Would we stand and fight or…capitulate!!
In The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age last week one of the country’s more thoughtful political commentators, Shaun Carney (who I know a little bit because he’s a Melbournian) wrote something very true in a piece entitled ‘Serious times demands serious leadership, but who will provide it?’ and something that I’m sure I haven’t been the only person thinking.
If we want democracies to survive and perhaps even prevail in this struggle with autocracies, then it’s vital that our democracy right here in Australia continues to be something worth fighting for. Something to be proud of, with our best people standing up to lead.
That’s true. Although I’d hesitate about the ‘our best people standing up to lead’ part. I’m with George Orwell on this. The so-called ‘best people’ are no better at anything than the rest of us – and often they’re worse. I’m reading the first volume of the new edition of the Chips Channon diaries at the moment and as I turn every page I keep thinking that in May 1940 if it had been up to ‘the best people’ Britain would have surrendered or at the very least sought a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany. Churchill, notwithstanding his family history, was most definitely not one of the ‘best people’ – as his biographer Andrew Roberts explained to me on a special episode of our Looking Forward podcast back in 2019.
But leaving that issue aside, there’s something else that Carney said that struck me. As he talked about Australian politics and how it ‘has too often been closer to a series of silly undergraduate games than an activity for grown-ups’ and how ‘the narrowing of the talent base within the parties’ has created an environment of ‘an endless series of announcements’ – he declared a ‘frivolous focus on finding wedge issues’ such as ‘the culture wars rubbish from the Coalition’ must end because we are now engaged in a new global confrontation.
I couldn’t disagree more. It’s our culture that tells us whether democracy is worth fighting for or not and it’s our culture that tells us what we believe about ourselves and our way of life. If our culture denigrates our nation, and our history, and our beliefs eventually there will be consequences. Eventually we won’t want to fight for democracy – or anything else. When Russia invaded Ukraine history started again and culture became even more important than it was already.
It’s interesting. In the last three weeks I’ve been overwhelmed with enquiries from IPA members about how to support the three IPA programs focused on our culture – The Centre for the Australian Way of Life, The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program, and Generation Liberty. The last three weeks has revealed what’s at stake.
A recent survey from America shows the result of thinking that ‘the culture wars’ are ‘rubbish’. You might already have heard about it.
Two weeks ago a random sample of Americans were asked the question ‘What would you do if you were in the same position as Ukrainians are now, stay and fight or leave the country?’ Overall 55% said they’d stay and fight and 38% said they’d leave the country; 68% of Republicans said they’d stay – 25% said they’d leave; 40% of Democrats said they’d stay – and 52% said they’d leave.
The Wall Street Journal reported the results in typically wry fashion. ‘A liberal [in the American sense] is someone too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel’.’
What in the hell has happened to this country? One can hardly imagine Americans of yesteryear exhibiting such high levels of yellow-bellyism. Where have all the Minutemen gone? The Molly Pitchers? The Audie Murphys? The Todd Beamers? [Todd Beamer was one of the passengers who fought the hijackers on Flight 93 on 9/11.]
The conflict hypothesized by the pollsters wasn’t a war for oil or empire. Poll respondents were asked to envision a foreign invader on their own front porch. Imagine Vladimir Putin has sent his shock troops to level your hometown, to occupy your high school and drop a missile on the hospital where you were born. If you won’t fight for hearth and home, what would you fight for?
The only appropriate response here is disgust. Making matters worse, the 52 percenters had the option to lie. It would have cost them nothing to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a patriot. I’ll stay and fight.’ That suggests they put an antipathy toward their country above the near-universal human impulse not to look like a quisling.
Being born an American is about the luckiest thing that could happen to a person.
I never thought I’d live to see the day half of Democrats would toss the whole country to the wolves if given the chance.
If you asked the same question of Australians I don’t know what the answer would be.
What I’ve been listening to
I’ve mentioned to you a few times the interview series ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ with Peter Robinson from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. Over the last month he’s done two interviews with Stephen Kotkin discussing Russia, China, history, and freedom. The first was at the beginning of February and the second was two weeks ago. Kotkin is a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of nine books on Russian and European history, including the definitive biography of Stalin. They are two of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever listened to – to find them google ‘5 Questions for Stephen Kotkin – Uncommon Knowledge’ and ‘5 More Questions for Stephen Kotkin: Ukraine Edition – Uncommon Knowledge’.
According to Kotkin it was a mistake to ever believe that free markets would bring democracy to a communist country, because ‘communism is an all or nothing proposition. You can’t be half communist. Either you have a monopoly on power or you don’t’ and in a country like China capitalism will only be tolerated for as long as it poses no threat to the political control of the ruling communist elites.
Kotkin takes ideas seriously – ‘the existence of America as a democracy threatens both the Russian regime and the Chinese regime today’. This is a long excerpt of the transcript from the first interview – but it’s important.
We are an example of how freedom operates in practice, imperfectly with all sorts of the chaos and cacophony that we know is America, as well as other democracies. And that’s ipso facto a threat to them. Hong Kong was a threat. Taiwan is a threat.
The United States by its very existence is a threat to them because it’s a different kind of system that could interest their people. And so we don’t have to promote democracy and we’re still threatening them every day. So how do they respond to our threat? Because we exist and the way they respond to it is they want to divide. They want to divide our alliances.
They want to weaken us so that we don’t understand that we are more powerful, that we have a better military, a better financial system, that we have corrective mechanisms in our political system, that we have deep and dynamic markets, and that no matter what goes wrong in a private economy, there are corrective mechanisms to create new jobs and to pull us out of slums.
We have what they don’t have.
And so for them, they must counteract that. We have alliance systems, they must divide them. We have rule of law, they must have propaganda saying that our rule of law doesn’t work, that it’s unfair, that it’s corrupt or whatever it might be, and fill in the blank.
I don’t mind that they do that, it doesn’t frighten me. I’m not frightened by them. I expect them to do that.
What I don’t like and what scares me a little bit is when we do that to ourselves.
When we denigrate our institutions, when we say that we’re a terrible system, when we say that American power is imperialist. When we say things that the communist Chinese and the Russian nationalists say about ourselves, and we bash ourselves.
Now we have freedom here and people are allowed to say things like that. And we have a lot of institutions and a lot of trends which need correction and can be improved. And fortunately, we’re allowed to discuss that freely in the public realm.
But at the same time, let’s not forget who we are, where we came from, what our strengths are, nobody in Russia or China can destroy America. Only people in America can do that.
What Kotkin says about America I think applies to Australia too.
Thank you for your support.
kind regards John
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