Tuesday 10 September 2013

Aussie Green Bikers - Salisbury Review, Autumn 2013

British-born journalist Nick Cater emigrated to Australia in 1989 and his career never looked back. For nine years now he has been a senior editor at Murdoch’s flagship newspaper The Australian. Cater’s The Lucky Culture: And the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class (2013) argues that the good old days of Australian egalitarianism are now under threat from “a knowledge-owning nobility”. Cater asserts that where a spirit of fraternity and mateship once held sway in our young nation, and with it a sense of fairness and non-doctrinaire tolerance, now divisiveness rules. “Classless Australia” might be becoming a thing of the past.

Cater, as a veritable new chum, makes any number of sharp and insightful observations about his adopted homeland. He loves the sheer physicality of the place, the generosity of the people and the warmth of the climate, and that the promise of “wealth for toil” is not just a throwaway line in the national anthem. He welcomes the fact that the old cultural cringe has mostly gone because Australians have “shaken the minatory Englishman from their shoulder”. The Great Southern Land, economically robust and blessed in the most part with “lifters, not leaners”, is ready to find its own unique destiny in the world.

The marvel of Cater’s The Lucky Culture is the author’s determination to confront the darkness in paradise. Australia’s ‘new class’ might not be beholden to the opinions of the Mother Country, but this clique of post-nationalist sophisticates has embraced the “doctrine of the self-declared world citizen” and declared war on everything from traditional patriotism to the nation’s very sovereignty. The heroes in Cater’s narrative, on the other hand, are “true blue” Aussies, low-key versions of Mick in Crocodile Dundee, unceremonious and unaffected but never to be underestimated.                              

There is a degree of romanticisation in all this. While Manning Clark’s neo-Marxian rendering of Australia’s history has more in common with fiction than actuality, Cater’s assertion of an Australian golden age in which there were “no institutional barriers to success” and the only impediments to achievement were “personal deficits of imagination, energy and courage” is also partly myth. Sitting “next to, not behind” an Australian taxi-driver says something about egalitarianism in the Land of Oz, but not nearly as much as a visitor might assume.                         

Cater, along these same lines, writes favourably of “the tall poppy syndrome”, the long-established tendency of Australians to cut down to size people who excel in their field of endeavour, sport excluded, of course. In many ways, The Lucky Culture is intended as a replacement or even critique of Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country: Australia in the 60s (1964), a lament by the granddaddy of “the bunyip alumini” on the unimaginative and suffocating provincialism of his fellow citizens. The difference between the two perspectives is that where Horne saw mediocrity and insularity in Australian suburbia, Cater now discovers common sense and pragmatism.

Cater claims that salt-of-the-earth suburbians are being increasingly subjugated by a tertiary-educated, inner city, culturally attuned bunyip alumini. The latter do not “simply feel better off but better than their fellow Australians”. The social research figures tend to confirm the idea that those who live in fashionable inner city suburbs and are tertiary educated will more likely classify themselves as “open minded”. According to Cater, the worldview of this elite is not so much a political ideology – “only the freakish few are genuinely driven by ideology” – but a consequence of their shared sense of moral, aesthetic, financial and intellectual superiority over outer-suburban vulgarians.                                                      

One problem with this is the mechanistic, almost Marxian, matching of left-liberal voting intentions with life-style. It is, after all, possible to be vegetarian, own an apartment in the city, appreciate fine art, enjoy organic coffee, travel the world and not buy into Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) theory. Similarly, there are those who live modestly enough in Australia’s outer suburbs or remote towns but see the merits of CAGW theory, the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the United Nations and so on ad infinitum. For this we can thank the PC cant promulgated by progressive journalists, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) spin-meisters, cultural institutions, enviro-activists, the education system, American television, religious ministers, academics in the media, and one branch or other of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).               

The contention of The Lucky Country that a great divide has opened up in Australia seems incontrovertible, but his portrayal of the split as primarily sociological rather than ideological might not tell the full story. Cater correctly notes that the ALP was lost by the Old Left as far back as 1967 when Whitlam and his co-conspirators hijacked the organisation for their own purposes. It is undeniable that the Whitlamites were tertiary-educated and middle-class and, to some degree, fit Cater’s “knowledge owning nobility” categorization. As he says: “They were doctors, attorneys, architects and teachers; if perchance they worked for a bank, they were more likely to be poverty consultants than tellers.” However, not all professionals – teachers aside, perhaps – were attracted to Whitlam’s cause. It was the siren call of cultural Leftism, as much as a taste for an inner city domicile and a four-wheel drive, that drove “progressives” into the arms of the ALP, and later the Greens.                               

One cause for confusion is that many of those on the modern-day Left in Australia do not consider their views – weak on border security, soft on Muslim Brotherhood types, and so on – as “leftist” but as “open minded”. What latter-day leftists fail to appreciate is that although their “open mindedness” – which long ago metastasised into political correctness – might not involve the nationalisation of the means of production, their socialisation of the whole nation is nevertheless a form of totalitarianism.

In The Lucky Culture’s best chapter, “The Culture Producers”, Cater documents the brazen manner that smug progressives appropriated the national broadcaster in the 1960s for their own purposes. The staff at the ABC – Cater describes them in the first instance as “salaried bohemians” – abused their charter and ran the place as the propaganda wing of the Labor Left. With a few notable exceptions, none of the culprits today express even the slightest contrition. One of the old dinosaurs still haunting us, Phillip Adams, shrugs off the politicisation of the ABC in the 1960s as “social evolution”.          

For five decades, the ABC has promoted one radical cause after another in the guise of so-called “open-mindedness”. Predictably, the ABC’s advocacy for “diversity” does not go as far as giving conservatives a “fair go” in their media juggernaut. Cater might be right to depict the staff who run the ABC as tertiary-educated, middle-class, inner city types who share the same tribal sensibilities, but what they pursue in their tax-funded activity is less the expression of a form of sociological solidarity than the relentless dissemination of a particular political ideology. Moreover, their propaganda has had its effect not just on latte-sipping trendies but also credulous suburbians.                  

Cater, on occasion, seems mindful of the possible inadequacy of explaining the phenomenon tearing apart the fabric of Australian society in strict sociological terms. In the chapter titled “godless”, he posits the idea that although “progressivism” might not be an ideology, it perhaps has something “in common with a religious creed or dogma”. Thus, Cater explains the brutal treatment meted out by the leftist-liberal establishment to brilliant Australian independent thinkers such as Keith Windschuttle, Roger Sandall, Geoffrey Blainey, Helen Hughes and Peter Sutton as akin the Exclusive Brethren’s practice of purging dissenters in a ceremony known as “putting out”.

This is fine as far as it goes, but the nub of the problem transcends totemic solidarity or groupthink. The crisis Australia faces, along with the rest of the Western world, is first and foremost political. The fact is, a political ideology – call it cultural Marxism or anti-bourgeois bohemian socialism – has a firm grip on the hearts and minds on far too many Westerners. In their topsy-turvy parallel universe, Israelis are modern-day Nazis, the planet is frying, Western civilisation a scandal, female circumcision a culturally sensitive procedure, the Muslim Brotherhood a social justice outfit, patriotism hateful and border security a crime against humanity.

Nick Cater’s The Lucky Country almost – but not quite – persuades the reader to believe Winston Smith’s epiphany: “If there was hope, it must lie in the proles.” The trouble with that, of course, is Orwell’s proles were revolting but not in the right sense. I was born in a provincial Australian city with factories at one end of street and council houses at the other, and so do not completely share Cater’s very positive depiction of working class Australians and the Old Left. But nor do I reject out of hand his insinuation that a football-loving fellow who has never read a book without pictures, let alone gone to university and absorbed the nihilism of cultural relativism, is less likely to be a dangerous fool than his tertiary-educated, bicycle-riding, greenie counterpart.

This article appears in the Autumn 2013 edition of The Salisbury Review.