June 2nd 2018


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COVER STORY The Greens: the political equivalent of bilgewater

EDITORIAL Malaysian election sends shockwaves across South-East Asia

GENDER AND SPORT Transgender playing in women's football league gains attention

CANBERRA OBSERVED Beyond tomorrow a bridge too far for politicians to plan

ENERGY Why renewables destabilise the power grid

LAW AND FREEDOM Exemptions: at issue with Dr Zimmermann

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Behind the U.S.-North Korea rapprochement

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Two to tango: Where to now for U.S. and China?

LIFE ISSUES So, is this not pro-life?

POLITICS AND CULTURE The West won the world but may lose its soul

MILITARY BIOGRAPHY Commanders: the men who resolve questions of life and death

HUMOUR

MUSIC Eurovision: Wailing and gnashing of teeth

CINEMA Superhero movies: A Chestertonian consideration

BOOK REVIEW A man for all seasons and hemispheres

BOOK REVIEW Mid-century gem of Catholic fiction

POETRY

LETTERS

ECONOMICS Vatican document nails some of the causes of the GFC

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POLITICS AND CULTURE
The West won the world but may lose its soul


by Kevin Andrews MP

News Weekly, June 2, 2018

Christianity is the cornerstone of Western civilisation, and maintenance of the faith, namely Christianity, is vital to the future of Western civilisation.

We live in a society that is in historical and cultural continuity with
the civilisation that gave us, to take one example from the millions possible,
Gloucester Cathedral, the ceiling of which is shown here.

I will begin with an event that you may be aware of, in the lead-up to 2016’s census. You may recall that there was a campaign to encourage people to mark “No Religion” on their census forms sponsored by the Atheist Foundation of Australia. The campaign was aimed at diminishing the role of religion in Australia. So let me quote from its website the reasons for ticking “No Religion” on the census form.

“How you answer this question in the census will influence decisions by Australian governments. Offering them the chance for your tax dollars to go to religious organisations is justified on the basis of the census results. Also special concessions and exemptions are given, including the right to discriminate against some groups. Australia is following in the footsteps of New Zealand, England, and Wales, where after an awareness campaign, the marking of ‘No Religion’ has increased to nearly 50 per cent of the population in the past five years. But with our inaccurate data, we can’t know the truth. We are encouraging all Australians to reflect and respond to the question on the census with consideration and honesty.”

According to the latest census data from Britain, the proportion of people saying they had “no religion”, 49 per cent of the population, overtook those who were saying they were Christian, 43 per cent.

The Pew Research Centre projects that Australia, France, and the Netherlands will lose their Christian majorities by 2050. Even in America, the non-religious part of the population rose from 16 per cent to 23 per cent between 2007 and 2014; just seven years. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If Christian voices aren’t heard in the public square, other voices will be.

Now, we might say about such campaigns that they have only private consequences. But it is not limited to what people believe, or how they express their religious beliefs at home or in a place of worship. When the Atheist Foundation and others challenge the funding of charities, schools and other services, you know that their campaigns are likely to be linked to attacks on religious freedom. Ultimately, these campaigns go to the foundations of our civilisation.

Our Western civilisation is not the first, nor will it be the last. In The Clash of Civilisations: The Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington identified six aspects about the nature of civilisations. First, the idea of civilisation in the singular is not the same as civilisations in the plural. Second, the civilisation is a cultural identity. It is culture writ large. Third, civilisations are comprehensive; a totality with a degree of invigoration. Fourth, civilisations are mortal, but they are also long lived. They evolve and adapt, and are the most enduring of human associations, but eventually all of them die. Fifth, the political compositions of civilisations vary among civilisations, and vary over time within civilisations. Just think about Western civilisation, how the political composition of what we regard as the West has varied over the last thousand years.

And finally, according to Huntington, there is a general agreement about the civilisations that have existed in the past and exist today. Of the civilisations that exist currently, Huntington identifies six: the Slavic, the Japanese, the Hindu, the Islamic, the Western, and the Latin American. He also observes that religion is a central defining characteristic of civilisation, quoting Christopher Dawson’s conclusion that “the great religions are the foundations on which great civilisations rest”. And indeed four of Max Webber’s five world religions formed the basis of a major modern civilisation: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism.

Western civilisation is founded on European Christendom and European culture, embracing elements of earlier cultures and civilisations, and emerged over many centuries. For the past few centuries, close to a millennium now, it has been the predominant civilisation on the globe. But a thousand years ago other civilisations were predominant.

There’s no simple definition of Western civilisation, as it embraces many elements, but primary among them are the Christian religious and ethical base, which includes both Judeo and Hellenic strands, and our legal system, which evolved from the previous Roman civilisation.

Human dignity and freedom are the core ethical values upon which Western civilisation is founded. The belief in human dignity and freedom has motivated men and women over centuries to counter totalitarianism in its many guises, and it continues to motivate them today, a reason no doubt why the totalitarian instinct, such as many people in the modern-day left have, despises and seeks to destroy Christianity.

Over centuries, a number of notable developments occurred in Western civilisation. Particularly, the Westphalian settlement of national sovereignty, and the emergence of a distinct, advanced system of international war. Stability of family relationships centred on marriage as the basis of community, the rise of the city, commerce and trade, and the embrace of technology for both industrial and military purposes, drove this growing civilisation to greater prosperity.

Why the West?

Why did this occur? Why didn’t other civilisations follow the path of the West?

A millennium ago, the West was far from being the dominant civilisation on Earth. In the history of ancient Rome, it is recorded that at the end of the second century AD, the Roman Empire was already suffering from a series of invasions. But it was also collapsing internally. The Augustinian governing template was broken. There were multiple emperors, civil wars, and a complete breakdown between the emperor and the senate.

Rome, in its heyday, had been characterised by hard work, discipline, control of children, respect for the law, and a system of government that had developed from the personal command of the ruler, the emperor, to the impersonal reliance on abstract laws made by a legislature, the senate, and respected by the citizenry.

Yet all of this had changed. As prosperity increased, and previous stresses on everyday life declined, behaviours in Rome changed. Fathers deserted the hard work of farming for the easier life of the city. Birth rates fell. Discipline was relaxed. Innovation and development stagnated. And ultimately, far-flung provinces refused to pay taxes to maintain Rome. The fact, as Edmund Burke later observed, that society is a compact across generations was also neglected.

So, why was the greatest empire known to history at that stage on the pathway to collapse? The disposition of the people had changed, not suddenly or overnight, but almost imperceptibly – at least imperceptibly at the time – and the civilisational temperament and vigour of Roman society drained away. My contention is that there is a civilisational temperament that shapes our behaviour, what we regard as virtuous or otherwise, even our economy and our government. This temperament comprises behavioural and psychological traits that are essential to the creation and maintenance of civilisation. It is also the temperament of citizenship and good citizenry.

Prevalent among these traits are a capacity for hard work, a desire for the stable nuclear family and the communities that they form, and the discipline of children. This is why at the core of all great civilisations is religion. Because it is religion that fosters the cultural practices that sustain a civilisation. Practices such as fasting, discipline, ritual and chastity.

What is often overlooked today, for example, in approaches to de-radicalisation and juvenile offenders, is that the way that young people are inculturated is central to their experiences, beliefs, behaviours, and aspirations. When practises such as discipline and ritual weaken and disappear, there is a loss of civic virtue and social capital. Witness the rate of family breakdown and community dysfunction in our societies. Here in Victoria we pick up the newspapers every morning and read about juvenile crime gangs. What’s the cause of that? How are these young people inculturated? What are their beliefs, behaviours, and aspirations?

The idea that creative vigour is lost over time is not new. Rousseau noted: “Nations, like men, are teachable only in their youth. With age they become incorrigible. Once customs are established and practices rooted, reform is a dangerous and fruitless exercise. The people cannot bear to see its evils touched, even if only to be eradicated.”

“The more sensate a man is,” said great Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, “the more he decides to have, whether it be riches, popularity, or love experience, or fame or power or charm, or anything else.”

“In such a society, the values of truth, love, beauty, even fatherhood and motherhood, cannot continue to function,” Sorokin argued, even though in its virile stages, the sensate system contributed to the values of science and technology, the fine arts, and, to a lesser extent, philosophy and ethics. Sorokin’s studies of civilisation, especially the ancient Greek, the Roman, and modern Western civilisations, led him to conclude that civilisations move through a pattern over centuries, from an ideational culture, to a position that integrates both the ideational and the sensate before the sensate dominates.

For Western civilisation, Sorokin characterises the periods as, first, ideational from roughly the fifth to the 12th centuries AD; and, second, integrated from the 11th through to the 16th centuries, during which time scholars such as Thomas Aquinas drew together the truths of reason, science, and faith, just as Plato and Aristotle had done in ancient Greece.

Thereafter the sensate became dominant, as the culture moved through various stages until today. Now, while Sorokin acknowledges a great economic, scientific, and technological process, and progress occurs in a sensate culture, he argues that it has an inbuilt tendency to “become overripe, narcissistic, and decadent, leading to stagnation and eventual replacement”.

Sorokin wrote about all this more than half a century ago. He viewed the history of 20th-century Europe, with its two great wars and revolutions, as a manifestation of the dying sensate culture of the West. Unless it reclaims an integrated balance, he argued, its creative vigour and cohesiveness will be lost in a demoralising fog of self-absorption, hedonism, and egoism.

If he’s right, then the question is, where will our civilisation regain its balance? What I describe as the “civilisational temperament”. From the law? From international covenants? From universal declarations? All these things have a useful purpose, but none of them generates social capital.

Ultimately, personal virtues sustain civic virtues and social capital, and the greatest generator of these virtues is religion.

In his book, Soul of the West, David Daintree writes: “Those of us who live in the 21st century, inheritors as we are of two millennia of Christian thinking, can easily forget a concept such as modesty, humility, mercy, pity, love for one’s neighbour, and humanity in warfare, have not always held such a potent place in human temperament. You won’t find them in ancient Greece and Rome. But once Christianity bursts through into our world and sheds a new light upon it, we hear St Paul proclaim an astonishing idea. Had anybody before his time ever soared as high to make a claim like this: ‘In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek; slave, nor free; male, nor female’?”

It is a hard truth for many to accept that in Antiquity there was no recognition of the intrinsic value of every individual. The belief that each human being has absolute value has been fundamental to Western legal thought, and its modern enemy is a resurgence of the relativism that was characteristic of the Pagan world.

As Daintree and Dawson point out, the core values of our Western civilisation sprang from Christianity. The idea of freeing slaves, so famously championed by William Wilberforce, for example, stems from the Christian belief in the dignity and the liberty of each human person. Similarly, the idea that men and women are equal. Care for the poor, the basis of much work of civil society in which Christians were and remain at the forefront, springs from the same source.

These core values are the moral foundation of the West. They underpin both our civilisation and the liberal democracies that rise from it. American author George Weigel recently wrote: “It takes a certain kind of people, formed by a certain kind of culture, to live certain values; to keep liberal democracy from decaying into new forms of authoritarianism.”

What remains to explain the West?

So, why did the West rise over many centuries from the ashes of Rome? There’s no political, economic, or social explanation.

My argument is that Western civilisation is founded on Christendom, and the core Christian values of dignity and freedom. This is not an argument based on my personal beliefs; it is a contention based on historical fact. I was scorned by some commentators when I wrote in my book, Maybe I Do: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness, the following: “The greatest threat facing the Western world is not climate change or global warming, nor the continuing financial crisis, nor is it the threat of radical Islam. The greatest threat is within: the steady but continuing breakdown of essential structures of civil society: marriage, family, and community.”

Now this is not to say that radical Islam is not a threat; it is. But it is to recognise that the breakdown of civil society reflects a change in cultural practices and a loss of social capital. Rome fell to invasion because it had lost or rejected the internal values that had sustained it. The culture of personal autonomy, the culture of self, cannot sustain self, nor can it sustain a civilisation.

This is what Vaclav Havel explored in his critical insight into the spiritual roots of democracy. Speaking at Stanford University in 1994, the then Czech president observed: “The separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, universal right to vote, the rule of law, the freedom of expression, the inviolability of private ownership, and all the aspects of democracy as a system that ought to be the least unjust and the least capable of violence; these things are merely technical instruments that enable men and women to live in dignity, freedom, and responsibility. But in the end and of themselves, they cannot guarantee dignity, freedom, and responsibility. The source of this basic human potential lies elsewhere: In man’s relationship with that which transcends him.”

In his famous oration to commemorate the Athenians who died in the Peloponnesian war against Sparta, Pericles praised the ancient city state as the envy of the world: “Among the laws that rule human societies, there is one to me that seems more precise and clear than all others. If men are to remain civilised, or are to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which equality of conditions is increased.”

Pericles reminded his fellow citizens of Athens that democracy comprised not only a constitution with equality before law, and opportunity for all, but the day-to-day relations of Athenians with each other. It is the laws themselves that are obeyed, including “the unwritten laws that it is an acknowledged shame to break”.

Now although Pericles did much to extend democracy to the citizens of Athens, we hear that the greatest thinkers of the time doubted this form of government. Plato believed that democracy deteriorates into licence, and Aristotle, although less severe, noted that constitutions can be captured by groups interested in only their selfish ends. A cursory survey of the 20th century illustrates their misgivings. Nations with apparently democratic constitutions were in fact totalitarian regimes that denied even the most basic human rights to many people. Some remain so. And in other places democracy flowered, only to wither as special groups replaced government by the people.

Despite the trappings of formal constitutions, the grand national councils, and political titles, the fundamental elements of democracy were missing from many systems of government. As American political scientist Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote: “Democracy is not simply a set of procedures or a constitution, but an ethos, a spirit, a way of responding, and a way of conducting one’s self.” It is the habits, the dispositions, and the culture of a people that undergird democracy.

Consequently, a state without public discussion and civil association lacks a democratic ethos. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great observer of the American democracy 150 years ago, observed: “The association of people in a myriad of groups and organisations underpins the modern American democratic experiment.” This web of associations, what Edmund Burke referred to as “little platoons to which we belong”, is what we know today as civil society. They are the relationships and institutions that the state neither creates nor controls.

The task is to foster virtue

The essential task of civil society – families, neighbourhood life, and the web of religious, economic, educational, and civic, indeed sporting and cultural institutions – is to foster competence and character in individuals, build social trust, and help children to become good people and good citizens. Hence democracy is built upon the virtues of personal and civic responsibility. In other words: It has a moral core.

But this notion is not new. Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, his lesser-known work, posited the essentiality of ethical values, including care for others, as a necessary basis for the market system. It is a peculiarity of the modern era, however, that the national debate has been framed almost exclusively in economic terms, ignoring the social, cultural, and indeed spiritual dimensions of individual and national life. Because individuals gain meaning and identity from their relationships with others, a liberal democracy dedicated to full and free human development cannot ignore the conditions that are most conducive to the fulfilment of that ideal. If we do ignore them, we neglect the very basis of its own maintenance, because it is in the institutions of civil society, in families, in voluntary associations, that democracy is sustained by balancing the power of both the market and the state, and by helping to counter both consumerist and totalitarian tendencies.

Harvard scholar Mary Ann Glendon writes: “The myriad of associations that generate social norms are the invisible supports of, and the sine qua non for, a regime in which individuals have rights. Neither the older political and civil rights, nor the newer economic and social rights, can be secure in the absence of the social arrangements that induce those who are disadvantaged by the rights of others to accept the restrictions and interferences that such rights entail.”

In other words, if we cannot preserve and support the institutions of community in which relationships are developed and nurtured, we are not merely placing at risk the welfare of many people, particularly the young and the elderly; we are weakening the very foundations of democracy itself. Of all political systems, democracy most depends upon the competence and character of its citizens.

A liberal democracy like ours presupposes civic virtue to a higher degree than does any other form of government. Democracy without civil society is a shallow concept; a mere instrument devoid of meaning. In turn civil society has built upon the moral values that sustain family, community, and association, most notably human dignity. And human dignity, as Mary Ann Glendon reminds us, was central to the human rights instruments that were created last century. Rights were designed as immunities, not entitlements. The danger the world faces today, in seeking to extend human rights to countries and places where they have been missing, is to focus on the instrumental; the mechanistic and the form, rather than to preserve, encourage, and affirm the underlying human values.

Increasingly in our world, rights, notably the right to life and freedom from oppression, which were established back in the 1950s in international instruments as bulwarks against totalitarianism, are becoming claims without consideration of corresponding duties and obligation. Rights have become the dominant language of our culture and, as Tocqueville perceptively noted more than a century and a half ago, excessive individualism ultimately results in an egoism, which destroys society. Is it not today as if a cancer of hedonistic individualism has eaten away at our culture, to the point where personal interest and convenience have become the dominant public ethic?

So, maintaining our civilisation and democratic political systems ultimately lies in recognising something beyond politics and economics as a sustaining force in humanity. Let me return to Havel: “I’m convinced that the deepest roots of that which we call human rights lies somewhere beyond us and above us; something deeper than the world of human provenance, in a realm that I would, for simplicity’s sake, describe as ‘the metaphysical.’”

Havel suggests that, if democracy is to thrive, “it must rediscover and renew its own transcendental origins. It must review its respect for the non-material order that is not only above us, but within us and among us, and which is the only possible and reliable source of man’s respect for himself, for others, for the order of nature, for the order of humanity, and thus for secular authority as well.

“The loss of this respect always leads to loss of respect for everything else, from the laws people have made for themselves, to the life of their neighbours and of our living planet. The relativisation of all moral norms, the crisis of authority, reduction of life to the pursuit of immediate material gain without regard for its general consequences … originate not in democracy, but in that which modern man has lost: his transcendental anchor, and along with it the only genuine source of responsibility and self-respect.”

Fukuyama argued in The End of History: “Relativism is not a weapon that can be aimed selectively at the enemy it chooses. It fires indiscriminately, shooting out the legs of not only the absolutisms and dogmas and certainties of the Western tradition, but that tradition’s emphasis on tolerance, diversity, and freedom of thought as well.

“If nothing can be true absolutely, if all values are culturally internal, then cherished values like human equality have to go by the wayside as well.”

To insist on rebuilding family, supporting marriage, disciplining children, maintaining national defences, and other core values, is not a nostalgic appeal to a passing era, but the essential task of preserving Western civilisation. Where individuals and nations fail in this task, as is happening in a spectacular fashion in Europe today, not only are particular political movements and structures of government at risk, so too is the Western civilisation that has extended the most prosperity and greatest degree of human dignity and freedom to individuals at any time in recorded history. Our task, therefore, is both critical and urgent.

Kevin Andrews is the federal Liberal member for Menzies, Victoria.




























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