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.