CENTENARY FEATURE by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
B.A. Santamaria: his influence and influences
, August 15, 2015
August 14 is the centenary of the birth of B.A. Santamaria, the founder of the Movement, the National Civic Council and of this journal, among much else. This article is based on a presentation that Peter Westmore gave to young people in New South Wales in July 2015.
B.A. “Bob” Santamaria
It is fitting that the centenary of the birth of B.A. Santamaria, should see the publication of two books, one by the Sydney Institute’s Gerard Henderson, and the other by the foreign editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan, which refer to his extraordinary contribution to public life in Australia.
Bob Santamaria was one of those rare public figures who was both a political thinker of the highest order and a man of action. Graham Freudenberg, who was speechwriter to Gough Whitlam, prime minister from 1972 to 1975, described Bob Santamaria as “an intellectual in the great European tradition”. But he was more than that.
Bob Santamaria contributed to public life over an extraordinarily long period, from 1940 to 1998 when he died.
Over this period, he made direct contributions to the development of Australian foreign policy; industrial democracy in the trade union movement; family policy (including family allowance payments, income splitting for taxation purposes, and the defence of marriage); for the preservation of viable manufacturing industries in Australia; agriculture, where he championed the family farm; defence policy, where he pioneered the idea of self-reliance, and the establishment of a blue-water navy operating in the Indian Ocean.
Every one of these issues remain with us today.
Although best known publicly for his role in the struggle against communism, he should be remembered equally for his critique of global free market capitalism.
Three major influences. From left: James McAuley,
Archbishop Daniel Mannix and Colin Clark.
It is a matter of record that almost 30 years ago, he predicted the speculative orgy that consumed global financial markets in the 1990s and the first decade of this century, which preceded the 2007 crash in the US housing market and the global financial crisis.
He even pointed out that the end result of such speculation was a financial crash, as it had been in the 1890s and the 1930s, in the Great Depression.
It is also a matter of record that he was widely criticised at the time for his comments, although they have proved to be spectacularly prescient. It is a sad fact that his predictions were abundantly vindicated by events such as are unfolding as we speak, with the debt crisis in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy threatening the survival of the Eurozone and the European Union.
Today, I want to examine some of the major influences on his thinking, and his formation. To get an insight into these matters, I have considered my own observations of Bob Santamaria, having worked in the same building with him and sat at the same lunch table every day for over 20 years.
Additionally, I have looked at his early writings in the newspaper, The Catholic Worker, which he edited from its formation in 1938 until 1941, and his correspondence, some of which has been reproduced by Patrick Morgan in Santamaria’s selected letters, entitled, Your Most Obedient Servant. And I have drawn on comments by Cardinal Pell, made at the time of launching that book in Sydney in 2007.
The first and arguably most important influence on Bob Santamaria was undoubtedly his family, and specifically, his father Joseph (Giuseppe) and mother Maria. You need to know something about his family background.
His parents came from the very poor island of Salina in the Aeolian Islands, north of Sicily, but travelled to Australia separately, as part of the massive Italian emigration which took millions of Italians to the United States and Latin America, as well as Australia, in the first decades of the 20th century.
Bob’s parents had just a primary school education in Italy (like most people at the time), but were clearly very intelligent people. They were married in 1914, and Bob was born in 1915, the eldest of six children, of whom at least five had university education.
His father was what we would now call a small business man, running a greengrocery in Sydney Road, Brunswick, which later developed into a continental grocery and liquor store. Bob worked early mornings with his father, going to the Victoria Market to buy produce that was later sold at the store. The lessons he learned from this experience were formative.
Bob was educated at his local parish primary school, then attended the Christian Brothers’ College in North Melbourne, before matriculating, at age 16, from St Kevin’s College. Some of the friendships forged at school lasted throughout his life. He was also introduced to the Catholic intellectual tradition at school, particularly by the Christian Brothers.
Bob occasionally used to describe himself to us as “an Italian peasant”. Given that he had honours degrees from Melbourne University in Arts and Law, this comment was not to be understood literally, but reflected the values that he had acquired at his mother’s knee as he grew up. His comment was neither a form of inverted snobbery nor self-deprecation. What this meant in practice is that he had a deep affinity for those who work with their hands, who till the soil, and a deep respect for traditional values.
His role in the formation of the National Catholic Rural Movement, authorship of the book, The Earth Our Mother, and leadership of the NCRM over a period of about 30 years is a reflection of this.
On another occasion, he favourably quoted Louis Pasteur, the famous Catholic chemist and microbiologist of the 19th century who said: “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant’s wife.”
Because of his heavy involvement with the Campion Society in the 1930s, which was the subject of an important book by Dr Colin Jory, some have assumed that he was basically formed in the Chesterton-Belloc tradition, and was therefore a Chestertonian, a romantic who yearned for the re-establishment of Christian civilisation, as put forward by Hilaire Belloc. Some of his most ferocious critics have described him as a medievalist.
I am firmly of the view that although he had read Chesterton and Belloc in his youth, he very rarely quoted them, either in his public addresses or privately, and although his ideas on the widest distribution of wealth and property in society mirrored theirs, in some important respects, he differed from them.
In particular, his views of a Christian society were far less confessional than Chesterton’s or Belloc’s. He differed from them in the extraordinary breadth of his policy interests. And his views of how a Christian society might be established were far more deeply influenced by the post-war Christian Democratic experience in Western Europe (including Italy, Germany and France), and by the European and American anti-totalitarian position, than by Chesterton and Belloc.
An early mentor
One of those involved in the Campion Society who became a mentor was Denys Jackson. Denys was a teacher at Melbourne Grammar School who converted to Catholicism, and became the grey eminence of the Campion Society. I knew Denys when I first came into the Movement in the 1960s. He was a true intellectual, steeped in the best British intellectual experience: in a sense, a disciple of John Henry Newman, the great 19th-century convert who has recently been beatified.
Additionally, Bob Santamaria was profoundly influenced by the Catholic social encyclicals, which were a response to the Industrial Revolution, but also to the emergence of Marxism, one of the offspring of the French Revolution.
Catholic social teaching is a body of doctrine developed by the Catholic Church on matters of poverty and wealth, economics, social organisation and the role of the state.
Its foundations were formally laid by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum, which advocated worker’s right, private property, social and economic cooperation rather than competition, and condemned Marxist socialism. However, as Bob Santamaria repeatedly said, this was itself built on the earlier foundations of 19th-century Catholic thinkers like Frederick Ozanam.
According to Pope Benedict XVI, the purpose of Catholic social teaching “is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgement and attainment of what is just ... [The Church] has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice … cannot prevail and prosper.”
Catholic social teaching is distinctive in its consistent critiques of modern social and political ideologies both of the left and of the right: liberalism, communism, feminism, socialism, atheism, libertarianism, unbridled free market capitalism, fascism, and Nazism have all been condemned, since the late 19th century.
Some of the Church’s criticisms (for example, of democracy) should now be seen in the light of what happened in Western Europe, particularly Italy, in the late 19th century, where democratic rhetoric was used by secularist anti-clerical forces to attack the Church, not in our modern conception of pluralist democracy.
Bob Santamaria regarded the social encyclicals as defining the broad direction of Catholic thought and action, but he was never imprisoned by them; they were a guide, not a straitjacket.
He understood better than any of us that the encyclicals had been written in a European context which was quite different from that of the English-speaking world, especially Australia, where political democracy was the means by which the underprivileged would have access to political power.
In relation to democracy, he quoted Winston Churchill’s famous comment: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”
Santamaria’s deep understanding of the Church’s social teaching is reflected in the fact that the Australian Catholic Bishops entrusted him with the job of drafting the Church’s Annual Social Justice Statements from the early 1940s until the Labor Split in the mid-1950s.
These are remarkable documents, covering industry policy, the future of agriculture, the rise of Soviet and Chinese communism, poverty, Australia’s policy towards Asia and the Third World, and other issues.
Some sold as many as 100,000 copies, in a country whose population was just a third of what Australia’s is today.
Three major influences
Tens of thousands of people, from all walks of life, looked up to Bob Santamaria as an intellectual force and an inspiration. But who influenced him directly? I would like to nominate three of those whom he worked with, very closely.
Foremost among them was Archbishop Daniel Mannix, the fearless prelate who became Archbishop of Melbourne at the age of 53 years in 1917, and remained Archbishop of Melbourne until his death in 1963, aged 99.
Bob’s friendship and respect for the Archbishop was extraordinarily deep, and he wrote a biography of his friend and mentor after the Archbishop’s death. Dr Mannix was a product of the Irish emancipation of the 19th century, and brought to Australia a firm conviction that Catholics had both a right and a duty to play a formative role in public life.
On a lighter note, I remember Bob saying that he once asked the Archbishop, whom he saw several times a week for decades, where he got his best ideas. The Archbishop replied: “In the shower, or in moments of distraction from prayer!” There is hope for us yet.
Another important influence was Dr Colin Clark, the British-born economist and founder of the key economic concepts, National Income and Gross National Product. Colin Clark was not a free marketeer, but came from the British Christian Socialist tradition. He converted to Catholicism around 1940.
His background owed nothing to the Chester-Belloc tradition. Colin Clark was born in London in 1905, and graduated from Oxford in 1928. After graduation he worked as a research assistant with William Beveridge at the London School of Economics (1928–29) and then at the University of Liverpool (1929–30). During this time he ran unsuccessful campaigns for the British Labour Party in the parliamentary seat of North Dorset (1929), and later for Liverpool (1930) and Wavertree and South Norfolk (1935).
In 1930, shortly after the beginning of the Great Depression, he was appointed a research assistant to the Economic Advisory Council newly convened by British prime minister Ramsay McDonald. He resigned shortly after his appointment, after being asked to write a background memorandum to make a case for protectionism. Despite this, he had sufficiently impressed one of the council members, the brilliant economist John Maynard Keynes, to secure an appointment as a lecturer in statistics at Cambridge University.
During a visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1937 and 1938 he accepted a position with the Queensland Government at the invitation of the premier, Forgan Smith. At the time he wrote to Keynes about his decision to stay in Australia. As he put it, the chance to advise the Queensland Premier on “practically everything connected with economic matters” was “too remarkable an opportunity to be missed for putting economics into practice”.
It was around this time that he converted to Catholicism, to which he remained faithful for the rest of his life. He also met Bob Santamaria, and a firm friendship developed.
On May 6, 1938, he was appointed government statistician, director of the Bureau of Industry, and financial adviser to the Queensland Treasury, and provided the state’s first set of economic accounts in 1940. He also held the position of deputy director (Queensland) of the Commonwealth Department of War Organisation of Industry from 1942 to 1946. Clark resigned as government statistician on February 28, 1947, to become under secretary of the Queensland Department of Labour and Industry.
In 1951 he took a secondment to the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome and then to the University of Chicago (1952) before taking the directorship of the Institute for Agricultural Economics at Oxford University (1952–69). He returned to Australia in 1969 as director of the Institute of Economic Progress at Monash University (1969–78), and then he was a research consultant to the Department of Economics at the University of Queensland until his death in 1989.
Throughout this entire period, he was Bob Santamaria’s closest adviser on economic matters, and Bob respected him enormously.
A third substantial influence was James McAuley, best known as one of Australia’s leading poets, the writer of many of the best Australian hymns, and one of Australia’s main academic foes of totalitarianism.
Born to an Anglican family in Sydney in 1917, he attended the best state high school, Fort Street Boys High School, before enrolling at Sydney University. It was about this time that he lost his faith, and became involved in left-wing and libertarian politics, being influenced by Sydney University philosopher Professor John Anderson.
He had an extraordinary gift as a poet, and became a lecturer. He joined the Army in 1943, after which he spent time in Papua New Guinea, which had a profound effect on him. He came to see that there was a cultural war going on, and attacked the left’s attempt to politicise history and poetry.
McAuley came to prominence in the wake of the 1945 Ern Malley hoax. With fellow poet Harold Stewart, McAuley concocted 16 nonsense poems in a pseudo-modernist style, allegedly written by tram driver Ern Malley. These were sent to Max Harris, the editor of the avant-garde literary magazine, Angry Penguins, with the claim that they had been found among the papers of the deceased Ern Malley by his sister Ethel. The poems were raced to publication by Harris and Australia’s most celebrated literary hoax was set in motion.
The South Australian police impounded the Angry Penguins containing the poems, which Ern Malley had titled, The Darkening Ecliptic, on the grounds that the poems were obscene.
McAuley and Stewart then revealed that the nonsense poems were a hoax. Harris was humiliated, and Angry Penguins soon folded. The hoax influenced Australian cultural and literary life for decades.
Later, James McAuley co-founded Quadrant magazine, which provided a forum for a broad spectrum of mainstream cultural, literary and political views, and he was a leader of the National Civic Council while a Professor of English at the University of Tasmania.
He wrote several moving poems to Bob Santamaria from which I have drawn deep inspiration.
While Bob Santamaria drew to himself many inspiring intellects, he always had time to speak to people who walked in off the street. His humility and graciousness were an inspiration to all who met him, and to the many who worked with him. He was a great Australian.