Saturday, July 22, 2006

Too late for an Australian Republic?

It looks like Australia will never be a republican nation. It is too late for this, as our political class is moving decisively away from nationalism altogether.

A hundred years ago, both republicans and monarchists supported a basically conservative nationalism, based on a common ethnicity.

By mid-century, this conservative concept of nationalism began to give way to a liberal nationalism based on citizenship. This shift to a citizenship based nationalism isn’t surprising. Liberals don’t like the idea that we should be impeded by unchosen attributes like ethnicity. So it came to be thought “discriminatory” to base membership of the nation on a shared ethnicity.

Instead, nationalism was to be based on a common commitment to liberal political values: to “citizenship”. Anyone could choose to become an Australian, as long as they were willing to commit to the requirements of citizenship.

Problem solved for liberals? Well, no. The citizenship model, which has dominated in recent decades, still doesn’t really satisfy the requirements of liberalism. It still involves a discrimination, which gives preference to some individuals (citizens) over others (non-citizens). It involves an “inequality of individual will” in that some are accorded a right or privilege (citizenship) denied to others.

And so the Australian political class is drifting toward the view that even citizenship based nationalism is immoral, and should be replaced by a more overt, open-borders internationalism.

Former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, caught the mood a few years ago when he condemned those whose “exclusiveness” relied on,

constructing arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community … if you ask what is the common policy of the Le Pens, the Terreblanches, Hansons and Howards of this world, in a word, it is “citizenship”. Who is in and who is out.

Such ideas also appear in an article published this week at South Sea Republic, a website dedicated to “Freedom, Liberty, Equity and an Australian Republic”. The article is titled “Nationalism and Universalism”; the author declares early on that he supports universalism as he believes that individuals can’t be equal under nationalism.

He asks,

Can individuals be equal under Nationalist government?

He answers no, as under the current system,

Those not of the nation, or not citizens can also have any political rights ignored. In fact in the nationalist thinking, unless those individuals are a subsumed component of the nation – often through the citizenship process – then they have no political rights …

Nationalism is an inequitable political philosophy which is hostile to universal individual political rights. An example of this in Australia is how the national government dealt with refugees. Due to the discriminate nature of nationalist government …

The idea here is that the rights you have as an Australian citizen must be extended to everyone on the globe: they must be universal, or else you have a case of discrimination and inequality. The author can’t accept a situation in which non-citizens don’t share the same political rights in Australia that citizens do.

If this liberal understanding continues to make ground, then we might one day see an Australian Republic, but it won’t be a nation, not even in the limited form of citizenship based nationalism. If it exists, it will do so only as a conglomerate of universal rights-bearing individuals.

There were many Australians who voted against a republic in the last referendum because they didn’t believe it when republican celebrities, many of them trendy lefties, adopted the mantle of Australian nationalism. It is becoming increasingly clear that such voters were right to be sceptical. In the current intellectual climate, republicanism is going to be increasingly tied to an anti-national universalism.


  1. Hi Mark

    I think the common mans republicanism is still alive and kicking. I feel what killed the republicans at the last referendum were
    a)the odious representatives of the republic movement.
    b)the proposed models.
    Get good people and a good model and the republic will come through.

  2. Mark,

    Out of interest, are you a republican, monarchist or something else?