.

Her husband had a number of affairs before leaving her for a "young, slim, pretty, Indian woman" he wanted to have children with. She by now had passed by her childbearing years.

Liz Jones had thought her husband was a feminist "new man," who would take a back seat and accept that he was not needed by his "fabulously" independent wife. But he turned out to be something else:

New men, metrosexual men, men who are in touch with their feelings, who are willing to take a back seat, supporting and nurturing you, don't exist.

They might pretend to be able to cope with you but they are, instead, storing up anger and will hate you for being fabulous, for being independent, for not needing them in your life but just wanting them to be there.

And now? Liz Jones is living a lonely existence on a farm with seventeen cats. She wrote a column about her experiences this Christmas. It makes for odd reading, as it swings between a continuing belief in the "do your own thing" philosophy, attacks on traditional family life and an admission of her loneliness and isolation:

Just over half of all women under 50 have never been married, double the figure of 30 years ago. Dubbed the 'freemale' in the lifestyle pages of magazines and newspapers, this is a breed of woman who has actively rejected the notion that we are destined to grow up to nurture, to be wives and mums and carers.

And while I would count myself firmly in this camp, having always put my career and my own selfishness first, there are certain things that still trigger a lump of doubt in my throat: James Stewart hugging his brood of children beside a Christmas tree in It's A Wonderful Life, say.

And this:

Loneliness is a resilient, persistent little beast. For most of the year, those of us who live alone can rub along pretty well.

We tell ourselves everything is fine, that it's better to live alone than in a loveless relationship, that we enjoy the peace and quiet and the freedom ...

We are beholden to no one. Even that other big examination of whether or not you have passed life's fulfilment test  -  the summer holiday  -  can be cleverly crammed for: you can relish the opportunity to choose your destination with supreme selfishness, content in the knowledge you will be able to finish that book on the beach without interruption, or book one of those 'activity' holidays  -  walking in the Himalayas, learning to cook like a peasant in Puglia  -  that cleverly masks the solitude.

Liz Jones tried to find community by moving from the city to the countryside, but it didn't work:

I moved to the countryside, where I thought there might be more of a community (in London, I never did find out the name of the girl who lived next door).

I was wrong, as it turned out, and have found I can go from one week to the next without speaking to a soul.

I have written my three Christmas cards: to my mum, who lives 200 miles away and has dementia; to John the postman; and to the dustbin men, a lovely trio who often bypass my house because I have so little rubbish.

People can find themselves alone for all sorts of reasons. And, of course, there are feminists who do marry and have children. Even so, it's not difficult to see the connection between Liz Jones's feminism and her current situation.

She is clearly ideologically opposed to the idea that a woman might sacrifice a measure of autonomy in order to enjoy the benefits of a traditional family life. She chose, instead, like so many of her generation, to pursue a single girl lifestyle when she was young and at her most attractive. Then, in her 30s, she selected men not for their likely stability as husbands and providers, but for being edgy, cool and in fashion. When she did finally, in the last moments of her potential child-bearing years, choose a husband it was on the basis of "love conquers all" rather than a sober assessment of their likely compatibility.

She wants young women to follow in her footsteps. I think young women are wise not to do so.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not owning up?

Are leftists willing to own their own politics? I ask this having had yet another frustrating exchange with a leftist, who seems unwilling to own up to the real content and the real consequences of leftist politics.

The debate was supposed to be about Maxine Beneba Clarke's poem on the Haiti earthquake. If you remember, Clarke imagines in the poem that God and Jesus must be white men to have visited such disaster on brown people. She imagines the "pale trinity" feeling good about crushing the Haitians with an earthquake, and other brown peoples with tsunamis, lava and hurricanes.

To me the poem is clearly hostile to whites. It conjures up images of white powers maliciously visiting acts of evil upon others. But my leftist commenter, "anon contrarian" (AC), just couldn't see this at all:

AC: I think the poem in question is an entirely reasonable and 'human' response to a disaster

Me: No, it's a poem that clearly vilifies whites. Just like many other poems by Maxine Clarke, on many different themes.

AC: No, in reality I challenge you to find a word in there that 'vilifies' anybody, without relying on the tortured logic of somebody with a persecution complex.

Challenged to find a word? Surely, the whole poem vilifies whites by suggesting that they would enjoy inflicting terrible disasters on other people? In what way is this a "tortured logic"?

AC also argued that Maxine Clarke's poem wasn't significant as it would only be read by a few thousand people. I replied that it was significant because the underlying ideas were held widely on the left, "including the idea that whites are uniquely guilty of racist oppression of others".

This is a key concept in "whiteness studies" courses being taught on many campuses. The idea is that whites invented race as a social construct in order to gain an unearned privilege over others. Racism therefore becomes tied to the idea of white oppressors and non-white victims. Whites are assumed to be dominant and the goal for progressives is to deconstruct whiteness. Whites who object are assumed to be motivated by a desire to uphold "white supremacy".

This is standard fare on the left. But AC is in full denial mode:

Me: AC, you really think that there are no leftists who believe that white guys are bad and cause the suffering of others? Really?

AC: You're straw-manning the argument again. No leftist on earth pushes the line that only 'whites' are capable of evil, whilst everybody else is innocent.

I'm not sure that AC really understands what's going on here. Whites are held to be uniquely evil and everybody else innocent in the particular way I described above. It was whites who supposedly invented race and racism to gain privilege at the expense of the non-white other. It is therefore whiteness which needs to be deconstructed and disallowed in order to create justice and equality. It is therefore whites who are jumped on as defenders of "supremacy" if they happen to defend their own ethnicity.

What happens if you take this left-wing politics especially seriously? You become anti-white to a radical degree. Consider, for instance, the views of Professor Robert Jensen:

White people can be human sometimes, but only if we turn our backs on being white: We can be human, or we can be white.

Are you likely to hear such a thing said by a professor about non-white races? If Professor Jensen had said it, for instance, about Asians, would he still be a professor at the University of Texas?

Here's another choice comment from Professor Jensen:

White Americans are mean and uncaring, morally bankrupt and ethically flawed, because white supremacy has taken a huge toll on white people's capacity to be fully human.

In the professor's mind whites exist in a condition of white supremacy. That's our identity and collective purpose. It makes us less than human.

Again, how often do you hear such things said about other groups?

I'm not suggesting that most leftists would take the underlying ideas as far as the radical formulations uttered by Professor Jensen. But they do mostly share the underlying ideas.

Which brings me to the final point. AC reacted in the following way when I described leftists as categorising whites as dominant and non-whites as victimised:

Me: whites are the ones to be categorised as privileged, dominant; non-whites as historically victimised

AC: In what way are whites 'victimised'? I mean, seriously. Is it like jews in the holocaust, kulaks under Stalin, Catholics in Belfast, Aboriginals in the early years of white settlement? ... It's like a kind of victim-envy here.

My complaint was that leftists always make whites out to be the oppressors. AC interprets this as me preferring the role of victim; he queries how whites could be victims.

It's another odd question to ask. Of course whites have been victims at times throughout history. There were Australian soldiers and nurses who were victims of Japanese atrocities during WWII. There were Russians who were victims during the Tatar yoke. There were south-eastern Europeans who were victims during the rule of the Ottomans. There were many thousands of whites who were the victims of the Barbary corsairs.

But, most of all, whites are the victims of leftist (and liberal) politics. Not in the sense of suffering violent persecution, but in having our group existence delegitimised. If whiteness is a false and oppressive category, harmful to others and productive of injustice and inequality, then it must be cut down so that it no longer casts an influence on society.

And so Jennifer Clarke, who teaches at the Australian National University, can write an article titled 'White' Privilege in which she describes Australia as a "regionally anomalous white enclave run largely by white people to our own advantage", in which anti-discrimination laws should be applied more effectively so that "a majority of Australians would no longer be of northern European ethnic heritage".

It's a program of "getting rid of" the group thought to be responsible for social ills, not via violent pogroms, but by demographic change.

Even at a personal level, it's a kind of low-level persecution to go through life being held responsible for the ills of the world and being portrayed negatively as a privileged oppressor. It's particularly problematic for young people who have little choice but to accept what is put before them at school and at university.

We can do better, but this means making a clean break with the underlying assumptions of leftism.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Prophets of change

Lawrence Auster has been leading an interesting discussion of gnosticism over at View from the Right. The influence of gnosticism on the modern world is certainly worth considering. Two of the most influential liberal thinkers of the period 1860 to 1930 were self-declared gnostics, not only in the political sense, but more directly in terms of their religious beliefs. Both men rejected Christianity and sought to replace it with a religion which combined humanism and gnosticism.

The two men were J.S. Mill and H.G. Wells.

Mill thought it possible to hold in conjunction a belief in a "religion of humanity" with a belief in Manichaeism - a gnostic religion centred in Persia which thrived for several hundred years (3rd - 7th centuries A.D.)

Wells's religious beliefs have been described in detail in an impressive article by Willis B. Glover. Like Mill, Wells rejected Christianity:

Wells ... reacted violently, even as a child, against the evangelical faith of his mother. This hostility continued throughout his life and included both Protestant and Catholic Christianity. (p.121).

Wells was so opposed to Christianity that he envisaged strict methods to circumscribe it in his future utopia:

Wells does not hesitate to picture an ideal society of the future in which the propagation of the Christian faith, if persisted in, would be punishable by death; and he justifies this by analogy with legal requirements for vaccination. (pp.123-124)

In 1917, Wells advanced his ideas for a "modern religion" in his work God the Invisible King:

The content of the religion which Wells heralded with such confidence and enthusiasm is an amazing concoction of humanism, Christianity, Gnosticism and a kind of Promethean dualism to which Wells later called particular attention as giving him affinity with the Manichaeans. (p.125)

There is a lengthy description of the theology of this religion on pages 125 to 128. It includes an opposition between a "Veiled Being," who is the author of nature, and a finite God whom we are to worship:

Wells begins by distinguishing the God of his faith from the "Veiled Being" who is behind and in some sense responsible for the universe in which man finds himself ... the Nature for which this being must be held responsible is the real enemy of man, the source of his suffering and the obstacle in the way of his progress.

The God of H.G. Wells was a finite God who had a beginning in time but who was outside space. God was a person who was the Captain of Mankind ... God had come into existence "somewhere in the dawning of mankind" and "as mankind grows he grows".

With our eyes he looks out upon the universe he invades; with our hands he lays hands upon it ... He is the undying human memory, the increasing human will.

The enemy ... was Nature ... God stands over against not merely the ultimate being who is referred to as Darkness or the Veiled Being, but also against the Life Force, which is a lesser being coming out of the Veiled Being ...

... for the present God and mankind are in a state of opposition to the universe and to the Life Force within it. God is described as an unfilial, Promethean rebel ...

Wells frankly accepted the dualistic character of his religion and even after the failure to launch a new religion of mankind he referred to his own religious outlook as Promethean, Manichaean, and Persian.

As Glover notes, the new religion didn't take off and Wells retreated from pushing a theology.

What would this kind of religious gnosticism have contributed to? Possibly to a radical rejection of the world we live in as being false, dark and oppressive, a creation of the Veiled Being and the Life Force, from which we seek to escape as a species as the agents or co-workers of a divine purpose.

If this is your religious view, then it makes sense to be hostile to tradition, to look for a revolutionary change in the conditions of life (a transfiguration of reality) and to want a central world government to direct human affairs.

You get a sense of this in an article about Wells by Fred Siegel titled The Godfather of American Liberalism. Wells appears to have had a significant influence on American (and Anglosphere) thought:

By 1920, The Nation could describe Wells as “the most influential writer in English of our day.” ... For many, noted historian Henry May, Wells was “the most important social prophet.” The social critic Randolph Bourne described Wells’s “religious” impact, his “power of seeming to express for us the ideas and dilemmas which we feel spring out of our modernity”—a power that was nothing less than “magical.”

And this:

Orwell nonetheless recognized Wells’s extraordinary impact. “I doubt whether anyone who was writing books between 1900 and 1920, at any rate in the English language, influenced the young so much,” Orwell wrote. “The minds of all of us . . . would be perceptibly different if Wells had never existed.”

And this:

“Without doubt,” wrote Brooks, “Wells has altered the air we breathe and made a conscious fact in many minds the excellence that resides in certain kinds of men and modes of living and odiousness that resides in others.”

This too:

Other major public figures in the U.S. acknowledged Wells’s impact. Margaret Sanger ... believed that the author had “influenced the American intelligentsia more than any other one man.” The naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch, looking back on the 1920s, noted of Wells that “a whole surviving generation might appropriately sing in the words of the popular ballad of their days, ‘You made me what I am today.’ ” To assess Wells and George Bernard Shaw, Krutch asserted, “would come pretty close to assessing the aims, the ideals, the thinking and one might almost say, the wisdom and folly of a half-century.”

Wells's influence was for transformative change. Literary critic Floyd Dell wrote:

Suddenly there came into our minds the magnificent and well-nigh incredible conception of Change. . . . gigantic, miraculous change, an overwhelming of the old in ruin and an emergence of the new. Into our eternal and changeless world came H. G. Wells prophesying its ending, and the Kingdom of Heaven come upon earth; the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll, and all the familiar things of earth pass away utterly—so he seemed to cry out to our astounded ears.

Wells himself placed great hope in Theodore Roosevelt as an agent of change:

“My hero in the confused drama of human life,” Wells wrote in The Future in America, “is intelligence; intelligence inspired by constructive passion. There is a demi-god imprisoned in mankind.” ... Wells presented TR as the demigod incarnate, the very symbol of “the creative will in man.” Here was the man of the future—“traditions,” noted Wells, “have no hold on him” ... “I know of no other,” said Wells, “a tithe so representative of the creative purpose ...

There's not much room in this for a sympathetic defence of tradition in general, let alone particular national traditions. It's all to be cast off to liberate the "creative will" or the "creative purpose" in man. 

Wells is an example of an influential thinker within the liberal tradition, whose gnostic and humanistic beliefs set him radically at odds with real, existing, particular traditions.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A destructive white god?

Maxine Beneba Clarke is a woman of West Indian descent living in Melbourne. She responded to the Haiti disaster by writing a poem, which was published on the website of Overland, a leading left-wing literary journal.

The gist of the poem? God and Jesus must be white men. That would explain their visiting of death and destruction on brown people. She asks the "pale trinity" if crushing Haiti felt as good as similar acts visited on coloured peoples, such as the tsunami.

The poem attracted one comment, from a white reader, which was just as bad as the poem itself:

I think destruction comes naturally to us white men. It is almost like a religion to us that we will worship, forever creating new and more devastating ways to blow shit up.

The bonus is, when armagedon comes, it will be us what brings it and we’ll dance and sing and laugh at all the pretty flashing lights caused by the world falling to pieces as lava advances on the homes of those too poor to fly off to the moon where the best seats for the show will be.

That’s very well said Maxine, personally I don’t like to point the finger at God for natural disasters. Maybe because I’m a atheist.

Right. So white men worship destruction like a religion. We'll laugh when we finally destroy the world, just before we fly off to the moon, leaving the poor to their fate.

Overland, by the way, gets funded by the Federal Government, the Victorian Government, Arts Victoria, Victoria University and the Australia Council for the Arts.

Update: The actor Danny Glover has claimed that the Haiti earthquake is a consequence of global warming. A reader, Ned Wilobane, has written some lines to Gaia in response. His poem is beautifully subversive of Maxine Beneba Clarke's original:

Seems Gaia
That big Momma
that swallows us whole dying
must be a commie / to me
else what the hell she want / taxing
the hell outa
the brave
& the free
the state entity
takes my money in their fist
did it feel as good in
Russia / Germany / or China
what tickles her the best
giant cavernous devouring,
swallowing down the free man
Gaia is a commie / i’m sayin
Gaia is now a commie / to me

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The new ideal for the left should be ....?

Talk about a surprise ending!

I've been researching the connection between Marxism and liberalism. One interesting document I've found is a paper by an American academic, David Bholat, titled Beyond Freedom and Equality.

Bholat writes as a Marxist (despite teaching at a Jesuit university). However, he wants to take Marxism in a different direction. Up to now, Marxists have understood the ideals they are aiming at to be freedom and equality. They took these ideals from liberalism, but believe that unlike liberals they can truly realise these ideals. Bholat thinks these ideals have their limitations and should now be replaced. His proposed replacement is highly interesting, but I won't reveal it now.

According to Bholat, what both Marxists and liberals understand by freedom is individual autonomy:

In the passage cited at the beginning of this essay it is clear that by freedom Marx means individual autonomy. This is indeed what most of us mean when we use this word ... in our context, freedom clearly is a category relating ideas about individual choice and self-determination. (p.27)

Liberals claim that the market allows for individual autonomy as it is based on free contract; Marxists don't think there is a genuinely free choice as workers have little option but to sell their labour:

There are a number of ways the link Marx makes between freedom and capital can plausibly be read. The standard interpretation of his critique is that the depiction of capital as freedom is false. The semblance of free contract between workers and bourgeois conceals that workers have no other choice but sell themselves if they want to survive. The policy implications for Marxists become clear: give workers greater control over the means and distribution of production as the pre-condition for real autonomy. (pp.28-29)

The standard interpretation of Marxism means that Marxism and liberalism share the same basic aim (autonomy) but dispute the conditions for achieving it:

So framed, Liberals and Leftists share a substantive end (individual freedom) while disagreeing about the means for achieving it. The debate then is really a contest between ‘negative (Liberal) freedom’ and ‘positive (Socialist) freedom’ (Berlin 1998) with Leftists arguing that the legal and electoral rights of Liberalism need to be supplemented with a set of resources required for any real autonomy: food, housing, healthcare, education and so forth. (pp.29-30)

Marxists go to more radical lengths in criticising the inadequacy of the market in achieving true autonomy:

The standard Marxist version of the argument is pressed slightly further. Capital is posited as inherently antagonistic to the goal of self-determination since no one can be free if they are required to sell their labor.

Socialism is identified as a society where ‘humanity’ is finally realized: a historically unique animal whose life activities are not pre-determined by innate nature, nor directed towards subsistence, nor coercively to satisfy others, but determined by individuals in ways meaningful for them. (p.30)

You can see from the above why traditionalists don't like to take individual autonomy as the ultimate aim. If our life activities cannot be predetermined by an innate nature, then we cannot act according to such inborn qualities as our masculinity or femininity. And what about the idea that we have to determine what is meaningful for ourselves? Doesn't this take away meaning by basing our activities on what we subjectively make up for ourselves rather than on something objectively meaningful existing outside of our own wills?

The ideal of autonomy is also radically at odds with an appreciation of tradition. We are told that Marx did not even recognise a properly human history as beginning until after the revolution had created the conditions for individual autonomy:

The point for Marx is not to move us toward the telos of History, but to get out from under all that so that we may make a beginning—so that history proper, in all their wealth of difference, might get off the ground. This, in the end, would be the only ‘historic’ achievement. And here universality and plurality go hand in hand. For only when the material conditions exist in which all men and women can be freely self-determining can there be any talk of genuine plurality, since they will all naturally live their histories in different ways. (Terry Eagleton, quoted by Bholat, p.25)

Bholat thinks it's time for the left to start criticising the overvaluation of autonomy. His criticism, though, is not the traditionalist one. He thinks that the left doesn't really believe in extending autonomy to everyone anyway and should be more upfront about this:

let me suggest that today it is possible (even necessary) for Leftists to concede what our opponents have long suspected and declare that we are not really for freedom tout court. So much is evident already in the (justified) limits of Leftist tolerance of misogynists, capitalists, and racists (among others) to self-expression. (p.30)

Why else is there a "problem with freedom as a description for the project of the Left"? Autonomy suggests that the emphasis should be on removing impediments to the pursuit of self-interest. But the left has attempted to appeal to such interests without success:

In sum, conceptualizing a Left agenda around freedom and self-determination today seems part of the problem rather than its remedy. The sage Left strategy of making people aware of their ‘authentic’ (individual/class) interests has proven a dead-end. (p.32)

What is more, the left is going to align itself with the third world and against the first world. Therefore, they are going to have to persuade first world peoples to act against their own self-interests:

Contra the principle of identity and interest politics then the progressive gesture is for those living in advanced capitalist states to act against their self-interest and do so aware that this is neither transcendentally required nor necessarily generative of the collective attachments which motivated Romantic communitarians.

... such a progressive gesture means making the struggle of those on the periphery of global capitalism our own ... Within standard theories of just accounting, these people have no legitimate claim to the wealth created by capitalism. And yet only by making common cause with them can the Left have any meaning or chance in the 21st century. (p.33)

So what then should the ultimate ideals of the left be? What ideals will a post-capitalist society be based on? Here I'll reveal Bholat's stunning answer. None:

an aspiring Left might proudly declare that post-capitalist society is one without ideals. (p.37)

The logic of this answer is as follows:

What Marx suggests in Theses on Feuerbach is that the appearance of an ideal realm necessarily signifies an unsatisfactory resolution to contradictions in reality. A parallel can be drawn to the analysis Freud gives of dreams. Dreams come to us in sleep to express what in our waking lives is repressed. The appearance of dreams, like abstract ideals, suggests something is frustrated from achieving empirical actuality. (p.37)

The argument is that if people get what they want in real life, they don't need ideals. But is the ideal of no ideals really an escape from the "bourgeois" liberal aim of equal freedom? It seems to me to be an intensification of it.

Bholat is suggesting that in the Marxist utopia there will be such "equal freedom" (absolute autonomy for all) that we'll be able to make what we want and need an "empirical actuality". We won't be repressed or frustrated in getting what we want. Therefore, ideals as an expression of what we'd like but can't have will simply wither away.

Anyway, if the left want to proudly declare that their new utopian society will be one without ideals, let them do so. I do find it interesting, though, that Bholat as a Marxist/leftist finds it so difficult to envisage an ideal that doesn't involve autonomy as an ultimate end.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Women in a bind?

According to Sally Bennett it is men who have all the power when it comes to dating:

The man drought has sent our mating rituals into orbit and given all the power to men.

It goes against the natural order of things. Men are supposed to hunt and pursue, not be lazy, badly behaved schmucks who can take it or leave it whenever they fancy.

And women are supposed to be alluring and hard to get in order to attract the best mate they can, not throwing themselves at any mate they can.

We're supposed to believe that there are so few men in Melbourne that hapless women are forced to accept whatever they can get:

At the moment men are blissfully coasting along in "I'm-so-hot-right-now" mode - picking, discarding and picking again with ruthless abandon. And women are quietly petrified, competing against each other for a scarce resource.

I don't buy it. There are heaps of single men in Melbourne. And if women were selecting and rewarding men for decent behaviour, then men would quickly adapt and behave decently.

I'd interpret Sally Bennett's article differently. The sexual revolution has meant that women haven't selected men for qualities needed for marriage or even for romantic relationships. If women are selecting men instead for sex, then they are free to select men who come across as bad, dangerous, cocky, needy, unpredictable and unsuitable.

So, what if you are by instinct a reliable good guy type? You might be lucky and marry early, thereby dropping out of the field of candidates. Or you might marry overseas. Or you might get demoralised and resign yourself to bachelorhood. Or you might adapt and begin to care less about how you treat women, thereby gaining an advantage of sorts.

So the field narrows to men who confidently play the game, who are no longer oriented to treating women in an old-fashioned respectful way, and who perhaps really do find themselves with the upper hand.

Sally Bennett is now tired of it. Perhaps she's reached an age where she wants a relationship and so is looking for other qualities in a man. Or perhaps the dynamic has gone so far that it's lost its appeal; maybe the remaining single men in Sally Bennett's social circle can afford to be so cavalier that women like Sally Bennett are now having second thoughts.

Her solution? A traditional one of playing harder to get. The problem is that if she alone plays harder to get, nothing will change. So she suggests that women play harder to get en masse:

Men, never forget that the bond between female friends runs thicker than blood. Once women have caught on to the fact they are being royally conned, you can expect a drought of your own...

So, single ladies, be brave and call their bluff ... Choose quality time with the girls over mediocre experiences with men and hold out until the level of decency has been restored to its former glory.

Interesting that the feminist sexual revolution should come to all this. Sally Bennett isn't feeling the empowerment it was supposed to bring her; in fact, she thinks empowerment might come in the opposite direction - in holding back a bit sexually.

The problem is you don't get women acting together in this way through a call to arms by a newspaper columnist. The sisterhood is not as cohesive as this.

There's a better solution, at least for young women. If women really don't want to end up in Sally Bennett's position they can be ready to partner a bit earlier in life. They can then catch the wave of men who are ready to settle down in their mid-20s.

This is the trend I've noticed amongst my own acquaintances. Whereas the over 30s women are still doing the sexual revolution thing and chasing bad/damaged/needy boys who don't ever quite commit, the under 25s are already married/engaged/partnered.

And these are highly educated, attractive women who have found some impressive men to settle down with.

I suspect that is how the sexual revolution ends. Not with older women attempting to reform Hugh Grant types by threatening to date amongst themselves rather than with men. But with younger women choosing something else while they can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This is what it all leads to

Eric Besson is the Minister for Immigration and National Identity in France. Recently he declared,

la France n'est ni un peuple, ni une langue, ni un territoire, ni une religion, c'est un conglomérat de peuples qui veulent vivre ensemble. Il n'y a pas de Français de souche, il n'y a qu'une France de métissage

Which translates to:

France is neither a people, nor a language, nor a territory, nor a religion, it is a conglomerate of peoples who want to live together. There is no ethnic Frenchman, there is only a France where the blood is mixed.

So the historic France is erased. There is no French people. There is no French territory. No people or place. France is merely "a conglomerate of peoples who want to live together".

What a loss, what a descent. It is the denial of a real, meaningful, concrete French nation by a minister in the French government.

Again, I'm struck by how cold and grey moderns like Besson are. Nothing of the historic France touches him. He is undisturbed by the prospect of Frenchmen living a rootless existence, disconnected from land or language or culture or tradition.

I can only hope his statement arouses some indignant criticism within France.

Hat tip: Gallia watch

All creatures

I've just returned from a summer beach holiday at Apollo Bay. We're blessed with great beaches here in Australia and Apollo Bay is no exception: the sea was that inviting turquoise colour and swimming in the surf there late in the day was a great invigorating pleasure.

I usually try to do a bit of light reading on these beach holidays. This year I picked up an omnibus edition of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small. I had watched the TV series many years ago and was curious to finally read the book.

I wasn't disappointed. For those who don't know, James Herriot (real name Alf Wight) began his veterinary career in rural Yorkshire in the late 1930s. At a relatively late age, he began to write some semi-autobiographical stories about his experiences. They were first published with great success in the US in the early 1970s.

What's appealing about the stories? James Herriot was obviously highly responsive to nature and he writes with an obvious love of the countryside in the Yorkshire Dales. He also identified with the local population and warmly observed both their virtues and their foibles. The sense of people and place is unusually strong in his stories.

The importance of personal character also comes through, with the quirks of individual character something to be borne largely with good humour. Adversity in life is recognised, but the overall attitude is one of gratitude and appreciation.

All of which sets Herriot outside the trend toward the mass, undifferentiated society. Herriot's world has a real, concrete setting in the Yorkshire Dales.

It also sets Herriot apart from the whole "gnostic" trend, in which the actual, existing world is thought to be a false, oppressive, illusory one that we must seek liberation from. The gnostics can only see tradition as something hateful to be overthrown; Herriot was able to look at it more sympathetically, as the transmission of a particular way of life that gave a distinct character to a local culture he identified with.

Top: the town square in Thirsk where Herriot's veterinary surgery was located

Bottom: St Mary's in Thirsk, a beautiful medieval church where James Herriot was married

Monday, January 11, 2010

A slice of life in diverse Dandenong

The Age newspaper sent two journalists to look for the mean streets of Melbourne. They found two dangerous hot spots to be the railway stations in Footscray and Dandenong.

As Melbourne residents will know, these are arguably the two most diverse, multicultural suburbs in the city (in Footscray 61% of residents were born overseas, in Dandenong the figure rises to 67%).

So what's it like trying to catch a train in Dandenong? According to the report, it's OK as long as you are willing to catch a taxi to the station in order to avoid walking the gauntlet of local youth:

It's 8 o'clock on Thursday evening, the sun hasn't gone down, and the six boys on the overpass know they are scaring people with their kung-fu moves, scowling faces and gangsta bandannas. Aged 16 to 19, of Samoan and Maori extraction, they make a corridor of threat at the station entrance and it's all for fun. When a train arrives, they smile broadly as the commuters hurry past, tight-faced and looking straight ahead.

One of the boys says he's on a court order to stay away from the station because of assaults he's carried out in the past. Another talks of ''so many stabbings'' he's done and now regrets.

A drunk man gets their attention, causes some offence - and all but one of the boys disappear into the station proper. One of them punches the drunk, leaving a red mark on the man's cheek.

Why did they hit the man? One of them laughs: ''He called us out. He's with the Crips.'' But he's making fun of the situation. His friends giggle and jostle - it's all a game.

Suddenly, the drunk calls out something and the boys begin to chant: ''One on one. One on one.''

Soon after, another man, a friend of the drunk, comes halfway along the overpass. He wants to know if the group will accept an apology. ''He wants to say sorry. Can he come out now?''

The boys laugh, make noises. They tell me they won't attack the man if he comes down, but they want to keep him scared.

They say that later in the evening, a Sudanese gang will turn up and take over the scene. ''They're worse than us.''

Down below, the taxi queue shifts along like a factory conveyor belt. Cabbie Sandeep says most of his fares are for trips 100 or 200 metres from the station. ''Because people don't want to walk, even if they only live a couple of streets away.''

There's more to say about stabbings and police and drunken gang brawls, but he has to leave with a customer. When asked for his mobile number, he says, ''Oh, don't worry. I'll be back in a few minutes. I'm never more than five minutes away from here. If anyone has to travel a long distance they take the bus. We make our money from the people who live a walking distance from the station.''

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In Sweden the man alone is guilty

A couple of news items from Sweden.

In the Swedish town of Kalmar three girls ran out of money on their night out. So they came up with a plan to replenish their purses. They would go to a local hotel, offer sex for money, but then run off with the cash. They knocked on one hotel room door, but the man refused them. The next time their offer was accepted. They got the cash, undressed, the man went to the bathroom, they attempted to dress and flee with the money but were too slow. The man demanded his money back before letting them go.

The upshot of all this? The man has been charged with attempting to buy sex. But as there is no law against attempting to sell sex, the women have been let off scot free.

Apart from how tawdry the whole scenario is, what's striking is the legal bias. It was not the man who sought out a prostitute - it was the three women who went knocking on hotel room doors looking for the man. And it was the women who attempted a deception for financial gain, with the man being the targeted victim of the deception. And yet it's the man alone who is considered guilty under Swedish laws.

Is this sex equality Swedish style? Can we really say here that men and women are being treated equally under the law?

The second item concerns the extent of lesbianism in Sweden. An online survey of 900 young Swedes has produced an interesting result. According to the survey, the extent of male homosexuality/bisexuality in Sweden is not so high. Only 3% of the men have ever engaged in any kind of same sex activity (a result which accords with other large-scale surveys from other countries).

But 13% of Swedish women claim to have had same sex experiences. That's way above what previous surveys in other countries have shown.

Of course, the survey itself could be flawed and misleading. But if it's accurate, then it raises the question of why a cutting-edge feminist society would produce a higher rate of lesbianism.

The researchers themselves give a standard liberal answer. Sven-Axel Mansson, a professor of sociology, explained that,

We are seeing a greater openness among young people, particularly among young women. There is an increasing interest in experimenting and pushing boundaries, and a growing resistance to defining oneself as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual ...

Many [women] no longer wish to be tied in to rigid sexual identities, they want to be open and free as people and as sexual beings. That is my interpretation ...

The assumption here is that we should be autonomous, self-determining beings, which means that we should not be limited or restricted by any particular sexuality, but should instead break norms, taboos and impediments and adopt fluid, open sexual identities. That's just orthodox liberal autonomy theory.

But what else could explain a high rate of lesbianism in Sweden? If individuals identify positively with their own sex, they usually go on to have a heterosexual orientation. In Sweden the female sex role has been cast in very negative terms as an oppressive and artificial construct. So perhaps if women can't identify positively with a feminine sex role, it then becomes more difficult to relate in heterosexual terms (after all, heterosexuality is the attraction between the masculine and the feminine).

That's all speculation on my part. I think the issue is worth considering, though, as Sweden is held up as a model of what the future should be like when it comes to relations between the sexes.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The ultimate ends of man

Are liberalism and Marxism diametrically opposed? Or are they related, overlapping forms of modernism?

I think the latter is true, but I have to admit that I need to develop a better understanding of exactly where the similarities and the distinctions lie. So, with this in mind, let me compare two quotes from important thinkers in both traditions.

Here is Friedrich Engels, from his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880):

With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears.

Then, for the first time, man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature, because he has now become master of his own social organization.

The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face-to-face with man as laws of Nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him. Man's own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action.

The extraneous objective forces that have, hitherto, governed history, pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history — only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.

There are two key ideas here. The first concerns the historical process (the means) by which the ultimate ends of man are reached. The second is a description of what these ends are.

How does man reach his ultimate state of perfection? For Engels, the growth of productive forces matters a great deal. It creates a large surplus of goods, which then removes the need for a division of labour. So, instead of resources by necessity being concentrated amongst a small ruling class, they can be shared by everyone in society. It becomes possible to have society as a whole, through the state, control the means of production. This then means that production can be deliberately and rationally planned (Engels writes later that "Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible.")

But does all this matter? For Engels, it matters a great deal. It is the way that we finally start to live a human rather than an animal existence.

For Engels, an animal existence is heteronomous (the state of being beholden to external forces). When man directs the forces of production for deliberate social ends, he gains a power over nature and history, in fact over "extraneous objective forces" and thereby becomes human.

Man will no longer be dominated by laws of nature, no longer have to organise his social existence to meet what external necessity compels, but will become instead the lord of nature.

Let's compare all this to a brief quote from a highly influential liberal thinker, Isaiah Berlin:

I am free because, and in so far as, I am autonomous ... Heteronomy is dependence on outside factors, liability to be a plaything of the external world that I cannot myself fully control.

Berlin was not a Marxist, so he wouldn't have shared the grand Marxist theory of the historical process by which human autonomy was to be achieved. But there's a recognisable overlap when it comes to ultimate ends. Engels aimed for a "kingdom of freedom" in which man is no longer governed by extraneous objective forces, but now dominates and controls nature and his own destiny. Berlin too aims for a freedom in which we are no longer dependent on outside factors, are no longer "playthings of the external world".

Engels conceived of man collectively pursuing these ends, whereas Berlin most likely focused on the individual pursuit of these ends. But it seems difficult to deny that there is an overlap in the ultimate good being chased, namely man no longer being subject to heteronomy but liberated to a condition of autonomous freedom and control. That is the gist of the project being pursued by both the Marxist Engels and the liberal Berlin.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Liberal radicalism in France: fidelity a pathology, yelling a crime

Maryse Vaillant is a prominent French psychologist who has written a book, Men, love, fidelity. She says that the aim of the book is to "rehabilitate infidelity".

Her argument (according to newspaper reports) is that infidelity is essential to the psychic functioning of some men, making infidelity "almost unavoidable". If this were accepted it could be "very liberating" for women.

But her argument goes much further than this, it becomes much more radical. She claims that those men who are faithful might have something wrong with them - that they might be suffering from a pathology, a too rigid concept of duty:

However, in Miss Vaillant's book she insists that fidelity is not, by definition proof of love. In fact, "pathological monogamists" in many cases lack the strength of mind to take a mistress, she claims.

"They are often men whose father was physically or morally absent ... during their childhood. These men have a completely idealised view of their father and the paternal function," she said.

"They lack suppleness and are prisoners to an idealised image of a man of duty."

She has inverted the normal view of fidelity. Now it is the faithful men who are weak for not taking a mistress and immoral for following a principle of duty.

What's going on here? I don't have a chance to read the book, but it does seem as if Madame Vaillant is taking a liberal argument to a more radical conclusion. In the liberal view, the moral thing is to be self-sovereign and to do what we will. Therefore, the aim of reform is to remove impediments to our individual choice.

The older morality becomes one of these impediments. It's too rigid - it states clearly that the aim is to be faithful. This restricts what we can choose for ourselves. It makes us a "prisoner" to our sense of moral duty.

The hero is then the one who breaks through moral taboos (impediments). So it is the adulterer, in Madame Vaillant's eyes, who is the healthy one with the strength of mind to act for his own purposes.

It's true that liberalism also states that our actions must not limit the similar freedom of others. But, according to Madame Vaillant, women can find it liberating to accept that their husbands need to have a mistress. So adultery passes that little qualification.

I won't embark here on a defence of fidelity as an ideal in marriage. My intention has simply been to point out how radical liberalism is when applied consistently to such issues. However, there is one curious flaw in Madame Vaillant's argument that's worth pointing out.

According to her, faithful men suffer a pathology because their fathers were absent during their childhood. So father absence is recognised as a bad thing - a source of pathology. But wouldn't men taking mistresses create more father absence in society? Most men find it hard enough to combine a career and family. What if they have to combine career, family and mistress? Won't they be spending less time with their kids? So wouldn't then adultery (the supposedly good thing) create more father absence (the bad thing, the source of pathology)?

All of which raises another question. Does liberalism at least leave people alone to do their own thing, even if it does so by rejecting or inverting normal moral standards? The answer clearly is no. It does not even achieve this. Far from leaving people alone in their relationships, it is extraordinarily intrusive.

For example, the French government has announced it will introduce a new law which bans 'psychological violence' in relationships. A man might end up with a criminal record if he insults his wife during an argument:

Married couples in France could end up with criminal records for insulting each other during arguments.

Under a new law, France is to become the first country in the world to ban 'psychological violence' within marriage. The law would apply to cohabiting couples and to both men and women.

It would cover men who shout at their wives and women who hurl abuse at their husbands - although it was not clear last night if nagging would be viewed as breaking the law.

The law is expected to cover every kind of insult including repeated rude remarks about a partner's appearance, false allegations of infidelity and threats of physical violence.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said electronic tagging would be used on repeat offenders.

The law makes every adult person in France a criminal. Who hasn't at some time shouted at or insulted a spouse during an argument?

It's possible that the law might catch out some of those men who do systematically bully their wives. But it does so in an incredibly intrusive way, by criminalising behaviours that occur in nearly all relationships, thereby making men in particular dependent on the good will of their wives (and of the magistrates who will judge the cases).

So in liberal France men do not end up getting left alone. There is a sword hanging over their heads in their relationships, courtesy of a state which thinks it best to manage relationships through crime laws.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Schwarzmantel: is Marxism a heresy of liberalism?

There's one final point of interest in John Schwarzmantel's article. Recently we had a discussion about the relation between Marxism and liberalism. It seems to me there are three possible answers:

  • Marxism and liberalism are fundamentally opposed to each other
  • Marxism and liberalism are distinct but related forms of modernism
  • Marxism is a variant of a larger liberal orthodoxy

One of the commenters was firmly committed to the first option. He thought that Marxism stood in opposition to liberalism - which then makes it sound as if Marxism is one of a number of real alternatives to liberalism within modern politics.

At a general level, Schwarzmantel seems to agree. After all, he is a neo-Gramscian Marxist attempting to set up what he calls a "counter-ideology" to the dominant liberalism of today. But it turns out that he views Marxism more in terms of the second and third options.

For instance, he describes Gramsci as believing that,

Marxism was a 'heresy' of liberalism, since both were born on the same terrain of modern civilisation ... For him both liberalism and Marxism were modernist ideologies par excellence ... (p.10)

The idea of Marxism being a heresy of liberalism suggests that liberalism is a parent philosophy from which Marxism is derived. And what is the heresy? Schwarzmantel writes:

To return to Gramsci for a moment, his idea was that Marxism, the 'philosophy of praxis', could provide the effective opposition and transcendence of liberalism. It was, like liberalism, a modernist or progressive philosophy, born on the terrain of modern civilisation. But it could go beyond liberalism ... in that it would appeal to broader strata of the population, it would be the Reformation compared to the 'Renaissance' represented by contemporary liberalism. (p.18)

This doesn't help much as it describes the 'heresy' in terms of political reach rather than in terms of underlying philosophy.

Schwarzmantel himself advocates as his "counter-ideology" to liberal dominance something that seems to very closely resemble left-liberalism. He describes his "counter-ideology" as,

an ideology of the Left. It takes seriously classical values of the Left, equality, solidarity and reciprocity, as well as a desire to restrain or restrict the scope of commodified market relations. (p.19)

I doubt if there are too many left-liberals who would have a problem with such a counter-ideology. It is typical of left-liberals that they reject the right-liberal reliance on the hidden hand of the free market to organise a society of autonomous individuals.

Schwarzmantel is concerned to reject a right-liberal view of freedom as a freedom of consumer choice. He prefers instead the idea of a freedom of self-development. He admits that this too is an idea to be found within liberalism:

The first of these is the theme of self-development, common to both liberalism and Marxism. The dominant ideology of contemporary society holds out a view of freedom as the freedom to choose; this, indeed, is the title of a popular book by M. Friedman, Free to Choose.

Both liberalism and Marxism (and here I think is common ground between them) have a more developmental view of freedom, as the freedom to develop human potential. I would argue that in both perspectives this capacity for self-development is not tied to market relations. Indeed, market relations with their instrumental perspective are seen as at best necessary but subordinate, or at worst quite inimical, to the development of human potential. (p.14)

And what of this self-development that is not tied to market relations? What does is consist of? Schwarzmantel advocates ideals of political and economic citizenship. The economic citizenship runs as follows:

all would have an obligation to work and to contribute ... a more egalitarian society in which work presented 'a site of intrinsically valuable challenge' would be able legitimately to call on citizens to make whatever contribution was in accordance with their ability. (pp. 16-17)

In other words, careerism! We are to self-develop through careers. This is what liberalism nearly always recommends, because it fits with the idea of a self-creating, self-determining individual. We get to choose our individual career pathway, in contrast to our nation, our ethny, our religion, our culture and so on. So for liberals, career is nearly always put at the centre of life meaning.

So not only is Schwarzmantel not establishing much of a "counter-ideology" to liberalism here, he is also still tying human potential to economic purposes - to the market - the very thing he set himself against.

As for political citizenship, Schwarzmantel himself doubts that "shared citizenship rights" are likely to have enough emotional appeal to motivate a commitment to society:

... the issue is whether a concept of shared civic rights is rooted firmly enough in an affective base which is needed in order to give citizens the incentive or emotional stimulus to internalise and make their own ideas of shared political community. (p.17)

So I can't see how Schwarzmantel's political and economic citizenship is likely to extend the development of human potential. Nor can I see how it's likely to trouble the role of the market. Nor how it runs "counter" to liberalism in any significant way.

Schwarzmantel has produced another left-liberal ideology and not a counter-ideology to a dominant liberalism.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Schwarzmantel: what use is the nation for the left?

In my last post I looked at a paper by John Schwarzmantel, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Leeds. Writing as a neo-Gramscian Marxist, he believes that liberalism is so dominant that it has narrowed the range of political options, leading to a loss of interest in political involvement. So he has set himself the task of creating a counter-ideology:

My argument is that there is a need for ideological contestation, which is not met in the conditions of contemporary politics, where liberalism has cornered the ideological market. (p.10)

According to Schwarzmantel, this counter-ideology has to be popular, forward-looking and inspire emotionally. Only in this way can it hope to be a mass movement.

And here Schwarzmantel hits an interesting problem. Gramsci himself suggested that Marxists should aim at a "national-popular" movement; the idea being to use national symbols and traditions to inspire an emotional commitment:

So for Gramsci Marxism could meet these criteria for being the new counter-ideology ... It was ... national-popular in that it tried to inspire people with symbols and emotions rooted in popular culture and national traditions.

Notice, though, that nationalism is to be used to mobilise people to support the ultimate aim of internationalism:

... the concept of the national-popular is also problematic, especially in a country like Britain where many of the national traditions have connotations which are redolent of an imperialist past, rather than a democratic and international future. (p.13)

I don't think this admission will shock too many readers; it's been clear for many years that Australian politicians are willing to invoke a sense of national identity at times to garner support, whilst continuing to undermine the same national tradition.

Schwarzmantel recognises another problem in invoking nationalism to mobilise support for a democratic and internationalist mass movement. Modern Western countries have become more multicultural, so the sense of national unity is not as strong as it once was:

... a counter-ideology must possess the emotional resonance needed to inspire the mass basis needed in the conditions of modern politics. Gramsci saw that emerging at least in part from the national-popular dimension, but that may be a weaker base in times when the solidarity and unity of the nation have been reduced by a much more multi-cultural and heterogeneous population. (p.18)

How then can our neo-Gramscians emotionally inspire a mass movement? Schwarzmantel turns to the idea of a civic nationalism:

In order for an ideology to be popular, the mixture of nationalism is certainly effective. Hence, one could argue, the fact that a whole range of ideologies of the past ... have linked up with nationalism to give them greater pulling power ... I would suggest that the concept of the national-popular may be dated and not much help in forging an ideology of progressive politics suitable for our time.

Nationalism can certainly be separated from its ethnic an exclusive connotations by giving emphasis to a civic form of the ideology. Such civic nationalism would appeal to all those living on the same national territory, irrespective of ethnic origin, cultural or religious identity and belief, and would find its affective element in symbols of civic unity and shared political rights.

An ideology of shared citizenship rights, open to all, is the basis for a new ideology which opposes or seeks to contain the fragmenting and dissolving tendencies of the market. (p.16)

Several things strike me on reading this. First, Schwarzmantel sounds like an orthodox liberal himself here. Is there much of a difference here between Schwarzmantel the neo-Gramscian Marxist and your ordinary left-liberal? Both focus on civic nationalism and a criticism of the market.

Second, the argument doesn't work well. Schwarzmantel has already admitted that the "national-popular" is less effective in a multicultural and heterogeneous population. A civic nationalism, in which there is no regard for a shared ethnicity, will only serve to make a population more multicultural and heterogeneous.

Schwarzmantel chooses to blame the market for social fragmentation, but it's his solution, civic nationalism, which has done just as much or more to fragment and dissolve.

Third, it's questionable that shared citizenship would really inspire people as the older nationalism once did. Schwarzmantel himself is aware of this problem. He doesn't think that ideas of political or economic citizenship, shorn of national identity, will be quite enough to motivate people. Some sense of a shared membership in a "historically based community" are still necessary:

It seems to me that the strength of the national-popular is that it calls up two ideas, those of solidarity, which is in turn based on a shared history, an evolved tradition. Can the combined idea of political and economic citizenship aspire to the same emotional resonances which could be conjured up by the idea of the nation?

... Here the issue is whether a concept of shared civic rights is rooted firmly enough in an affective base which is needed in order to give citizens the incentive or emotional stimulus to internalise and make their own ideas of shared political community. My own view is that the idea of the 'civic minimum' and joint political/economic citizenship ... does need to be rooted in a historically based community. The idea of the nation has a role to play, but it takes second place to one of reciprocity and citizenship. (p.17)

So membership of a "historically based community" is still necessary to further certain political ends, but is secondary to citizenship rights.

You can see from the above why those committed to political modernism haven't entirely ditched nations and national identity. It's not that they think such things are important in themselves. They are aware, though, that the future they are planning for us, of citizenship within a state rather than membership of a nation or ethny, does not have the same power to inspire or motivate our commitments to society.