Saturday, August 18, 2007

An enchanted world for them not us?

I belong loosely to a group that I would call the pro-Labor social justice liberal intelligentsia.

This is Professor Robert Manne's way of telling us that he's a left-liberal. A popular one, too, as he once topped a poll to decide Australia's leading public intellectual.

One of the other place getters in the poll was Michael Leunig. I discussed a while ago an odd feature of Leunig's politics, namely that he praises the Australian Aborigines for the traditionalism of their communities, whilst loathing the same qualities amongst white Australians.

As it happens, Robert Manne also holds to exactly the same double standard. There is something, therefore, about the left-liberal mindset in Australia which produces this strange inconsistency, in which Aborigines are admired for the very qualities which white Australians are damned for.

Let me give two examples of Manne's double standard. Manne recently defended the traditional Aboriginal way of life by referring to the work of white anthropologists who, Manne believes, observed:

not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being held a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning.

It's difficult to imagine anything more out of line with liberal modernism. At the moment the bookshops are full of works by the liberal intelligentsia claiming that religion is a dangerous threat to humanity. Yet here the Aborigines are given a free pass to live in an enchanted world in which there is not only religion, but a world "soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual" and "pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning".

Why isn't the ethos of liberal rationalism and scientism applied to Aborigines?

Similarly, liberals have pressed for an ideal in which we are unimpeded in choosing who we are and what we do. We are supposed to be self-determining individual agents, who aren't constrained by unchosen forms of identity based on gender or ethnicity, or by traditional social roles or patterns of family life.

Again, Manne doesn't apply the logic of liberalism to Aborigines. Not only do they get to keep basic forms of family life and gender identity, they are even praised for having "an intricate social order, in which, through kinship structure, every human held a precise and acknowledged place".

It is almost as if there are two Robert Mannes. The one who faces white Australia proclaims himself a member of the "pro-Labor social justice liberal intelligentsia". The one who ponders customary Aboriginal life is drawn to the most non-liberal vision of society imaginable.

And there's more. In 2001, Manne defended the existence of traditional Aboriginal communities this way:

... if the traditional communities are indeed destroyed, one distinctive expression of human life - with its own forms of language, culture, spirituality and sensibility - will simply become extinct. Humanity is enriched and shaped by the diversity of its forms of life. It is vastly impoverished as this diversity declines. If contemporary Australians allow what remains of the traditional Aboriginal world to die, we will be haunted by the tragedy for generations.

If this is true, and if Manne really believes it to be true, he should apply it to all of the world's peoples, including Europeans. But he doesn't. When it comes to mainstream Australia the defence of "distinctive expressions of human life" simply disappears from view, to be replaced with an ideal of multiculturalism, diversity and open borders.

Again we have the two Mannes. One laments the possible destruction of traditional Aboriginal communities as a loss of a distinctive expression of human life; the other has laboured for, as a matter of justice, the destruction of traditional Australia and its replacement by a multicultural society.

I'll leave a consideration of why Manne's double standard exists to the comments. What I've really tried to show in setting out Manne's views is that left-liberalism must have a profound defect - if it didn't it wouldn't generate such disturbing inconsistencies.


  1. One might say that such as Manne have rejected moral universalism and categorical imperatives -- categorically. There's no Right, only "right for me," which is unlikely to be "right for thee." The attitude goes hand in hand with the war on truth.

  2. There is no inconsistency. At the core his beliefs are childishly simple and completely consistent.

    For all the games of intellectual dress-up Manne and his type play with their opinions in the end it comes down to; "I have an instinctive dislike of the West" and "I have a fatuously romanticised notion of other cultures".

    Manne is obviously an intelligent man but he applies his intelligence to justifying opinions worthy of a disaffected teenager.

    Search for consistency in that if you can be bothered.

  3. Clearly, Mann has no affinity to white-European society. Perhaps it has something to do with his own cultural background...

  4. Basically the aborigines are effectively zoo animals for many of these people - treated like some kind on endangered species that requires their protection. Hence they are absolved of any sense of being personally responsible for any of their actions. An example of this is the pre-1967 denunciation of the fact that aborigines were not allowed to drink alcohol, and how patronising this was treating them as children. Today, of course, there are high rates of alcoholism in the aboriginal community, but many of the same type of person moan about the nasty white man’s poison sent to destroy the aboriginal people!

    Ultimately, I feel that the "value" given to the aborigines is an attempt to de-legitimise Anglo culture and tradition. It is to say that British (or English) traditions are illegitimate here. This is coupled in with the claim that those of "English origin" are now less than 50% of the population (although if you include Scots, Welsh, Cornish and Protestant Irishmen it is comfortably over 50%) to say that any "English" tradition is not really legitimate anymore and can and should be junked.

    Aboriginal culture and society is not really something that can be used as a blueprint for living in an urban society - except in a most superficial way - and clearly non-aboriginals are not part of the pattern of kinship (clan as we would see it), and can't be without breaking the system.

    It is a case of using the existence aboriginal culture to undermine the legitimacy of traditional Australia culture (which is Anglo centric and therefore wrong); and at the same time using their suffering and dislocation as a mace to bludgeon us around the head for our "evil" which needs to be atoned - and which further de-legitimises our culture and society.

    This couples in with their multiculturalism by saying that we have absolutely no right to expect an immigrant from Ukraine, Vietnam, or Iraq to assimilate with our culture as our culture is as alien here as theirs, and worse, it brutalised and dispossessed aboriginal culture.

    I personally think it would be a sad day if all aboriginal traditions died out. But it is because I value my own traditions, and want them to live that I value, and support, aboriginal efforts to maintain their own sense of tradition and identity. I don't think some arrogant white man appropriating the odd custom like it is some kind of buffet is helping to maintain a sense of their own culture. It is surely taking from them what little they have left of their sense of selves: their own distinctive culture.

  5. 'I personally think it would be a sad day if all aboriginal traditions died out. But it is because I value my own traditions, and want them to live that I value, and support, aboriginal efforts to maintain their own sense of tradition and identity. I don't think some arrogant white man appropriating the odd custom like it is some kind of buffet is helping to maintain a sense of their own culture. It is surely taking from them what little they have left of their sense of selves: their own distinctive culture.'

    Indeed. It is also a patronising attitude about which the leftoids like Mann keep harping on and denouncing conservatives for.

    Look, I think the error we are making is looking for consistency and reason among these knobs. The only consistency we will find is their hatred of the West and the manipulation of any device to attack and brutalise it.

  6. Why would a Manne or a Leunig take a traditionalist view toward Aborigines but a liberal one toward the West?

    One possible explanation runs as follows. Even though left-liberals form an orthodox establishment, they continue to see themselves as dissenting outsiders.

    Therefore, rather than identifying with the West, they identify with what they perceive to be "outsider" groups.

    In part, this gives them a cause and a focus for their "emotional politics".

    It also gives them a focus for the egalitarian emphasis within left-liberal politics.

    It means too that they can use the status or condition of the minority group to hit out at the Western mainstream they are disaffected with.

    Some leftist intellectuals go beyond identifying with the outsider group emotionally or sympathetically. Some even seek to change personal identities.

    Germaine Greer is the classic example. There was a period of time (in her early adulthood) when the Anglo-Catholic Greer imagined herself to be Jewish. More recently, she has wanted to adopt an Aboriginal identity, even writing an essay urging that Australians 'as if by an act of transubstantiation' simply declare themselves to be Aboriginal.

    So, if you identify with the Aborigines and against the West, then you are likely to want to defend what Aborigines are in their non-Western guise. And Aborigines in their non-Western guise are decidedly non-liberal.

    So there you reach the contradiction. Our dissenting outsiders remain left-liberal in terms of mainstream society, but are committed to defending and extolling the decidedly non-liberal and traditional life of pre-Western Aborigines.

  7. Mark, I thought of another case in point for "changing identities" that you just reminded me of, who was recently in the news. That was Prof. Ward Churchill, recently fired from the University of Colorado, who pretended to be an American Indian.

    I've just addressed your question here. We've been having something of an ongoing discussion of some of the issues concerned over the last week or so. It started at Crunchy Con, then I addressed it several times, and Flanders Fields has also chimed in. Hope your readers will enjoy it!

  8. A while ago in Canada, some First Nations groups protested against teaching Darwinian evolution to their kids in schools, and wanted their beliefs about the creation of the world to be taught instead.

    For some weird reason, our political left did not make even a peep about this.

  9. Manne is perfectly consistent. He wants a mystical religion without moral restraints, a "new age" religion which he sees in Aboriginal society - Eastern spirituality without the cultural baggage of the West.

    And they were basic primitive Socialists, eh? Sharing their tribal goods with each other without the horrible capitalism of today - that and institutional religion, the origins of all evil.

    No, Manne is typical of where the liberal, relativistic intelligensia are heading. The dream of a perfect non-technological (Green) world, pure communism, fuzzy with feel-good religiosity.

  10. The dream of a perfect non-technological (Green) world, pure communism, fuzzy with feel-good religiosity.

    The world has too many people now to ever entertain this idiotic, technology-free dream. Their desire for a non-technological existence would literally sentence billions of people to death. Trying to feed 6.5 billion people with Stone Age agricultural methods would result in massive starvation; the end of modern sanitation would result in massive epidemics of disease.

    Not that Greer et. al. or any of the others would even care -- they always assume that THEY are so precious and unique and wonderful that THEY would survive while everyone else would perish.

    I'm telling you these people are simply evil. There's no other words to describe them.

  11. Manne is a jew.

    That is a sufficient explanation of his worldview, an irreducibly Talmudic ... one.

    Liberalism is the tool which he and his kind promote for the consumption (and destruction) of the goyim.

  12. Anonymous,

    If it were just Jewish intellectuals making the arguments Manne makes you would be on firmer ground.

    But it's not. His arguments are to be found amongst left-liberals in general.

    If there is any group most wedded to liberalism it is arguably the Anglo-Protestant intellectuals.

    You would think that this group would assert majority interests - but they don't.

    This is where it's important that we try to understand how liberal modernity makes intellectual people act against their own group interests.

    It's useless to complain to an anti-Western liberal political class that a Jewish intellectual like Manne is liberal and anti-Western.

    Where is this going to get you? How is this going to challenge the orthodox views of this class?

  13. Most modern, Western Jews have no idea what's in the Talmud. My theory is that they sympathize with anybody who seems like a victim group because they themselves have so often been victims. However, you really do have to wonder why Jews support groups that actively despise them such as Muslims and militant blacks. Some kind of weird unconscious desire to be victimized all over again? Maybe victimization is such a huge part of their cultural make-up that they are really afraid of living in a world where they are not eternal victims?

    Self-disclosure: I am married to a (non-victim-worshipping) Jew myself.