I've now finished reading Judith Brett's biography of Alfred Deakin, an important father of Australian Federation, who set much of the national policy for the first four decades of the nation's history.
There's an important political lesson contained within the life of Deakin. Deakin was a progressive liberal, and yet there is much to admire about both the man and the impact he had on Australian politics.
The reason I can say this is that there is a disjunction between the political and religious principles held by Deakin, and the ancestral culture which he finely embodied. Deakin's liberalism (the political and religious principles) hadn't yet reached a point of overthrowing important aspects of the ancestral culture.
And this raises a significant issue about the way that politics has been framed in the West. For a traditionalist, the ancestral culture itself is the good to be conserved. Therefore, to be a conservative is a good thing, in the sense that you are upholding what is meaningful within human existence, regardless of the changing of fashions or technology over time. What a traditionalist ought to do, therefore, is to fit his religious and political worldview together with this defence of what is meaningful within his ancestral culture - so that it can be conserved.
Deakin didn't see it this way, and nor have most Western intellectuals. Deakin did very much value the ancestral culture, and thought of it as a core aspect of his life. But his religious and political principles were formed separately to it, being intellectually schematic and abstract.
He wanted to believe, as many intellectuals of the era did, that there was a divine purpose to the cosmos, in the sense that humanity was progressing to its ultimate, divinely appointed ends. Deakin was, in this sense, a "humanist" as he thought of humanity as a whole as the agent through which God's purposes would be fulfilled. Deakin therefore believed that as part of progress there would be a shift away from the parochial, toward higher unities and ultimately toward the global citizen.
Politics for Deakin was a means by which he could fulfil his own destiny in furthering God's plan for human progress. He would serve the ideal by engagement in progressive politics. Therefore, for Deakin, it was wrong to be conservative, because this meant obstructing progress and getting in the way of humanity advancing toward the ultimate purposes God intended for it.
And so the real goods that Deakin himself so finely embodied and which he had inherited from a more traditional culture, were left without an explicit defence. They were left undefended within Deakin's intellectual scheme or framework. Fortunately, however, Deakin hesitated before the precipice and did not abandon the identities and loyalties derived from his cultural inheritance. He brought these into the policy positions he developed for the newly formed Australia.