Monday, December 26, 2005

A great papal homily

There are still signs of life in the Catholic Church. Earlier this month Pope Benedict delivered a homily which firmly and eloquently rejected the modernist liberal mentality. It is a refreshing thing when a religious leader dares to move beyond accommodation to a hostile philosophy and actually attempts to refute it.

I must say that I was not so impressed by the first part of the homily. It is yet another attempt to place Mary at the centre of Catholic worship (“In her lies the true center in which we trust”).

However, further on we come to a passage which effectively rejects liberalism in the religious sphere. As you read the passage, remember that liberalism is the idea that to be fully human we must be free to create ourselves through our own individual will and reason. It is the philosophy of the sovereign, autonomous, independent, self-authoring individual.

Pope Benedict says, regarding the famous Bible passage in which Eve is tempted by the serpent,

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbors the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom: Only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God's will. For God's will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

There is more. Pope Benedict says that we all carry a drop of the poison of thinking this way and that,

We call this drop of poison "original sin." Precisely on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one's own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles -- the tempter -- is right when he says he is the power "that always wants evil and always does good" (J.W. von Goethe, "Faust" I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: The person who abandons himself totally in God's hands does not become God's puppet, a boring "yes man"; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself.

I hope the significance of Pope Benedict’s words is clear to readers. In effect, the Pope is asserting that the liberal concept of what makes us human, namely a freedom to choose for ourselves, as autonomous individuals, who we are and what we do, is a false concept.

Instead, the Pope is arguing that there is a given truth to our being (not something we create for ourselves), which is not an impediment to freedom, not a “limitation,” because it forms the higher part of ourselves. We are free within a part of our nature, and therefore if we want freedom it is logical that we should aim, in what we will, to live in accordance with this higher part of our nature.

I do believe that this corresponds to the real experience of human freedom. Liberals would have us believe that we experience freedom when we are unconstrained in our choices. For example, liberals believe that we are liberated when we are not influenced in any significant way by the sex we are born to. Liberals want it not to matter whether we are born male or female.

So I am meant to feel free when I as a man am “unconstrained” by masculinity. But in reality I don’t feel free. I feel dismayed when I see signs of effeminacy in other men, or when I am hampered in fulfilling a masculine role in society. I feel most free when I witness the better and stronger masculine qualities in myself or others.

Which leads to a final point. It is encouraging that the Pope should reject the liberal mentality so firmly in the religious sphere. But the challenge for the Church is to understand how liberalism has also distorted other important spheres of life.

(I have already mentioned the issue of gender; the Church did, in fact, release a letter on gender last year which clearly rejected a liberal feminism, but only to replace it with a Catholic one.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Is ethnicity a prison?

I was saddened during the week to read that Britain is extending work and residency rights to 73 million East Europeans joining the European Union on May 1st.

This is a further dilution of immigration controls which ought to function to uphold the traditional ethnic identity of the existing British population.

The question some Britons might now be asking is why the European elites are so ready to deconstruct the existing national identities of their own countries.

The answer, I believe, is simple: the political and intellectual elites of Europe have accepted liberalism as their guiding philosophy. Liberals want individuals to be self-created by their own reason and will.

Traditional nationalism is not something that we get to choose by our own reason and will. It is something we are born into: a longstanding tradition based on a shared ancestry, language, history, religion, culture and so on.

For liberals, therefore, traditional nationalism, based as it is on ethnicity, is looked on negatively, as something that restricts, or confines, or contains, the sphere of individual choice.

That's why liberals tend either to reject nationalism altogether in favour of internationalism, or redefine nationalism to make it more fluid and interchangeable.

Right liberals

This negative attitude to traditional nationalism is not just found on the left. It is held just as firmly by right liberals.

One case in point is the right liberal Australian journalist, Andrew Bolt. He wrote a column recently on the local arts industry, in which he criticised the National Gallery of Victoria for hanging works by Aboriginal artists which crudely attacked the white mainstream (The art of politics 11/2/04).

For Andrew Bolt the problem is not just the crude politics of the artwork, but that the National Gallery even recognises ethnic categories like "Aboriginal". For Bolt, the best thing about art is that it helps us to "transcend differences of race and country"; therefore, it was wrong for the National Gallery to "drive us back into our racial prisons".

This is reminiscent of the views of the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, who once in a Future Directions document, chose to attack multicultural programmes on the basis that they "simply ensnare individuals in ethnic communities."

The language here is liberal speak. Race or ethnicity is rejected on the grounds that it imprisons or ensnares the individual. This kind of talk assumes that: what we seek is unimpeded individual choice, we don't get to choose our race or ethnicity, therefore race and ethnicity are "fetters" on our individual will from which we need to be liberated or emancipated.

Liberal nationalism

The philosophy of right liberals means that the right liberal parties are unlikely to support the further existence of traditional nationalism in Britain or elsewhere.

If British voters think that supporting the right liberal Conservative Party is going to restore the situation they are likely to be disappointed. They only have to look at what other right liberal parties are doing overseas: George Bush of the American Republicans wants to give residency rights to millions of illegal immigrants and John Howard of the Australian Liberal Party has chosen to increase the level of immigration into Australia.

That's not to say that the right liberal parties won't uphold some form of nationalism. However, it will be a liberal form of nationalism rather than a traditional one. It will be a form of nationalism based on ideas or values or cultural attributes to which anyone can choose to give their individual assent.

It's not realistic to expect people with a liberal philosophy to uphold an ideal of traditional nationalism. Yet it is traditional nationalism which gives us an important part of our individual identity. Traditional nationalism still needs to be defended, but to do so we need to reject the central place of liberalism in our political culture.

Our prison is not our ethnicity; it is the influence over us of a liberal orthodoxy so dominant that few are able to think outside its first principles. Western societies will be freer when a genuine alternative is more widely considered.

(First published at Conservative Central 29/02/2004)

Tying it all together

Please don't miss this short piece by Lawrence Auster at View from the Right.

Auster looks at two of my own commentaries and ties them together to explain why Australian liberals think that opponents of multiculturalism must be "white racists" or "white supremacists".

The key passage is the following:

Among the "socially imposed" categories that liberalism wants to liberate us from are ethnicity, race and nationality. From the liberal point of view, people who have been so liberated should not care if their culture is transformed, since all that people really care about and should care about is their own free and fulfilled self. People such as the Cronulla rioters who resist the disruption of their society by cultural aliens must be Nazis. In fact there are no Nazis ...

But there is a lot more worth reading in the Auster piece, including a response from a beleaguered Swedish conservative, who rightly understands that liberalism (which he calls cultural leftism) is effectively the "prevailing religion" in the West.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A false freedom

Where have we gone wrong? My answer is that the Western intellectual class follows the principles of liberalism as if it were their religion.

The basic idea of liberalism is that we are fully human when we have the freedom to choose, through our own will and reason, who we are and what we do. It’s a principle which sounds nice but which has destructive consequences. Over time, anything which is part of our nature or which is part of our tradition is rejected as something we don’t get to choose for ourselves. Nature and tradition come to be seen negatively as impediments to individual liberty.

Take the following as an example. Spenta Cama is an American woman who is part of a feminist “mothers’ movement”. She is married and is happiest being a stay-at-home mum, so she is not personally denatured. But politically she is committed to a blank-slate liberalism, in which our own nature as men and women is seen as a sexist impediment to freedom. She writes,

As a feminist, I made a promise as a teenager to treat any children I would have equally, regardless of their gender. No extra protection for a girl or societal reinforcement of gender stereotypes through toys. My son can play with trucks and cars as well as dolls if he wants. After all, I’m the mom who played the “Free To Be … You and Me” compact disc over and over to him when he was in utero. What better message could I send to my baby than he is a unique individual who can do and be anything he wants irrespective of the gender constraints society may attempt to place on him.

Note how liberalism gives a particular meaning here to the word equality: we are “equal” when we are treated androgynously, without reference to our gender.

Note too the specifically liberal understanding of what it means to be “free”. We are free, in Spenta Cama’s view, when the “constraint” of being male or female is overthrown, so that our individual will can decide all.

But what is wrong with this liberal view of freedom and equality? First, it is false because masculinity and femininity are not just a product of socialisation but are hardwired into us. Second, our nature as men and women is important to our self-identity, to our basic sense of who we are. Third, our sexuality is based on an appreciation of gender difference. Fourth, our concept of the good includes virtues associated with masculinity and femininity.

That’s why for most people the liberal attack on gender will not be experienced as a “liberation” but as an oppressive part of modern political life.

[The normal preference for gender difference comes out in the following reminiscence by the Australian authoress, Miles Franklin. She is writing about an experience which occurred when she was living in Chicago sometime between 1908 and 1915.

I can see Floyd clearly in memory with his black stock and walking-stick, on Dearborn Street, as he and Charlie announced to me the glad tidings that they were feminists. I was so uninstructed that distaste awakened in me. It seemed to me that the word was related to feminine, and for a man to be feminine was to be effeminate, and utterly obnoxious to me, reared where men were men.]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cronulla - media blames who?

A week has now passed since the events at Cronulla in Sydney. Where are we now?

First thing to mention is the large-scale police response. Two thousand police were assigned to guard the beaches today (Sunday), and six popular beaches were declared unsafe for public use.

Most remarkably, an entire suburb, Brighton-le-Sands, was placed in total lockdown under new laws, after five men (it’s not specified whether Australian or Lebanese) were arrested driving a car laden with a large drum of petrol, police scanners, and equipment for making molotov cocktails.

A police statement declared that there had been “an escalation in anti-social behaviour,” though newspaper reports have described the beaches themselves as quiet.

That, briefly, is the situation on the ground. But what of the political response?

There have been at least three major lines of thought circulating through the Australian media. The first is the one I have already described, namely, that Sydney is different and that the events at Cronulla couldn’t happen elsewhere in Australia.

After the course of the week I have further reason to doubt this claim. Listening to talkback radio in Melbourne during the week, there were many calls from young working-class Australian men aggrieved by bashings at the hands of Lebanese, or at the mistreatment of local women. One man rang in to explain why he and twenty of his mates were planning to go to Sydney “in solidarity”. A work colleague, too, told me that his son wanted to go to Sydney to support the Australians, and some of my students indicated the same thing.

The second political response has been a debate within the political class about whether or not Australians are racist. This debate is significant because it touches on important ideological differences between left-wing and right-wing liberals in this country – but I’ll go into this in a future post.

Which leaves the third political response. Increasingly the media is blaming Cronulla on the activities of what they call neo-nazis or white supremacists. There is a mood in the media and among the police to attack these “far-right” groups.

For instance, a story in today’s Herald Sun is headlined “Neo-Nazi link in race riots” and begins by informing us that “Australia’s intelligence services are investigating the role of neo-Nazi groups in Sydney’s race riots”. Another recent story in The Age was headlined “White supremacists hide in quiet suburbs” and began by claiming “The shadowy far-right may be behind Sydney’s race riots”. Academic James Jupp has written an article for The Australian in which he declares that multiculturalism won’t work unless “poisonous racist groups are crushed with the force of laws”.

Which is all very odd. The groups being talked about here are minuscule, poorly organised and are probably best described as white nationalist groups rather than white supremacist or neo-nazi. They themselves claimed to have fifteen people at Cronulla, which is probably a fair assessment of their numerical strength.

The Age article I cited above, in which two intrepid reporters tried to track down white supremacists in Melbourne, is particularly revealing. The journalists found a defunct post office box, a woman living in the country town of Shepparton and a man rumoured to be living in a Melbourne suburb. Not exactly a revolutionary force.

And yet we are supposed to take seriously the idea that such forces were responsible for an unprecedented rally of 5000 people at Cronulla and that the might of the Australian state should be mobilised to counter the challenge of the “far-right”?

It’s absurd – so much so that it poses the question of why the liberal political class should arrive at such an irrational response.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Was Cronulla left unprotected?

All week I have been asking people I know this question: Why were convoys of Lebanese men allowed to drive into Cronulla and other Sydney suburbs smashing cars and shops and bashing local residents? Surely, these large convoys must have been noticed by the police. Why weren’t they stopped?

My work colleagues gave me some unconvincing answers: that the police couldn’t be everywhere, or that the police could not have stopped the cars.

But now a different answer has surfaced. The Seven Network claims to have a police report instructing officers to stay away from Punchbowl Park where a convoy was gathering in order not to “antagonise” the young Lebanese men. The convoy then moved into Cronulla unimpeded by police.

I can only hope that the media pursues this incident vigorously. Who was responsible for the directive? What was the thinking behind it? It was a decision with serious consequences: it left the residents of Cronulla unprotected from a serious attack.

Police tactics will be different for this Sunday, though. A force of 1500 officers is being organised to patrol Cronulla and surrounds.

Meanwhile, there have been four attacks on churches in Sydney, the worst of which was an attack on a Catholic primary school during a Christmas carols service. Shots were fired into cars and parents abused.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Exceptions dwindling

There have been many riots in Western countries in recent times: Britain, France and America are obvious examples.

The response of the Australian political class to these events has usually been to claim Australian exceptionalism. We are different, they would assert, we are a multicultural success story the rest of the world should learn from.

I have always thought these claims to be complacent and arrogant. If multiculturalism leads to rioting in most countries which adopt it, why shouldn't the same thing eventually happen in Australia?

And now it has happened in a major way in Sydney.

So what has been the response of the political class down here in Melbourne to the rioting in Sydney? Well ... more exceptionalism. Now, though, the claim is that Sydney never got multiculturalism right, but we down here in Victoria have. It is we who are the exception and the rest of the world should learn from our example.

Our state Premier, Steve Bracks, for instance, has said that Victoria's multicultural history makes a Cronulla-like riot unlikely here. And Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Hass Dallal said Victoria's multicultural success was an example to others.

Now, there are several things to note about this idea that Victoria is exceptional. First, the territory claimed by exceptionalists is always shrinking. Which parts of the Western world haven't now been hit by multicultural hostilities? Canada and not much else, it seems.

Second, Victoria is not so different to Sydney. Two months ago, 17 Muslim men were arrested in Melbourne and Sydney, many of them Lebanese, because they were planning major terrorist attacks in both cities.

And if you read through this article you find mention of recent ethnic brawling in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine (no Anglos involved, but Africans, Asians and Maoris) as well as long-running tensions in the country town of Robinvale (Aborigines vs Islanders).

Third, one of the experts who claims that Melbourne is different, does so because Melbourne has fewer ethnic enclaves. Melbourne, for instance, has only about 14,000 Lebanese born immigrants compared to about 50,000 in Sydney.

The problem with this argument, though, is that Premier Bracks has announced plans to use mass immigration so that Melbourne's population overtakes Sydney in the next 20 years. He wants to add an extra 700,000 migrants to Melbourne during this time.

So, if Mr Bracks has his way we won't even be different to Sydney in this regard either - our ethnic enclaves will grow to an equal size.

What then is needed as a political response to the events in Cronulla? Well, we should not continue to cling to vain hopes that things will somehow work out for the best in our part of the world, despite the policy of multiculturalism having failed elsewhere.

Eventually the defects built into multiculturalism will catch up with us all. So we need to do what hardly anyone in the political class is doing right now. Instead of accepting multiculturalism as something untouchable, and doing ever more of the same to try to make it work, we need to reject the policy itself as being misguided and mistaken.

Why force people of different races, cultures and traditions to live together? Why should we accept that this policy is the only "moral" one to adopt?

Isn't it actually more logical to follow the older ideal, in which each culture and tradition could reproduce itself within its own homeland?

Multiculturalism is a false ideal. It is time to recognise this openly and to reform the policy of mass immigration into Western countries.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A multi-faith Christmas?

In most Melbourne suburbs there is a night of carol singing shortly before Christmas. This year in my suburb there is going to be a "multi-faith Carols" organised by the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting churches.

I can understand these three major Christian denominations getting together to sing carols. It makes sense, as they all share Christmas as an important festival.

But the ecumenical spirit has taken hold to such an extent that this is how my local paper, the Diamond Valley Leader (7th December 2005) describes the forthcoming event:

Wurundjeri elder Dot Peters will welcome guests to the country and tell an indigenous story. A Muslim woman will talk about her religion and Islam's practices around Christmas time and a Hindu woman will explain the customs of her faith.

A Buddhist blessing with gongs and Baha'i songs sung by children will also feature in the celebration, which begins at 7.30pm.

So there you are. The Christian residents of this area (we are not yet a multicultural suburb) are to begin their night of celebration with a reminder that they are "guests" in their own country (that should establish a festive atmosphere!) and rather than simply sing carols, they will be forced to adopt the all too familiar role of observing and celebrating other cultures. The passive look-on role.

There is too much self-erasure in all of this. How do these churches hope to maintain the pull of their own religious tradition, if their main concern, even during Christmas, is to celebrate the multicultural other (even in places where it doesn't yet exist)?

One further thing to note. There is a photo in the paper showing children rehearsing the carols on stage. Behind them are four equal size banners. One says "Jesus Christ" and has the emblem of a cross. The next says "Muhammed" and has the crescent emblem. Then there is "Krishna" with a Hindu emblem and "Bahaulla" with a Baha'i insignia.

It looks odd. It looks like a smorgasbord of divinities all stuck together and all made equivalent at what is supposed to be a Christian celebration.

What's happening at Cronulla?

This story has received a great deal of publicity in NSW, but none that I know of so far in Victoria.

It seems that groups of Middle Eastern men have been journeying from west Sydney to Cronulla beach and attacking locals, including the surf lifesavers. After the bashing of three lifesavers, locals are responding.

There is now a major police presence on the beach.

A report on the situation is available here.

Boys will be boys

This piece of research won't please feminists. American academics have found that boy monkeys prefer to play with toy cars whereas girl monkeys choose to play with dolls.

This is yet more evidence that sex differences are not just due to the way that children are brought up by parents, but that they are hardwired into us as a very longstanding part of our nature.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Aiming low

What do women want? Not much, if Age columnist Julia Baird is anything to go by.

In her latest column, Gender back on the agenda (3/12/2005, not online), Julia ponders the Maureen Dowd controversy. Maureen Dowd is a pretty, but single and middle-aged, American columnist, who has complained that men won’t go out with intelligent women like herself because the male ego is too fragile.

She’s wrong. It’s actually normal for university educated men to seek partners of a similar background. But most men won’t be attracted to women who aren’t feminine, friendly and family-oriented. And that’s why men, quite understandably, run for the hills when they meet women like Maureen Dowd. Who would want to spend a lifetime with a woman who takes men to be the enemy, who is conflicted about her own womanhood and who is unlikely to commit herself in any significant way to marriage or motherhood?

But back to Julia Baird. She accepts the alternatives posed by Maureen Dowd: that women are either going to aim for intelligence or physical attractiveness, and that the trend is for women to accept the “sex object” option. Julia Baird is aghast that women should be “intent on being sex objects again” and that they would turn to plastic surgery in a narcissistic effort to achieve self-esteem.

What then does Julia Baird call for? How does she want a woman’s life to be? In her own words,

Our fears, anxieties and identities continue to be carved into our faces and our bodies, with “self-esteem” increasingly defined by our curves and the agelessness of our skins, instead of access to education, well-paying jobs, health and respect from our partners. We are extraordinarily compliant about a culture that values booty over brains.

I must admit I was disappointed with Julia Baird when I read this. Is the modern Western girl really so shallow? The problem is not her rejection of the body perfect ideal. It’s that there is so much missing in her description of what might fulfil a woman’s life.

Look at what she thinks a woman needs: education, a well-paying job, health and respect from a partner. Access to education women already have. Across the western world, women are forming the majority of university undergraduates. It’s the same with access to jobs. An increasing number of young doctors and lawyers are female. Health is certainly important, but women continue to do better than men on this front too, outliving men on average by several years. And respect from partners? Is this all that Julia Baird would wish for from a man?

If these things were enough to truly satisfy a woman, then women would have satisfaction and self-esteem in abundance.

But she leaves out too much. What about love? Doesn’t a woman need, as a girl, the love of her mother and father? Doesn’t she naturally seek romantic love as a teenage girl and marital love as a grown woman? Don’t most women want the experience of a maternal love for their own children?

And what about the life of the spirit? Hasn’t Julia Baird ever felt a responsiveness to nature? Has she appreciated the arts, or felt a love of country? A pride in the accomplishments of her own family?

And what of her own womanhood? Hasn’t she experienced her own identity as a woman, including a sense of female physicality, of female sexuality, of female emotions, and of the feminine virtues?

What Julia Baird proposes for women is drab. It reads like a political agenda: be a good feminist girl and get a career and a respectful partner. It has little to say to the real, personal, inner life of a woman.

It is as fake as the plastic, paid for beauty which Julia Baird in her column criticises as a “madness we both perpetuate and consent to”.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I make no claim to be a Shakespeare scholar. Even so, I think a case can be made that Shakespeare was opposed to a key aspect of what has become the modern liberal philosophy.

One piece of evidence was discussed recently by Lawrence Auster. It’s a quote from the play King Lear, in which Albany speaks harshly of the evil daughter of Lear, Goneril, with the words:

O Goneril!
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face. I fear your disposition:
That nature, which contemns [scorns] its origin,
Cannot be border’d certain in itself;
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use.

This runs directly against the grain of modern liberalism. A key idea of liberalism is that we are made truly human when we choose who we are through our own individual will and reason. Therefore, liberals prize the idea of an individual “freedom” in which there are no limits to our individual will. For liberals, individuals are free when they are not impeded in their will by an inborn nature, or by tradition, or by inherited identities.

Albany, though, does not praise Goneril for having liberated herself from her unchosen nature. Instead, he condemns such a project as likely to lead to vicious outcomes. He talks of a person who chooses to “sliver and disbranch from her material sap” as withering – which is a similar thought to the more modern conservative view that people who are made rootless suffer a loss from being denatured.

[All of which reminds me of the fate of Alice James, sister of the famous novelist Henry. She did not relish her spinsterhood as a freedom from a “biological destiny” as liberals might have it, but confessed that it could not be “anything else than a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and ‘do for’ daily is not only a sorrow, but a sterilizing process”. When she spent time with her brothers, she was happy to lose her “floating particle sense”.]

There is another passage from Shakespeare which appears to run directly counter to the liberal concept of freedom from an inherited nature. The quote is from the play Coriolanus. In this play, Coriolanus is unjustly expelled from Rome and so allies himself with Rome’s enemy to seek revenge. However, just prior to his attack on the city, his Roman family visits him to plead with him to call off the attack.

At first, Coriolanus tries to ignore their pleas. He tries to brace himself by telling himself that,

I’ll never
Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand
As if a man were author of himself
And knew no other kin. (5.3. 34-37)

Shakespeare here uses language which is very familiar to modern liberalism. The idea of being self-authored, or of writing your own script, is part of the terminology of our own times.

But Shakespeare does not intend us to sympathise with this attitude. It is clear from the text that natural bonds and loyalties, including the ties of kinship and patriotism, are rightly felt to be stronger than the merely personal will or desires (for revenge in this case) of an atomised individual.

Coriolanus, for instance, at the sight of his wife, is reminded of the “bond and privilege” of nature; at the sight of his son he declares that “my young boy / Hath an aspect of intercession which / Great Nature cries ‘Deny Not’”.

One writer on Shakespeare, Anthony Law, has summarised this passage from Shakespeare as follows:

Coriolanus most explicitly embodies the modernist desire for total autonomy ... Shakespeare has him deny his family and his country in the face of three generations of that family – mother, wife, and son – who beg him not to destroy Rome ...

Since the nineteenth century, the word “instinct” has had a particular scientific meaning, but for Coriolanus it means to be bound by an unselfconscious inward stain or tincture to the obligations of family, culture, citizenship, and tradition. Now Coriolanus will throw off all these instinctive restraints. He will become the “author of himself,” forget all other ties, and act from unnameable internal principles, which we now recognize as the underlying axioms of autonomous individualism.

In Shakespeare’s play the forces of autonomous individualism lose out. Coriolanus is reminded of his natural loyalties and brokers a peace. His nobility is restored. Unfortunately, in England and across the West, there was a radically different outcome and one, I think it is safe to say, which would not have pleased our most famous playwright.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Independent in name only

Just when you think you've heard everything.

The Swedish Social Democratics are proposing a new schooling law. The proposed law would allow the existence of independent religious schools, but only if certain conditions are followed.

What are these conditions? First, the teaching must be "entirely free of any religious angle". Second, any extra-curricular religious activities, such as morning prayers, must be voluntary. Third, the schools must be open to all students.

In other words, you can have a religious school as long as you leave out the religion!

What is happening in Sweden is just one further warning to the churches that they should not be trying to accommodate themselves to a liberal political order. There is no long term future for them in doing so. Liberalism keeps extending itself further and further into all spheres of life, leaving less space for independent institutions or rival forms of belief.

It's a pity that more churchmen don't follow the lead of Cardinal Thomas Williams of New Zealand, who took a forthright stand for his church last year.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is Margaret Thatcher a conservative?

Margaret Thatcher visited Melbourne in 1981, just a year or two after becoming British Prime Minister. Whilst here she gave a lecture at Monash University entitled "My Political Philosophy".

She was considered so right-wing at the time that the university authorities initially refused to make a suitable lecture hall available for her visit. It took a phone call from the then Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, to change their minds.

Mrs Thatcher was, of course, a leader of the British Conservative Party. You might think, that being a particularly "right-wing" leader of a "conservative" party, that her politics could be safely assumed to be conservative.

However, when you read the text of her Monash University lecture it quickly becomes apparent that her politics were actually not conservative, but were an orthodox kind of liberalism.

Right to choose

The starting point for Margaret Thatcher's lecture was "the right to choose". She began with the following comments:

What sets man above the rest of the living world is his sanctity as a human being, with the ability and the right to choose; to choose what to believe and what to do do ...

This right to choose, fundamental as it is to human life, is not man-given or government given, but God-given. That is the foundation of personal liberty.

This is such an interesting quote. It brings to mind the earliest explicit statement of liberalism that I have been able to find, that of Pico della Mirandola in the late 1400s. Pico imagined God saying to man that,

You, constrained by no limits, in accordance with your own free will ...shall ordain for yourself the limits of your nature ... We have made you ... so that with freedom of choice, as though the maker and moulder of yourself, you may fashion yourself in whatever shape you shall prefer.

The starting point for both Pico and Mrs Thatcher is the attempt to define the way that God has made us distinct and special; in other words, the way that we have been raised above the birds and the beasts.

The answer they both give is that unlike the beasts we have been made by God to have free will. Our very humanity, what is most sacred about us, is our capacity to choose for ourselves what we are to do and what we are to be.

This too was a starting point for the father of English liberalism, John Locke. In fact, Locke took the argument to a logical conclusion. He wrote (in the 1600s) that if a man asserted an "arbitrary" power over the free will of another man, then by "so revolting from his own kind to that of Beasts ... he renders himself liable to be destroyed ... as any other wild beast or noxious brute."

In other words, our ability to exercise free will makes us human; fail to uphold free will in your conduct with others and you are not human but a beast, and can be hunted down as one.

Individual freedom

Margaret Thatcher's political philosophy is therefore within a liberal tradition which claims that God has given us a special human quality of freedom of choice.

If you believe that our very God-given humanity is defined in this way, then politically you will be committed to upholding liberal individualism: an ideal of personal liberty based on individuals not being constrained or limited in their individual choices.

It's not surprising then to find Mrs Thatcher insisting in her Melbourne speech that,

Where freedom to exercise personal choice exists, I seek to expand it; where it is under attack, I shall defend it; where it does not exist, I shall try to create it.

Mrs Thatcher does, it is true, also insist upon the necessity of order and the rule of law. But this is only to safeguard the freedom of individuals to exercise their individual choice without infringement by others. She writes that:

Order, in a free society, means the ability of ordinary men and women to go about their business and their leisure pursuits in freedom and without fear, so long as what they do does not harm or damage others.

It is to maintain this kind of order that she believes that,

...government must be strong. Strong to uphold the law. Strong to maintain the law. Strong to protect freedom.

Identity & meaning

Even if it's now clear that Margaret Thatcher is philosophically a liberal, it might still be asked why this is a problem. What's wrong with defining our humanity by our right to choose?

Think of the ultimate consequences of this belief. If your very humanity depends on the fact that you have individual choice, you won't like anything that limits your "right" to choose in any direction.

This sets liberals on a collision course with much of what was traditionally thought to add meaning and identity to the lives of individuals.

Take the issue of manhood and womanhood. In pre-liberal societies, our sex was viewed positively as something that made up part of our individual identity. However, it's hard for liberals to accept that our sex helps to define our self-identity. This is because we are simply born into our sex; we don't get to choose it for ourselves.

For liberals, therefore, the traditional view of manhood and womanhood is looked on negatively as something that limits the sphere of individual choice. That's why liberals tend to insist that masculinity and femininity are merely social constructs from which the individual needs to be emancipated.

In a similar way, liberals see a need to "liberate" the individual from other unchosen aspects of human existence, including our ethnic identity, stable and clearly defined forms of family life, and external moral codes.


One biography of Margaret Thatcher has described her achievements in office as follows:

Margaret Thatcher's government followed a radical programme of privatisation and deregulation, reform of the Trade Unions, tax cuts and the introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. The aim was to reduce the role of government and increase individual self-reliance.

This is very clearly a programme of right liberalism. Right liberals focus particularly on "liberating" the individual from economic constraints. They typically prefer a smaller role for the government in the economy, and so wish to privatise and deregulate.

Mrs Thatcher was interested in extending free enterprise as a way of extending the realm of individual choice in general. Given this interest, she was hardly the person to oppose the onward march of liberal individualism in Britain in the 1980s.

And so Britain continued to be transformed by liberalism, despite the wishes of much of the population. For example, Mrs Thatcher did not act to restrict immigration in order to maintain Britain's traditional national identity, nor did she move against "third wave" feminism which seriously disrupted family life in the 1980s.

The one area in which she did make a stand against liberal trends was her unwillingness to completely cede British national sovereignty. Against some criticism, she went to war to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentinian invasion, and she was reluctant to replace the British pound with a European currency.

However, even her defence of national sovereignty seems compromised. In her Melbourne lecture she declared that,

I believe that, despite our growing interdependence, the day of the nation state is not over; that such states still have their contribution to make to the development of the human story.

Perhaps this statement can be read in different ways. To me, it seems to suggest that nations exist to further some larger goal of human progress, and that when this goal is reached they can be discarded.

This is not how a conservative would have chosen to defend the existence of nation states; for conservatives, nations have a value in themselves to be defended on an ongoing basis, rather than being vehicles to some further purpose.

Defining humanity

The original failing in Margaret Thatcher's philosophy is the idea that it is a God-given individual choice which defines our humanity.

Once this idea is accepted, we are likely to believe that a restriction on individual choice is an unacceptable violation of our humanity. This then undermines much of what gives identity and meaning to individuals, such as our ethnic identity, our sex, family life, and so on, as these are inherited or inborn rather than being individually chosen.

But is it true that what makes us distinctively human is our ability to exercise individual choice? Traditionally, it was thought that our humanity was created when God invested us with a soul. This more traditional belief allows us to value human life, even when the capacity to choose is not entirely present, for instance, in older people with dementia, or in the very young.

Furthermore, it seems a very crude understanding of what we are as humans, to rest our definition of humanity on individual choice. A more sophisticated understanding would incorporate much more than this, including important forms of human connectedness, such as our relationship to nation, family, manhood and womanhood.

We need to find better ways to define our humanity than the existing liberal one, which continues to exercise a destructive influence over Western societies.

(First published at Conservative Central 22/02/2004)

Friday, November 18, 2005

A wrong turn?

Have you ever read an article which begins well but then takes a disastrously wrong turn?

There’s an article being praised amongst some conservative groups here in Melbourne, written by Augusto Zimmermann. Augusto hails from Brazil but is undertaking his Ph.D in law at Melbourne’s Monash University (he appears to be of German descent). Augusto is an obviously intelligent young man, who appears regularly in the Christian conservative press.

His latest article takes aim at Victoria’s religious vilification legislation. Augusto begins by noting that the legislation contradicts the Western legal tradition by disallowing the truth of a statement as a defence. That’s why two Christian pastors could be prosecuted under the legislation for accurately quoting parts of the Koran to a private church gathering.

Augusto then criticises the idea that the legislation will help to create a “multicultural democracy”. He argues that not all cultures are equally committed to democracy, and that democracy and the rule of law might not be preserved if Australia “eventually decides to reject its own culture on account of multiculturalism”.

Augusto’s article then reaches its high point when he observes that,

the fact is that multiculturalism has been used in Western societies not just as a fair understanding of other cultures. Primarily, it has been used as a powerful weapon by a few social engineers in order to dismember traditional values and replace them by other and more recondite ones ... it is very clear that the real impetus for multiculturalist policies [comes] from the local elite as well as the most powerful elements within ethnic groups.

To this point the article can be read as a defence of the mainstream Anglo culture of Australia against the inroads of the multiculturalists. It is therefore conservative in the sense of contributing to the preservation of a distinct national culture.

But Augusto then steers the argument in the wrong direction. He attacks multiculturalism by rejecting the whole idea of ethnic identity in favour of liberal individualism. He writes,

One interesting aspect of multiculturalism is that ‘diversity’ means the plurality of cultures but not of personal choices. In fact, human beings are seen as organically integrated into their ethnic groups, and incited on account of government policy to always embrace their cultural values, and no matter if they are good or bad for themselves. Thus multiculturalism seems to deny the liberal democratic postulation that human beings should be primarily recognised as free individual citizens ....

In placing the ‘freedom’ of ethnic groups above a person’s own freedom and choice, state-imposed multiculturalism becomes a collectivist ideology flirting with the racist argument that cultural practices are somehow genetically determined, or race-specific. This sort of state-imposed multiculturalism involves a sort of determinism where the human person is regarded as emotionally and psychologically connected with his or her ethnic group. Thus such multiculturalism can be indirectly reinforcing the myth that a person’s moral choices and character are predetermined.

Now, I can see what Augusto is up to here. He doesn’t like traditional Muslim culture and so doesn’t want Muslim immigrants to Australia to be encouraged to stick with this culture. He wants them to choose to jettison it in favour of something else. Hence the argument against ethnic identity in favour of personal choice.

But it’s an argument which throws out the baby with the bathwater. It not only undermines the Muslims’ ethnic identity and traditional culture, it does the same for the mainstream culture which Augusto originally set out to defend.

Australians will not preserve their own traditional culture if they are told that they are not “organically integrated into their ethnic group” nor “emotionally or psychologically connected” to their own ethny, but are, in contrast, “free individual citizens”.

If being free means having no ethnicity, then why should I worry if the culture of my ancestors is lost? I should be happy to see it lost as a final remnant of a burdensome ethnic inheritance. I should welcome the arrival of foreign cultures, and choose to identify with them and with cultural ‘diversity’ in order to show how free I am as an individual from any ethnic loyalty.

What Augusto doesn’t realise is that it is his kind of liberal individualism which paves the way for multiculturalism. Once individual freedom is set against ethnic identity, then multiculturalism and cultural diversity will be seen by many as a positive and progressive development on the road to personal liberty.

A better and more coherent defence against multiculturalism has two parts. First, the positive value of ethnic identity needs to be applied to Westerners and not just to immigrant groups. If this were achieved Western countries would once again be seen as established homelands to distinct peoples (ethnies), rather than as neutral areas to be filled from outside sources.

Second, immigration controls need to be applied to prevent the growth of incompatible cultures within the Western homelands. In other words, if Augusto doesn’t like Muslim culture, he could simply argue for changes to immigration policies, rather than attempting to void all traditional culture in favour of a deracinated individualism.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Twas not always so

Dr Peter Jensen is the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. He wrote an article for the Melbourne Age on the weekend in which he lamented the fact that "Jesus is slipping out of memory and imagination" and that "we seem to have become very modest about our own past, very nervous about identifying who we are."

And yet in the same article he declares that "I know we have embraced multiculturalism, and I myself am delighted by the new and different Australia that is emerging from our immigration policies."

Huh? On the one hand he is delighted by the new, non-Christian Australia being created by current immigration policies, and on the other he laments the fact that Jesus is slipping out of view and that we don't value our past.

There is a fatal inconsistency in this view. Dr Jensen is on the conservative side of Anglicanism, and yet he seems to want to find a niche for his church and religion within the liberal order. This is a mistake. If the Anglican church is to survive it will have to do so in resistance to liberal secularism, and not as a junior partner of it.

Nor is this a problem confined to Anglicanism. In August the speaker of Italy's senate spoke out against foreign immigration. He was attacked by leaders of the Catholic Church, one of whom, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, made the astonishing comment that,

A person who comes to our country to work does not only have worth because of how much he produces and how much his salary is, but also because of his identity, his culture, his religion.

This is similar to how secular leftists think. Cardinal Bertone assumes that the enemy is right-wing liberalism, in which people are thought of in terms of their economic role. In opposition to this, he asserts the value of identity, culture and religion, but only for "the other", and not for Italy's majority population. It never occurs to the cardinal that the speaker of the senate might have been defending the place of identity, culture and religion - but for the existing population of Italy.

It was not always like this. For instance, in the nineteenth century one of the most prominent Anglican theologians was F.D. Maurice. Maurice was not a conservative, but in the mid-nineteenth century you did not have to be a conservative to defend the patria.

Maurice believed that there was a spiritual component to the existence of distinct countries. He himself put it as follows:

"Let us be sure that if we would ever see a real family of nations, such as the prophets believed would one day emerge out of the chaos they saw around them ... this must come from each nation maintaining its integrity and unity"

"an Englishman has as much right to speak of his own nation as holy as had the Hebrew patriots of theirs"

"the Nation has lived, lives now, and will live in Him, who was, and is, and is to come"

"no man has ever done good to mankind who was not a patriot"

These quotes do place Maurice at odds with those modern church leaders who so readily accept the loss of the distinctive Western national traditions.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A modern hero?

Nguyen Tuong Van is a Thai born Australian who was caught smuggling heroin into Singapore and is now awaiting execution in Changi prison.

The campaign to save his life has taken some odd paths. Yesterday there was a joint Buddhist and Catholic service for him in Melbourne's Catholic Cathedral. The Age journalist at this service reported that,

After a chanting of the mantra for the preservation of life by monks of Melbourne's Quang Minh Temple, Father Hansen compared Nguyen to Roman Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More as he awaited execution for alleged treason in 1535 ...

What a comparison! Sir Thomas More acted out of principle in refusing to recognise King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the English church. Nguyen tried to make money by engaging in a criminal activity which kills and degrades thousands of vulnerable people.

And I wonder what Father Hansen meant when he declared from the pulpit that,

We, the people who are here today in this great cathedral, we are the people of Van's land.

For goodness' sake! Van committed an act of considerable evil. It is reasonable to argue that the death penalty is too severe a punishment. But his case is hardly deserving of this kind of grand language.

Nor is Father Hansen the only culprit in lionising Van. Julia Irwin, the Federal Member for Fowler said today of Van,

You will live in our hearts forever.
No, Julia Irwin. Even if you disagree with the death penalty, you should not speak about heroin smugglers like this. It is mentally and morally unsound.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Self exposure

Last month the British Sun newspaper ran a campaign against domestic violence, under the headline "Expose the wife-beating brutes".

It was not good timing, therefore, when the editor of the Sun was arrested last week for domestic violence.

The plot thickens further, though, as the editor is a woman, Rebekah Wade. This serves to illustrate the point that it is not only men who are perpetrators of domestic violence - there are also women who hit their husbands or children.

Rebekah's husband is an actor on Eastenders. As it happens the man who plays his on-screen brother was also the victim of domestic violence at much the same time. His former partner, Angela Bostock, was arrested for assault only hours after the attack on his work colleague.

These two men were both assaulted by their female partners. And yet campaigns against domestic violence routinely assume that men are always the perpetrators and women are always the victims.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Breaking the orthodoxy

I met a dear old lady in the supermarket today. I overheard her complaining about the difficulty of buying Australian goods, even fruit and vegies. It turned out that she wasn't pleased either at Australia transforming itself through mass immigration. She asked me the obvious question about this: "Why is it happening?"

This was a question I first asked myself more than ten years ago. I wanted to know why no-one in politics had resisted the drift toward cosmopolitanism. And what I discovered was something I hadn't expected, namely that all the main political movements shared the same underlying political principles. That was why they all agreed on the project of multiculturalism.

It seemed audacious to assert this idea - that there has been a longstanding orthodoxy in Western politics which hardly anybody in official politics has thought outside of.

So I'm always grateful when others recognise the same thing. It's especially pleasing when the other person is a political bigwig, such as Richard Blandy, a director of a business centre at the University of South Australia. He wrote an article for today's Australian newspaper in which he notes that,

Until the past quarter of a century, a liberal democratic model, a social democratic model and a communist (Marxist-Leninist) model of how liberty, equality and fraternity should be achieved have each possessed considerable political momentum.

The communist (Marxist-Leninist) model was abandoned by China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

The democratic socialist model is now under siege in the European Union from the combined impacts of globalisation, European Union enlargement and the evident economic success of "le modele Anglo Saxon" in recent times.

So Blandy recognises that the three main political movements in the West over the last 200 years - classical liberalism, social democracy and communism - have all been attempts to enact the same underlying principles of "liberty, equality and fraternity".

The three models are certainly very different, which gives the appearance of choice in politics. But they all assume the same underlying principles, which is why the Western political class is so united on important issues like multiculturalism, feminism and the like.

It is to try to clarify this situation that I have called the underlying principle that of "liberalism", with the three variants being those supported by right liberals (who Blandy calls liberal democrats but who are often called classical liberals); left liberals (social democrats); and radical left liberals (communists).

If we recognise all three as being variants on the same liberal principles, then the orthodoxy which exists is brought to the surface. It is then easier to challenge people to think outside the existing political framework - something we need members of the political class to do if we are not to continue to follow liberal principles to their self-destructive ends.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Arguing against reality

What makes feminists think the way they do?

Here’s one useful case study. The most recent appointment to Australia’s High Court is a woman, Susan Crennan. When she was appointed the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, made clear that she was selected not because of her sex, but on merit alone.

You would think that this would make feminists happy. Not so Leslie Cannold. In an article for The Age she notes that if appointments are made on merit, and if there are fewer female High Court justices, then it is being suggested that women are less meritorious than men. This she takes as an insult to women.

But what if there are simply fewer female candidates for such positions because many women choose to devote themselves to motherhood? What if, as Susan Crennan herself has suggested, it is a “biological imperative” which leads to there being more qualified men than women for High Court positions?

Predictably, this response draws out a basic statement of liberalism from Leslie Cannold. She writes,

... such a rebuttal seems to me to constitute further evidence of the discriminatory nature of the system and those who run it.

To suggest that female biology is destiny is to depict women as slaves to their hormones rather than rational beings capable of choosing if and when they’ll reproduce.

For liberals, our very humanity is defined by our ability to choose for ourselves who we are and what we do. We are meant to create ourselves through our own individual reason and will. In this view, accepting an inherited tradition or an unchosen “biological destiny” is considered to be an oppressive impediment to the self-creating individual.

That’s why liberals hate the idea of an inherited ethnic identity. It’s also why they consider a conventional sexual morality to be oppressive and why they want many alternative kinds of family life rather than just the traditional one.

And it explains why Leslie Cannold vehemently rejects the idea that “female biology is destiny” and considers such an idea “discriminatory”.

Where does this ideological view of things lead? Think of it this way. For conservatives, the fact that women are more likely than men to take time off work to mother their children is both a natural and desirable state of affairs.

But a liberal like Leslie Cannold can’t see it this way. For her, biology isn’t allowed to count – it isn’t allowed to predispose women to motherhood.

So when Leslie Cannold sees reality – sees that women are still more committed to motherhood than men – she assumes that this must be because girls aren’t being taught to think logically or that men are somehow being obstreperous in not taking over the motherhood role.

Her efforts to eradicate the influence of biology also means that she must even reject the “compromise” position of many young women, namely, to pursue a career but to take some years off to raise their young children.

For Leslie Cannold, it is a kind of defeat, rather than a reasonable compromise, for young women to have “future plans to stay home when their kids are young” in order to live “less exhausting lives than their mums”.

So the end point of Cannold’s feminism is an oppressive one for young women. They are to sacrifice themselves to prove that their lives are disconnected from any natural impulse toward active motherhood. They must either accept the harried lives of their feminist mothers or else wait for men to be equally committed to motherhood as themselves.

Fortunately, young women seem less inclined these days to accept a view which is so at odds with reality.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Selfish, conservative & inward looking?

One good thing that's happened in Melbourne in recent years is a move away from modernist styles of housing. There's been a revival in heritage styles in architecture, and the quality of these homes is sometimes very high.

Charm has made a comeback!

But the revival of heritage styles doesn't have everyone's approval. As an article in today's Age puts it,

Architects loathe these developments, just about as much as people like them.

Patrick Kennedy is one such architect who is not amused by the fashion for heritage style homes. He complains that,

These houses now reflect the same view as our political climate -
selfish, conservative and inward looking.

Nor is fellow architect Norman Day impressed by the popularity of heritage styles. He believes that such houses are in fashion because,

people are scared. They no longer see houses as places to live - they are investments, they are commodities.

Unfortunately, it seems as if some architects are so committed to modernism that they fail to understand how most people see things.

A lot of us have a greater emotional response to heritage style homes because they connect us to our history and cultural identity and because such styles are generally less severe than the stripped down geometric styles typical of modernist architecture.

Modernist homes often look like offices. Sometimes they are stylish but cold. At other times they are just plain brutally ugly.

Norman Day is wrong. People do see houses as places to live, which is exactly why they have been choosing houses with some traditional homely charm, rather than the more severe modern styles. This may be, as Patrick Kennedy claims, a symptom of conservatism, but it is not selfish and nor is it inward looking.

It has helped to make the newer outer suburban estates more attractive places to live.

(Here's one example of the newer style of housing. I don't like the protruding garage, but the rest of the house is a nice example of a Melbourne heritage style.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Lawrence Auster has written several posts lately on the theme of transcendence. Although this is not the easiest subject matter, it's an important argument and well worth the effort to read.

What is transcendence and why does it matter?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Loud and clear and wrong

Earlier this month some legal changes were brought about here in Victoria. One of them is that you can no longer plead provocation as a defence for murder.

Here is how The Age reported the impending legal reforms:

Men who kill their partners in a jealous rage will no longer be able to use the partial defence of provocation ... Attorney-General Rob Hulls said yesterday the proposed reforms to go before Parliament today tackled entrenched bias against women ... "This Government will not support a mechanism ... that has been relied upon by men who kill partners or ex-partners out of jealousy or anger".

Football and political identity Phil Cleary ... said the provocation defence was "a barbaric, misogynist law that had to go ... The real challenge now is to ensure that those old-style judges who have been complicit in the law of provocation are not able to stay complicit behind the closed doors of chamber".

Australian Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja also welcomed the proposed scrapping of the provocation defence. "The defence of provocation enshrines an anachronistic and old-fashioned world view of male violence towards women as understandable and justifiable ... If we are to abolish domestic violence in this country, we must abolish the protection of its perpetrators in our legal system".

The message here is loud and clear, is it not? It is men who murder women and then use a provocation defence to get off. It is old-fashioned male judges who accept murderous violence against women and conspire to defend the male perpetrators.

Now, I'm glad that the defence of provocation has been abolished. But I have to protest about the way the legal reforms have been reported. Reports like those quoted above perpetuate a stereotype about male oppressors and female victims which is based on an abstract theory, namely patriarchy theory. The stereotype is easily shown to be false.

As it happens, I've already published an article on this very issue, which provides the kind of information which ought to embarrass Rob Hulls, Phil Cleary and Natasha Stott Despoja.

What is this information? A Victorian Law Reform Commission has previously examined the issue of the provocation defence. It found that female defendants were more successful in using the provocation defence than were men. In fact, during the period examined by the commission 8 out of 26 female defendants used the provocation defence and not one was convicted of murder.

The commission also found that men were more successful using the provocation defence when their victim was male rather than female.

Furthermore, even when men were successful in using the provocation defence their average sentence was double that of women who used the same defence.

Not surprisingly, the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported that its data, "does not support the conclusion that the provocation defence generally operates in a gender biased way." In fact, as you can see from the data, if there is any gender bias it is in favour of women rather than men.

The Age report is therefore wrong on two counts. First, the provocation defence was not employed solely by men who had murdered women; rather, it was women who were more successful in using the provocation defence to escape murder convictions.

Second, far from being an instrument of patriarchal control, the legal system is much more lenient toward women than men. If there is any "rooting out" of old-fashioned judges to be done, it will be to identify those judges who are protectively lenient to female murderers, rather than male ones.

Why is it important to correct these media falsehoods? Becuase the assumption that men conspire to oppress women is a destructive one. If offends and ultimately demoralises those men whose natural instinct is to work hard to protect women, and, on the female side, it undermines the trust in men necessary to commit to relationships.

For this reason, we ought to object when the issue of domestic violence is discussed only in terms of male perpetrators and female victims. As anyone who reads a newspaper regularly would know, there are also cases of domestic violence in which it is women who inflict injuries on children, other women or even on their male partners.

The domestic violence issue needs to be addressed without the distortion imposed by patriarchy theory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Masculinity bad for you?

Every few years we get someone arguing that "masculinity is bad for you". This time it's the turn of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward.

She has told a men's health conference that the reason why men's health is worse than women's is because a traditional masculine identity makes men work too hard to support their families. Ms Goward is reported as claiming that,

if men spent more time with their children and did more housework, it would improve their physical and mental health, make them less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour, and give them skills traditionally allocated to women.

Now, the first thing to realise here is that Ms Goward has a political agenda in making these claims. Feminists would dearly love men to lower their work commitments and to take over the traditional motherhood role of women.

Why? Two reasons, I think. First, feminists often believe that the reason men have more political and economic power is that men have organised improperly as a group to gain power and privilege at the expense of women, who are therefore oppressed as a group (patriarchy theory). Therefore, for feminists it is seen as a great triumph for women to increase their earnings relative to men. It's easier for women to do this if their husbands are at home with the kids rather than in paid work.

Second, feminists generally follow the liberal view that we shouldn't be limited in our individual will. This means that they like the idea of a fluid gender identity in which role reversal is possible, rather than individuals following traditional gender roles as a "biological destiny".

Anyway, here is one the major problems facing Ms Goward. Women do still want their husbands to work full-time. Women themselves prefer to work part-time or not at all. And men are happiest working full-time.

These are the findings of a major research project, managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

So it seems that men are not "oppressing" women by working hard, nor is it likely, given the preferences of both men and women, that we'll see a widespread role reversal any time soon.

A couple of additional points. It probably is unhealthy if men really do push themselves excessively at work. This is more likely to destroy masculinity in the long run. Interestingly, the research project mentioned earlier found that men's happiness started to decrease when working over 50 hours a week. The optimum was a 35 to 40 hour working week.

Second, it's an impoverishment of masculine identity if men see work and being a provider as the only expression of being a man. Traditional forms of masculinity incorporated other roles as well, including men helping to educate and socialise their own children (especially their sons).

Something else already?

There are signs that our political class is already considering abandoning the idea of an Australian nation in favour of a larger Pacific confederation.

The ALP has actually reached the point of putting forward a policy paper which advocates establishing a Pacific Community (Australia, NZ, PNG and the smaller Pacific nations like Fiji). There would be a Pacific Parliament, a Pacific Court, a Pacific Common Market, a common currency and military integration.

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, approves of the plan and notes that "Closer Pacific regionalism - even eventual confederation - may be an idea whose time has come".

Note that the ALP policy even includes bringing Islander labour to Australia, as part of a free movement of labour.

What this shows, above all else, is how superficial the idea of "civic nationalism" is. Traditionalist conservatives support an ethnic nationalism, in which a nation is founded on a common kinship, history, language, culture, religion - on a tradition which clearly distinguishes one nation from another.

Liberals have abandoned such ethnic nationalism because it's not something that is determined by individual choice, but rather is something inherited. Instead, they have adopted the idea of a civic nationalism in which anyone could choose to become a citizen of any country.

But once national identity is so easily transferable, there is no longer a reason to maintain existing nation states. Hence the fact that our politicians can imagine making us all citizens of some other entity, alongside different peoples to whom we are not closely related and whose traditions we do not share.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Problem solved?

Australia has a system of mandatory detention for illegal arrivals. Anyone found to be here illegally is put into a detention centre until their application for residency is finalised.

It's a policy which comes under constant criticism from the left. Because of endless appeals some people end up staying in detention for long periods.

At least, though, mandatory detention solves the kind of situation Sweden finds itself in. In Sweden asylum seekers who have their applications rejected can simply disappear into the community.

What solution is Sweden having to resort to? The Swedish government is planning to offer an amnesty to allow such people to stay.

So the whole system breaks down. You can arrive in Sweden illegally, claim to be a refugee, have your application rejected, disappear into the community and still be rewarded with an "amnesty" and be allowed to stay.

It is effectively a situation which the government no longer controls: the illegal arrivals do.

It's a warning that Australia should not follow such a model by releasing everyone who arrives here illegally into the general community.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


This is where liberalism gets you. Last Friday, the first ever civil union between a threesome took place in the Netherlands.

Viktor de Bruijn "married" two women in a ceremony before a notary who officially registered their civil union. At the moment, only a civil union rather than a marriage is recognised, but who knows when this will change.

Viktor described the events thus: "A marriage between three persons is not possible in the Netherlands, but a civil union is. We went to the notary in our marriage costume and exchanged rings. We consider this to be just an ordinary marriage."

It was only a year ago that I wrote an item on Alastair Nicholson, the very respectably liberal former chief justice of the Family Court of Australia. In arguing for homosexual marriage, Nicholson claimed that the traditional understanding of marriage had been superseded, to the point that "it is difficult to argue that a modern marriage necessarily excludes all others."

Once you begin to see marriage as any kind of arrangement which individuals contract to, there is no logical reason to limit it to two people - so it seems inevitable that liberal societies will move toward a recognition of polygamy. I just didn't think it would happen so quickly.

The lesson? We should think very carefully before moving from a traditional view of marriage as an exclusive union between a man and woman. Once marriage becomes liberalised into nothing more than a state sanctioned contract between individuals it loses its particular character and begins to take any form - including a polygamous one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When the wheel turns

I left school in the mid-80s expecting to spend a few years of single independence at uni before embarking on a career and marrying.

Was I in for a shock. By the time I was ready to settle down (at about the age of 23) relationships between men and women had changed so radically that marriage seemed an unlikely prospect.

Young middle class women had been brought up to value independence above all else. I was aware of this and thought that I would have to make some compromises to accommodate this within a marriage.

What stunned me was how quickly any notion of compromise was lost. Many of the most attractive girls went "all the way" with their commitment to independence by simply deferring the very idea of marriage and children until some unspecified point in their mid to late 30s.

What is more, there was a kind of feminist triumphalism in the media. It was common to be told that women were now happily independent and self-sufficient and that traditional men were obsolete.

The situation was made more difficult by the personal behaviour of many young women. A lot of young women acted in a coarse, mannish way and chose to date "the wrong sort of guy".

Added to all this, the divorce rate was rising and divorce laws seemed to leave men with little legal protection in a marriage.

The question to be asked is how do men react when put in such a situation? When the normal process of settling down is made so difficult, how do men adapt psychologically?

I believe that many of the men caught in this situation did make a kind of psychological transformation. They found a balance in their relationships with individualistic women, by becoming more individualistic in their own outlook.

They found that now that they weren't expected to take care of women, that their lives were lighter and more "free-floating". They tried to live by the benefits of this, as this was what was now available to them.

They had been forced to become more self-sufficient, and to set their own personal goals, rather than to fulfil goals related to romantic love or family life.

For some men, this meant deferring their own commitment to family and career, for others it meant chasing their own materialistic, lifestyle goals to which their partners were expected to contribute, without making burdensome demands.

Lone women

How have things worked out for my generation now that we've reached our mid-thirties? Not so well, I think.

The first problem is that many women reached their thirties and found that they no longer wanted to do the careerist, single girl lifestyle anymore. They now wanted to marry and have a family.

Unfortunately, they were all too successful in attacking the traditional "family man" ethos when they were in their 20s. Men have gone through a major psychological adaptation away from their protector, provider instincts: it's not easy for men to change back.

And so you get the kind of lament made by Martha Kirkland, in an email to Henry Makow. Martha is a 30-something woman living in New York, who, despite being bright, thin, attractive and funny, finds herself without a partner.

Martha is understandably unimpressed by the fact that many men ask her on the first date how much she earns or whether she has a trust fund. She can't understand "how grace, charm and feminine essences no longer seemingly have a value".

She has observed that "The last thing my men friends want is any woman to be dependent upon them, especially emotionally and secondarily financially."

The conclusion Martha has drawn from this is that it is she and many of her women friends who are "at a relatively young age dinosaurs".

It's interesting for Martha Kirkland to put things this way because it mirrors what traditionally minded men felt in our twenties, rather than our thirties. That back then it was women who did not sufficiently value their "grace, charm and feminine essences"; that it was women who did not want to depend emotionally or financially on a man; and that it was traditional men who found themselves at a young age declared obsolete.

Meaning & identity

So the wheel has turned. It is now women, rather than men, who want to follow their instincts to marry, and who are disoriented by the individualistic values of the opposite sex.

Should men take comfort from this? I don't think so, because as Henry Makow rightly points out in response to Martha Kirkland's email, the situation is hardly ideal for men either.

He writes that:

Feminism lets men "off the hook". We no longer have to take responsibility for families. Instead, we can do as we please. In my case, that meant a search for meaning and identity.

Ironically, I learned that these are rooted in the masculine role feminism allowed me to forego.

In other words, a large part of meaning and identity for men is derived from our masculine role within a family, whether as husbands or fathers. So, even though a genderless, individualistic role might feel lighter and less burdensome, it is less likely to leave a man feeling fulfilled.

Martha Kirkland herself makes another good criticism of the newer, individualistic role for men. She explains that,

I attempt to persuade [these men] that the wildly successful feminist does not become the Dove Girl at home. That they are asking the impossible, a totally womanly creature that is utterly self-sustaining, emotionally, spiritually and financially. I attempt to illustrate how this creature in fact cannot co-exist. Or rather co-exist, in the same female body, mind, spirit.

What Martha is saying here is that a woman who is forced to become emotionally and financially independent is less likely to be attractively feminine at home.

I think this is generally true. A woman with a husband who intelligently protects her from some of the harshness of life, is much more likely to reveal her softer, more vulnerable feminine qualities.

It's not realistic to expect that most women will be ruggedly self-sufficient and softly feminine at the same time: this would be to expect a woman to be contradictory things.

So men ultimately have to choose one thing or the other; fully-natured, heterosexual men are more likely to want feminine women, even if this means taking on the "burden" of a protective role within the family.


I have seen a number of different responses to the situation women now find themselves in.

The relationships columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun, Toby Green, has for some years now urged men to ignore the feminism of the 80s and 90s and to return to an authentic masculinity.

She has spoken of the treatment of men by feminist women that:

We huffed and puffed and blew your masculinity down. Maybe it was the headiness of the battle, but we got carried away. At some point, we needed to be saved from ourselves ...

Has it not occurred to you that you could not really be as terrible as we keep telling you you are ...

As a mate, I will tell some in-house secrets. Some of us know we are out on a limb and do not know how to tell you without losing face that, although we may not need to be protected (I did not say dominated) and taken care of, we like it. It feels good.

Robyn Riley, another Herald Sun columnist, has taken a different approach to the situation of contemporary women. In a recent column she angrily attacked those men who, in their late 30s, still "don't want to deal with the responsibility of family, housework and career".

She doesn't want to admit that the male attitude is a predictable reaction to an earlier feminist individualism. To the suggestion that the lack of commitment is because "in the 90s, men felt they were repressed" she responds that "If they were, it was only for a decade, for goodness sake."

And she then admits that "What bugs me is that the minute women look like winning some equality, these delinquents start stamping their feet and having tips in their hair and riding around on scooters." (Herald Sun 12/2/04)

And here we have the problem. For an orthodox liberal feminist like Robyn Riley "equality" means female independence. This is because liberals believe that we should be autonomous, in the sense of being created by our own individual reason or will.

It would be very hard for an orthodox liberal to admit that we need someone else to help us to fulfil our lives. And so Robyn Riley is committed to the idea that women should be independent, and that men should do whatever is required to uphold this kind of female individualism.

There's little room here for understanding real world psychology, including how men are likely to psychologically adapt to the presence of feminist women. It is just the imposition of ideology onto one area of life which is intensely personal and instinctive.

The angry, feminist, anti-male approach of Robyn Riley is unlikely to convince a new generation of men to recommit to family life. The more sophisticated approach of Toby Green, which is able to recognise gender difference, and which allows a natural interdependence of men and women, is much more likely to allow men and women to reestablish healthy relationships.

(First published at Conservative Central 14/02/2004)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Double discrimination

We are letting down our boys.

Just take the issue of sports. Last year a Victorian tribunal ruled that a 14-year-old girl could not be excluded from playing in a boys' football competition. This was done in accordance with anti-discrimination laws.

The very same tribunal has now decided that it's fine to exclude 12-year-old and 13-year-old boys from a girls' netball league. Netball Victoria welcomed the decision, with the comment that "Girls don't play the same way as boys and don't always wish to play against boys. We believe they should have that choice."

Well, yes. They should have that choice. But so too should boys.

And to compound the double standard, there is now a Victorian football league from which boys are excluded. A newspaper article quoted one of the girl players saying "When you play with boys, you don't feel very comfortable tackling." Which I can well understand; but I also understand that many boys would (rightly) not feel comfortable tackling girls either.

So the situation is this: we have anti-discrimination laws which prevent boys from having their own football competition, but which allow girls to have their own football and netball competitions.

In other words, the anti-discrimination laws blatantly and unjustifiably discriminate. They should be scrapped: something is wrong when we can't even allow boys to do something as normal and healthy as play football together.

(I've discussed this issue previously in an article "Free to Choose??")

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Gender traitors?

There have been more developments in the Swedish feminist party, Feminist Initiative.

First, Susanne Linde, a leading figure in the party, has resigned after being bullied by another leading member, Tiina Rosenberg. Rosenberg, a professor of gender studies, taunted the more politically moderate Linde, by saying that "a good moderate is a dead moderate". When Linde spoke of resigning Rosenberg said "I'm glad that our intelligence reserve won't fall with you." Linde said of this "I felt so violated I started to cry."

Now, this kind of bickering is not unheard of in political parties. But remember, feminists keep telling us how much nicer and more peaceful the world would be if only they could run things, instead of nasty men. But it seems that feminists can't even keep the peace in their own little party, let alone on the world stage.

The second development also concerns Tiina Rosenberg. She is reported to have said that, "women who sleep with men are traitors to their gender."

This statement is a real blast from the past. It harks back to the feminism of the 1970s and early 1980s. I caught the tail-end of it when I was an undergraduate uni student in the mid-80s. On the housing advertisement board, there used to be ads for women only communes. Within a few years, though, feminist separatism had run out of steam.

And now it reappears in Sweden. It is a wildly perverse attitude, which runs directly counter to healthy human instinct and social solidarity. I can only presume it has its origins either in lesbianism, or else the left-liberal idea that there are oppressor groups (men) who have set up artificial categories (male and female) in order to achieve a will to power of their own group over a deprived and oppressed victim group (women).

If you were to take such an ideology seriously, then perhaps you might see men and women as enemies locked in combat, so that a heterosexual woman could be castigated for "sleeping with the enemy."

But what a dreary, life-wasting philosophy! Imagine relegating the differences between men and women to the realm of "oppressive, artificial, social construct". This does not fit well with heterosexuality, in which it is precisely the masculinity or the femininity of the opposite sex which we love. Nor does it judge fairly the real motivations of men in working hard to establish and provide well for their families.

In a way, Rosenberg is right: if you follow the logic of the leftist view, a woman would be led into the hopeless situation of rejecting heterosexual love and the traditional family.

You would think that someone led to such a position would reconsider the ideology being pursued. But perhaps Rosenberg is a lesbian and so has little to lose from rejecting heterosexual love and family life.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Marriage not for couples?

There's always a more radical liberalism. It doesn't matter how much society gives in to radical liberal demands, the left will never be satisfied but will want to take things further.

Take the issue of marriage. Some American states are now changing the traditional heterosexual form of marriage in order to include homosexual relationships. But for some radicals, having gay couples marrying is still applying a "heterosexual norm". They want marriage laws which incorporate any number of adults living together.

The Swedish group, Feminist Initiative, recently held a conference at which they decided on their policy toward marriage. The group voted for the introduction of a "cohabitation law" which would not only ignore the gender of those marrying, but would also allow for more than two people to be included.

FI founder, Tina Rosenberg, explained that the group wants to create "a modern concept which does not favour and promote couples and heterosexual norms."

She hastened to add, "A man who lives with eight women in a patriarchal structure, where the man decides and the women obey - that's not what we're aiming for," - it's not clear, though, how she intends to prevent a pattern emerging in which men marry as many women as they want or are able.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Reality vs Orthodoxy

Minette Marrin has written a very interesting column on the issue of human rights.

She begins by suggesting that "the great post-war left-liberal ascendancy may be beginning to question its own certainties".

Her chief exhibit is David Goodhardt, a self-confessed "sensitive member of the liberal elite." Goodhardt recently abandoned left-wing orthodoxy by writing about human rights that:

People are not born with rights ... Rights are a social construct, a product of history, ideas and of institutions. You and I have rights not as human beings, but mainly because we belong to the political and national community called the United Kingdom, with its infrastructure of laws and institutions.

It's remarkable for someone from the left to declare such a thing. Usually the left trumpets the idea of abstract, universal rights. Minette Marin herself offers a good criticism of this left-wing tendency to base politics on claims of abstract rights when she writes,

This approach is incoherent ... it offers no explanation of what mysterious entity has conferred such rights or how they are to be enforced or who is to decide between conflicting rights.

There's one more worthwhile part of Minette Marin's column. She criticises the proposal that immigrants to EU countries should swear an oath of allegiance to EU laws, rather than to their nation of residence. She complains,

You almost have to pinch yourself at the folly of it. All across Europe, governments and bureaucrats and so-called community leaders have been forced, most painfully, to try to think more deeply and more critically about identity and the fragility of the ties that bind us in a shared sense of belonging and how best to strengthen them; their lazy, unexamined platitudes about immigration and celebrating diversity have been blasted, quite literally, away.

And what does Brussels come up with? A proposal that is quite astounding in its lack of the slightest understanding of feeling, sentiment, social solidarity, place, custom, ritual, symbolism or national tradition ...

This is not quite traditionalist conservatism, as it doesn't recognise ties of kinship as being one important aspect of national identity. It does, though, realistically accept the fact that questions of identity and belonging are important to individuals, can't be taken for granted and require a respect for the traditional life of a community.