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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Australia Day « Previous | |Next »
January 26, 2011

If Australia Day is now a festival, it is also an excuse for commentators in the mainstream media to recycle their ideas about what it means to be Australian, and how are we different to the rest of the world. It provides a good opportunity for some critical reflection on Australian nationalism and patriotism.


In his Australia, it's Western, Christian and proud article on the ABC's Unleashed site Kevin Donnelly says that what we should be doing is celebrating Western civilisation, Christianity and Australia’s Anglo-Celtic heritage. Why? Well, that is what Australia is. He adds:

It’s ironic that when many talk of the clash between Islam and the West, and Australia is involved in wars against Islamic extremism in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we appear unwilling or incapable of teaching future generations about the unique nature of Western civilisation and the very values, beliefs and way of life that protect us and offers sanctuary to thousands from overseas.

His conservative conception of Australia is explicitly opposed to diversity and difference (code for multiculturalism ); the belief that all cultures are of equal value and worth; environmental values; and Australia being a part of Asia.

According to Donnelly, what makes Australia different then, is that it is part of the Anglosphere. Presumably, those who dispute this conception of nationalism in terms of the racism haunting mainstream Australia culture are the politically correct naysayers.

My core problem with Conservatives like Donnelly is that they rarely mention that current of racism that has haunted mainstream Australia culture since Federation. There is little critical reflection by Australian conservatives like Donnelly in which they analyse the way that their traditional conception of Australian political identity is based on an ethnic nationalism--Anglo-celtic, whiteness, Christianity? ---rather than civic patriotism.

My second problem with Australian conservatives is that they rarely discuss their political philosophy. Their default position appears to be an amalgam of free market liberalism and the Burkean conservative emphasis on tradition; but there is little acknowledgement that the great wrecker of tradition is the free market. On this interpretation of Australian conservatism, Donnelly is defending the conservative tradition--- British civilisation, Christianity and Australia’s Anglo-Celtic heritage---which is the Australia of the mid-20th century; a tradition that has been continually undermined by the global market's dependence on the international mobility of labour.

Australia, as an open society, is for better or worse, a nation of immigrants. The core question then is this: is it possible to reconcile the conflicting imperatives of respect for cultural diversity and sustained democratic legitimacy? Donnelly and the Quadrant conservatives would say no. I would question their assumption of ethnic nationalism.

Ethnic nationalists can be said to advocate the public promotion of one identity, national identity, at the expense of other group identities, which will, therefore, be indirectly discriminated against. By using public institutions to foster a particular culture, ethnic nationalism may conflict with the principle of equal citizenship, and is likely to be intolerant of minority cultures.

Civic patriotism refers to a mainly political identity, whose political content makes it compatible with a variety of practices and beliefs, but whose thin particularistic form justifies citizens' commitment to specific institutions. This commitment is not so unconditional as to justify blind loyalty to one's own institutions, nor is it so absolute as to rule out certain forms of cosmopolitan citizenship.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:00 PM | | Comments (12)


Donnelly's tripe is a nice piece of irony, given the treatment that his Irish forebears received in Australia well into the 20th century. I would like to hear Archbishop Mannix discuss the 'unique values of Western civilisation' that bind all us whiteys together.

As these turkeys do so frequently, he ends with a warning of catastrophe: 'A way of life that that will quickly disappear if we fail to teach future generations about what truly unites us as Australians.'

Ummm, why? Conservatives have a remarkable lack of faith in their own ideology. They always seem to think it is a delicate exotic plant that will die unless it is endlessly nurtured and protected. Fortunately the Australian character is much more robust than he credits, although it may well be that his strain of god-bothering paternalism continues to wither away. One can only hope.

Hate defines the Left. Left intellectuals run on toxic. Read their venemous blogs, Twitters, magazines, newspapers and you enter a dark world of anger, hatred, and fear.

So says Michael Connor in Quadrant.

Is this the best that Australian Conservatives can do?

"...the Australian character is much more robust than he credits..."

But that's part of the irony, innit? The "Australian character" is constantly changing. Therefore it does not really exist in a easily defined form. But that's what makes it so robust!!!

So, it's all about the stoic Anglosphere, eh? Such a sterling bunch of chaps. Always minding their own business, peaceful and treading softly upon the earth. Hurrah!

That "unique values" bullshit ALWAYS gets up my nose. Mateship, like nobody else in the world has mates. Resilience like nobody else in the world can bounce back a natural disaster. Oh, please stop pissing in my pocket!

Anyway, good luck to Donnelly in trying to keep Australia as an outpost of the Anglosphere. Maybe nobody told him that it's already past the tipping point. The wogs and the Asians (an shades in between) are soon going to outnumber the anglos. That's just the way it 's going to be. The face of Australia WILL change. No doubt. Donnelly better get used to it.

Ha! I wonder if Donnelly and his ilk ever think about what the face of this continent looked like just 220 years ago. I suspect he does, and that's why he's shit-scared!

Oh... and the reason Australian conservatives like Donnelly rarely mention the "current of racism that has haunted mainstream Australia culture"... is that they were NEVER disadvantaged by it. That's all. They've never been on the receiving end.

No, Donnelly is just trolling. A sly, slightly nasty little troll.
"Anglo Celtic culture as part of another floating concept, the "Anglosphere", as conceived of here, for the purposes of this specific conversation are still useful for an objective view. History itself rather than interpretations of it which put together form a jigsaw puzzle of some of what's immanent, requires evaluation rather than disdainful condemnation or nostalgic praise. The behaviours detected and more closely verified, might draw a more subjective response, as with the Stolen Generation or the deaqth of Mulrunji, for example.
They sre serious for all Australians for some times uncomfortable, sometimes universal questions such issues raise about our own comfortable certainties and verities.

Unleashed could have been so much better. If they're going to publish this sort of thing they could at least be publishing new writers. There must be someone younger than Donnelly out there, even if they do slip straight into his shoes. The people at Hungry Beast should be running Unleashed.

There does seem to be some change happening at ABC online though. Just lately they've cut back on parroting the Australian. They've been reporting events before they report what Tony Abbott or some opposition back bencher thinks, sometimes hours ahead.

Hi, just one point. OECD research shows, compared to most other countries, that Australia has a high degree of social mobility - especially, when it comes to education and migrants. If this is a rascist society why do migrants achieve so much and why have we sold out our Anglo-Celtic, Christian heritage to multiculturalism?

I would not claim that Australia is a racist society. LIke you I would argue that it is not.

Today--as distinct from 1901--- there is an undercurrent of racism that usually surfaces against some Arab immigrants from particular sections of the society.

In 1901 it was different as it was the state that acted to keep out nonwhites (Chinese then) for economic and cultural reasons.The racism was quite explicit then and official--the White Australia policy.

That is not the case today. The White Australia policy has been discredited and dismantled by the state and our society as a whole welcomes nonwhite immigration.

Anglo-Saxon culture---with all its differences and conflicts -- still exists in Australia and it still plays a very strong role in our political culture---eg., liberal democracy. So I don't see that the state has sold out Anglo-Saxon culture, even though Australia, because of immigration, now consists of a plurality of ethnic cultures.

In a liberal democracy Christianity--along with other religions-- is treated as a private concern of citizens and, unlike the UK, it is not a state religion.

I cannot see that Christianity has been sold out, since, in spite of Australia being a secular liberal society, the state provides very strong support (both financial and political) to private Christian schools that provide a Christian education.

It is not the job of secular public schools in a liberal society to provide an education in a particular religion, though they can provide an overview of different religions in Australia society, if they have the resources to do so.

I suspect that a core issue between us is multiculturalism. For the record I accept that Australia is a multicultural society in a factual sense (our culture is composed of a plurality of ethnicities). This sense of multiculturalism is a descriptive term that refers to cultural diversity--ie our cities are increasingly made of a mosaic of cultures. There should be no disagreement there.

The issues is with multiculturalism as a normative term, which implies a positive endorsement, even celebration, of communal diversity, typically based on either the right of different groups to respect and recognition, or to the benefits to the larger society of moral and cultural diversity.

I interpret multiculturalism (the affirmation of ethnic pluralism), as being subordinate to our political liberal culture. So what binds or unifies us is the ethos of liberal democracy (including citizenship, the rule of law democratic governance, liberalism etc) not a particular ethnicity or religion.

My understanding of your position is that you hold that what should bind or unify us--ie., the common culture-- is ethnicity (Anglo-Celtic) or religion (the Judaic/Christian tradition). I'm not sure which it is or whether it is both.

"Is this the best that Australian Conservatives can do?"

It probably is George. It probably is.

It's not hard to imagine some Australian Conservatives getting their scripts straight from the US rabid right.

The "venom-spitting, aggressive left" was a talking point spun out after Jared Loughner killed those people in Arizona. It was meant to prove that the left was naturally violent in their actions and rhetoric.

Looks like Mr Connor thought the meme would transplant nicely into the Australian political landscape.

I think KD tells more than he thinks when he talks of sellouts and the impending doom of White Australia (ns), when even immigrants can do well.
Perhaps we should rather be asking, if migrants can do well, why is it that others actually born and brought up in the place aren't doing better?

I don't understand how Kevin can draw a straight line between the social mobility of migrants and the claim that Australia doesn't have a problem with racism.

Could it be that some migrants are successful despite racism? Could it be that they have to work unusually hard for that success? Could it be that they'd be doing even better on a level playing field?

Jobseekers are finding the old adage that it is not what you know, but who you know does not necessarily apply in Australia — it is actually more about where you come from.

A study by the Australian National University has found people with Chinese names are much more likely to be knocked back for a job interview than applicants with an Anglo-Saxon name.

Researchers found Chinese job seekers also had less chance of being called back than Middle Eastern and Italian contenders.

The study sent 4000 fake job applications for entry-level waiting, data entry, customer service and sales jobs.

The fictitious employment seekers went to high school in Australia.

The research found that overall, Chinese job seekers were called back 21 per cent of the time they applied for a job, compared with 22 per cent for Middle Eastern people and 26 per cent for indigenous applicants.

By comparison, Anglo-Saxon job seekers were called back 35 per cent of the time, only slightly ahead of Italians on 32 per cent.

"It's consistent with the notion ... that a sudden influx of migration increases prejudice," researcher Andrew Leigh said.

Professor Leigh said minorities would fare better in the labour market if they Anglicised their names.

"It certainly suggests Anglicising your name increases the chance of getting a job interview," Professor Leigh said.

When looking at individual job categories, the study found people with a Middle Eastern background had to send 127 per cent more applications for a waiter's position...

So... no, we don't have apartheid or legal segregation. But that's not to say there isn't a problem. Racism (bigotry, prejudice, white supremacy... whatever you call it) is still thriving. I see it every day. If not in the flesh, then on-line or on TV. If not overt, then in subtle slurs or weasel words.