Why do white liberals accept the traditions of other cultures but not their own? Why do liberals associate any expression of white identity with supremacism?
It's not easy for traditionalists to grasp the answers to such questions. I want to to suggest in this post how liberals arrive at such positions, but to do so it helps if I begin with the liberal approach to gender.
Put briefly, liberals believe in autonomy as an overriding good. They believe that to be fully human we must be self-determining agents. We do not determine our sex for ourselves and therefore our sex is treated by liberals as something unnatural and restrictive, from which we must be liberated. Sex must be made not to matter.
For right liberals this means that the past, in which there were distinct sex roles, is to be regretted, but that as a matter of "progress", these sex roles will become defunct, particularly in terms of labour market participation, which for right liberals is a central social function.
Left liberals take things further. They too see the male career role as the premier one, and they ask why, if sex roles are artificial, there has existed "discrimination" and "inequality". Their answer is that a group of people have formed a social construct, "men", in order to dominate, exploit and oppress the "other", those categorised as "women".
Once left liberals take this view, a number of other positions logically follow. First, it isn't just a question of patiently waiting for "progress" to deliver the goods; instead, male "privilege" is to be aggressively attacked and whatever helps to form and uphold male loyalties or a masculine existence is to be deconstructed.
Second, a sense of active hostility to men becomes justified. For the more radical of liberal men, it begins to make sense to act against, and identify in opposition to, a traditional masculine culture.
When it comes to ethnicity there is a similar distinction between right and left liberals. We don't get to choose our ethnicity, and therefore liberals believe that it should be made not to matter.
Right liberals tend to take this as a universal principle. For them, all people are to assimilate into a culture based on liberal political values. Right-wing journalist Andrew Bolt does not even make the usual exception for Aborigines; he once complained that a group of Aborigines who wanted to retain control over an historic artefact, by acting as a tribe, were flouting:
The humanist idea that we are all individuals, free to make our own identities as equal members of the human race.
Similarly Bolt has written that he doesn't like there being a category of Aboriginal art at the National Gallery because such categories "drive us back into our racial prisons".
Right liberals might well regret forms of racial discrimination in the past, but this is likely to be seen as a measure of the time, which progress toward liberal ideals is erasing. There is no particular reason for right liberals to feel an animosity toward their own race, so they tend to combine a belief in non-discriminatory mass immigration, often justified in terms of market needs, with a positive view of their own tradition. John Howard, for instance, has described his own position as follows:
It's perfectly possible for an Anglo-Celtic Australian who sort of has a lot of reverence to the traditional institutions of the country, and the traditional characteristics of Australia, and to want to hang on to those, to be completely tolerant and colour-blind and so on.
This is the awkward position you arrive at when you accept as a universal principle the idea that ethnicity is not to matter, but when you have not lost your self-regard.
For the left, it's a different story. They once again ask the question of why there was once "inequality", in which whites were dominant in the West and, for a period at least, in colonies overseas.
Their answer follows the same train of thought as the one they give for gender inequality: they assert that a group of people organised themselves into an artificial category of race in order to dominate, exploit and oppress the non-white "other".
If whites are an artificial construct who oppress others in order to gain unearned privilege, then it is whites who stand in the way of the emergence of freedom and equality. This explains:
a) The apparent contradiction that white liberals seek to undermine the very societies most dedicated to ideals of freedom and equality in order to achieve freedom and equality.
b) The leftist insistence that white communities are aberrations whose existence is to be considered illegitimate. It is especially illegitimate for a community to exist in which whites are a majority and in a position to exercise power.
(Jennifer Clarke, a teacher at the Australian National University, recently described
Australia as a "regionally anomalous white enclave run largely by white people to our own advantage", in which anti-discrimination laws should be applied more effectively so that "a majority of Australians would no longer be of northern European ethnic heritage".)
c) The apparent "self-hatred" of left liberal whites. If the whole purpose of a white identity is to oppress and exploit others, and to hinder the achievement of equality and freedom, then it is logical for left-liberals to turn against their own identity and tradition. In fact, it becomes logical for left liberals to fiercely seek to undermine whatever continues to hold together a white communal existence.
If white communities are, as left-liberals assert, artificially constructed to uphold privilege, and if this explains the existence of inequality, then certain other seemingly irrational positions taken by the left can be better understood. These include:
a) The idea that Australia's prosperity somehow holds back or keeps down the living conditions of people elsewhere. Jennifer Clarke, for instance, writes that:
"the Australian way of life" itself may encapsulate undesirable social values, if that phrase extends to the idea that it is legitimate for those of us who live here to continue to monopolise more than our fair share of the earth's resources, while people who live in African refugee camps and Javanese slums must get by on far less.
The assumption is that we are prosperous not because of stable governance or a strong work ethic, but because we have monopolised the world's resources for ourselves. (As it happens, there's a story in today's paper which begins "Wars stripped $284 billion from Africa between 1990 and 2005, which is roughly equivalent to the entire amount of aid money given to the world's poorest continent." Perhaps there are better explanations for poverty in Africa than the efforts made by Australians to develop our own continent.)
b) The association of white nationalism with white supremacy. When individual whites assert their own communal loyalty, left liberals often describe them as white supremacists. This makes sense if you assume that the very purpose of "whiteness" is to establish dominance and privilege over others.
This is how Jennifer Clarke expresses her suspicion of English immigrants to Australia:
Similar questions might arise about some British emigration, particularly by "whites" leaving multicultural London. Antisocial behaviour by white supremacists or European or Christian chauvinists is not always defined or prosecuted as a crime ... but it can be just as destructive for a nation's social fabric.
Even quietly leaving a multiculture is enough to associate you, in Jennifer Clarke's mind, with white supremacism and anti-social behaviour.
c) The belief that the pro-immigration, open borders liberal right are in reality white supremacists.
Leftists see themselves as dissenting outsiders and the right as the power wielding establishment. Since the leftist ideology assumes that power is wielded by whites to uphold white privilege and to exclude and exploit others, it stands to reason that the right (power wielding whites) must be white supremacists.
There are those on the left who persevere in this view even as the Liberal Party has raised foreign immigration to record levels and transformed the Australian professional classes with fee paying overseas students.
Here is Jennifer Clarke expressing such a view about the Liberal Party Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews:
What many Australians, including Mr Andrews, still seem to want - decades after the "white Australia" policy was supposedly abolished - is a little piece of northern Europe at the crossroads of Asia and the Pacific. What they don't want are too many funny-looking people from Elsewhere coming here ...
d) An acceptance of the communal life of the "other". It seems odd that leftists should be so fiercely opposed to any expression of white communal identity, but then accept the same expressions of identity from other groups. Professor Robert Manne, for instance, has defended the existence of traditional Aboriginal communities as follows:
... 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.
When it comes to white Australian society, Professor Manne seems to forget such fine principles. He sticks the boot in as hard as he can.
Perhaps the contradiction can be partly explained by the fact that the left doesn't universalise the principle that "ethnicity ought not to matter" as the right tends to do. There are different categories in the leftist way of thinking about the issue. There are white communities, which represent the oppressive power of ethnicity, which have invented racism and discrimination, and which represent what is artificial in terms of identity.
The non-white "other" must therefore stand as a different category, not participating in such negative aspects of identity. To set up a category of "whiteness" as the source of artificial and oppressive identity suggests that the "other" category cannot be the source of artificial and oppressive identity. The universalism is broken.
Or, to put it another way, leftists have a choice of contradictions. If they view non-white ethnicity as racist and oppressive, it undercuts the theory that such qualities are particular to the construction of whiteness. If, on the other hand, they view non-white ethnicity as positive and natural, it undercuts the liberal idea that ethnicity in general is a restrictive limitation on the individual - in which case, why shouldn't whites enjoy the benefits of ethnic identity as others do?
Finally, I'd like to suggest two reasons why it's difficult for left-liberals to abandon the theory they've adopted. First, the theory assumes that whites are dominant exploiters. Therefore, white left-liberals are likely to have a false sense of security about the position of themselves and their co-ethnics. They aren't likely to sense the dangers to their civilisation as quickly as they might otherwise be expected to.
Second, the theory has a kind of inbuilt defence. If there are whites who challenge the theory, this can be taken as merely confirming what the theory claims; that whites are conditioned to organise to defend their privileged status.
For these and other reasons, the theory isn't easily dismissed. Even so, as it takes ever more radical forms, it tends to alienate those not professionally committed to it, so we ought to keep hammering away at its inconsistencies and at its ideological foundations.