Monday, May 14, 2018

The Deakin story

I've now finished reading Judith Brett's biography of Alfred Deakin, an important father of Australian Federation, who set much of the national policy for the first four decades of the nation's history.

There's an important political lesson contained within the life of Deakin. Deakin was a progressive liberal, and yet there is much to admire about both the man and the impact he had on Australian politics.

The reason I can say this is that there is a disjunction between the political and religious principles held by Deakin, and the ancestral culture which he finely embodied. Deakin's liberalism (the political and religious principles) hadn't yet reached a point of overthrowing important aspects of the ancestral culture.

And this raises a significant issue about the way that politics has been framed in the West. For a traditionalist, the ancestral culture itself is the good to be conserved. Therefore, to be a conservative is a good thing, in the sense that you are upholding what is meaningful within human existence, regardless of the changing of fashions or technology over time. What a traditionalist ought to do, therefore, is to fit his religious and political worldview together with this defence of what is meaningful within his ancestral culture - so that it can be conserved.

Deakin didn't see it this way, and nor have most Western intellectuals. Deakin did very much value the ancestral culture, and thought of it as a core aspect of his life. But his religious and political principles were formed separately to it, being intellectually schematic and abstract.

He wanted to believe, as many intellectuals of the era did, that there was a divine purpose to the cosmos, in the sense that humanity was progressing to its ultimate, divinely appointed ends. Deakin was, in this sense, a "humanist" as he thought of humanity as a whole as the agent through which God's purposes would be fulfilled. Deakin therefore believed that as part of progress there would be a shift away from the parochial, toward higher unities and ultimately toward the global citizen.

Politics for Deakin was a means by which he could fulfil his own destiny in furthering God's plan for human progress. He would serve the ideal by engagement in progressive politics. Therefore, for Deakin, it was wrong to be conservative, because this meant obstructing progress and getting in the way of humanity advancing toward the ultimate purposes God intended for it.

And so the real goods that Deakin himself so finely embodied and which he had inherited from a more traditional culture, were left without an explicit defence. They were left undefended within Deakin's intellectual scheme or framework. Fortunately, however, Deakin hesitated before the precipice and did not abandon the identities and loyalties derived from his cultural inheritance. He brought these into the policy positions he developed for the newly formed Australia.

1 comment:

  1. Deakin seems, as you portray him, almost half tragic, as if he was one of the last few conflicted men to knowingly throw off the conservative shackles, for God's sake. Is he the quintessential emerging modern liberal, mentally pocketing his few vestigial traditionalist thought experiments while politicking "progressive" policies?
    What does it matter what we think if we do nothing about it; if we know something is wrong, and we do nothing to stop it? What is that? What is the mental mechanism that allows men to act against the good with a straight face? What god was he listening to?
    Is modern liberalism a temporary human aberration or glitch? Is it genetic defect that will select out before it's too late? Or, is it a new branch or path compelling human exploration? It has the effect of a new force of nature acting on humans like the new fifth, so-called "dark matter" to go along with strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetism and gravity?
    It seems to me that it can't succeed without technical adjustments, but technical prowess is a human thing. Growing expertise in the sciences will mollify certain fears about obvious challenges to a natural order less definite for lazy-fair modern humans, with less resistance to overcome. The natural order is immutable, but it can be denied and defied in a committed systematic regime of technical and psychological work arounds, which are clearly underway.
    Is Deakin typical of many in his day? Did he know in his heart what was coming and say to himself, "what the hell can I do about it. Let's see where this goes"? Was he ahead of his time and ready for the change?
    I feel like an anthropologist pondering something more structural than what we suspect is at play. I can't help but to note, almost incidentally, that something as fundamental as the sudden explosion in human population growth (more than 3 fold since my birth, more than 10 fold since the Black Death, more than a 25 times since the birth of Jesus Christ.) - like over flowing boiling water puts out the fire that caused it - has a good bit more to do with the growing mass psychosis in "civilized" populations than with the mundane challenges of material resources. I realize that there is still plenty of room, but is that really how it's going to work? "Everyone take you places!"
    Is evolution-ism dead? Simple human stuff continues to get more complex. What about human nature? Is it fixed, or not? Are we in over our heads? Have we the slightest clue as to what we're doing and to what is coming?