The Struggle for Australian Values in an Age of DeceitKeith Windschuttle
Vol LI, Number 1-2
IN THE LONG HISTORY OF WARFARE, from the ancient world to our own, there is one weapon whose ability to affect outcomes has always been notorious. Today, technological innovation has made it more powerful than ever. The weapon is propaganda. It affects the attitudes of all societies to warfare but has become especially influential in democracies, where public attitudes to particular wars can determine their outcome.
There has now been enough analysis to make it clear that the war in Vietnam was not lost on the battlefields of the Mekong but in the court of public opinion in the United States. This gave international communism a considerable victory. Similarly, the military force of radical Islam, no matter how murderous it becomes, cannot itself produce a premature American withdrawal from Iraq. The only force that can do that is American public opinion. Should that occur, it would, of course, be a considerable victory for the world’s jihadists.
The most powerful single device in the propaganda arsenal is the atrocity story. It can generate support for wars but can also end popular support. In 1914, stories of how German soldiers were bayoneting babies on their march through Belgium were important in persuading Britons to engage in the First World War. In 1969, the revelation that American soldiers in Vietnam had committed the My Lai massacre was the turning point in the erosion of public support.
This year has seen an escalation in these stories, especially from the Middle East. Israel’s incursion into Lebanon in July and August gave it a devastating propaganda defeat thanks to the efforts of Hezbollah’s media managers and friendly journalists. Israeli air strikes on Hezbollah rocket launch sites were portrayed in the Western media as causing dozens of civilian deaths, principally of women and children. Internet bloggers have since revealed that many of the photographs and much of the television footage was fraudulent, with live civilians posing as dead, and the bodies of children who died elsewhere paraded around bomb sites for photo opportunities. Teddy bears and Mickey Mouse dolls were carefully placed on top of collapsed buildings to imply children had died there, when none had. The same actors posed at several different sites pretending to be dispossessed Palestinians. Photographs of Beirut showed the whole downtown area affected, whereas only the Hezbollah Beirut headquarters was actually bombed. Reuters news agency later admitted what several bloggers had pointed out: its photographer had added additional smoke to a long shot of the city using the clone tool in Photoshop. Meanwhile, the French public television network France 2 now openly compares the Israelis to the Nazis.
Within Australia, atrocity stories have been critical to the success of the propaganda campaign that has infected the writing of history for the past thirty years. Tasmania was allegedly the site of a “conscious policy of genocide”; the whole colonial frontier was “a line of blood”; South Pacific Islanders were supposedly kidnapped from their villages and transported to Queensland to be bought and sold as slaves.
The most notorious recent historical atrocity story in Australia is that of the stolen generations. According to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, between 30,000 and 100,000 Aboriginal children were ripped from the arms of loving parents in order to “breed out the colour”. The commission’s report claims this genocidal policy continued into the 1970s and 1980s, that is, it was operative under the Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke governments, all of whom appointed ministers sympathetic to the Aboriginal cause but who were apparently oblivious to the genocide they were administering.
In the international academic journals of genocide studies, Australia sits alongside Nazi Germany as one of the usual suspects. In our schools, we now teach the story of the stolen generations to little children. In New South Wales, the curriculum for the primary school subject Human Society and its Environment, which is mandatory for eight and nine-year-olds, says they must learn about “Australian human rights issues, past and present, including the impact of the stolen generations”.
THE WORST AUSTRALIAN atrocity story of the present period is the fate of SIEV-X, or Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel, Unknown. This issue remains deeply embedded within the cultural grievances of our tertiary-educated, middle-class Left. The SIEV-X sank off Indonesia in October 2001, drowning 353 of its passengers, the majority of them women and children. They had paid people-smugglers to take them to the Australian territory of Christmas Island. Despite the fact that a Senate Select Committee, with Labor Party representatives, found the Australian navy and air force did not know where the vessel was, let alone that it was sinking, there remains a strong undercurrent of belief among the Australian Left that the navy could have rescued the passengers but deliberately let them drown. Another version of the story is that the Australian Federal Police and their Indonesian colleagues actually sabotaged the boat in an attempt to prevent it leaving Indonesia but it departed unaware of its fate.
Many of these claims were made in the fury that followed the Howard government’s 2001 election win. David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s book on that election, Dark Victory, gave much credence to all the prevailing rumours and allegations. Former diplomat Tony Kevin wrote the book A Certain Maritime Incident and established a website on the issue where he supports the theory of deliberate sabotage. Last year, Hannie Rayson drew big audiences in Sydney and Melbourne to her play Two Brothers, which used a thin veneer of fiction to cover her allegation that Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock knew the SIEV-X was sinking and could have saved its passengers but ordered the navy to turn back and leave them to drown.
Rather than fade with time, as most political controversies eventually do, the past three months have seen this story gain renewed attention. A group of teachers and political activists produced a case study on the SIEV-X for the modern history high school syllabus. The unit was publicly endorsed by Nick Ewbank, the president of the History Teachers Association, and Father Chris Middleton, principal of St Aloysius College, Sydney. Labor Party immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, blamed the Howard government’s temporary protection visa laws for forcing refugees to risk their lives on vessels of that kind. In the Melbourne Age, the Victorian secretary of Labor for Refugees, Robin Rothfield, criticised HMAS Arunta for failing to go to the passengers’ aid. Barry Jones’ autobiography, A Thinking Reed, launched by former Governor-General Sir William Deane, also blames the heartless immigration policies of the Howard government for SIEV-X and gives credence to the conspiracy theories of David Marr and Marian Wilkinson.
The aim of all this, of course, is to undermine the moral legitimacy of the Howard government by portraying it as a band of heartless monsters with blood on their hands. But there is another, deeper agenda. The Left regards Howard and his ministers primarily as opportunistic demagogues exploiting an underlying popular culture, which itself is really to blame. At a conference at Oxford University in September a prominent Australian political figure, who unfortunately I can’t name because of Chatham House rules, told his audience that the Australian people had become so sated by a dumbed-down media and jingoistic shock jocks that they thought refugee boat people should be either shot or drowned. This, plus the widespread belief on the Left in the veracity of the SIEV-X story—which is a genuinely shocking defamation of the Australian Navy—is a measure of how morally unhinged the story’s supporters have become. [emphasis added]
It is also a sorry indicator of how deep has become the divide between the political and intellectual Left and the majority of Australians. Once, the typical working Australian was a hero to left-wing nationalists and provided the values and character—egalitarian, collectivist, loyal, laconic, stoic—that they celebrated. Today, the Left has expunged both nationalism and working-class heroes from its pantheon. It now regards working people as the main impediment to its dream for the future. They are the racist, sexist rednecks who must be overcome before a harmonious world can be created.
When I challenged the speaker at Oxford that his proposition about drowning and shooting refugees was an absurd libel on his country, his rejoinder was: “Look at the Cronulla riots.” The response of the Left to the December 2005 Cronulla riots—in reality, an adolescent turf war in which no one was killed or even seriously injured—is another illustration of their regard for the majority of their fellow citizens. Writing in the Age, the feminist historian Marilyn Lake compared the Anglo-Australians to “the lynch mobs in the American south”. She mocked a statement by the Police Commissioner that these youths were un-Australian. “What is un-Australian about calling for racial exclusion in the name of the nation?” she asked. “Is not racial exclusion a deep part of our heritage, as traditional an Australian value as mateship?”
In his new book about Muslims, titled Us and Them, Peter Manning, the former head of ABC Television news and once general manager of ABC Radio, says that in the wake of the Cronulla riots he now found the use of Australian symbols, such as our flag, “repulsive”. Manning writes: “I find it hard to look at the flag the same way now. Perhaps we should finally ditch it and ask the Aboriginal people if we can use theirs as our national symbol.”
Manning says the chief mentor in his adult life, Father Ted Kennedy of Redfern, taught him that all white Australians are racist. Paul Keating agreed. According to Manning, our former Prime Minister thought the racist genie was there for all politicians to exploit but it should be avoided at all costs. Keating told Manning: “Once out of the bottle, it’s almost impossible to put back in.”
This thesis is widely propagated among the academic Left. At a centenary of Federation conference in 2001, politics professor Robert Manne declared the nation created in 1901 was an expression of late-nineteenth-century Western racism. Every other voice at that conference agreed with him.
Within this framework, nationalism has become a pejorative term. In September 2005, Manne—described by his admirer Richard Nile as “Australia’s own Noam Chomsky”, a description truer than Nile realises—publicly debated Andrew Bolt over the stolen generations. Manne accused both Bolt and me of being “nationalist extremists”. And in various responses Henry Reynolds has made to criticism of his historical work by Michael Connor and me, Reynolds has accused us both of being “radical nationalists”. This is partly a wink-and-nudge way of calling us Nazis, but it has also had a longer shelf life.
FOR ALMOST TWENTY YEARS, certainly since the Bicentenary of 1988, Australian intellectuals have been part of a worldwide movement to disparage the nation-state and transfer its key functions to international organisations. This movement is based on two premises: that the nation-state is a racist warlike institution that is now an impediment to world harmony, and that economic globalisation has already rendered much of the role of the traditional nation redundant.
For more than a decade, the standard university textbook on Australian nationalism and multiculturalism, Mistaken Identity by Stephen Castles, Bill Cope, Mary Kalantzis and Michael Morrissey, has pushed the same line. “We do not need a new ideology of nationhood,” they say. “We need to transcend the nation, as an increasingly obsolete relic of early industrialism. Our aim must be community without nation.”
This is not just rhetoric from the far Left. As the American author John Fonte has argued, Western society is permeated by a class of transnational progressives, many of whom are employed by international corporations but many others who are engaged in both government and non-government organisations. They want foreign policy to be decided by international organisations and legal jurisdiction transferred to international law and international courts.
In academic history, the most commonly cited view about nations today is that they are, in Benedict Anderson’s phrase, “imagined communities”. That is, they are essentially artificial institutions held together by stories and myths. Nation building, according to the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha, is a matter of “narrating the nation”.
Now, most of this is postmodernist cant. Far from being artificial, nations are very real things. They are political structures and centres of authority. They are also economic communities of mutual dependence, and institutions for the defence of those within from usurpers without. Nonetheless, it remains true that historical narratives are important to them because of their ability to generate loyalty through stories about their origins and achievements. This is especially so of democracies, which can only defend themselves properly if they remain secure in their own identity and values and know what they are fighting for.
So there is an important truth to the idea that the way to undermine a nation is to challenge its central narrative, its history. That is why for the past thirty years left-wing academics have waged a concerted campaign to re-write the histories of their own countries, especially the histories of the settler societies of the Americas and the Pacific.
Today, academic historians routinely accuse all these countries of committing genocide against their indigenous peoples. The American academic Ward Churchill argues that all the European settler-colonies established in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina were inherently genocidal in their very foundation.
Churchill’s work is widely quoted today by Australian historians in attempts to make the same case about the impact of colonialism on the Aborigines. In 2001, the editors of a special “genocide” edition of the journal Aboriginal History, Anne Curthoys and John Docker, declared the project owed its inspiration to Churchill’s work on the Americas.
In May 2006, however, a panel of his peers at the University of Colorado found Churchill guilty of academic fraud. He had engaged in falsification, fabrication, plagiarism, failure to comply with established standards, serious deviation from accepted research practices and had even been disrespectful of Indian oral traditions. Nonetheless, if my experience over the past six years of exposing similar offences in the history of Australian Aborigines is any guide, none of this will affect the credibility within academia of any of his historical conclusions, which Churchill’s followers will continue to quote as reliable guides to the past.
APART FROM FALSIFYING the national story, the Left’s other tactic is to render history impotent by trivialising it. This is the outcome of the rise of the sub-disciplines of social history and cultural history.
The National Museum of Australia, which was founded as a museum of social history, is a visible example of this. Most of the people celebrated in the museum’s exhibits are those who fit contemporary political interests, especially radical environmentalism and the politics of Aborigines and ethnic groups. The white males who established Australia’s political, legal and educational institutions and those who played major roles in building our economy barely rate a mention. The museum’s initial exhibition celebrated a man who designs dresses for Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras. Others included environmental activists, anti-nuclear campaigners and the trade unionists who vandalised Parliament House, Canberra, during a riot in 1996. Responding to criticism that the nation had better heroes than these to commemorate, the director took a relativist position: “Heroism,” she said, “is in the eye of the beholder.”
Last August, Prime Minister Howard tried to address the situation by commissioning a summit of leading historians to rewrite the existing high school curriculum to teach students the key events in the nation’s past. Instead of Australian history being taught as part of the amorphous, politically-correct field of social studies, he wanted it to be a stand-alone subject based on the traditional concept of an empirically-based, narrative-structured intellectual discipline. On the eve of the summit, Minister for Education Julie Bishop declared, quite accurately: “History is not peace studies. History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability.”
However, such is the dominance of the prevailing academic ethos that this summit did not deliver the expected result. At the Prime Minister’s request, one of Australia’s few conservative academic historians, Gregory Melleuish, prepared a model for the new curriculum—in my view, a perfectly accurate and eminently teachable model—but a caucus at the summit successfully dumped it in favour of a curriculum based not on narrative and politics but on “issues and questions”, such as:
• What were the relations between Aborigines and settlers?
• What were the relations between men and women?
• What were the plans and dreams for Australian society?
The summit appointed a sub-committee to go off and rewrite the curriculum. The sub-committee has a majority of leftists, including an inevitable Aboriginal woman, Jackie Huggins, plus the president of the History Teachers Association, Nick Ewbank, who, as I noted earlier, has since endorsed a curriculum unit about the SIEV-X sinking.
All is not yet lost, however, as Minister Bishop has subsequently played down the role the sub-committee will have. But this experience emphasises that you cannot win the History Wars simply by prime ministerial fiat. Moreover, it is going to take much more than a critique of the existing versions of our national history.
Having said that, let me now indulge in that very activity by offering some pointers to the direction Australian history ought to take by way of a critique of recent comments by the University of Melbourne historian Stuart Macintyre and the Labor politician Kevin Rudd.
IN HIS BOOK The History Wars, Macintyre ridicules all those historians of Australia who wrote before his 1960s generation appeared on the scene. Earlier authors, who he labels imperial historians, took as their subject matter the transplanting of the English institutions of political freedom and self-government onto the other side of the world. Macintyre is scathing about their accomplishment:
“Nothing appears as ridiculous as an obsolete orthodoxy. The imperial interpretation of Australian history has passed so completely that we find it almost incomprehensible, except as an object of mockery—hence the jibes of Paul Keating about local Tories tugging their forelocks and dreaming of the Land of Hope and Glory.”
Yet the imperial historians’ belief that Australia was largely a transplanted British society is neither ridiculous nor obsolete, given that Britain was the originator of almost every major Australian institution: parliamentary democracy, the legal system, the capitalist economy, the education system, the police and defence forces, the professions, the press, the major sporting codes, not to mention the small matter of the language in which Macintyre composed his allegation.
The same is true of the institutions of the Left: the trade unions, the political parties, the national public broadcaster, as well as the boorish anti-English resentment still harboured by some Irish descendants like Paul Keating—we got them all direct from Britain.
Australia tolerates a diversity of religion not because of a homespun theory of multiculturalism but because we inherited the Catholic Relief Act passed in 1829 by the British parliament. The only major British institution not transplanted here, thankfully, was its aristocracy. Far from being ridiculous, the traditional historians who recognised all this were simply stating the obvious.
Australia’s British origins are important in deflating the major charge the Left makes against this country, that of racism. The British settler societies were founded by people from the world’s most cosmopolitan city, London. Inheriting an Enlightenment culture that was curious rather than xenophobic about foreigners, the settler societies were places where people quickly got used to living amongst newcomers of various ethnicities. The large-scale immigration programs which all these societies have managed for the past two hundred years would not have been possible otherwise.
The fundamental reason for this was well explained by Elie Kedourie’s 1961 study of nationalism. Britain and its colonial offshoots have always subscribed to civic nationalism rather than the racist nationalism that prevailed on much of the Continent. Civic nationalism meant that Britons owed their loyalties not to an organic whole based on their race, language or physiognomy, but to the political institutions they had created for themselves. Racist nationalism, the political theory and political appeal that was used to unify Germany and Italy in the nineteenth century, was of a qualitatively different kind. It is historically inaccurate to identify British and Continental nationalism as the same thing.
The countries of British descent accept outsiders who agree to abide by the rules. A person of any race or ethnicity can become an American, or an Australian or a New Zealander. But you cannot become a Maori, you have to be born one. Seventy years ago, only those born Aryans could be Germans. Moreover, civic nations have been proven by history to be by far the best protectors of minority groups. People of any race, ethnicity or religion who become citizens and swear allegiance to the nation deserve the protection of its laws.
This is the basis of the argument I made in my book The White Australia Policy. So far, all that my critics have produced to show I am wrong is a handful of anecdotes. But to argue Australia is a fundamentally racist country, you need better evidence than a few examples of folk racism expressed by individuals; you have to find substantial racist institutions, and these Australia has never had.
Australians not only accepted British values, they added home-grown qualities to them. We were not enamoured of a class-based social hierarchy, and so we developed a local version of egalitarianism and evolved a finely-tuned ear for pretension and special pleading. The reason the refugee boat people attracted little sympathy in 2001 from the majority of Australians was not because the latter are racist but because they are egalitarian. Few things offend egalitarians more than those who jump queues and exploit rules made for those who wait their turn.
IN THE NOVEMBER EDITION of the Monthly magazine, Labor frontbencher Kevin Rudd declares the history wars and the culture wars to be a fraud. He says they are the creation of that wily coyote, John Howard, who wants to divert people’s attention while behind their backs he devotes himself to the real business of imposing an “unrestrained market capitalism” that sweeps all before it. The result, according to Rudd, is that family relations and community institutions are being laid waste by the unforgiving forces of neo-liberalism, materialism and consumerism.
This is actually an old argument, first made by the academic Left in the 1980s in response to the Hawke– Keating liberalisation of the economy. At the time, its authors accused Hawke and Keating of being agents of international capital for abolishing financial controls, tariffs and state-owned enterprises. They claimed that, in order to keep its various constituencies on side while it completed this demolition job, the Labor hierarchy decided to offer diversions in the form of inexpensive symbolic gestures such as arts policy, multiculturalism and Aboriginal reconciliation.
Rudd has taken from today’s academic Left a slightly newer version of the same argument. He draws heavily on a chapter in the recent book Beyond Left and Right, by University of Technology Sydney lecturer David McKnight, who denounces the social consequences of Friedrich von Hayek’s theories of neo-liberalism. Rudd quotes McKnight saying:
“Hayek’s intellectual paradigm has turbo-charged the privatised, marketised economy, which is relentlessly encroaching on the life world of family, friends and community. The invisible hand is clutching at the invisible heart and slowly choking it.”
Unfortunately for Rudd, McKnight took his evidence about social change from feminist authors whose data is jaundiced and out of date. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Australian Social Trends 2006, the Howard decade has not overseen the demise of family, church and community. On the contrary, Australian families seem to be thriving.
Between 1995 and 2005 the total number of families increased by 15 per cent to 5.5 million. The overall fertility rate has not changed much but the internal trends are good, with the proportion of births to young single women down, and the proportion to older married women up. The divorce rate is down overall, and quite dramatically so in families with children under eighteen.
The neo-liberal boom in employment has meant that more than half of adult women now have jobs, with half of them working part-time. At the same time, men have significantly increased their use of flexible work arrangements to share in the care of their children, up from 24 to 30 per cent in a decade. Much more importantly, there are now many more jobs at the low end of the market so that the proportion of families where neither parent is employed is down from 8.4 to 5.3 per cent.
The social indicators of community tell the same story. The proportion of people acting as volunteers has leapt from 24 to 34 per cent. Parents are pleased about a greater choice of schools. Christianity is enjoying a strong revival in the new outer suburbs. These are the consequences that the dreaded neo-liberalism has brought for family, church and community since John Howard took office.
There is no mystery about why any of this has occurred. You don’t need a sociologist to tell you that economic prosperity fosters happier families and better communities. Rudd should get himself a less ideological adviser on social policy.
Indeed, David McKnight’s accusation that neo-liberalism ruins family life is disingenuous. As a radical journalist in the 1970s and 1980s, McKnight lived through the period when family breakdown rates soared, and he knows the real causes originated mostly on the left of the political spectrum, including:
• the 1960s sexual revolution which promoted promiscuity as the key to happiness;
• the radical feminist movement which told women to throw out their husbands because all men were beasts;
• the revolution in the divorce laws made by leftist divorcee Lionel Murphy and administered by the Family Court of feminist divorcee Elizabeth Evatt;
• the Whitlam government’s introduction of welfare for single mothers which made the state a substitute for the father as family provider;
• and the rapid rise of unemployment in the late 1970s and early 1980s which devastated many Australian families and for which the much-maligned neo-liberalism has proven itself the only cure.
Rudd’s economic solution to the problems he misidentifies is to return to social democracy. At present, enough Australians remember the consequences of social democracy to make this a hard package to sell. Social democracy eventually gives you the Banana Republic. Either that or the European variety of corporate capitalism with low economic and population growth, high unemployment, and a highly regulated, environmentally virtuous, unadventurous society.
RUDD HAS, HOWEVER, done us all a favour by also sparking a different debate about religion in politics, which has for too long been a taboo topic.
Despite its tolerance of diversity, Australia remains a Christian country. Even its secularists think in Christian terms. It’s an old critique of Marxism that its millenarian promise of a socialist utopia was little more than a secular Christian heresy. Ben Chifley’s “light on the hill” was an example of the same promise to seek heaven on earth.
I’ve argued elsewhere that Evangelical Christianity, which aimed to apply the principles of the Gospels to social life, was one of Australia’s two founding creeds and remains alive and well today.
You can still see it in action everywhere today. Our middle-class, tertiary-educated Left, with its campaign for the three Rs of refugees, reconciliation and republic, is essentially evangelical. These days, there are fewer Protestants among the movement and more Catholics—most notably William Deane and the Brennan family—while the majority of them are now secularist, though no less evangelical for that.
The other great intellectual influence on Australia’s foundation, the Scottish Enlightenment, was sceptical of the claims of all religion, but was not hostile to them.
Rudd correctly observes that the Scottish Enlightenment’s great thinker, Adam Smith, was primarily a moral philosopher who cared about the poor and wanted to alleviate their condition as much as any church pastor. As Gertrude Himmelfarb has shown in her superb book Roads to Modernity, the ideas of the Enlightenment in Britain were conveyed to the populace by the church, especially the Evangelicals and the Wesleyans.
In Australian history, Manning Clark’s notion that there was a fundamental clash between Christianity and Enlightenment secularism, was wrong. As in Britain, the Australian churches were happy to spread scientific ideas—Darwinism excepted—and to promote the notion of material progress. The principle that united both the Christian vision and the secular scientific mindset was a belief in the objectivity of reason and truth.
That is why the deep ideological chasm that has so visibly opened up today between the Evangelical Left and those it labels neo-liberals is so out of character with our history.
Neo-liberalism is actually the wrong term. What we have today is a revival of traditional liberalism, the Scottish Enlightenment variety of Adam Smith. In Australia, that kind of liberalism once thrived in the Free Trade Party and in the writings of Australia’s greatest nineteenth-century liberal thinker, Bruce Smith. It suffered a political eclipse in the early twentieth century but enjoyed an overdue revival in the 1980s.
To portray this kind of liberalism as the font of greed and selfishness and the destroyer of the family and community not only seriously misunderstands it but also misreads Australian history and the forces that have made us what we are.
THE REASONS WHY so many Australians today want to think so badly of their own country are hard to pin down. I don’t pretend to understand them all. But it is clear that, for the past thirty years, the Evangelical Left has bloated itself on such a diet of myth, propaganda and atrocity stories about Australian history, about our role in the contemporary world, and especially about our chief ally and best friend, the United States, that it no longer believes in or cares about objective truth.
The result is that the critics have seriously deceived themselves about Australian values and the Australian people. Some of their most articulate and influential members have reached the stage where they now openly despise Australia and the majority of Australians. If enough of their opponents do not stand up to argue how wrong they are, this national self-hatred could eventually infect the entire body politic.
This is the text of the 2006 Sir John Latham Memorial Lecture, which Keith Windschuttle delivered in Sydney on November 8.
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