Sheriff Howard on the world stage
A critique of the nationalist response
By JEAN PARKER
The footnotes are at the end, below the bibliography
This article was provoked by
reflections on the role and nature of contemporary Australian nationalism. The
question about its role originates in my participation in the movement against
the War in
The footnotes are at the end, below the bibliography
This article was provoked by reflections on the role and nature of contemporary Australian nationalism. The question about its role originates in my participation in the movement against the War in
Howard, neoliberalism and the new nationalism:
Looking at the political speeches made by parliamentarians of both sides in the last decade, none has used the notion of ‘Australian values’ as much as Howard, and none has been as systematic as he is in deploying it. No one positions it at the cornerstone of a holistic political vision of Australia in the way he does. (Hage, p. 70).
Several commentators have drawn attention to the high content of nationalist sentiment in Howard’s speeches. Howard has deployed a set of ‘Australian values’ that suit the ideological changes he has been systematically pursuing during his leadership. While some of these ‘values’ seem to be created in particular speeches for pragmatic ends, there is a strong and consistent message throughout. Judith Brett explains:
Howard’s speeches are filled with characterisations of what he variously calls the Australian way, Australian values, the Australian identity and the Australian character. A few examples:
Our society is underpinned by those uniquely Australian concepts of a fair go and practical mateship. … Being Australian means doing the decent thing in a pragmatic and respectable society which lives up to its creed of practical mateship … Australians are down to earth people. It is part of our virtue. Rooted deep in our psyche is a sense of fair play and a strong egalitarian streak. … Being Australian embodies real notions of decency and pragmatism in a classless society which lives up to its creed of practical mateship. … The openness and unpretentious character of Australians has given us a well-deserved reputation for tolerance and hospitality (Brett, p. 20).
The reality is quite plain: the ‘end of the era of nationalism’, so long prophesised, is not remotely in sight. Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time (Benedict Anderson, p. 3).
Tom Nairn has coined the tongue in cheek term “really existing internationalism” to refer to the narrow, corporate, quality of globalisation as it has been revealing itself to the western public during the last decade. As the 1990’s drew to a close, the “anti-globalisation” movement aired resentment that had built up under years of neoliberal ‘consensus’ around the world. Central to this movement is the gap which Nairn’s term refers to, between genuine internationalism and “corporate globalisation”. For example, the summit protests highlighted the escalation of horrific border protection and immigration restriction regimes by the western governments under the logic of the “war on terror” (hence the demand “Free Movement of People not Free Trade”). Also angering the movement (for instance at the recent Cancun round of the WTO) are the ‘trade protection’-tariffs and subsidies- that western farmers (in the US and the EU for example) and manufacturers have continued to receive, even whilst their governments simultaneously use the WTO to dismantle national industries in the developing world.
Then in late 2001 with the US invasion of Afghanistan, the bubble of “global citizenship” and peace-through-trade was definitively burst. Now the state, specifically the world superpower the US, was back in the middle of the equation of world affairs and social theory. Not simply the military actions themselves, but also the massive mobilisations of patriotism and racism that have underpinned the war effort in the west, have brought the question of nationalism back into public debate:
For two decades, the globe had heard about little but the decline of the dreary old nation-state: lowering borders, less state interference, just one market under God… and so on. How come then, following 11 September 2001, by far the greatest explosion of nationalism since 1945 has taken place in the United States of America- the alleged identikit for global democracy… (Nairn, 2003, p. 1)
Nairn articulates the question which is beginning to be formulated in the post-September 11 framework: “Really existing internationalism’ is a field of mounting conflict… the real question is what kinds of nationalism will arise within it” (Nairn, 2002, p. 59). It seems that though globalisation has shifted the dynamic between national governments and institutions of global capital, nevertheless the nation-state is still playing an extremely significant role. Military spending, still in the hands of nation-states rather than corporations, has shown that in many central respects national governments, if only those of the richest nations, are still wielding enormous power and control over world events. Similarly, brutal immigration regimes and the crack-downs on civil liberties under the mantra of the “war on terror” in countries like Australia and the US have rapidly undermined the more utopian associations between trade liberalisation and civil liberties.
But though we can now see that various predictions of the social transformations that were to flow out of globalisation were hasty or erroneous, nevertheless things have changed. There is need for a balanced analysis, because many of the social changes since the 1970s which have fallen under the catch-phrase of globalisation are more relevant than ever. What is needed is an analysis of the pattern of economic and social changes in the last thirty years within which to examine the shifting role of the nation state. The best concept to use seems to be that of neoliberalism. Bob Connell examines the effects of the neoliberal paradigm on Australian politics and society since the 1970s when it began to be introduced as policy, and his work acts as a useful context in which to go on to examine the role of nationalism for the Howard Government.
Connell describes the way in which
the transition between the Keynesian paradigm (of “class compromise”, the
“social wage”, public spending and ‘welfare’) which had operated in
From the 1970s on, an increasing proportion of the business leadership came to reject the ‘industrial relations club’, the system of class compromise embodied in the centralised regulation of the labour market. Business opted for a higher-risk strategy in dealing with the workforce, a more confrontational logic. And it seems to have worked. There has been a redistribution of income towards capital, without a rise in working-class militancy (Connell, p. 5).
Neoliberalism has been the economic, social, and ideological shift in power away from the working class and the poor, the public sector, and towards business. But Connell also goes on to explain the conditions under which these power grabs have been successful. Connell gives several explanations for why this increased inequality and exploitation has largely been thus far unchallenged. Firstly he discusses the falling away of perceived alternatives – the collapse of the external ‘alternative’ of the USSR system, and the adoption of neoliberalism by previously social democratic parties like the ALP. He also stresses the importance of the belief that reigned in the labour movement of the 1980s that the cure and the disease were one: “The preferred solution to the threat of global competition was to embrace global competitive forces…”(Connell, p. 5, 6 and 11). But most important to our discussion here is the role that nationalism has played. In the following passage Connell indicates the way in which ‘non-economic’ ideas have been used electorally by western governments as something of a smokescreen for the introduction of fundamentally unpopular neoliberal restructuring:
With the rise of market ideology, the issue of consent takes a new form. This is a great secret about neo-liberalism, which can only be whispered, but which at some level everyone knows: neo-liberal does not have popular support… There has never been popular demand for privatisation of public institutions, for deregulation, for the run-down of public services, for indirect taxation, for globalisation, for more markets and wider commodification. New-right leaders, from Thatcher to Reagan to Howard, Kennett and Bush, have come to power because they seemed strong, or tapped into nationalism and racism or because previous governments imploded… (Connell p.11, my emphasis added)
It seems that nationalism has found a place for itself in the approach of parties which want to create support for neoliberal policies. In this sense, rather than nationalism being a throw-back to the political framework of the ‘pre-globalisation’ world, rather it has found a new ascendancy as a cornerstone of government’s commitment to neoliberalism. This would seem to bear itself out in the ample evidence of the use of nationalism by the Liberal Government under Howard. Judith Brett argues that until Howard’s rhetoric of ‘Australian values’ was developed, the Liberals only had a strong rhetorical capacity around issues of economics, and the failures of the previous Labor Government (Brett, p. 20 and 22). When Howard came to power the Liberals’ message to voters was primarily the economic benefits of privatisation, deregulation, and the free market. However during his seven years in power Howard has seen the need to add other ideological elements to this program. This need seems to have been derived in part from a crisis in the ‘market as ideology’ equation, and from the increasing social problems caused by neoliberal policies themselves. For instance, Brett suggests that ‘volunteering’ became a key ‘Australian value’ in Howard’s set of values because it offered to rebuild a sense of social cohesion lost through the ravages of economic liberalism (Brett, p. 21).
In Against Paranoid Nationalism, Ghassan Hage also explores the relationship between neoliberalism and Australian nationalism under Howard. In his analysis Hage distinguishes between two functions of the nation state. The first includes the ways in which the state ‘nourishes’ and provides for citizens- in the form of employment and welfare, healthcare, and in the production of social hope. This ‘providing’ function he calls the “motherland”. “Fatherland”, on the other hand, is the defensive, bordered, sovereign aspect of nationhood (p.26-41) . The new nationalism, which Hage calls “paranoid nationalism”, is obsessive about this latter function of defence of the borders and “we decide who comes here” sovereignty. But Hage explains that the cause of this over-activity in the fatherland nationalism is in fact the deficiency of the motherland to provide for the needs of its citizens:
The deterioration of the motherland function is the product of the forces inherent within these societies: the nature of ‘transcendental’ capitalism and neo-liberal economic policy creates the conditions that help it flourish. Over-defensiveness comes after the deterioration of the nurturing, hope-distributing function of the motherland (Hage, p. 41).
In this way Hage positions
aggressive nationalism as a symptom of the failure of the policies of
deregulation and privatisation to provide welfare, opportunity and hope for all
Those that fall through the neoliberal net become “refugees of the interior”
(Hage, p. 21). Hage describes the imagination of a society that is so
entrenched in denial at the failure of the nation to provide for its citizens’
needs that it creates a constant paranoia about ‘outside’ threats and the need
for defence. What is more, Hage believes that the desire to protect the ideal
notion of a nurturing motherland from its harsh and opposite reality turns the
national borders inward, and projects them onto every aspect of social life.
The borders are everywhere and a society fueled by fear is created. Hage’s
theory offers us not only an understanding of nationalism and neoliberalism,
but also of the extreme ‘flag waving’ and racism that we have seen in
Don Watson also draws attention to the relationship between the neoliberal policies and the nationalism of the Howard years (Watson, p.42). He sees the tension as a paradox. On the one hand the Liberals endorse the economic rationalist logic of ‘the single-minded pursuit of profit’, which to Watson signals further moves towards American individualism. On the other hand, when it comes to rhetoric, both the Liberals and the ALP rely not only on collectivist, but distinctly Australian, notions of ‘mateship’ and ‘a fair go’.
Watson discusses how during his years in opposition under Keating, Howard revamped two old opposing categories in Australian society- “battlers” and “elites” (p. 48). These two were very important in formulating how Howard would be presenting the actors in social conflict during his leadership, and in his successes in capturing a working class vote. These categories have a resonance with “radical nationalist” conceptions of the class nature of Australian society (as we will explore below) and for Howard and the Liberals the terms are used to subtly rework public perceptions of the logic of division in Australian society.
‘Elites’, rather than ‘monopolists’, ‘capitalists’ or ‘Brits’ as the term may have conveyed in the past, are now those who push for socially progressive policies. In Howard’s schema those angry about cuts to funding for public schools and universities, those outraged at his treatment of refugees or concerned about indigenous rights are seen as enforcing their privileged world view on the rest of us ‘ordinary Australians’. ‘Battlers’, on the other hand, who may once have seen themselves as working class, are now being wooed by Howard in his startlingly successful campaign to be their sole legitimate political representative (See Connell, p. 13). These examples begin to indicate the way in which Howard’s rhetoric has managed to shift the categories of class friction and identity in Australian society. One crucial element is his ability to distort the left/right content of the nationalist symbols. Previous to Howard’s reworking, ‘elites’ signal to the public -‘big business’, the right wing, and the Liberal Party itself. Howard’s use of ‘elites’ in fact acknowledges the resentment of ordinary people to such groups. But Howard wants to deflect this resentment away from himself, his government and the business community. So instead the Liberals campaign to produce another set of ‘elites’, one which they are happy to see as a social scapegoat, such as their critics, or the perhaps some sinister “Labor/Union bureaucracy”.
But Howard’s reworking of the
ideological fabric of Australian society has been concerned with more than just
nationalist phrases. Since the beginning of his time in office he has attempted
to carve out a specific position on
The reworking of the nationalist story to fit Howard’s leadership has been achieved through his strategic approach to Australian history. When newly elected, Howard began arguing that there had been an attempt to “rewrite Australian history in the service of a partisan cause”. By the Reconciliation Convention in 1997 Howard was protesting that he rejects any attempt at portraying the history of European Australia as “little more than a disgraceful record of imperialism, exploitation and racism” (in Brett, p. 19). In its place Howard has chosen to reinvent a national myth associated with what is most accurately described as “radical nationalism” (which we look at below). What becomes clear with a glance to history, however, is that as a Liberal Party leader and conservative, Howard is unique in embracing this particular set of values.
The sentiment that Howard taps into when he uses phrases such as ‘practical mateship’, ‘fair play’ and ‘egalitarian classless society’ may be seen as very much the territory of “radical nationalism”. The icon and hero of radical nationalism is the spirit of the “Bush Legend” as captured in the 1950’s by Russell Ward. Judith Brett describes the content of the Bush Legend as attempting to capture the attributes of nineteenth century workers as they survive on the land:
…egalitarian, practical improvisation, skepticism towards authority, larrikanism, loyalty to mates, generosity. Ward claimed that the Australian tradition was inherently radical and that ordinary Australians were naturally left-wing (p. 20).
Neville Meaney describes Howard’s nationalism as a “… tribute to the lingering power of the radical nationalist myth…” and cites Howard’s desire to include the term ‘mateship’ in the Preamble to the Constitution in 1999(Meaney, 2001, p. 83). Meaney dismisses critics who claim that Howard is simply a man of the 1950’s, or a Menzies clone, for in whatever ways those sentiments are accurate, when it comes to his nationalism Howard identifies far more with the radical nationalist “myth” than any of his 1950’s counterparts who fought ardently to defend a notion of British race patriotism.
In observing the contemporary incessant
attempts by the ALP and Liberals to ‘out-nationalism’ each other, it is easy to
believe that things have always been this way between the government and their
opposition. However, in order to understand the true significance of Howard’s
positioning on the nature of
For most of the 200 years since European
settlement until after WWII, Australia’s identity has been constituted
primarily by its membership of the British Empire, and its belonging to a race
of white British nationals (see e.g. Meaney 2001, 2003). This reality must be
stressed, as it has suffered something of a revision by many contemporary
historians. Meaney explains that this revision issues from the unexposed
teleological nature of Australian nationalism (in fact as
As we shall investigate in Chapter 2, the
radical nationalist reading of history attempts to see Australian nationalism
as the binary opposite of British race sentiment. Radical nationalism tells us
that it is the true, organic culture
… a “radical national” myth claimed to locate an ‘organic’ concept of national community, one which sprang not from the “crimson thread of kinship” but from connection with and in response to the unique Australian landscape and ‘bush’ experience (Curran p. 472).
Therefore Australian nationalism of the radical variety sees itself as the antithesis of British imperialism. It is important to notice the limits of this account of history. We will argue below that in fact not only did radical nationalism and pro-Britishness co-exist, but they were also fundamentally interdependent.
Connell is able to illustrate the main manifestation of the British-national outlook in parliamentary politics under the long running governmental ethos of “public service”. Politicians embraced this ideology for decades in conjunction with their support and administration of the welfare state:
In cultural terms [the welfare state policies] reflected an old ethos of government and public service. In the ideology of the imperial ruling class, from which Australian capitalism historically came, the right to rule flowed from the ruler’s care for the public weal, their capacity to represent the common interest of society (Connell, p. 9).
This mixture of ‘good governance’ and British
patriotism provided the ideological colouring of the parliamentary activity of
governments and oppositions until the post-war period. As we shall discuss
below, the actions of the British administration in pulling back from the
formerly close economic and military relationship with
The supposed egalitarian content of the myths
have meant that radical nationalism sits comfortably with a left-wing politics.
In fact the
The central idea of the radical nationalists was that the distinctive element of Australian culture was a democratic egalitarianism that could be traced back to the convicts and the bush workers, and was given its first major literary expression by the writers of the 1890s (McLaren, p. 193).
Neville Meaney reiterates the strength of the connection between labour and Australian nationalism in the minds of the ‘Radical National’ school of historians:
These historians have regarded the labor movement and the Labor Party as the chief agents in defining and prosecuting Australian nationalism, and some have seen in Labor since World War II the standard bearer of assertive nationalism combined- it might be thought oddly- with liberal internationalism (Meaney, 2001, p. 77).
As we shall see below, radical nationalism has always been a conflicted beast, and both its value as a tool for mobilising against the status quo, and its opposition to British imperialism (which is the subject of the next chapter) must be critically re-examined in the current political climate. But before exploring these questions, we must look at the significance of Howard’s ability to position himself as a conduit for radical nationalist sentiment that had previous been the political domain of the left.
In fact the Bush Legend has consistently been
central to the program of Labor. Brett goes as far as saying that “… the Prime
Minister’s political success has been
built on the appropriation of myths of nationhood that were once the property
of the ALP” (Brett, p. 19). James Curran has studied the nationalist content of
Australian Prime Ministerial speeches from the mid 1970s until 1996. Curran
found that Whitlam was the first national leader to represent some of the
radical nationalist ideas and visions in parliament. For Whitlam these visions
translated into a relatively more independent foreign policy, a ‘socialist’
welfare policy and a commitment to United Nations multilateralism in
international relations (Curran, p. 474-476). However it was Keating whose
vision of the essential
Aggressive Australianism has been the keystone of Labor’s real appeal to the people of this country. There may have been times when it leaned towards narrow nationalism… but to me that will always be preferable to reckless internationalism or blind acceptance of some foreign policy (Lang quoted in Curran, p. 482).
Keating’s radical nationalist views led him to push for republicanism, and to firily chastise his Liberal opponents as holding the “out-dated” world views of Menzies and Casey, who were neither “aggressively Australian” nor “aggressively proud of our culture” (in Curran, p. 483). This “compromised” world-view, that Keating despised so vehemently was focussed particularly on Menzies, who Keating saw as responsible for the failure to create a distinctively Australian, rather than British, outlook on the world. Like radical nationalism generally, Keating saw Britain as having displayed a “callous indifference” to the security threat that Australia had felt from Japan, while at the same time being willing to use Australian soldiers on the other side of the world in Imperial conflicts (Curran, p. 483).
Curran’s account illustrates both the very
partisan history of radical nationalist visions in parliament, and the limited part
it has played there on major issues of policy. In his long essay “Rabbit
The things that Australians like to think of themselves as fighting for, the sacred story that is part of out mythology of forty-hour weeks and mighty union movements and the lowest possible gap between rich and poor… (in Watson, p. vii)
And Watson himself shows that in his schooling, the history of labour was taught as central to Australian history:
We learnt about the rise of the trade unions and the Labor parties, as if it were inseparable from the rise of democracy. It was a legitimate, even heroic, part of Australian history (Watson, p. 39)
It is in this context that we must see the current Liberal Prime Minister, a man dedicated to the right-wing neoliberal project, who has managed to harness the radical nationalist myth, and use it create a unique and vote winning program. Remember Hage’s claim quoted earlier that no political figure in the last decade, on either side of politics, has utilised the notion of Australian values as prolifically or as systematically as Howard? Howard rejected the formulation of “public service” with which previous Liberal leaders had justified their rule. Instead Howard has chosen to rework the radical nationalist program used by Labor Leaders like Whitlam and Keating. This has created problems for the ALP, and contributes to the wider spectacle of Labor’s seeming inability to distinguish itself from the Howard Government.
But Howard has not simply adopted the radical
nationalist myth. He has subtly re-worked it in order to distort its existing
resonance with social conflict. Social conflict remains, thanks to Howard, now
The New Left’s Critique of Nationalism
During the 1960s and 1970s social
“Disillusioned by the
failure of parliamentary methods to end conscription and Australian involvement
in the war, sections of the student left and the antiwar movement drew radical
conclusions. Humphrey McQueen’s 1970 A
New Britannia, a stinging historical treatment of the chauvinism and racism
of early Australian nationalism and early labour movement, initiated a critique
of Laborism by young academics and students who had been involved in the
antiwar movement” (Kuhn, 1997, p. 157).
The Communist Party was seen as lagging behind the anti-war movement and thus a conservative force. The New Left therefore drew on a sometimes contradictory mixture of Maoism, Trotskyism, Althusser, as well as the European Marxists such as Lukacs and importantly Gramsci, to create a revolutionary social theory with which to guide the movement. On the face of it many of the questions they asked do not appear sociological. The academic debate we examine below was waged primarily in university history departments and left wing journals (although the influence of these debates was soon felt within sociology, most obviously via the work of Bob Connell). Yet inadvertently the New Left opened the way for a new analysis of Australian nationalism, by attempting to insert it into the context of global power structures and international relations. They also attempted to understand nationalism in terms of a marxist analysis of Australian history.
Humphrey McQueen’s 1970 A New Britannia- “An argument concerning the social origins of Australian radicalism and nationalism” lacked theoretical coherence in several ways, but nevertheless marked a turning point in the academic and political treatment of Australian nationalism and Australian history. McQueen’s work opened up an important debate which seemed to draw a line between the ideas the Old Left- the Communist Party and the ALP- and the emerging New Left. The young radicals from the Vietnam period came increasingly to see themselves in opposition to many of the left orthodoxies which preceded them including the nationalism which was common in the Old Left during the 1960s and increasingly so in the 1970s (O’Lincoln, 1985, p. 162). Within the universities a group of left historians and social commentators associated with the Communist Party had for the previous decades been developing a body of work which argued that the nationalist traditions of Australia’s past, particularly the 19th century, held the key to future socialist struggles. We introduced the ideas of these historians, who were known as the “Radical Nationalist School”, in the first chapter. The New Left developed a different approach to Australian history, and their arguments with the left historians of the previous decades became a catalyst for a more general critique of Australian nationalism.
Ian Turner was a labour historian and part of the Radical Nationalist School alongside other left historians including Russell Ward, Robin Gollan and Brian Fitzpatrick. Turner articulates the view which united the radical nationalists- that nationalist traditions, and the culture and literature which reflect the experiences of 19th Century radicals, can form a basis for the future struggle for socialism in Australia:
Here nine years after the publication of A New Britannia but in reference to it, Turner expresses the
relationship the “
Radical nationalism- which is both a way of looking at the past and a program for the future- does seem to me to be useful. It leads towards a political strategy which is based in present realities, and to an attempt to redefine socialist means and ends in terms of a tradition which incorporates whatever is valuable in Australia’s past- including political democracy and intellectual freedom- and which carries a specific Australian resonance (Turner, 1979, p. xxviii).
The New Left critique offered by McQueen and others came to reject the link which the radical nationalists made between nationalism and socialism. They felt, rather, that Australian nationalist ideas had impeded socialist struggle. Turner summarised McQueen’s argument like this:
… [the radical nationalism of the 19th Century] did not in fact prefigure this subsequent development [20th century industrial militancy] but inhibited it; and indeed still stands in its way. Nationalism was not a radical but a reactionary stance: it was based on ‘racism’, great-British chauvinism, and sub-imperialism (Turner 1971, p. 635).
McQueen seized on Russell Ward’s The Australian Legend as an example of what he believed were the radical nationalists’ false attribution of socialist ideals to the nationalist traditions:
The Australian Legend consists of two inextricably interwoven themes: radicalism and nationalism. In the minds of their devotees these concepts are projected into ‘socialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ (McQueen, 1970, p. 15).
As this quote suggests, the question of whether Australian nationalism could be considered anti-imperialist was at the heart of the dispute. The radical nationalists had understood Australian nationalism as a rejection of the British domination of Australia, and therefore as a partial, or perhaps potential, rejection of British imperialism itself. McQueen’s contribution was not just to argue with the extent to which this claim was true, but rather to turn it on its head. He claimed that Australian nationalism was itself fundamentally tied to British imperialism. As the following central passage of A New Britannia suggests, and as we shall explore below, McQueen’s stark conclusions about the nature of Australian nationalism derived from his introduction of international relations into the equation:
What will be shown here is
that Australian nationalism is the chauvinism of British imperialism,
intensified by its geographic proximity to
Glen Lewis attempted to clarify this strange sounding statement in his review of A New Britannia:
This possibly ambiguous statement [quoted directly above] is clarified by a critical reference to Brian Fitzpatrick: where Fitzpatrick presented Australia as the victim of British Imperialism, McQueen sees Australia as a junior but willing partner in the Empire (Lewis, p. 49).
At stake in this methodological debate between McQueen and the radical nationalists was the very interpretation of Australian history itself. History had been commonly read with the underlying assumption that it exhibited a gradual unfolding of Australian independence from the ‘motherland’. For those on the right, this process was seen as the natural maturing of Britain’s ‘offspring’ into a loyal ally able to assist England in ‘her’ hour of need, to spread ‘civilization’ and build the strength of the British race. Prior to McQueen’s book, the radical nationalists expressed the popular understanding of Australian history in left circles at the time. Australia’s past was understood as a cumulative series of struggles against British domination, and a rejection of the class system of the ‘old world’ of Europe in favour of a new egalitarian society (we sketched this story somewhat in Chapter 1). Russell Ward’s The Australian Legend was one such example, which charted the creation of traditions and values of mateship, larrikanism etc…, seeing in them evidence of the gradual emergence of an organically anti-British, pro-independence Australian culture.
McQueen pioneered an analysis of Australian history which emphasised the interrelationship between Australian nationalism and pro-British imperialism. The interrelationship was discovered by introducing into the study of Australian history a focus on Australia’s relations with the outside world:
Instead of confining the discussion of nationalism to developments within Australia it will be beneficial to examine Australia as a frontier to white capitalism. Such an examination would combine events in Australia with Australia’s position in the world. Only by relocating Australia in the mainstream of world development will it be possible to understand the nature of our radicalism and of our nationalism (McQueen, 1970, 17).
Kevin Rowley comments on the novelty of this approach:
Whereas most writings on Australian history treat Australia as a self-sufficient entity, perhaps with various ‘flows’ in and out to allow for ‘external’ factors (e.g. a flow of capital from Britain), McQueen’s approach is different. He is greatly concerned with Australia’s responses to her role in world capitalism as a whole (Rowley, p. 39).
The pattern McQueen believed was emerging when he looked at the history
Therefore, Australian governments had always lobbied for more, not less, British involvement in its region (McQueen p. 22-24). McQueen looks at the pro-imperialist sentiment in Australia during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and argues that Australia was at the forefront, around the world, of arguing for British imperial expansion where possible. He charts Australia’s consistent and substantial contributions to British wars- the campaign in the Sudan (p.29), the Boer War (p. 31), the Boxer Rebellion (p. 34), and WWI, (p. 37-41). This underlying pattern suggested to McQueen that Australian nationalism- comprising the call for strengthening Australian independence, led naturally to support for British imperialism, and as we shall see below, hatred of Asia. McQueen revisits evidence of anti-British sentiment (McQueen, p. 27). He uncovers a history of popular attitudes to Britain which exhibit frustration with the limits to British power, and Britain’s reluctance to pour more military resources into the defence of Australia:
Most anti-British and anti-imperial feeling arose because Australia was not always treated as if she were Britain’s only responsibility (McQueen, 1970, p. 22).
This sentiment seemed to McQueen to fly in the face of the radical nationalist contention that anti-British feeling was anti-imperialist. Instead Australian nationalists seemed more imperialist (at least when it came to the Asia-Pacific) than the British government themselves.
Further, McQueen felt that the
prosperity, [McQueen] argues, has been based on our role as the frontier of
European imperialism in
So McQueen painted a picture of our history in which
Evidence of aggressive imperialism, eagerly supported by nationalists
and radicals alike, came from
In attempting to further clarify McQueen’s thesis about the nature of
History, from Cromwell to Mao-tse-tung, amply demonstrates that revolutions tend to prosper in proportion as their protagonists show that they, and not the conservative traditional leader, are the guardians of the nation’s true interests and honour (Ward, 1971, p. 47).
McQueen’s response to Ward’s
criticism raises the issue which forced his New Left supporters into a
discussion of the nature of modern imperialism, and
pleased to agree with Ward that the purpose of history is political and that
the Viet Cong and the Chinese have been successful by becoming the guardians of
their “nations’ true interests and honour”. But to repeat this for
Whereas the radical nationalists were happy to equate the political role of Australian nationalism with that of Vietnamese resistance, the New Left came increasingly to see it as something quite different. In a remarkable interview with the ‘all Australian’ children’s character Blinky Bill in Intervention in 1977, Tim Rowse illustrated Blinky’s clarity on the difference between Australia (by this stage more attached to the US than Britain) and oppressed nations and the implications of this difference for Australian nationalism!:
never believed that a national bourgeoisie exists or could exist here with its
own economic and political interests, clearly opposed to of the Americans and
the British… Moreover, many of them are getting into the imperialist game
themselves, with investments in
of nationalism in
American ‘invasion’ of
To the New Left it seemed that the fundamental difference between
Bob Gollan also had criticisms of McQueen’s differentiation between
Australian nationalism and the national liberation struggle of poorer nations.
Gollan’s argument is quite sophisticated, as he attempts to offer a case for
the way in which Australian nationalism was a populist reaction to capitalism
Gollan likens Australian nationalism to “…a populist vision of exploitation by
As well as being sub-imperialist and pro-British, A New Britannia made waves by locating racism at the heart of
Australian nationalism. By this McQueen suggested that white Australians of all
wished to secure their economic privilege by keeping out competition in the
labour market from
Alongside the violent suppression of the Aborigines there grew an acute
fear of invasion by a rival imperialist power. Sometimes this rival power was
perceived as European- there were scares from the French presence in the South
Pacific, and at other times the Russians were believed to be coming
threateningly close. But the major fear, developing into paranoia and at times
hysteria, was fear of invasion by ‘hordes’ of Asians.
The colonials saw themselves as “having but a fragile hold on a vast land set
in an Asian sea” (Meaney, 2001, p. 81). The racist response to the region
McQueen shows that the extreme racism of Australian policy again
brought the settlement into conflict with the imperial government. These
instances both go towards proving the existence of an independent, and very
assertive, political voice in
treaty to become effective in the colonies it required their individual
endorsement which only
McQueen’s location of racism in the heart of nationalism again brought him into conflict with the Old Left historians, who while regretting, or even denouncing Australian racism, nevertheless saw it as a blemish on the otherwise egalitarian culture. The varied response to McQueen’s analysis of the role of Australian racism is interesting. On the far end of the spectrum, Bob Watts denied that racism had been a major feature of Australian society at all, and even suggested that McQueen’s interest merely revealed a guilty liberal conscience:
The racism of Australians is only a minor part of their inherited cultural baggage. It has not informed socially significant movements of men in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It can only be important to the anguished self-analysis of the tortured liberal conscience (Watts, p. 35).
Glen Lewis was much more sympathetic to McQueen’s notion that “racism is the
most important single component of Australian nationalism” (McQueen, 1970, p. 42). “Here McQueen is on much stronger ground. He is certainly right to dismiss parts of Ward’s argument about this as spurious” (Lewis, p. 49). But perhaps the most common response by the radical nationalist historians to McQueen’s racism thesis is articulated by Ian Turner:
… to equate [nationalism] with racism enables McQueen to slide too easily away from the basis of reality which underlay the ambiguous response of Australians towards their isolation, its simultaneous promise of security and threat of vulnerability (Turner, 1971, p. 636).
It seems though, that the security and vulnerability that Turner refers
to here make little sense without the notions of racism which were held in
In his new book North of Capricorn, Henry Reynolds gives insight into how things could have been, and in fact for a while were, another way. He looks at the social and commercial integration of Asians into the Australian community in the north prior to the enforcement of the White Australia Policy from 1901:
But there were two
McQueen’s treatment of racism follows his general methodology for
understanding nationalism. Whereas for the radical nationalists society could
Humphrey McQueen, and his comrades in the New Left, mounted an
impressive case against the nationalism which had become second nature to the
Old Left. They re-introduced the importance of anti-imperialism, and called
into serious question the anti-imperialist potential of Australian nationalism.
The common element in McQueen’s treatment of both racism, and nationalism
itself, emphasises the international perspective in understanding domestic
society. This is the method which we hope to take from McQueen’s work and apply
Out of the discussion in chapter
two a method has emerged for a contextual understanding of Australian
nationalism. In this chapter we will look at
follows we will examine the foreign policy transformation which has accompanied
us into a further discussion of what
The important question which Australia’s
membership in the “coalition of the willing” raises, and the one which
corresponds to the historical debate about the nature of Australia introduced
above, concerns the connection between Australia’s role locally in the South
Pacific and South East Asia, and its relationship to the imperialist power of
the US. Sharpe, quoted above in Arena Magazine,
Unable to conceive of any
independent strategy in
Robert Manne shares a similar conclusion to
Watson and Sharpe in his discussion in The
Age of the political fallout from the 2003 war in
view alluded to here by Watson, Sharpe and Manne, the thing lacking in the
Howard government’s treatment of foreign affairs is a genuinely independent
policy made solely in the Australian ‘national interest’. This view was
predominant in the response of the anti-war movement to the war in
has obscenely distorted the broader Australia-US alliance relationship; so much
so that current Australian foreign policy is hostage to the Government’s belief
in supporting the
Numerous speeches, placards and banners during
the anti-war campaign explained
opposed because [the Government’s strategy for war in
Latham expresses the common perception that the
are several fundamental problems with this explanation of
As parades marked the birth of a new nation in 1901,
Australian troops were fighting British colonial wars in
we can establish that the Government’s deployment of troops in
Fraser expects his readers to
agree with him that it is not in
Later Roskam goes on argue that when in 1958 Menzies set out a framework for Australia’s international relations, a paradigm was forged which has proved valid ever since, and is still the appropriate approach for the Howard Government:
Menzies understood, as does
Howard, that through the course of most of this country’s history, and on most
quotes from Roskam reveal is another way to understand the dynamic of power
paints a picture of the driving force behind Australian policy very different from that alluded to by Watson,
Manne, Wilkie and Latham earlier. Though subtle, the important feature is
returning to the explanatory framework encapsulated by Mark Latham and Don
Watson, which understands Howard’s support for the
It is vital to Australia’s strategic interest to have a strong US military presence in South-East Asia, and it is essential therefore to show a willingness to assist the US to achieve her aim in South Vietnam (in Stewart, 1/1/1996).
In War for the Asking, Michael Sexton explains:
A study of the available documents
from that period [the summer of 1964-65] reveals… that the relevant parts of
the Australian government desired an increased American involvement in the
The first [premise of Australian support for the
Vietnam war] was that the Americans could be locked, for the foreseeable future
There is some recognition in the general public that
A similar argument is made from the left by the British newspaper The
Guardian, in David Fickling’s musing on the reasons for Australian
involvement in the
when you start asking yourself who is threatening
Interestingly, both Fickling and Sheehan attribute fear of Indonesian
attack to Howard. Fickling depicts Howard lying awake at night worrying about
Indonesian invasion, and Sheehan implies that he (Sheehan) has had the guts to
say (!) what “…Howard cannot say [but] what the electorate tacitly
understands”- that we live in fear of Indonesian attack. So these accounts
raise two questions- Firstly, are we under serious military threat from Asian
nations such as
A full scale invasion of
In the case of
… this is
political and financial dynamite. Hill is really saying that when Beazley walks
on Cottesloe beach these days he isn’t waiting to see Japanese ships. Or
Indonesian. Or Chinese. The prospect of a state-to-state assault on
In order to explain the military alliance between Australian and the
running through most documents relating to Australian defence and foreign
policy since 1972 is that
Like the ambiguity currently implicit in the term “defence”, here
But there is more we can do to prevent attack on our territory than building armed forces, and our armed forces need to be able to do more than simply defend our coastline. We have strategic interests and objectives at the global and regional level (my emphasis Defence 2000, p. 29).
As we have
seen, the fact that even
Australian governments have
historically pursued a twin approach to our immediate region. Firstly there is
the immediate “neighbourhood” of the South Pacific which
After the economic crisis of 1997, when Australia’s economy stayed afloat a sea of struggling Asians, our contribution to regional bail-out funds was undermined by Howard’s crowing that Australia was now the ‘strong man of Asia’ (Grant, p. 31).
well as elevation of
[Howard’s] deepest motivation [in
sending troops] is, in fact, to be found in the Asia-Pacific region…
in the aftermath of a successful Australian-led
[Howard’s] occasional verbal
stumbles on foreign policy, however, have had an ongoing international effect.
Most particularly, the “Howard Doctrine, announced in the
it seems that the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and the
Then, at the end of last year,
Howard accepted the
The effectiveness of
posturing has been accompanied by a series of policies which inject either
Australian military personnel, or as is more often the case, the Australian
Federal Police (AFP) into Asian countries. For instance, the crackdown on
“people smuggling” associated with the Australian Government’s “border
protection” campaign throughout 2001-2003, combined with the fallout from the
Neoliberalism and Australian Intervention in the Pacific
In order to appreciate the significance of
recent policy decisions in relation to the
Up until the “war on terror”
underlying any threat the Solomons might pose to Australian security is that of
the “war on terror”. That is, the financial collapse of the
“Too often we have seen rogue and failed states become the base from which terrorists and transnational criminals organise their operations” the best thing we could do, Howard said, was “to take remedial action and take it now” (Howard speaking at the Sydney Institute on July 1st).
is not one shred of evidence put forward by Howard or Downer that illustrates
the existence of Al Qaeda, or any other terrorist group in the Solomons, or
anywhere in the South Pacific. John Hinkson analyses the implications of
branding the Solomons a “failed state”. “What no one is able to face here is
that rather than having a failed state on our hands it is actually the
neo-liberal market which has failed” (Hinkson, p. 2). There is much irony and injustice
The implications of this policy logic are massive. “Cooperative intervention”, the title that is being given to Australia’s deployment in the Solomons, could logically be foisted on numerous other poverty stricken Pacific Island nations such as Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, and all these countries are being sent the message ‘toe the line or you’ll be next’ (Wright, p. 22). With the Solomons adventure underway, attention has been turned to PNG, with a new program of “anti-corruption” and “efficiency” measures tied to the provision of Australian aid. Michael Somare, PNG’s Prime Minister, had said that PNG must prepare itself for an “exit strategy” from Australian aid if the conditions the Australian government put on the new package were too prescriptive and interfere with PNG’s sovereignty (Davis, 3/9/03). But in the end, with Downer in PNG to “negotiate” the aid deal, Somare agreed to accept the new conditions- plus the insertion of Australian diplomats to directly manage it, plus 200 Australian Federal Police to effectively lead the PNG military!
of the war on terror has precipitated a break with the previously existing
this thesis we have looked at two ways in which nationalism manifests itself in
case of the last chapter we looked at the distortion created by nationalism in
explanations of the government’s involvement in
since the debate between McQueen and the Old Left during the 1970s, the
internationalist, contextual approach which the New Left explored has faded
into relative obscurity. From that point on, the study of Australian
nationalism has largely been approached through the prism of domestic political
and social forces. International relations in the Asia Pacific, international
imperialism, and domestic nationalism, have all been treated as autonomous
areas of study. But the recent activities of the Howard Government in
re-writing the role of
discussion in the last chapter of the nationalist basis for explaining the
As we have
seen, arguments which assert an alternative “national interest” are connected
to explanations of
can draw out of the investigations above is that all the various strands of
the Howard Government’s participation in
the war on terror - from Iraq to the Solomons, are part of a consistent and
thoughtful strategy for furthering the “national interest”. The actions of the
Government regionally are the classic embodiment of the “national interest”.
However the “national interest” is not about the interests of the whole
Finally [the nation] is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship (Anderson, p. 7)
the fundamental thrust of nationalism- to project all Australians as having a
unity of interests. We have argued that the actions of the Government are often
opposed to the interests of most people. In the first chapter we saw the way in
which Howard’s nationalism diverts scrutiny and resistance away from the
Government’s unpopular neoliberal offensive. In the last chapter we have argued
As we explored
in chapters one and two, significant sections of the Australian left have
argued that Australian nationalist traditions are inherently left wing, and
therefore can form the basis of a left politics. However we have mounted two
challenges to this position throughout. In chapter two we looked at the way in
which these left nationalist positions (embodied in the
challenge we have made to the claims of radical nationalism flows from Howard’s
ability to evoke nationalist traditions to mobilise support for his
Government’s reactionary offensive. In this sense reality has dealt a blow to
the argument that Australian nationalism is inherently left wing. Through
Howard we can see that nationalist categories (for instance “elites” and
“battlers”) and nationalist icons (like the “Bush Legend”) are sufficiently
ambiguous and fluid as to be open to right wing re-invention. This is not to
say that Howard has not had to be very sharp and strategic in order to
accomplish historical revision of the politics of
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 Throughout this thesis I reference books and journal articles by citing the author and page number except in cases where I use the same author more than once in which case I include the year in each reference and in the case of newspaper articles where I use the date instead of the page.
 See Hage, Brett, and Watson.
 See Taylor, Land and Urry, and The Economist, 1995.
 This is
a play on the term “really existing socialism”, which was used during the Cold
War by conservatives to pin the problems of the
Connell’s article is a good explanation of neoliberalism. He argues that
neoliberalism is the ideological paradigm which went alongside a qualitative
economic shift from industrial to finance capital (p. 5). Alongside this change
Connell argues that business leaders of the 70s began to reject “the system of
class compromise embodied in the centralised regulation of the labour market”,
the overall Keynesian settlement (which Connell describes as the “Menzies
strategy for Australian conservatism”) and the notion of welfare itself (p. 5).
Since then we have seen government and business efforts, not only to make the
Australian economy interact with the
 Hage’s discussion of the failure of the “motherland” creates a problem in that it assumes that the state has the possible intention of nourishing its citizens. That is, the idea of the state which Hage alludes to is one which is at least possibly class neutral and could deliver the welfare of the whole of society. In contrast, Connell’s discussion of the implementation of the Keynesian welfare state above reflects a position I would support, whereby welfare policies are provided not because of the benevolence or neutrality of the state, but rather in recognition of the strength of the working class.
 See Kuhn 1997 p. 5, and O’Lincoln 1985.
 In fact his treatment of class and its relationship to ideology, which we touch on briefly below, was flawed as McQueen himself later acknowledged.
 Many of the leading radical historians like
Turner had recently left the Communist Party as a result of the 1956 exposure
of Stalin’s crimes, as well as the Soviet invasion of
Actually McQueen fails to point out the origins of the development of
McQueen’s at times exaggerated reproach for the nationalism and racism of the
early ALP and labour leadership leads him into various implausible and
inconsistent conclusions. He tends to start from the ideology of various social
forces and attempts to read from there their material position. This flawed method
seems to flow from McQueen’s desire to escape a Stalinist economism and instead
take seriously cultural and ideological forces in explaining the formation of
Australian capitalism. For instance, McQueen’s important insight into the role
 The discussion about the difference between Australian nationalism and the ideologies of national liberation in the developing world is informed by a Marxist analysis of imperialism. Particularly pertinent here is a debate in the Second International between Rosa Luxemburg and VI Lenin (for the Marxist theories of uneven development and imperialism and nationalism see Callinicos, Crouch and Hallas).
 Populism is an important concept in the debate between the New and the Old Lefts. The tension between populist ideas and an orthodox Marxist analysis is the backdrop which animates the debates about nationalism that we are following (see Irning and Berzins, for a good example). The term populist is useful in describing the sort of anti-capitalism which the Radical Nationalists aspired to. The crux of the opposition to the New Left’s argument with the radical nationalists is that the latter’s departure from an orthodox Marxist class analysis had led it to understand the nation and the state in a much more sympathetic light. Rick Kuhn expresses the implications of populism from an orthodox Marxist perspective (Kuhn and O’Lincoln, 1996, p. 146). McLaren Quotes Ian Turner’s summary of the New Left’s criticisms: “For them, the traditional radicalism, whose hopes were embodied in the mass labour movement, has failed in eighty years of endeavor, to produce any significant structural change in Australian society” Mclaren continues to summarise: “ The radical nationalists, they argue, have pursued populist rather than class analysis, and so have failed to confront the reality of the state. By working for incremental progress towards egalitarian ideals they have reinforced the existing social system.” (McLaren, p. 219).
material “benefit” of
hindsight we can examine how unjustified this fear was, which adds enormously
to the importance and meaning of the racism itself. See
 As we
shall argue below, the implications for
term is attributed to the Deputy Prime Minister of the time, Jack McEwen in his description of
 Sheehan’s characterisation of the domestic political situation in Indonesia as “… a nation with 200 million Muslims, with a history of political violence, a tradition of political corruption, an increasing level of Islamic militancy, a place where scores of Australians and hundreds of Christians have been murdered, a nation that could fall apart, or under the control of Islamic fundamentalism, or both. In short we need a great and muscular ally if the satay hits the fan…” (Sheehan, 27th-28th/9/03) is a distasteful mixture of scare-mongering and racism.
 According to the CIA World Fact Book for 2003, Australia’s military expenditure is US $11.39 Billion per year, whereas Indonesia spends US $1 billion, Thailand US $1.775 billion, Malaysia US US $1.69 billion, the Philippines US $995 million, New Zealand US $605 million, PNG, US $40.21 million (www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook on 31/10/03). According to Luke McIlveen of the Daily Telegraph, Australian military spending this year 2002-03 has blown out to $15.8 billion (McIlveen, p. 2)
 See also
never seriously intended to invade Australia, a fact known to the Australian
Government by mid-1942 and confirmed by intelligence reports…’I’m sick of the
myth; it’s time to knock it on the head’ said principle historian to the
Australian War Memorial, Peter Stanley, ‘The invasion myth helps justify the
parochial view Australians took of their war effort. I’m arguing that there was
in fact no invasion plan, that the Curtin government exaggerated the threat’”
 This term was used recently by Miranda Devine and others (Devine, 18th-19th/10/03), but also see Barker.
 For an
thorough and useful account of
is growing evidence that AFP officers or employees have been embroiled in
activities such as sabotaging boats leaving
 Australian activity to create a stable,
unified and compliant
 “We will wish to increase our counter-terrorism capability. That means a bigger military capacity. Can we secure the changes needed with our own resources? No matter how much money we spend, the size of our economy places a limit on how much influence we can exert but the US can create an environment where Australian actions to counter terrorism can have greater effect” (Alan Oxley, Chair of APEC study Centre in the wake of the Bali bombings).
second strategic objective is to help foster the stability, integrity and
cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood, which we share with
 “However Howard is
undoubtedly keen to prove, both to
30 Hugh White, the face of the defence department think tank behind the Government’s South Pacific policy revolution (The Australian Strategic Policy Initiative), describes the AFP deployment in PNG as the “firm power” approach (soft -being aid, hard- being military and firm- being police) (White, 23/9/03).
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