Monday, July 11, 2011

John Anderson & the Sydney Push


John Anderson
When you look at the intellectual movements of the twentieth century you lose any sense of surprise that the West has entered a period of decline. The marvel is that the West hasn't sunk more quickly.

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.

25 comments:

  1. I only heard of the Sydney Push because it was in some young adult romance novel.

    So he believed morality doesn't exist? Even when it has for centuries.

    Oh and yes in that romance novel the main character couldn't understand when her friends were trying to warn her of the non-monogamy in the push.

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  2. 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.

    I am curious why you think so. What else is there to indicate this besides the grumblings of this obscure academic?

    I found myself amazed that at a time of profound world turmoil (1941-1943) this guy could be interested in (and writing about) such complete twaddle.

    I also found it interesting that David Stove was one of Anderson's students.

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  3. I am curious why you think so. What else is there to indicate this besides the grumblings of this obscure academic?

    a) Anderson was not an obscure academic. He had a passionate following which was to define the nature of Sydney's political class for decades to come.

    b) It was at this time that the commitment of the Australian intelligentsia to Marxism reached its peak. This was significant as not everybody on the left had been internationalists before this time. There had previously existed a left wing nationalism which helped to balance the open borders attitudes of the commercial classes.

    I don't have the figures to hand, but it was in the 1940s that the Marxists came to be very heavily represented in the arts, the media, the unions and the newspapers.

    c) Even in the late 1930s, there was still a commitment to traditional Australia amongst at least some of the governing elite. But in cabinet meetings in the early 40s, during the war, it was decided to go with an American style melting pot. The logic was "the Americans seem to be doing OK with it, we're turning from the UK to the US, we'll follow the US model".

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  4. Today's intellectual twaddle can indeed become tomorrow's unexamined assumptions which guide thinking and policy without challenge.

    We're "living the dream" in that respect with Marxism. Even much conservative thought is bound up in Marxist patterns of thought, and it didn't seem as if John Anderson fell far from the Marxist tree, either.

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  5. Anon,

    Here, for instance, are some indicators of what was happening in the media at the time:

    "Charles Baumgartner ... who in the early forties was assistant editor of the Melbourne Herald, confessed himself impotent to preserve any kind of objectivity or balance in a daily newspaper which, in left-wing mythology, was supposed to be the citadel of Australian capitalism."

    One of the Communist Party journalists working for the Herald, Rupert Lockwood, wrote:

    "about 1942 or 1943, there were 48 journalists in the Communist Party who worked on daily newspapers, not counting those who worked on the smaller papers. This showed that the party had very, very considerable influence."

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  6. It was Anderson's belief (well documented by Brian Kennedy's predominantly sycophantic 1995 biography of him) that he had a kind of droit de seigneur over female students. Why is one not surprised at such predations?

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  7. I found myself amazed that at a time of profound world turmoil (1941-1943) this guy could be interested in (and writing about) such complete twaddle.

    It is because so many intellectuals in the West were writing such twaddle that the world was in such turmoil.

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  8. ""Western society has not been served well by its intellectual classes.""

    Yeeessss.....

    ""It is because so many intellectuals in the West were writing such twaddle that the world was in such turmoil.""

    Yes.

    ""I don't have the figures to hand, but it was in the 1940s that the Marxists came to be very heavily represented in the arts, the media, the unions and the newspapers.""

    Oh ya.

    The Coal miners strike after the war was a sign of Marxism's high point in Australia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1949_Australian_coal_strike

    A union of 23,000 workers in a nationally vital industry had their union taken over by the Communist party. The party called them out on strike to try and start a "class war".

    The ALP PM of the time Ben Chifley split the country in two when he sent in the army.

    Then of course there was the ALP-DLP split in the 50's, the Aussie leftist elites will never, ever forgive Catholics for stopping them from running over the Communist cliff.

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  9. James says, correctly:

    "the Aussie leftist elites will never, ever forgive Catholics for stopping them from running over the Communist cliff."

    But even if the split had never happened in the 1950s, the destruction of genuine Catholics would still have been the main goal of Australian leftists. They had (and have) proclaimed this fact ever since 1936, with their masturbatory enthusiasm over the Spanish Red regime, in which enthusiasm they were joined by the entire Whig-Masonic-pagan Australian chattering class, which "maintains the rage" on this issue 75 years on.

    At least if Anderson were still alive and maintaining his Stalinist-style dictatorship over hearts and minds, he could probably be prosecuted under anti-cult legislation, as well as under anti-sexual-abuse legislation.

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  10. Another fan of Anderson the sex-mad nihilist: Keith Windschuttle.

    http://sydneyline.com/About.htm

    Really makes you want to subscribe to Quadrant, doesn't it?

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  11. I see no value at all in boycotting Quadrant which, despite its 'conservative mainstream' atmosphere, has nevertheless been good enough to published the work of race realist Frank Salter, the no-holds-barred analysis of John Stone, and even the work of local paleoconservative sympathisers.

    We largely fail because we keep to such 'pure' company that we condemn ourselves to the parochial fringe. It's a kind of reverse political correctness. Traditionalists should evangelise, like those linked above have been doing. Windschuttle has certainly had his less flattering moments, but to throw the baby out with the bathwater is just plain dumb.

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  12. I am unaware, Kilroy, that Mr Richardson, I myself, or anyone making comments at this website has ever advocated a boycott of Quadrant. Nor, having fought (to the best of my limited skill) against communist totalitarianism ever since my teens, do I regard myself as needing instruction from you or any other pseudonymous carper concerning overall intellectual strategy.

    Yes, it's good that Quadrant has published one or two race realists like Frank Salter (of course American and European e-zines and treezines were publishing Salter well over a decade back, but let that pass). Whether this is enough to justify (a) vast amount of taxpayers' money propping up the Windschuttle pension fund, (b) Windschuttle's hubristic trashing of the entire Q brand through having been hoaxed in early 2009 by the scientific equivalent of 'Ern Malley', or (c) the obviously more or less total failure of KW and co to think outside the ideological box defined by John Howard and Christopher Hitchens, I leave to others to judge.

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  13. he had a kind of droit de seigneur over female students.

    Again, I find it interesting how these things develop politically.

    Peter Coleman has written of Anderson:

    "he was now even more influenced by his attachment to Ruth Walker, his former student whom he had appointed to his staff. His love poems and letters acknowledge her role in the revival of his intellectual energies. He now saw sexual freedom as a condition of political freedom and culture, and repression or chastity as linked with political servility.

    "In October 1940, he presented a paper to a few friends and Colleagues in which he analysed sexual slang to show up the brutal/sentimental idea of sexuality, especially the subordination of women and the macho obsession with potency. He then outlined his new theory of free and equal psycho-sexual love and expression in what he called comic copulation—the comedy of lovers exposing the illusions of phallocentric potency."


    So he wants to leave his wife and take up with a former student and this makes the idea of free love uppermost in his mind which then leads him in 1940 to an ideal of "comic copulation".

    Forward to 1969 and to this cover of Richard Neville's Oz Magazine, featuring Germaine Greer. It seems to be Anderson's theory of comic copulation put into practice - "the comedy of lovers exposing the illusions of phallocentric potency."

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  14. An ancedote on page 282 of James Franklin's treatise about Australian philosophy - Corrupting the Youth - is surely germane to this discussion. In 1958 Anderson, on being confronted with the regrettable fact that he was about to reach the age of 65 and therefore had to retire from his professorship (there was, of course, no suggestion that he should be asked to retire from his bed-hopping), specifically attempted to perpetuate his dynasty by having his own son given a teaching fellowship in the department.

    I note as an aside that even Pope Alexander VI (surely Anderson's closest ecclesiastical analogue, along with the late Fr Maciel, in terms of everlasting rut) failed to achieve his own alleged dream of instituting a hereditary monarchy in the shape of his son. But at least Cesare Borgia possessed recognised gifts, whereas Anderson junior, according to Dr Franklin, had "few talents other than a fine baritone voice". The university administration, in a rare display of moral courage, basically told the outgoing professor to go and put his head in a bag.

    Stalinism, Trotskyism, nepotism, and adultery: most of Australia's intellectualoids are content with adopting merely one or two of these rackets. It was left to Anderson senior - at times in turn, at times concurrently - to uphold all four. Indeed, we have in Anderson senior the perfect role model for what is charitably known as modern Australian intellectual life.

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  15. Reeves wrote: "Really makes you want to subscribe to Quadrant, doesn't it?"

    Reeves then wrote: "I am unaware, Kilroy, that Mr Richardson, I myself, or anyone making comments at this website has ever advocated a boycott of Quadrant."

    Firstly, I was writing in reference to you, not Mark or anyone else contributing to OzConservative. Secondly, in light of you're earlier smartass comment, my assumption was not unreasonable.

    Reeves: "Nor, having fought (to the best of my limited skill) against communist totalitarianism ever since my teens, do I regard myself as needing instruction from you or any other pseudonymous carper concerning overall intellectual strategy."

    Being on the receiving end of such a comment, I wonder whether Reeves felt so incensed by my advise because he "fought against communist totalitarianism" in a Communist totalitarian country, as I did, and was therefore taken aback by my forwardness. Or is he just another pompous, self-righteous armchair rightist who responds to dispassionate criticism, as mine was, with juvenile name calling ("pseudonymous carper"; n.b Kilroy is the name I was given at birth).

    I believe the latter is the case. I would advise he remedy this defect by growing some respect. I doubt, however, that he is likely to follow the suggestion.

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  16. "Western society has not been served well by its intellectual classes."

    The more I think about this, the more I think you are right.

    Those who assert un-muted and cold forms of individualism, and who scour away healthy collectivism, with its natural emotional ties and primitive but necessary taboos and standards, create a gap into which false, destructive forms of collectivism rush in.

    Not many people can stand for long to have no sense of community. And that is fine. But this means that when bad intellectuals drive authentic forms of community out of the temples of intellectual respectability, they as good as usher in corruption and tyranny. There are too many people who must have a strong sense of "us" for the force of that hunger to be resisted for long, and most people can't create new intellectual packages of community, much less validate them. They must pick from what's available, even if what's available is dreadfully bogus, like Marxism or Multiculturalism.

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  17. Hey Kilroy,

    I actually quite like the insult:

    "pseudonymous carper"

    Has a nice ring to it.

    Think I may try to slip it into casual conversation.

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  18. When you look at the intellectual movements of the twentieth century you lose any sense of surprise that the West has entered a period of decline. The marvel is that the West hasn't sunk more quickly.

    Indeed.

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  19. All of these problems with modern western philosophy stem from its rejection of realism. But just in the nick of time, perhaps, realism has made a comeback, although it is painfully slow to dislodge the post-moderns who have taken over every department in universities. We will probably have to wait for them to all die before things can get better.

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  20. in cabinet meetings in the early 40s, during the war, it was decided to go with an American style melting pot.

    The term "melting pot" in its modern meaning was thrust into prominence by British-Jew Israel Zangwill, via his play The Melting Pot. So you can't pin this one on the Americans.

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  21. James,

    I agree, the term did make me chuckle a bit too. Perhaps Reeves has sired a meme.

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  22. ""Western society has not been served well by its intellectual classes."

    Western society has been destroyed by its intellectual classes.

    There, fixed it for you.

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  23. Another fan of Anderson the sex-mad nihilist: Keith Windschuttle

    At least Windschuttle has opposed the disgraceful Leftist effort to write Australian history as a program of white genocide against the poor, innocent Abos.

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  24. ""At least Windschuttle has opposed the disgraceful Leftist effort to write Australian history as a program of white genocide against the poor, innocent Abos.""

    Damn right, i don't care if he is a sexed crazed whatever... he is on the side of the angels as far as i am concerned.

    Even if he is a terrible writer.

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  25. I apologise, Kilroy, for assuming that your name was a pseudonym (though I think that my assumption was widely shared).

    As for my other comments, I stand by those. (Incidentally, my expression of alarm at KW's apparent reverence towards Anderson was not an attempt at judgement on KW's private life, of which I know nothing. I merely judge his actions which are on the public record.)

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