Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tony Abbott: conservative words, liberal policies

Tony Abbott is one of those Liberal Party types who seriously believe that they are representing both the liberal and conservative traditions.

This attempted marriage of liberal and conservative thought doesn't work. In practice, the shift is always toward liberalism.

Abbott gave a speech on the weekend to the Young Liberals convention in which the mixture of genuinely conservative thought and radically liberal policies was especially gruesome.

Here is the Burkean conservatism:

As conservatives, we have Burke’s sense that a successful society involves keeping faith with those that came before and those that will come after us. Our instinct is to respect and cherish our country and its institutions because they have helped to make us what we are ... We never lightly change the things that really matter and, when change is necessary, try to change as little as possible.

This would be great if it were reflected in Liberal Party policy. But it's not. It's not reflected in the Liberal Party immigration policy which Abbott supports. Nor is it reflected in Abbott's view on family:

Similarly, we can’t be judgemental of people who are trying to make the most of the circumstances they find themselves in. Supporting families shouldn’t mean favouring one family type over others. We have to resist yearning for “ideal” families and “traditional” mothers. Every family is a source of nurturing and security for its members. All parents are striving for the best for their children. There can be no antediluvian thoughts linking childcare and women neglecting their children during the working day. Whether formal or informal, for parents in the paid or the unpaid workforce, at least some childcare is the absolutely essential means for most parents to give their children a decent standard of living and to have a fulfilled life.

I wouldn't mind if Abbott had simply said that we shouldn't be judgemental toward people who find themselves in less than ideal circumstances, that there is a place for childcare and that many single parents work hard for their children and so on. He's gone much further than this, though, and endorsed the radical position which claims that there are many family types, each as good as the other. ("Supporting families shouldn't mean favouring one family type over others ... Every family is a source of nurturing and security for its members ...")

Abbott has effectively committed himself to the idea that fathers are not essential to family life, and that the connection between mother and baby is not as important as it was once believed to be. These are ideas which don't make for a stability of family life nor for a determined commitment to parenting (if my role as a father makes no difference to the quality of family life, then why would I make such an effort?).

Abbott has rejected a defence of a traditional culture of family life, in favour of a brave new world of more fluid relationships. Yet he still claims the mantle of Burkean conservative:

Today’s anxieties are less that Australia might become an economic backwater but that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The next successful prime minister will tap people’s yearning to be a community as well as an economy; to belong as well as to succeed. A Liberal who understands the importance of the social fabric and the part Burke’s “little platoons” play in it is more likely to provide this than a Labor leader addicted to bureaucracy.

Again, fine words, but to set people the task of "belonging" after the natural forms of community have been torn away is probably not what Edmund Burke had in mind.

So what has gone wrong in Abbott's politics? Why has his reading of Burke done so little good?

One problem is that Abbott still takes as his central principle the liberal ideal of "freedom". In the liberal philosophy, freedom is understood to mean the unimpeded individual will. We are supposed to be, within the limits of order, free to choose in any direction.

In this view, individuals are free when they are unencumbered by ties of ethnicity, or by traditional family roles, or by the authority of fathers, or by ideals of masculinity or femininity.

I don't accept this understanding of freedom, and so I can't cheer on Abbott when he says:

Because we place our faith in the common sense and decency of every human being, we think that people should be free. This preference for freedom would be almost revolutionary in the Labor Party but it is an article of faith for us. We are the freedom party but it is freedom on ethical foundations that we support, in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, because it offers the surest path to a better society.

Abbott has written elsewhere that "The Liberal Party’s animating principle is freedom". Once you accept "freedom", understood in terms of liberal philosophy, as the "animating principle" of your politics, then the things that matter aren't likely to be upheld, no matter how much Burke you read.

Which brings me to a final point. If Abbott lived at a time when the unspoken understanding of things was conservative, rather than liberal, then Burkean conservatism might have led to something better. But, as Lawrence Auster has pointed out, a Burkean reverence for a received understanding of things has radical consequences when liberalism has begun to dominate as a tradition.

Here is Auster writing about the British columnist Theodore Dalrymple:

I gather that what Dalrymple wants to bring back is an appreciation of non-conceptual Burkean prejudice, the wisdom of the accumulated experience of society, adherence to habit and tradition. The problem is that this Burkean outlook can only work in a society that has a sound and functioning tradition. In a society that has been transformed by leftist ideological radicalism, as Britain has been, Burkeanism is worse than useless, because the received habits and prejudices that it seeks to preserve are the habits and prejudices of the dominant left. It is for this very reason that British "conservatism" has been so helpless to hold back the ever advancing tides of cultural leftism since World War II and particularly in the ruinous period of Blair. Indeed, under the leadership of David Cameron, conservatism has defined itself as simply a type of left-liberalism, which is the natural destination of Burkean conservatism under a left-liberal order.

Read the newspaper columns of even the best conservatives in Britain today. They are unable to wage an effective intellectual and moral battle against the forces of destruction, because of that same British/Burkean dislike of first principles to which Dalrymple appeals--that distaste for conceptual thinking and clear distinctions that renders the conservatives so weak and watery.

Only a conceptual, rational conservatism, a conservatism that attempts to discover and articulate the essential truths of man and society, can fight back effectively against the dominant leftist ideology and its false principles.

Monday, January 28, 2008

It's not enough to be right

Andrew Bolt is easily the most influential right wing journalist here in Victoria. It's very important to understand, though, that he is not a conservative.

This isn't very hard to prove. Take a column he wrote recently for the Herald Sun, titled "Racism kills our heritage" (4/8/04). The column concerns two Aboriginal bark etchings, which were collected by a white landowner in the 1850s and which were then acquired by British museums.

The British museums returned the etchings to Australia on loan, but an Aboriginal tribe has laid claim to them and has won a legal order preventing their return to Britain.

Personally, I think it's wrong to accept the items on loan and then seize them. So I don't disagree with Andrew Bolt's basic position, that the etchings should go back to Britain. It is more the particular reasoning employed by Andrew Bolt to support his position which reveals his very straightforward liberalism.

The Aborigines claimed that they wanted to keep the etchings because, "We believe strongly that (the artefacts) connect us to our country, our culture and ancestry".

Now, the Aborigines are merely expressing here a normal conservative sentiment. Most ethnic groups feel a special connection to certain artefacts. Certainly, Anglo-Australians dislike it when prized artefacts are sold overseas. In fact, just recently there was even a huge outcry over the possible sale of a Don Bradman cricket cap to overseas buyers!

Imagine how important the bark etchings must be to the Bendigo Aborigines. These etchings must be amongst the precious few items connecting these Aborigines to their own history and ancestry. No wonder they would prefer to keep these etchings closer to home than Great Britain.

But Andrew Bolt doesn't see this. Instead, he claims that the Aborigines should have been "laughed to scorn" for trying to keep the etchings and he condemns them for being "racist".

Significantly, Bolt considers the Aborigines guilty of a "New Racism" which "insists that we are always members of a tribe". Now, this is pretty harsh: Bolt is telling a tribe of Aborigines that they are racist for considering themselves to be a tribe of Aborigines!

And here we come to the really telling point. Bolt goes on to state that the mistake made by the Aborigines is to forget,

The humanist idea that we are all individuals, free to make our own identities as equal members of the human race. In this New Racism, we're driven back into tribes.

This is as intense, condensed and pure a statement of liberalism as you're ever likely to come across.

Remember, the liberal first principle is the idea that to be fully human we must create who we are out of our own reason and will. The point of liberal politics is therefore to remove any impediments to an individual freedom to create ourselves in any direction.

One such impediment to a self-created identity is our ethnicity. We don't get to choose our ethnic identity as it's something we're simply born into. This makes it illegitimate under the logic of liberalism.

Andrew Bolt has simply applied the basic liberal principle in a consistent way. He has declared an ethnic identity to be "racist" and therefore illegitimate, because for him as a liberal our equal humanity depends on our freedom to "make our own identities".

True conservatism is actually a resistance to such ideas. It is a defence of important forms of human identity and connectedness which are placed under assault by liberal first principles.

A true conservative, therefore, would admire the stubborn connection felt by the Bendigo Aborigines to their own distinctive traditions. He would not condemn these Aborigines for failing to discard an inherited group identity in favour of individual, self-created ones.

Andrew Bolt is therefore clearly on the liberal side of politics, rather than the conservative one. This doesn't mean that he isn't right wing, but that he is a right-wing liberal rather than a right-wing conservative.

The dominance of liberal principles, even on the right-wing of politics, explains why liberalism has been able to march forward, largely unchallenged, in Western societies. There was hardly anyone in the political class who stood outside of liberal first principles, and who could therefore take a principled stance against liberal policies.

That's why it's so important that the younger generation of conservatives is able to distinguish between right-wing forms of liberalism and a genuine conservatism. It's no use rejecting left liberalism by joining the camp of right-liberalism: both camps are dominated by principles which make traditional national, ethnic, family and moral identities and beliefs illegitimate.

To make real progress the first step is to free ourselves from the dominance of liberal first principles.

(First published at Conservative Central, 07/08/2004)

Friday, January 25, 2008

How did I make a feminist reader ill?

When you look at feminism you discover that it is based largely on liberal autonomy theory - on the idea that the highest good in life is individual autonomy. That's why it's logical that feminists in the 1980s and 90s encouraged women to pursue the independent, single girl lifestyle; it explains too why feminists wish to collapse gender categories as these are unchosen and therefore "impede" the self-determining, autonomous individual.

But what happens when feminists become mothers? Is it still possible to promote individual autonomy as the highest good?

I wrote a post on this issue last month and found that feminist mothers underwent a significant change; despite still holding formally to an autonomist politics, they now considered the family to be a higher, outranking good than an absolute autonomy.

One feminist came across my post and declared at her own site that she "felt ill reading it". Curiously, though, her own outlook fits my analysis closely.

Does this feminist, stay at home mother still retain a formal allegiance to autonomy? I think this comment makes it clear that she does:

I refuse to define my Feminist Motherhood because as I learn about being a mother it is growing stronger and changing every day. I want my daughter to have a happy and successful life as an adult, which she will define individually. I will not confine my Feminist Motherhood by defining it.

This is quite a radical interpretation of the ideal of the self-defining individual. Even the act of attempting to define a category is held to be a possible impediment to our autonomy in fashioning our own self.

Our feminist contrasts her own non-defined motherhood with that of her mother:

That seems to be a big difference in "how things used to be". When talking to my own mother she seemed to have a concrete way of looking at what makes a good mom ... Hasn't feminism at least liberated us from that concrete vision?

So has family life had no effect on the politics of this particular feminist? Actually, it has. She writes:

And if we consider ourselves part of a family unit, won't we act in the best interest of it and not as an individual? My husband would love to be home with our child, but we decided that he will work to bring home a paycheck (for many reasons) and I will stay home. We made this decision TOGETHER not individually.

So now the family unit is being asserted as an important good, one which is certainly not inferior to that of individual autonomy. We are to consider ourselves not just individuals, but part of a family, and make decisions as part of a family unit and not just as an individual, and act in the interests of the family, and not just in the interests of our individual autonomy.

It would be very difficult to create a stable family life without effectively asserting the good of family life in this way. If individual autonomy remained the sole, overriding good, then it would be difficult to make commitments to or sacrifices for the family, or to see out difficult times, or not to pursue one's own perceived interests, even if these were harmful to your spouse or children.

Interestingly, the mother is emphasising something different for herself than for her daughter. She writes:

I want my daughter to have a happy and successful life as an adult, which she will define individually.

But of her own role in life she underlines the fact that:

We made this decision TOGETHER not individually.

Her daughter's life is to be defined individually; her own life in terms of the wider interests of the family.

The larger point, I think, is that it doesn't work to promote individual autonomy as the organising principle of society. Not only do you logically reach extreme positions, such as a rejection of any concrete notion of the good and a refusal to define important categories, it also becomes difficult to reconcile political principles with our real needs and interests as social beings.

This doesn't mean that autonomy is not a significant good. The task should be to balance a concern for autonomy with the conservation of other important goods, such as a stable family life.

Roebuck doesn't like the natives

There must be an island somewhere for Peter Roebuck. He's a former English cricketer who decided to become an Australian citizen despite apparently not liking Australians.

Earlier in the month he wrote an extraordinary column for the Sydney Morning Herald in which he described the Australian cricket team as a "pack of dogs". Now he's gone further and written a column for the Melbourne Age in which he delivers a garbled attack on native born Australians:

AUSTRALIA must not be waylaid by nauseating nationalists convinced that the defeat in Perth was caused not by a combination of absent friends and wayward bowling but by a sudden bout of politeness. Nor must it take heed of backslappers arguing that India's celebrations and appealing at the WACA Ground matched Australia's excesses in Sydney.

That is to confuse joy with rage. Likewise, the umpiring was acceptable and even-handed. Only lamingtons imagine otherwise. The game is up for that lot. It is time to move on. It is debatable whether people born in this country should be allowed to vote. It is no achievement to emerge from a womb. They could just as well be in Winnipeg. Australia is best loved by its settlers.

The "lamingtons" (a kind of Australian cake) are, it seems, parochial, native born Australians, who despite their "nauseating nationalism" don't have much love of country, might as well be somewhere else, and have no particular eligibility for political rights, unlike the more worthy "settlers" (migrants).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Performing an authentic self?

One of the buzzwords of liberalism is "authenticity".

How are we supposed to be authentic? By rejecting "essentialist" forms of identity (meaning those which have a real essence and therefore some kind of fixed or stable character).

If, for instance, we reject the idea that there is an essential masculinity or femininity, this is supposed to release us from a coerced social role so that we can be more authentically ourselves.

I don't think the argument works. If there is no essence to who we are, then what are we being true to? There is nothing to measure our identity and actions against, to judge how authentic they are.

In fact, many liberals now talk about "acting" or "performing" our masculinity or femininity or even our race, which emphasises the idea that our sex or our race is non-essential, but which also implies that we are merely pretending to be something for a while, rather than expressing a true characteristic of who we are.

To make authenticity work as a political aim, two things are needed. It's not enough to simply accept stable forms of human nature. If this is all that we take to be essentially human, then authenticity is not necessarily a virtue. After all, there are negative features of human nature, as well as positive ones. If it's part of my nature to be a lying, cowardly weakling, then why would I aim to be true to myself?

So authenticity only becomes worthwhile if we think of "essences" as representing a good, true and profound aspect of our existence.

Is it possible to think of masculinity as having a real essence. Or of moral character? I believe so. I expect, in fact, that most people have had the experience of being either inspired or shamed into a truer and deeper sense of themselves, of their nature and their purposes. At such times we are likely to set standards for ourselves in terms of our identity as men and women and, more generally, in terms of personal character.

A soul woman & a rock woman

In the Sunday Age there is a feature called "In my own words" in which people of note get to briefly talk about their lives. There have been some female music stars of the 1970s featured lately. One was the Australian "Queen of Soul", Renee Geyer, who had this to say on the feminism of the 1970s:

The feminists hated me in the '70s. It was strange because I considered myself a feminist, but I also thought that men were treated badly during that decade. They were ball-beaten and didn't deserve it; they didn't even know what they did wrong. I think the [feminist movement] wanted someone to speak for them - to be articulate. I wasn't articulate enough about it.

The other singer was rocker Suzi Quatro. She too departed from feminist orthodoxy in her account of her life when talking about her greatest regret:

I have regrets ... There are things you're supposed to learn in life. My biggest regret was terminating a pregnancy when I was about 18. Every day I think about who that baby would be now; it still makes me sad.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dating cruelly biased?

Dating is one of the most difficult things for modern men to negotiate. One of the problems is that feminism has encouraged women to pursue independence in their twenties, which translates into careers, travel and casual relationships. There’s little pressure on women at this time to cultivate attractively feminine qualities, or to make the right signals to men seeking serious relationships, or to restrain the impulse to reward bad boy behaviour.

And then when women hit their early thirties it suddenly changes. Instead of quirkiness, or androgyny or attempts to shock, you begin to meet women who make a real effort to be friendly and to present well.

By this time a lot of men have become demoralised or have internalised the non-committal culture of relationships. So there will be some competition for genuine husband material among thirty-something women.

Bettina Arndt has written a column discussing such dating issues. She confirms my own impressions by claiming that when people pass the carefree years of the twenties:

the dating world is suddenly a very different place.

When women hit their 30s, they encounter a “flip,” which shifts the balance of power in the dating game irrevocably in man’s favour, according to blogger Sam de Brito.

After years of grovelling for female company, now it is the men who find themselves in a buyer’s market as women start to panic over finding partners willing to father children.

“Mother nature is particularly unfair to her daughters and it’s about age 32 that many women realise life’s great game of musical chairs is cruelly weighted toward guys”.

Although I agree that the “flip” occurs, I don’t see why we should think of the situation as cruelly biased against women. After all, women have considerable advantages in their mid-20s, which is the more natural time for family formation.

Arndt then gives a sad statistic: by age 35-39 nearly a third (31%) of women are still single (feminists might at least ask themselves what went wrong). It’s not because of a shortage of men – according to Arndt there are nearly 500,000 more single men in their 30s than single women in Australia (the statistic, I have to say, seems excessive).

This surplus of single men has its limitations:

significant numbers of these men are unemployed and low-income – men who are the big losers in the partnering stakes and the most likely to end up never married.

And with many of the successful, better-educated men fishing outside their pool – choosing younger women, or women far less educated than themselves – this leaves a mighty lean pool for successful women.

Arndt draws the most obvious conclusion: it would help women if they attempted to partner earlier, when conditions are most favourable:

we should be encouraging women not to leave their run too late ... The lessons from the past few decades have been that it is in women’s interests to get serious about finding the right partner early – before the competition heats up.

Finally, Arndt takes on the opposition, in the form of comedian Kaz Cooke, who is continuing to encourage women to remain independent:

You don’t need a man to protect you, you don’t need a man for money, and you don’t need a man to make an impact in life and on what you do.

Arndt replies as follows:

Yes, but most women are still attracted to the exhilarating journey of a shared life with a family.

I think Arndt is giving away too much in this reply. Most women will need a man to protect and provide for them and their children. Even with government welfare, it’s still the case that much poverty is connected to single motherhood. A hard-working father is still a real asset to a woman seeking a good standard of living for her family.

And women do still look to men for protection. Consider the reasons given by Angela Epstein for preferring to put her security in the hands of a man. She suggests that her feelings:

may be sourced in the fact that every girl inherits the princess gene which dictates her desire for a strong male role model to cosset and comfort her.

I see it in my three-year-old daughter who runs to her older brothers or her daddy when a dog barks at her in the park. She trusts them more than me to protect her.
There’s a dash of the old “damsel in distress” dynamic at play too ...

The fact is that when we women are tired, weak, compromised, in need of sympathy and vulnerable, nothing beats the strong arm of male capability and its implied protection.

A man who doesn’t think he will be called on to play a protector role is likely to experience a shock on getting married. I doubt if a man can ever be as capable of filling this role as a woman would ideally like. Arguably, one of the skills required of men in marriage is to set limits to the expectations placed on them as protectors by their wives. It’s a difficult role to live up to, and often chastening - the fall from “hero to zero” is a quick one.

Denying the reality of the role does little to prepare men for it and so I would have answered Kaz Cooke differently than Bettina Arndt chose to do. Still, the basic idea behind Arndt’s column – that the delay in family formation is harmful to many women – is an important one to make.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Too important to deny?

Does ethnicity matter? Consider the case of Tobias Hubinette. He was born in Korea but adopted as a child by Swedish parents. He has become a strident opponent of intercountry adoption. In part, he uses the issue to make politically radical attacks on the West. It’s clear, though, that some of his anger stems from his difficulties in forming an ethnic identity:

When we arrive in Sweden we have to give up our Korean identity … it is assumed that there are no special problems, emotional or psychological costs being a non-white adoptee in a white adoptive family and living in a predominantly white surrounding. Consequently, assimilation becomes the ideal as the adoptee is stripped of name, language, religion and culture ….I have the feeling that we are “stranded” here in the West … The question is not: Am I a Swede or a Korean? The question is: How can I survive as a marginalized East Asian in Sweden? We will never be considered as Swedes, and we cannot return to Korea.

There is anger too about the distorted pattern of relationships for East Asians living in the West:

The stereotyped sex roles are disastrous for us East Asians. The feminization and infantilization hitting both sexes, have direct consequences in our daily lives. East Asian men are desexualized … East Asian women are on the other hand hyper-sexualized …

Asian-Americans have the highest ratio of interracial relations. It is no surprise that this concerns Asian women, not Asian men. In some generations and ethnic groups as many as 80 percent of the Asian-American women have left their own community for white men. The consequence is that every generation produces a bachelor society among Asian men, and a huge number of Amerasian children.

Whites’ views on us East Asians have been taken for granted especially among us adoptees. The men feel ugly, while the women feel “special” … The men remain bachelors, while the women marry white men … being married to a white man is honestly speaking a one-way ticket into the white society.

Hubinette believes his own discontent is not uncommon among intercountry adoptees and produces research to back his claims. For instance, 61% of ethnic Swedes are either married or cohabitant, but only 28% of intercountry adoptees. 5% of ethnic Swedish women sometimes use illicit drugs, compared to 24% of adoptee women. Female intercountry adoptees in Sweden are more likely to suicide, the odds ratio being a considerable 4.5.

What can be done? The feminist parents of one adoptive child made special efforts to connect her to her country of birth:

Traveling all over with our daughter, we tried to soak up the very essence of her birth country. While she had the strong, stunning features of the people in the countryside, we wore the neon signs of tourists. We know a lot about her birth country. We have books, music, pictures and mementos, but we know not how to give her the deep, deep love of her birth country that can come so naturally to native people.

What I find interesting about this quote is that the child’s parents, as a matter of conscience, felt the need to provide their adopted child with a love of her country of birth. Would they have had the same concern for a biological child? Would they have recognised the same need to be connected to an ancestral place, people and culture?

Liberalism tells us that ethnicity, as an unchosen “accident of birth”, shouldn’t matter and that it should be something we are blind to. In some contexts this might be true, but it leads to a denial of important aspects of the human experience, particularly those concerning human identity, attachment and forms of “connectedness”.

The fact that ethnicity is something we don’t choose doesn’t make it insignificant in our lives.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Man, meaning, morality

What is morality? According to Leslie Cannold:

Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

This can't work. If I define my own good, then the good isn't worth much. The good only begins to have a sustaining meaning if I hold it to exist beyond my own personal preferences. Then it becomes something significant to live by and to be guided by.

Little wonder then that Cannold's view of the life worth living is so limited. She sets up a framework in which people are unhappy because they don't dare to pursue the careers they really want to pursue. Cannold believes that they are led astray by consumerism, which keeps them working in jobs they dislike.

But are we really only defined by our talents as expressed through careers? Is this all there is to man?

I think we connect to much greater things than this in our lives. What about the love we experience for our spouse and family? Our place within a national tradition? Our response to art and nature? Our identities as men and women?

And what about the value we place on integrity and character?

Human "flourishing", as liberals like to put it, does not revolve around the adoption of an "individual life plan". There are goods which we do not uniquely choose for ourselves, but which give a significance to our identity, to our labours and to our experience of life.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Modernist confusion as Indian penalised for racism

Australian cricket authorities were determined to crack down on racism this summer. But things didn't go exactly to plan. The first to be punished was an Indian player, Harbhajan Singh, for calling a black Australian player, Andrew Symonds, a monkey.

This, I thought to myself, wouldn't end well. In the modernist mind it is supposed to be whites who are responsible for racism, and yet whites weren't directly involved in this incident. How would people cope with this rewriting of the script?

Well, the answer arrived in today's cricket columns. The white cricket columnists just couldn't cope mentally with the situation. The worst offender was Peter Roebuck who clearly decided to restore "normalcy" by portraying the white Australian players as arrogant oppressors and Indians as innocent, noble victims.

According to Roebuck the white Australian players are to be compared to "a pack of wild dogs"; their behaviour is described as "wretched and ill-mannered" and as arousing disgust and distress from around the world. They have embarrassed Australia and "dragged the game into the pits". There is no option, in Roebuck's view, but to get rid of them all: "Obviously, a new captain and side is required".

And what of the Indians? According to Roebuck, they are "accomplished and widely admired opponents". As for Harbhajan Singh, who called Andrew Symonds a monkey, he is a "head of a family and responsible for raising nine people", who as "an intemperate Sikh warrior" simply overreacted to Australians who want to "hunt him from the game".

So Roebuck has put things back into their modernist order. An incident in which the white players were not even directly involved has been recast so that whites once again occupy the powerful, guilty, oppressor role and the non-whites the innocent, noble, victim role. The stridency with which Roebuck presses this vision is intended perhaps to intimidate those who might question its validity.

Columnist Greg Baum was calmer than Roebuck, but is still obviously uncomfortable dealing with non-white racism. According to Baum "Harbhajan was foolish, but that is all". Baum then claims that:

Overwhelmingly, in all spheres, it is whites who have practised racism against non-whites. Yet in cracking down on racism, cricket makes as one of its first examples, a non-white player. This was always bound to sit poorly with Indians in India.

Baum believes so much that the colour of racism is white that he thinks that it should have been white players who were made examples of in cracking down on racism. Exactly how the white players were supposed to accept such a double standard isn't explained.

Conclusions? Modernism is a raw deal for self-respecting whites. We aren't treated neutrally, but are cast in an essentially negative role. The enforcers aren't so much outsiders, but our own liberal political class - the Peter Roebucks of the world.

Things will change if and when a different kind of political class emerges, one which is liberated from the assumptions of orthodox modernism.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Memories of a second wave feminist

What was it like to be a second wave feminist in the late 1960s and early 1970s? This is how American Ann Snitow remembers her activist days:

Another memory of the early seventies: An academic woman sympathetic to the movement but not active asked what motivated me to spend all this time organizing, marching, meeting.

I tried to explain the excitement I felt at the idea that I didn't have to be a woman. She was shocked, confused. This was the motor of my activism? To which I could only answer, "Why would anyone who likes being a woman need to be a feminist?"

Quite properly my colleague feared woman-hating. She assumed that feminism must be working to restore respect and dignity to women. Feminism would revalue what had been debased, women's contribution to human history. I, on the other hand, had to confess: I could never have made myself lick all those stamps for a better idea of what womanhood means.

Was this, as my colleague thought, just a new kind of misogyny? I wouldn't dare say self-hatred played no part in what I wanted from feminism from the first. But even back then, for me, woman-hating - or loving - felt beside the point. It was the idea of breaking the law of the category itself that made me delirious. [Conflicts in Feminism, p.33]

A couple of responses spring to mind. First, there's a self-centredness in all this. Ann Snitow was willing to campaign to overthrow womanhood on the basis of her own self-hatred. Why not stop to consider what other women might feel?

Second, Ann Snitow wanted, above all, to break the category of womanhood. This is in line with the standard liberal view of what personal liberation means. According to liberalism we are supposed to be autonomous in the sense of being free to choose to create ourselves in any direction. We don't get to choose our manhood or womanhood, so these categories become, in the liberal view, impediments to be broken - as a delirious act of emancipation.

The problem is that for most people manhood and womanhood are positive aspects of self-identity; breaking down these categories isn't so much a liberation as a disappointment. Nor are manhood and womanhood all that easy to destroy as categories; it's not just the conservative view, but also the modern scientific view, that they are hardwired into human nature.

So it's neither as desirable nor as possible to break down the category of womanhood as liberalism assumes.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Key advisor supports mothercare

Is mothercare best for children? Professor Jay Belsky, Britain's childcare research chief, thinks so. He has examined US and British research and found "disconcerting" effects of centre-based care, including aggression and disobedience at school and less harmonious relationships between mother and child.

Professor Belsky wants parents to be given tax breaks to help them bring up children at home.

Apparently, the British Government has pressed parents to choose centre-based care:

Mr Brown has attracted criticism ... for Labour's insistence that all mothers should work ...

It [Labour] has been heavily criticised for pressing mothers back into the workforce by giving out large sums through the tax credit system for them to spend on nurseries.

Ministers have insisted that the only way for two-parent families to ensure that they stay out of poverty is for both parents to work.

Professor Belsky wants, in contrast, parents to be put in the position in which they can at least choose to bring up children at home:

"Tax policies should support families rearing infants and young children in ways that afford parents the freedom to make child-rearing arrangements that they deem best for their child." The system should "reduce the economic coercion that necessitates many, at least in the USA and the UK, to leave the care of their children to others when they would rather not."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A kingdom of shreds and patches

I've been reading Iron Kingdom, an interesting account of Prussian history by Christopher Clark. Prussia extended its territories in its early history through marriage; this had the negative consequence of leaving Prussian territory scattered throughout much of northern Europe. As a result, it was difficult for a Prussian identity to form in the normal way through a shared ethnicity:

Prussia thus remained, in the words of a Scottish traveller who toured ... in the 1840s, a "kingdom of shreds and patches". Prussia, Samuel Laing observed, "has, in ordinary parlance, only a geographical or political meaning, denoting the Prussian government, or the provinces it governs."

Laing's comment, though hostile, was insightful. What exactly did it mean to be "Prussian"? The Prussia of the restoration era was not a "nation" in the sense of a people defined and bound together by a common ethnicity. There was not, and never had been, a Prussian cuisine. Nor was there a specifically Prussian folklore, language, dialect, music or form of dress ... Prussia was not a nation in the sense of a community sharing a common history ... The result was a curiously abstract and fragmented sense of identity. [pp. 429-430]

Clark goes on to note that some people, in the absence of a common ethnicity, tried to base a Prussian identity on the rule of law; there was also a failed attempt to build an identity around loyalty to the crown.

There was one other means to build identity:

The one institution that all Prussians had in common was the state. It is no coincidence that this period witnessed an unprecedented discursive escalation around the idea of the state. Its majesty resonated more compellingly than ever before, at least within the milieu of academia and senior officialdom.

The state began to be seen as the living embodiment of the nation, rather than as an apparatus of government.