BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
CIVIL PASSIONS: Selected Writings, by Martin Krygier
, July 30, 2005
CIVIL PASSIONS: Selected Writings
by Martin Krygier
Melbourne: Black Inc./Schwartz Publishing
Rec. Price: $34.95Martin Krygier is one of the generation of Australian academics who can write with honour and perceptiveness about the collapse of Soviet communism and the post-communist world.
He was involved in the campus wars of the 1960s, delivered the Boyer Lectures in 1997, and has written extensively on Marxism and communism. His father, Richard, who came to Australia as a wartime refugee, was secretary of the Australian Association of Cultural Freedom and publisher of Quadrant
Martin acknowledges that he did not anticipate the collapse of the USSR, and adds, "No one predicted the end of communism." Actually, some people did. The Russian writer, Andrei Amalrik, wrote a brilliantly ambiguous title around 1970, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?
, which predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse under the weight of conflict with China and the rise of ethnic divisions inside the USSR.
The conscience of Russia, author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, also showed the way to defeat the USSR in his Nobel speech in 1970. It was another 10 years before an American President would have the courage to stand up to the Soviet Union, denounce it as "the evil empire", and create the circumstances for its collapse at the end of the 1980s.
Martin Krygier is a critic of the tendency in human nature to polarise opinion, to become polemical. As a child of refugees from Nazism and communism, he relishes the civility of life in Australia. He recognises himself as a hybrid of European and Jewish cultures and of an Australian society created over the past two centuries.
Professor Krygier's even temperament is evident in his essay on Cassandra Pybus' biography of perhaps Australia's greatest poet, James McAuley. He applauds Pybus as "a gifted story-teller" whose book "contains a lot of information, usually delivered lightly, brightly and at times engagingly and wittily".
He sees the book's failings, which he documents, as a failure of vision: that Ms Pybus really does not understand what McAuley was all about.Inner demons
It is far worse than this. I knew James McAuley: to interpret his conversion to Catholicism, his anti-communism and his leading role in the culture wars from the 1950s to the 1980s as attempts to control his inner demons about surmised homosexuality is inconceivably bizarre.
The trouble with Professor Krygier is that he sees others as he is: decent, honourable and fair-minded.
His discussion of the development of the rule of law in colonial Australia is highly informative, and emphasises that Aboriginal people were not treated equally to white convicts or settlers.
However, I do not believe that laws affecting Aborigines were designed to discriminate against them. The prevailing paternalistic view was that Aborigines needed protection from white settlers, and the government was determined to protect them, even through restricting freedom of movement, marriage, employment, income and association.
In hindsight, the laws may have been oppressively restrictive; but they were introduced or implemented in a serious attempt to protect vulnerable people from the depredations of the settler population.
The author's contention that the treatment of Aborigines in Australia was in some way parallel to the treatment of Jews in Nazi-controlled Poland is, in my view, completely mistaken. I fear that he risks diminishing the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.
A high point of Civil Passions
, for me, was his account of several visits to Poland from the 1980s onwards. He gives a vivid account of Poland in the last years of the dying communist régime, and fleetingly writes of the post-communist era.
One can only hope that Martin Krygier returns to this subject which will become more important as Poland assumes a place of growing importance in Europe.