Monday, October 25, 2004

Our destiny

A funny thing happened in Australia in the past fortnight.

Germaine Greer, Australian feminist at large, discovered the Australian destiny. It is to declare ourselves and our country Aboriginal. This and this alone would finally end our misery and alienation so that "this darkest hour could be just before our dawn as a genuinely new nation."

At the same time ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating also discovered the Australian destiny. It is to declare our country Asian. At a book launch he spoke of a need to "divine our destiny for our appointment with reality".

He lashed out against those who failed to see the truth of an Asian future, for it was they who "crimp and cripple our destiny", who "reduce the flame and energy within the nation", who have "tiny, timorous hearts", "limited faith", and who "attempt to contain and censor the human spirit, to muffle, muzzle and vitiate it."

Now, can you forgive the majority European Australian population for being a little confused? Our manifest destiny is held to be two different things, both of which require our own abolition.

Why would two Anglo-Celtic Australians make such proposals? The answer lies within their liberal philosophy. For liberals, human dignity requires that we are self-created by our own reason and will. This means that we aren't allowed to be defined by inherited or inborn qualities like our race or ethnicity.

The logical task for liberals is, in fact, to overcome one's own racial or ethnic affiliation. Germaine Greer and Paul Keating, under the terms of liberalism, have done this magnificently.

Greer, for instance, has taken the liberal idea to the point where white Australians would be so "emancipated" from their own race and ethnicity that they could actually choose to become black Australians.

She asks the question "Supposing Australians accepted their destiny and, as if by an act of transubstantiation, declared their country and themselves Aboriginal." [my emphasis]

The overcoming of one's own race and ethnicity is spoken of here in terms of a traditional religious sacrament.

As for Mr Keating, he has taken the argument to such radical lengths that he no longer even accepts an Australian nationalism based on citizenship let alone ethnicity.

He thunders against those whose "exclusiveness" relies on "constructing arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community ... If you ask what is the common policy between the Le Pens, the Terreblanches, Hansons and Howards of this world, in a word, it is "citizenship." Who is in and who is out."

Aboriginal response

I was surprised at first by the Aboriginal response to Ms Greer's proposal. I expected that Aborigines might be pleased by her portrayal of Aboriginal culture as the great hope for white Australia. Instead, most Aborigines quoted in the newspapers expressed displeasure at her suggestion.

Michael Mansell, for instance, stated that Greer's vision could not be more misguided, and that "her theory is so out of this world that it's not likely to be given any credibility. It's so unreal, it's so remote and its foundation is so flawed."

When I read the detail of her argument I began to understand why Aborigines were so keen to distance themselves from Ms Greer. For Ms Greer has done the unusual thing for a liberal of not only rejecting her own ethnic affiliation, but abolishing the existence of the Aboriginal race as well.

For Ms Greer Aboriginality is "not a matter of blood or genes"; in fact, she doubts if race itself is "a genuine category." She claims instead that Aboriginality is merely a "getting of knowledge" or a "cultural construction" that anyone can participate in.

In support of this view, that no Aboriginal race as such exists, she makes the extraordinary claim that "there is more genetic variation within the Anglo-Celt population than there is genetic variation between Anglo-Celts ... and Aborigines."

Greer even declares that we should "rethink Aboriginality as inclusive rather than exclusive" so that it would not "involve the assumption of a phoney ethnicity."

Here, then, is a liberal telling Aborigines that their ethnicity is "phoney" and who is unconcerned about the survival of an Aboriginal race because she cannot even bring herself to recognise that the category of race might exist.

My advice to Aborigines: beware of liberals.

The conservative response

The key response for conservatives should be to reject liberalism at its very heart: its insistence on the supremacy of an unimpeded individual will and reason.

Once you adopt the supremacy of individual will and reason as a philosophy it's inevitable that inherited qualities like race or ethnicity will be seen in a negative light.

We need to begin to assert a different philosophical foundation in which will and reason are seen not as ultimate ends, but as important means by which we discipline ourselves to our better nature.

A larger concept of human nature would find room for important forms of human self-identity and connectedness, such as ancestry and nation. These ought to be thought of positively, as part of what adds depth and substance to human life, rather than, as the dominant liberalism asserts, an impediment to be overthrown.

(First published at Conservative Central 14/09/2003)

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