In my last post I set out an argument the gist of which is:
1. Liberal moderns in Australia are not universalising their moral claims. They are asserting that traditional forms of community are a good for Aborigines but an evil for others.
2. One reason for this is that liberal moderns can no longer identify with a communal tradition of their own. However, the goods associated with communal traditions represent important human values.
3. Therefore, there are liberal moderns who seek to access these values, not through their own tradition, which is lost to them, but through pre-modern cultures, which in Australia means Aboriginal culture.
I had an intelligent reply to my argument in the comments, which proposed a series of other reasons for the failure to universalise:1) It’s perhaps possible that promotion of “minority” traditional identities is used as a weapon to further undermine the majority identity and thus advance liberalism in the net. It seems a very sure way to deracinate a man by making him promote foreign cultures and peoples over his own
This is most certainly true. If an Anglo-Australian is welcomed several times a week as a guest to Australia, what is left of his own communal identity? It is an effective method of erasure.2) It’s possible some liberals view the liberalization (and thus destruction) of Aboriginals as being another form of oppression visited upon them.
Even more startling, though, is her essay "On Rage" (2008). In this essay she explains the propensity of some Aboriginal men in remote communities to be violent toward Aboriginal women. She blames white men, of course, but it is the detail of her argument that is interesting. For instance, she sympathises with the lament of an Aboriginal woman that "Our communities are like a piece of broken string with women on one side and men on the other". This suggests that it is important for the intactness of a community that men and women not be placed in opposition to each other - but a setting apart of men and women into opposing political classes is what Greer spent much of her life promoting as a Western feminist (the essay itself breathes the very air of Greer as a white woman demonising white men). So here we have an instance of that failure to universalise; Greer applies a socially dissolving attitude to the mainstream, but laments its appearance within Aboriginal communities.
The fact that government welfare payments are often made to women...means that more and more women can live independently of men, and are doing so.
...When hunter-gatherer societies begin to break down, it is invariably the gatherers, the women, who combine to hold them together, but in doing so they further marginalise their menfolk, including their own sons.
Again, Greer fails to universalise this position. In 2010, just two years later, she argued that economic independence for Western women was a good thing because it enabled them to divorce their husbands:
As women's economic independence increased, their tolerance of infidelity, cruelty, neglect and emotional and physical abuse on the part of their spouses dwindled steadily. Divorce rates throughout the developed world rose in unison.She wrote of Western women who chose to divorce and live as single mothers:
Women who face this fate with equanimity have my unstinting admiration. They are choosing a tough but honourable life over a servile and dishonourable one.
But when it comes to Aborigines, she sympathises instead with the men who lose their most cherished possessions and who are humiliated by the loss of family structure:
According to anthropologists RM and CH Berndt, traditionally "the most cherished possessions of men were women, children and their sacred heritage," in that order...The Aboriginal man's wife was not simply a woman he met by chance and fancied, but a kinswoman...it is the level of avoidance which signifies just how fundamental, how absolutely shattering this loss and humiliation must be.
Why this inconsistency? Why claim that financial independence for Aboriginal women has terrible consequences because the men lose their most cherished possession - their women (imagine if Western women were described positively as being a possession of the men) - and are therefore deeply humiliated; whereas financial independence for Western women is a good because it allows them to leave, en masse, men who are simply assumed to be cruel abusers?
One possible reason is that if you are serious about wanting a society to continue into the future and to reproduce itself you will focus on maintaining family structure and on upholding a common good between men and women. Therefore, Greer is a traditionalist when it comes to Aborigines (who she wants to see continue on), but a liberal when it comes to the mainstream.
Which brings me to the key part of Greer's argument. She explains the rage of Aboriginal men as being due to them losing "what makes any life worth living". So, what are these essential human goods? They are the traditional ones, not the liberal ones. She writes that Aboriginal men have lost "all the important things" such as "their families, their social networks, their culture, their religion, their languages and their self-esteem".
Remember, Germaine Greer rose to fame for writing The Female Eunuch in which she proposed abolishing the family and instead placing children on communal farms where parents might occasionally visit, but anonymously, with a child not even knowing that a woman was its "womb-mother".
For Aborigines, though, the important things that make life worth living include family, religion, culture and self-esteem. How many leftists uphold these things for Western man?
Again, she complains that Aborigines have come to live in "polyglot assemblages", i.e. mixed in with other Aboriginal tribes. This is by modern standards a minor experience of ethnic diversity, which is considered a great good for Westerners, but a catastrophic denial of the things that make life worth living for Aborigines.
Similarly, when Greer discusses the violence of Aboriginal men toward Aboriginal women she is not concerned, as feminist women usually are, to blame the patriarchy and to insist on abolishing masculinity. Instead, she is alarmed that this violence might harm the racial self-preservation of Aborigines:
What is now undeniable is that violence towards women and children across the same spectrum has reached the level of race suicide.
So here you have, as blatant as it is possible to be, the failure to universalise moral goods. The goods for Aborigines include racial self-preservation, ethnic exclusivity, family, culture, religion, self-esteem and the promotion of harmony between men and women. For Westerners, though, the goods are female autonomy, even as expressed in divorce and in an ongoing feminist revolution, diversity and the beating down of national self-esteem (Greer characterises white men throughout her essay as rapists).
What I would like to emphasise is how Greer frames her position. She is enraged that Aborigines might lose the things that make life worth living, the things that are important in life. These are the traditional goods that are expressed within traditional communities. Greer does not even begin to think that these traditional goods that make life worth living might ever be found within the Australian mainstream and so unsurprisingly she asserts that the path forward for Australia is a nationwide adoption of Aboriginality "as if by an act of transubstantiation".
That she is not alone in thinking this way is suggested by the success of the reframing of Australian identity along Aboriginal lines over the past decade.
What traditionalists might draw from this is clear. We should highlight the failure of liberal moderns to universalise their moral claims; we should also highlight Greer describing traditional goods as being "what makes any life worth living"; but, unlike Greer, we should seek to uphold these goods within our own communities, rather than attempting to transmogrify into something we are not.