Monday, April 16, 2018

Melbourne Britfest 2018

Melbourne Britfest, 2018, is on this Saturday 24th, 10.00am to 4.00pm at the Moonee Ponds Bowling Club. Celebration of British heritage and culture. Free entry.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sir Henry Parkes

Still reading Judith Brett's biography of Alfred Deakin. On p.160 there is a description by Deakin of another of the founding fathers of Australian Federation, Sir Henry Parkes. It's worth quoting, I think, because it shows how keenly a man's character was assessed at the time (late 1800s/early 1900s):
First and foremost of course in every eye was the commanding figure of Sir Henry Parkes...His studied attitudes expressed either distinguished humility or imperious command. His manner was invariably dignified, his speech slow, and his pronunciation precise...He had always in his mind's eye his own portrait of a great man, and constantly adjusted himself to it...Movements, gestures, inflexions, attitude harmonized, not simply because they were intentionally adopted but because there was in him the substance of the man he dressed himself to appear...

It was not a rich nor a versatile personality, but it was massive, durable and imposing, resting upon elementary qualities of human nature elevated by a strong mind. He was cast in the mould of a great man and though he suffered from numerous pettinesses, spites and failings, he was in himself a full-blooded, large-brained, self-educated Titan whose natural field was found in Parliament and whose resources of character and intellect enabled him in his later years to overshadow all his contemporaries.

In 1890, Parkes represented NSW at a Federation Conference held in Melbourne's Queen's Hall. He pushed the case for federation by reminding his audience of what the colonies shared:
The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all. Even the native born Australians are Britons, as much as the men born in the cities of London and Glasgow. We know the value of their British origin. We know that we represent a race...for the purposes of settling new colonies, which never had its equal on the face of the earth. We know, too, that conquering wild territory, and planting civilised communities therein, is a far nobler, a far more immortalizing achievement than conquest by feats of arms. (p.161)

Parkes was politically a liberal. At this time, the logic of liberalism had not yet unfolded to the point at which Anglo Australians thought it wrong to uphold their own existence as a distinct people (their own ethnic existence). For Parkes, at least, this belief in preserving his own nation was not because of feelings of supremacy. He supported restrictions on Chinese immigration, for instance, on the following basis:
They are a superior set of people . . . a nation of an old and deep-rooted civilization. . . . It is because I believe the Chinese to be a powerful race capable of taking a great hold upon the country, and because I want to preserve the type of my own nation . . . that I am and always have been opposed to the influx of Chinese.

This outlook was to hold until the middle of the twentieth century in Australia, before giving way to the situation familiar to our own time, in which both left and right liberals came to support a civic nationalism and then a multiculturalism. It is not a development that the Fathers of Federation would have supported.

Sir Henry Parkes statue in Parkes, NSW

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Deakin's courtship

With the failure of many marriages today, there is some interest in how the culture of marriage was different in earlier times. So I thought some readers might be curious to know how Alfred Deakin's courtship took place back in the 1880s in colonial Melbourne.

Deakin met his future wife, Pattie, when she was only 11. She was the daughter of a wealthy brewer; he was her teacher at a kind of spiritualist Sunday school. Deakin was a frequent guest at Pattie's home due to her father's involvement in the spiritualist movement.

In 1881, when Pattie was 18, Deakin asked her father for permission to marry her. He only gave him qualified approval, asking that the relationship be tested further. Pattie's family were disappointed with Deakin's low social status and wealth (he was the son of a clerk) - they were not to know that Deakin would be appointed a government minister just two years later in 1883. Pattie was strong-willed and did not follow her parents' advice to break the relationship.

Deakin was writing personal letters to Pattie at this time. They reveal that he wanted her to cultivate herself, so that she would be "well spoken, refined and cultured" and therefore "a woman worthy of any man's affection".

Deakin was given permission to walk out together with Pattie unchaperoned, and he spoke to her about his favourite writers, such as Ruskin, Tennyson and Emerson.

Pattie's parents did all that they could to prevent the marriage, and because Pattie defied them there was no dowry when she did finally marry Deakin. The suggestion in Judith Brett's biography of Deakin is that both were virgins on their wedding night.

What can we make of all this? The following spring to mind:

1. Marriages were not arranged and women did have the final say in who they married. However, asking the father for permission was more than a formality. Parents could put pressure on their daughters to change their minds and they could refuse a dowry if they opposed a marriage.

2. Deakin's courtship reinforces my existing impression that parents were often most interested in maintaining the class status of their daughters. This meant that there was pressure on young men to achieve a certain level of class wealth and status before marriage. For some men, this meant having to wait many years before they were in a position to marry (not necessarily a good thing).

3. There was not a culture of "dating" as we understand it today. Deakin was only left unchaperoned in Pattie's company once his serious intentions to marry her were clear.

4. The relationship dynamic was alpha rather than beta. Deakin expected Pattie to qualify herself to him, by cultivating herself, rather than the other way round. This is hardly surprising given the difference of age and experience (Pattie was only 18, Deakin was mid-20s and soon to be a government minister).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Deakin & higher unities

In my last post I discussed how left liberalism had emerged in Australia by the 1870s, with the proprietor of the Age newspaper, David Syme, being its chief advocate.

Syme won over a young journalist and future PM, Alfred Deakin, to the cause of the left.

The shift from the market to the state was put in reasonable terms by Syme:
Self-interest and individualism have their place, but need to be balanced by the interests of society as a whole, for which the state is the appropriate agent.

However, Melbournians will be aware that the left-liberalism advocated by the Age has had a disastrous effect. So the question, then, is what went wrong with Syme's intention to use the state to "balance the interests of society as a whole"? Why did Syme's left-liberalism end up having a dissolving effect on society rather than a balancing one?

A reader made the following observation in the comments:
The conceptualizing of liberals tends to go in a straight line from the individual to the universal or universal state. Ignored or rejected is the importance of family, church, ethnic heritage, local and national sense of place, even professional and sporting organizations.

That does seem to fit in with some of Deakin's ideas from the 1870s. Deakin, in drawing out the differences between conservatism and liberalism, said of liberal policies that:
All such provisions point to larger and more effective Unions within the realm and then beyond it. (p.64)

Judith Brett, the writer of the biography of Deakin I am reading, comments that Deakin saw "liberalism as the agent of humanity's evolution toward higher unities".

So, on the one hand, Deakin did not just see the individual - he also saw "more effective Unions" and an evolution toward higher unities.

On the other hand, Deakin saw these unions as existing "within the realm and then beyond it" - the push seems to be, as my reader comments, towards the universal or universal state. (And note that Deakin was encouraging people in the 1870s to be "actuated by proudly loyal devotion to the State", p.68.)

So in Deakin's case there appears to have been a shift from the highly individualistic world view of the right-liberals, toward a higher unity involving individuals subject to a universal state.

Why the universalism? One possible answer is that it is another expression of the humanistic tradition. Deakin in the 1870s was not an orthodox Christian but a spiritualist. Humanism tends to arise when the focus of life shifts from a worship of God, and an acceptance of God's will in human affairs, toward the placing of hope and meaning in the progress of humanity toward some ideal end. The cause becomes "humanity" conceived in abstract terms, and allegiance therefore shifts away from "parochial" loyalties towards family, region, nation etc.

The other possibility is that it is an expression of the liberal belief in a progress toward equality. Lawrence Auster explained this once in a thread at View from the Right.
On the right, traditional conservatives believe in “larger wholes”—the realities of nature, society, and God—of race, culture, and religion—that make us what we are. They believe in natural and spiritual hierarchies that are implied in these larger wholes. Inequality is built into existence. Of course there are various kinds of traditional conservatism, each of them placing particular emphasis on certain aspects of the natural, social, and transcendent orders, while downplaying or ignoring others.

In the middle, traditional liberals (right-liberals) believe in individualism: all individuals have equal rights, the individual is free to create himself, he is not determined by the larger wholes into which he was born. We should just see people, all members of the human race, as individuals deserving of equal dignity.

On the left, socialists and Communists, like traditional conservatives, believe in larger wholes, but the wholes they believe in are seen in terms of equality: the whole of society—equal; the whole of the human race—equal. They believe that man has the ability to engineer this larger, equal whole into existence, wiping out the unequal, inherited orders of class, sex, nation, race, religion, morality, and thus creating a New Humanity. Only the largest whole—humankind—is good, because only at the level of all humanity can there be true equality and fraternity uniting all people.

So, both the traditionalist conservatives on one side and the leftists on the other believe in larger wholes and reject the pure individualism of liberalism. But beyond that, the right and the left are radically at odds, since the left seeks to destroy the natural and traditional wholes that the right believes in.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Why did Deakin go left?

I'm reading a biography of Alfred Deakin, who served as Australian Prime Minister in the very early 1900s, written by Judith Brett.

Chapter 5 is especially interesting as it provides some of the details of how a young Deakin became a liberal. In part, he came to identify as a liberal because of the influence of the leading liberal intellectuals of the time. He described himself (in 1878) as being "saturated with the doctrines of Spencer, Mill, Buckle".

But what did it mean to be a liberal in the colony of Victoria in the 1870s? The distinction between right liberals and left liberals had already emerged. The right side of politics championed free trade and laissez-faire liberalism and found support in the professional classes, the squatters (large landholders), the Argus newspaper, and the large merchants. The left side of politics denounced their opponents as "Conservatives and obstructionists, no matter how much the free-traders might protest that they were the true Liberals" (p.55).

The left saw itself as the progressive liberal movement and gained its support from the working-classes and the Age newspaper. It supported popular democracy, land reform, economic protection and "an active state to develop the colony's potential".

The story of the Age newspaper is highly relevant here. It was founded in 1856 and by the 1870s, under David Syme, had become the most widely read Australian newspaper. Syme played a key role in challenging the dominance of classical liberalism:
Syme also rejected classical-liberal economics' methodological assumption of an economic man motivated only by self-interest. Showing the influence of German idealism on his thinking, Syme argued that this was an untenable abstraction which excluded morality and the sense of duty. Nor, he argued, can it be assumed that the operations of self-interest are generally beneficial as postulated in Adam Smith's ideal market. Self-interest and individualism have their place, but need to be balanced by the interests of society as a whole, for which the state is the appropriate agent. Syme was happy to accept the description of his position as "in the direction of State Socialism" (p. 57).

We learn further that:
Deakin was already predisposed to such arguments from Carlyle's rejection of the dismal science of economics, with its mechanical operations of supply and demand leaving no room for the operations of the spirit...For Syme the arguments over trade were about far more than economics, and his arguments for protection connected it to other aspects of Deakin's emerging political outlook: his optimistic faith in the state as an agent of a harmonised and progressive common interest and his confident identification with the colonial point of view.

The political divide was therefore the dreary one that we are familiar with today. The right was made up of classical liberals who believed in the free market but who were called conservatives. The left saw themselves as progressive liberals and thought that the state could represent a "progressive common interest".

It's easy to sympathise with Syme's criticism of classical liberalism. The view that we are economic men motivated by individualistic self-interest is not exactly an elevated or inspiring ideal. It has to be said, too, that liberals like Deakin did try to use the state to promote a "common interest" at the time of Australia becoming a federated nation in the early 1900s. For instance, there was a policy to keep working-class living standards high through economic protection and immigration restrictions, and an arbitration system was devised to avoid the class conflicts of earlier decades.

But it fell apart. Neither the Australian state, nor the Age newspaper has promoted a genuine national interest for many decades. The focus on the state as "an agent of a harmonised and progressive common interest" didn't work in the longer term.

What went wrong with the new liberalism (the left-liberalism) that Deakin was converted to? I can't discuss this in detail but the following points are worth considering:

1. Syme was correct to want the interests of society as a whole to be considered rather than just individual self-interest. But there are problems in seeing the state as the agency responsible for regulating society. Patrick Deneen has a whole chapter in his book Why Liberalism failed outlining the ways in which individualism and statism are mutually reinforcing rather than alternatives.

2. The general liberal understanding of liberty and equality (and progress and reason), held by both sides of politics, has an inner logic that came to disallow the forms of identity, the loyalties and the social commitments which hold together a common life within society. Therefore, over time left-liberalism was just as dissolving of society as was classical liberalism.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Deneen: creating the res idiotica

Here is Patrick Deneen on why the education system no longer aims to connect students to the Western canon:
Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical). In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps. Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.

The intention is to fit students into a certain technology - a "rational" system based on the logic of the market, in which it makes sense to strip individuals of attributes and loyalties that have no relevance to their function within the system.

I see this all the time as a school teacher. When I go to a professional development day, the message is usually that:

1. The job of teachers is to fit students to the workplace.
2. The workplace requires students to be flexible learners.
3. Therefore, content does not matter at all, only certain learning skills (e.g. ability to work in a team).

It's not that this is entirely false. It's true that students should be prepared for future careers and that learning skills are an aspect of this. But Deneen is surely correct that it is wrong to treat students as if they were placeless, history-less. deracinated individuals, without an inheritance of culture and knowledge to help cultivate and elevate their minds and to connect them more deeply to their own tradition and identity.

Personally, if I were the education czar I would want education to be an immersion in the best of Western culture, history and learning, so that students would feel anchored within their own tradition and inspired to a love of knowledge and the arts (with the caveat that some students are going to be more suited for this than others).

Deneen has a similar critique of liberal modernity to my own. He sees the problems that arise when liberty, understood to mean individual autonomy, is made the overriding good in society:
My students are the fruits of a longstanding project to liberate all humans from the accidents of birth and circumstance, to make a self-making humanity. Understanding liberty to be the absence of constraint, forms of cultural inheritance and concomitant gratitude were attacked as so many arbitrary limits on personal choice, and hence, matters of contingency that required systematic disassembly. Believing that the source of political and social division and war was residual commitment to religion and culture, widespread efforts were undertaken to eliminate such devotions in preference to a universalized embrace of toleration and detached selves. Perceiving that a globalizing economic system required deracinated workers who could live anywhere and perform any task without curiosity about ultimate goals and effects, a main task of education became instillation of certain dispositions rather than grounded knowledge – flexibility, non-judgmentalism, contentless “skills,” detached “ways of knowing,” praise for social justice even as students were girded for a winner-take-all economy, and a fetish for diversity that left unquestioned why it was that everyone was identically educated at indistinguishable institutions. At first this meant the hollowing of local, regional, and religious specificity in the name of national identity. Today it has came to mean the hollowing of national specificity in the name of globalized cosmopolitanism, which above all requires studied oblivion to anything culturally defining. The inability to answer basic questions about America or the West is not a consequence of bad education; it is a marker of a successful education.

Above all, the one overarching lesson that students receive is to understand themselves to be radically autonomous selves within a comprehensive global system with a common commitment to mutual indifference. Our commitment to mutual indifference is what binds us together as a global people. Any remnant of a common culture would interfere with this prime directive: a common culture would imply that we share something thicker, an inheritance that we did not create, and a set of commitments that imply limits and particular devotions. Ancient philosophy and practice heaped praise upon res publica – a devotion to public things, things we share together. We have instead created the world’s first res idiotica – from the Greek word idiotes, meaning “private individual.”

If you like Deneen's analysis then I would recommend his new book, Why Liberalism failed (from Amazon America here).

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.