Let me give just one example. Back in 1927 the powers that be made the decision to appoint John Anderson as the professor of philosophy at Sydney University.
Anderson began as a fellow traveller of the Communist Party, but when he realised the nature of the regime in Russia he became a Trotskyist. But during the 1930s he moved away from Marxism altogether in favour of a left-libertarianism (i.e. he combined anti-statism with anti-capitalism).
Anderson's was a pessimistic form of leftism:
In one talk he canvassed the 'fallacy of optimism' and criticised notions of 'good' and 'progress'. Optimistic theories are based on the view that the ultimate nature of reality is good, he argued, or that good is more real than evil: 'But reality as such can be neither good nor bad.' (Christine Wallace, Greer: Untamed Shrew, p. 74)
In Anderson's universe there were no transcendent values and therefore nothing that was in itself either good or bad:
As a committed empiricist, Anderson argued that there is only one realm of "being" and it can be best understood through science and naturalistic philosophy. He asserted that there is no supernatural god and that there are no non-natural realms along the lines of Platonic ideals. He rejected all notions that knowledge could be obtained by means other than descriptions of facts and any belief that revelation or mysticism could be sources for obtaining truth. He was arguing that traditional Christian concepts of good and evil were only meant for slaves and that, in actuality, the idea of morality was empty.
So if morality is empty and a restriction on our freedom, then what is the non-servile intellectual to do? This is the "solution" Anderson arrived at:
For Anderson, the term "good" was valid when applied objectively to human activities which were free, critical and creative but the more common subjective applications were to be avoided or exposed as deceptive. Not surprisingly, Anderson's influence was both extensive and controversial as he constantly examined and fearlessly criticized hallowed beliefs and institutions.
This is a typical modernism. Anderson has rejected the idea of an inherent good and replaced it with a good that we make for ourselves through an assertion of our "free, critical and creative" self. This requires the individual to reject forms of authority external to itself:
With Anderson, every icon was to be smashed - God, immortality, free will, moralism, the common good of society, the lot ...
For Anderson, there was no point in trying to create an alternative icon - instead, the ideal was to be in permanent opposition, as it was through struggle that the non-servile self was expressed:
Andersonians argued that there was no such thing as a general 'good', that the state was always a malign force and that reform was, in any case, always doomed to fail.
In his 1943 journal article 'The Servile State', Anderson laid down his core views on reform and the state. Meliorism ignores the permanence of struggle, he wrote: 'The scientific student of society, then, will not be concerned with reform. What he will be concerned with is opposition - what he will be above all concerned to reject is "social unity". " (Wallace, p.78).
Finally, Anderson viewed sexual morality in particular as a form of repressive authority:
In a journal article in 1941, Anderson argued that sexual repression had a central place in any repressive system, and that 'freedom in love is the condition of other freedoms, that while in itself it does not constitute culture, there can be no culture without it.'
In short, Anderson believed that culture was dependent on promiscuity.
These journal articles were being published in Australia in the early 1940s - one of the key periods of intellectual and political decline in our country.
Why bother with Anderson? It so happens that he was one of the more influential of Australian academics:
He is, arguably, the most important philosopher who has worked in Australia. Certainly he was the most important in both the breadth and depth of influence.
Anderson was the leading figure in the Freethought Society at Sydney University and out of this group came the Libertarian Society. It was this libertarian group that gave rise to the Sydney Push - a group of intellectuals in the 1950s and 60s who were determined to live a libertarian/anarchist, Andersonian lifestyle:
the libertarians at the Push's heart had their own special put-downs, 'authoritarian', 'neurotic' and 'illogical' being the worst insults. Positions or behaviour which did not meet expectations were condemned for 'inconsistency' - at least as loaded an epithet as 'servility'.
In terms of relationships, the Push followed the ideas of both Anderson and Wilhelm Reich. Reich was a psychiatrist who believed that sexual repression was responsible for neuroticism and political authoritarianism. Therefore, the Push believed that sexual "freedom" (i.e. being uninhibited) was the primary freedom on which other freedoms turned. What mattered then was proving that you could engage in sexual relations without any associated moral feelings.
This was the life outlook that Germaine Greer walked into as a young woman. She fell in love with a leader of the Push called Roelof Smilde, but it didn't work out in the end because Push culture didn't exactly encourage emotional connection:
Emotional denial was a key element of Push culture ... The explicit repression of jealousy, though imperfectly achieved, was essential to Push promiscuity. No emotion was allowed, no sign of shock, disappointment or distress permitted when one's lover sallied forth with another.
You have to wonder what might have happened if Germaine Greer had been in a milieu in which she had been better able to find love with a man.
The Push helped to bring about the 1960s counterculture. Members of the Push such as Greer and Richard Neville shifted to England and became leading figures in the political scene there.
So, if you want to know the origins of the 60s counterculture you have to go back to the libertarians of the Push in the 1950s, which itself had its origins in the philosophy of David Anderson as fully developed by the early 1940s, which itself developed from a rejection of his earlier Marxism held in the 1930s.
How is a society or a tradition supposed to survive such an intellectual climate? Should we really be surprised if things didn't ultimately hold together so well?
It matters what the political class of a society believes. Western society has not been served well by its intellectual classes. It's something that we have to try to turn around and get right.