Monday, January 26, 2009

Patriotic surrender?

It is Australia Day and Dave Bath wants us to fulfil our nation's promise as follows:

On our national day we must realize that to remain true to our history’s noblest aspect, to extend the realization of the promise of its founding, the nation must cease to exist.

His argument is that Australia was formed when the separate colonies agreed to cede their power to a larger union in order to achieve equal rights and an improved welfare for all. But now we are too selfish to realise that the earth belongs to everyone and that to achieve true equality and to avoid the catastrophe of global warming we must again cede power to a larger union - a world government:

While air, seas, rocks, flowers and fauna of this world are by Nature common to us all, they are not shared by all ...

It seems that only injustice, the product of avarice, itself the outcome of ignorance in both proles and plutocrats, is the lot of the vast bulk of humans, our cousin hominids, and indeed the biosphere.

Our greatest hypocrisy lies in claims that we value egality.

... Until [we learn to be moral] by subsuming our nationhood into the single world polity that both reflects the global realities, and is needed to mitigate the threats facing all peoples, then we are lesser folk than our forebears: smaller in mind and spirit, with withering stature in the world ...

... Just as our nation was formed as a collective, it must dissolve into a greater collective, with fairness to all, not within the borders that must and will disappear, but bounded only by the atmosphere we all breathe.

... we must see all humanity as one people, one polity, one past, one present, one future.

So the message is that to live up to the higher standards of our ancestors we have to dissolve a sovereign Australia.

It's interesting that Dave Bath appeals to an instinctive, intuitive patriotism in his call to abolish Australia. He uses phrases like "our national day," "promise of its founding," "promise of our past," "our history's noblest aspect." Yet the appeal to patriotic feeling is employed against the patria (which reminds me of the way that feminists sometimes appeal to a masculinity they wish to abolish, i.e. they argue that a real man would be willing to give up a distinctively male role).

One problem with Dave Bath's argument is that it doesn't capture the entirety of what our ancestors held as their ideal. For instance, when Alfred Deakin launched his campaign for Federation here in Victoria in 1898 he finished his speech with a poem by William Gay:

From all division let our land be free,
For God has made her one: complete she lies
Within the unbroken circle of the skies,
And round her indivisible the sea
Breaks on her single shore; while only we,
Her foster children, bound with sacred ties
Of one dear blood, one storied enterprise,
Are negligent of her integrity.—
Her seamless garment, at great Mammon's nod,
With hands unfilial we have basely rent,
With petty variance our souls are spent,
And ancient kinship under foot is trod:
O let us rise, united, penitent,
And be one people,—mighty, serving God!

According to the poet, it is the "ancient kinship" shared by the settlers which is a natural source of unity.

So the more traditional form of nationalism, based on a shared ethnicity of some sort (language, ancestry, culture, religion etc) was present at Federation. This traditional form of nationalism was to fall foul of the liberal idea that we are to be regarded as self-defining individuals who must not be impacted by unchosen attributes such as gender or ethnicity.

Therefore, a civic nationalism in which citizenship alone defined national belonging triumphed. Dave Bath recognises that this change took place (and approves of it) when he writes:

We have dropped the torch of early ideals, the only advance being the yet imperfect acceptance of the immateriality of accidents of birth of our fellows: the color of skin, any faith of forbears, the borders within which they first drew breath.

But the newer civic nationalism is inherently unstable. First, citizenship still discriminates - it still places restrictions on the self-realising individual. Therefore, even citizenship distinctions will come to seem unjust, discriminatory, unequal or unfair. This is the path that Dave Bath seems to have followed.

Another weakness of civic nationalism is that the borders of the nation no longer have a logical fixed point. If all you need to do to become an Australian is to agree to certain liberal political values, then any person can potentially be an Australian and any place can potentially be joined to Australia.

This means that if the political elite believe there to be practical advantages to merging an existing nation into a larger entity, they are likely to think it reasonable to do so. Hence the continuing extension of the EU and calls for Australia to merge into a Pacific Union.

Civic nationalism, therefore, isn't likely to last in the long term. Which then leaves the question of what is likely to replace it.


  1. I think you are reading too much into the "contradiction" of the way he's trying to sell the dissollution of Australia.

    He's doing what liberals always do - saying anything to get what they want. Feminists want to abolish traditional masculinity well then; "a real man would agree". Want to get rid of Australia; "it's the patriotic thing to do". If you don't have a moral compass except for liberalism then there is no contradiction for you saying this.


  2. If ever a Civic Nationalism should have taken hold, Australia was a prime candidate.

    Of course, it would have meant a 'loss' for the predominant
    'British' culture, but since a British culture already existed in Britain, this was not something that would not have, perhaps, been greatly lamented by our ruling class.

    I like to think that the likes of Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam both wanted the migrant intake because they did not particularly like the majority working class 'Anglo-Celt'.

    Just a theory.

    Savvas Tzionis

  3. Sorry to go off topic, Mark, but have you heard the latest in the UK? Two children are to be dragged, kicking and screaming away from their biological grandparents who are 'too old' at 46 and 59, and adopted by a gay couple (rather than the several hetero couples who applied). And if the grandparents don't agree quietly, they will not be permitted to see their grandchildren ever again.
    Link here:

  4. What a bizzare premise. Are there really those among us who would see the planet become some kind of hive? And to achieve what? Ostensibly to save a world but to what end? To give us a planet where there is no reason to live anyway. We are a funny lot humans. We like to be individuals even if we all seem to do it together. Our sense of belonging starts from within and extends outward and not the other way around. We are ourselves first, then part of our family within our home. Next we extend to part of our neighbourhood, City, State and nation. Thence to our region and finally citizens of the world at large. It must be this way for us to feel connected. It is natural and familiar and as you can see it makes each of us the centre! I like my planet like this. That other one sounds alien.

  5. I think in practice the left has been working towards more levels of government without seeking to dissolve established nation states altogether. I have somewhere on my bookshelf a book by Bob Brown in which he outlines his dream for a democratic world government - since he's been working in the Australian political system I don't think he'll be seeking to dissolve it any time soon. And transnational institutions like the EU and the UN have usurped some of the powers of traditional nation states while not doing away with them altogether.

    So the general trend would seem to be towards more bureaucracy rather than any unified world state.

  6. The fact that the nation states still exist does not mean that they have significant power.

    In the UK, Westminster still sits and most of the political reporting is still based around the national party politics played out therein. Most UK legislation, by some estimates over sixty per-cent, is just rubber stamping EU directive into UK law which cannot be rejected or even altered. Much of the rest, although is appears to be UK legislation, is in areas where the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have authority. The Gordon Brown is effectively England's regional governor - that he is still widely seen as "the British Prime Minister" is largely a smoke screen to disguise how much authority has been usurped by transnational authorities (mainly the EU).

    My point is; just because nation states still exist in some technical sense doesn't mean a that they have real significance. Their continuing existence may not be to allow people to influence the political elites through the democratic process. It may be to disguise how little influence they really have.


  7. Mark, How do you know Deakin wasn't just orchestrating the 'White Australia' policy as an expedient to join labour and small manufacturers together, presumably his constituency, to gain a tariff and thwart the ambitions of the big landowners desire for cheap labour and free trade? In a comment at MR on June 12, 2006, you said that "At cabinet meetings in 1943 it was agreed to make Australia a multicultural country like America. Yet the public was told after the war that the immigration programme wouldn’t change the existing ethnic character of the nation." Australian politicians lied in 1943, so why was Deakin telling the truth earlier? The decision to turn Australia from multi-ethnic to white was simply an economic and political expedient.

    Desmond Jones

  8. Every Australian politician during the first half of the 20th Century was committed to preserving Australia's European, specifically British, ethnic and cultural character.

    In 1944, Prime Minister John Curtin stated:

    "We are a British community in the South Seas, and we regard ourselves as the trustees for the British way of life in a part of the world where it is of the utmost significance to the British Commonwealth and to the British nation and to the British Empire - call it by any name that you will - that there should be in the Antipodes a people and a territory corresponding in purpose and in outlook and in race to the Motherland itself."

    Curtin also made the statement:

    "This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race."

    Arthur Calwell, another Labor leader and Australia's first immigration minister, explicitly rejected the notion that Australia should ever open its doors to non-European immigration and become a multiracial society.

    He wrote:

    "I reject, in conscience, the idea that Australia should or ever can become a multi-racial society and survive."

    Calwell warned:

    "If Australians are ever foolish enough to open their gates in a significant way to people other than Europeans, they will soon find themselves fighting desperately to stop the nation from being flooded by hordes of non-integratables."

    These sentiments were shared by most other politicians at the time. The push to open the doors to non-European immigration only really started in the 1960s.

  9. ...a territory corresponding in purpose and in outlook and in race to the Motherland itself.

    According to Mark, Curtin was lying. The decision to turn Oz multi-ethnic was already taken. The language test under the WAP, if memory serves, required literacy in any European language. If Curtin and other Australian politicians, even Deakin, wished "a territory race to the Motherland itself", then why allow other European races? The whole thing was a ruse, much like South Africa's apartheid, to serve an economic end for a particular class.

    "Whatever the dominant sexual and racial ideologies of the day have been, capital has always been quick to jettison them when they no longer served," and race discrimination in the immediate post-war period had far less utility than in earlier times.

    Desmond Jones

  10. Desmond, I agree in part with what you're saying, but you're putting it too strongly.

    I'll begin with Curtin. Curtin said lots of things during the war which clearly defended an ethnic form of nationalism in Australia. It wasn't uncommon at the time for influential people to do this: academics, public servants, labour leaders.

    At the same time, I clearly remember reading cabinet meeting discussions from around 1943 in which the idea was to change course and to follow the American melting-pot pattern by widening sources of immigration.

    In 1944, Curtin appointed a radical, Lloyd Ross, to the Department of Postwar Reconstruction. Ross put the case in public for a widening of sources of immigration, but was criticised by some newspapers and labour organisations.

    After the war, the sources of immigration were, in fact, widened, at first to other Europeans, but later to non-Europeans as well.

    So was Curtin lying? Somebody would have to investigate the sources more thoroughly and honestly to really get a handle on what happened. The mainstream histories usually treat the issue glibly.

  11. I should have mentioned in the previous comment that Curtin died in 1945 and so wasn't there when the change in policy took effect.

    Desmond, I think it's true that what the establishment sees as being advantageous in terms of trade, defence and diplomacy will have a significant influence on these matters.

    When the Australian establishment looked to the British Empire for trade benefits, for military security and for a larger diplomatic influence, it was more likely that the then existing identity would be favoured.

    Curtin began the war wanting to break with the Empire and to look to America instead. However, by the end of the war he seemed to favour a reestablishment of ties with the Empire as well as membership of international organisations.

    So perhaps he really did mean what he said by the end of the war, despite those cabinet discussions in 1943.

    The British Empire never really recovered, though, and Australia did come to rely on defence pacts with the US. Trade with Asia did become increasingly important.

    Also, membership of the internationalist organisations, which was originally intended to help secure Australian policy, probably had the opposite effect, by locking Australia into various treaty obligations.

    So issues of trade, diplomacy and defence started running the wrong way.

    Even worse, for a period of time in the 1940s, the Australian intelligentsia went mad for Marxism. We're used today to left-wing intellectuals being open borders internationalists, but prior to the 1940s in Australia many were nationalists.

    So the counterbalance to a pragmatic approach based on trade, defence and diplomacy was suddenly no longer there. Nor were the labour organisations as likely to represent rank and file attitudes in the halls of power.

  12. Desmond, one final point.

    I don't think you can discount questions of morale and motivation.

    It's significant that so many Australian artists and intellectuals fell toward Marxism in the 1940s.

    It represents a shift. In previous decades an older European culture had kept its vigour in Australia, more so than elsewhere. There was still a positive self-belief in what this culture represented.

    The intellectuals never really came back, even after they gave up on Marxism. They had become rancorous moderns, hostile outsiders to their own tradition.

    There was a fatal break with the past from which there still hasn't been a recovery.

  13. At the same time, I clearly remember reading cabinet meeting discussions from around 1943 in which the idea was to change course and to follow the American melting-pot pattern by widening sources of immigration.

    Well, Australia's immigration intake was widened in the immediate post-war years to include immigrants from continental European countries. Prior to this, most immigrants to Australia had come almost exclusively from the British Isles.

    So, yes, Australia did make a conscious choice to become more like America and open its doors to a wider variety of European ethnic groups. But there is no evidence that Australian leaders were planning a "multi-racial society", as Arthur Calwell put it. Both sides of politics remained committed to a policy of European-only immigration.

    This pan-European, but European-only, immigration policy was shared by the United States. There is no contention that the United States in 1943 was a far more multi-ethnic, even multi-racial, society than Australia. But - and this is a crucial point - it remained an overwhelmingly European country. Non-European immigration was virtually non-existent. America may have been a melting pot, but it was a melting pot purely limited to European ethnicities. Non-European groups were considered unassimilable and excluded.

    Thus, even if Australian leaders did decide as early as 1943 to copy the American model, this decision would have been completely congruent with Australia's existing policy of restricting non-European immigration, as America itself also had a de facto policy essentially preventing the immigration of non-European peoples.

  14. The pan European policy was not exactly shared by the US.

    "The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia.

    In 1917, the U.S. Congress enacted the first widely restrictive immigration law. The uncertainty generated over national security during World War I made it possible for Congress to pass this Act, and it included several important provisions that paved the way for the 1924 Act. The 1917 Act implemented a literacy test that required immigrants over 16 years old to demonstrate basic reading comprehension in any language. It also increased the tax paid by new immigrants upon arrival and allowed immigration officials to exercise more discretion in making decisions over whom to exclude. Finally, the Act excluded from entry anyone born in a geographically defined "Asiatic Barred Zone" except for Japanese and Filipinos. In 1907, the Japanese Government had voluntarily limited Japanese immigration to the U.S. in the Gentlemen's Agreement. The Philippines was an American colony, so its citizens were American nationals and could travel freely to the United States. China was not included in the Barred Zone, but the Chinese were already denied immigration visas under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

    The literacy test alone was not enough to prevent most potential immigrants from entering, so members of Congress sought a new way to restrict immigration in the 1920s. Immigration expert and Republican Senator from Vermont William P. Dillingham introduced a measure to create immigration quotas, which he set at three percent of the total population of the foreign-born of each nationality in the United States as recorded in the 1910 census. This put the total number of visas available each year to new immigrants at 350,000. It did not, however, establish quotas of any kind for residents of the Western Hemisphere. President Wilson opposed the restrictive act, preferring a more liberal immigration policy, so he used the pocket veto to prevent its passage. In early 1921, the newly inaugurated President Warren Harding called Congress back to a special session to pass the law. In 1922, the act was renewed for another two years.

    When the Congressional debate over immigration began in 1924, the quota system was so well-established that no one questioned whether to maintain it, but rather discussed how to adjust it. Though there were advocates for raising quotas and allowing more people to enter, the champions of restriction triumphed. They created a plan that lowered the existing quota from three to two percent of the foreign born population. They also pushed back the year on which quota calculations were based from 1910 to 1890.

    Another change to the quota altered the basis of the quota calculations. The quota had been based on the number of people born outside of the United States, or the number of immigrants in the United States. The new law traced the origins of the whole of the American population, including natural-born citizens. The new quota calculations included large numbers of people of British descent whose families were long resident in the United States. As a result, the percentage of visas available to individuals from the British Isles and Western Europe increased, but newer immigration from other areas like Southern and Eastern Europe was limited.

    The 1924 Immigration Act also included a provision excluding from entry any alien who by virtue of race or nationality was ineligible for citizenship. Existing nationality laws dating from 1790 and 1870 excluded people of Asian lineage from naturalizing. As a result, the 1924 Act meant that even Asians not previously prevented from immigrating - the Japanese in particular - would no longer be admitted to the United States. Many in Japan were very offended by the new law, which was a violation of the Gentlemen's Agreement. The Japanese government protested, but the law remained, resulting in an increase in existing tensions between the two nations. But it appeared that the U.S. Congress had decided that preserving the racial composition of the country was more important than promoting good ties with the Japanese empire.

    The restrictionist principles of the Act could have resulted in strained relations with some European countries as well, but these potential problems did not appear for several reasons. The global depression of the 1930s and World War II both served to curtail European emigration. When these crises had passed, emergency provisions for the resettlement of displaced persons in 1948 and 1950 helped the United States avoid conflict over its new immigration laws.

    In all of its parts, the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity. Congress revised the Act in 1952."

    Thus Eastern & Southern European immigration was severely restricted. The American homogeneity ideal they intended to preserve was North Western European.

    Thanks for the replies.

    Desmond Jones

  15. Thus Eastern & Southern European immigration was severely restricted. The American homogeneity ideal they intended to preserve was North Western European.

    It was still a pan-European immigration policy in that it included immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, even if it did heavily favour British and North-West European immigrants.

    Australia's post-war European immigration programme was no different. Arthur Calwell, if you recall, wanted to bring out 10 British immigrants for every non-British European immigrant.

  16. Even old Menzies wanted to retain Australia's European-only immigration policies:

    Menzies had doggedly opposed the advice of immigration minister and former cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman that the Policy be dropped; as late as December 1976 he called himself "[an] old-fashioned White Australian."


  17. It was pan-European in name only. Italian immigration was reduced from a year high of 285,731 in 1907 to barely 10,000. Between 1890 and 1920 something like 4 million Italians emigrated to the US. After 1924, Italian immigration ran to barely a trickle.

    Canadian House of Commons Debates, June 7, 1928, R.B. Bennett.

    ". . . Read the history of the United States, read what is written in every magazine in that country by thoughtful men, and you will find that the principle of the melting pot has failed; and they are quite apprehensive. Every thoughtful man in the United States, every keen observer, every man who travels, every author, everyone who shapes and moulds public opinion in the universities and in the great foundations-all these are bewailing the fact that uncontrolled immigration has been permitted into that country, to such an extent that there is now in the United States a polyglot population, without any distinctive civilization, and one about which many of them are in great despair . . . "

    Desmond Jones

  18. For most of its history, Australia pursued an ethnocentric immigration policy favouring British immigrants. This made sense given that Australia was founded as a British settler society and most of its people traced their origins back to the British Isles. Australia wanted immigrants who were a close fit to its existing population. Groups which were considered too different i.e. non-Europeans were excluded. It didn't mean that Australians were "racist" toward non-European people. It just meant that Australians, like every other people on the planet, preferred their own kind and didn't want to be swamped by alien groups.

    Of course, Australia's former immigration policies are now considered "racist". Apparently Australia is not allowed to pursue an immigration policy which reflects the ethnic affinities and interests of its existing population. Rather, we must now "prove" how non-racist we are by opening our doors to massive non-European immigration and allowing ourselves to be displaced. Our current immigration policy, which is meant to be race-neutral, is in fact turning Australia into a non-European country, dispossessing our historic majority population and its culture. Yet it is considered “racist” to oppose this policy, and “non-racist” to support it, even though those who support it will quite happily admit the racial dimension ("we're not a white bread society anymore!"; "look at how colourful our country is becoming!").

    The sooner we overcome this nonsense about a "race-neutral" or "non-discriminatory" immigration policy, the sooner we can work toward an immigration policy which actually puts our interests first.