September 21st 2019

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COVER STORY Federal Government should abolish Renewable Energy Certificates

ENERGY BP annual Review shows consumption, production up

CANBERRA OBSERVED NSW Labor caught in Panda's paws doing 'whatever it takes'

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM Religious discrimination bill: A litany of questions

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Boris' brinkmanship shakes up Britain, EU

WATER POLICY Angry farmers protest over Murray-Darling Basin Plan ... again

TECHNOLOGY Are we the dumbest devices in the room?

HISTORY AND POLITICS Lord Acton, nationalism and multiculturalism, Part 2

LITERATURE D.H. Lawrence: The Modernist in exile

MUSIC Dialectical transcendence

CINEMA The Farewell: Elegant and bittersweet

BOOK REVIEW Owning up to market imperfections

BOOK REVIEW Heroism and faith under tyranny

BOOK REVIEW The love that comes after love is gone


EDITORIAL Gladys Liu controversy ignores reality of China's interference

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Lord Acton, nationalism and multiculturalism, Part 2

by Dr Lucy Sullivan

News Weekly, September 21, 2019

Read the first part of this article here.

High-volume immigration and the doctrine of multiculturalism were, in Australia, made a supreme end by the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments, and the left-wing media have brooked no resistance. The defamatory accusation of “racism” has, with the connivance of the judiciary, been liberally applied to make the state “absolute” in its support of a “speculative idea”, and these anti-democratic forces are still at work, despite a recurrent show of unity in the people in a succession of elections in rejecting them.

Multicultualism breaks up political loyalty on the basis of race.

The doctrine of multiculturalism infringes liberty because, contrary to the traditions of the English system, it aims “at arbitrary change, [rather than] at careful respect for the existing conditions of political life, and because it [does not] obey the results of history, [but instead] the aspirations of an ideal future”, as Lord Acton wrote wrote in his essay, Nationality. It imposes a diversity of cultural traditions and encourages their continued separation, rather than allowing the natural forces of assimilation and integration in a shared territory and polity to occur.

Multiculturalism as a faction, like nationalism, denies notions of duty not derived from its assertion of the sovereign will. It suppresses public opinion that differs from its dictates; and it seeks to override national custom and to change the laws that have arisen as “the varying result of national custom and the creation of private society”.

It is not concerned with the protection of tradition within the state or nation, but with its destruction. To justify this stance, its propaganda denigrates those traditions (such as stable marriage and ensuring the birth of children within wedlock), and its vendetta against reli­gion is only loosely tied to historical facts in either intention or outcome.

Australia inherited and has propagated until recently the British tradition that Acton is defending, of equal civil rights, regardless of race, within a single state. Multiculturalism would substitute a set of little states with different rights and laws, but all under one absolute power that defines their needs (“divide and rule”). Acton believed that diversity of culture diminishes the central power of a state. In Australia, our federal system, with the states representing regional diversity, has served this purpose, rather than diversity of ethnicity.

In this context, multiculturalism may be, as an indigenous growth, a part of an ongoing pressure, usually from left-wing sources, to enable the federal government to usurp the powers of the states. Immigration and Aboriginal welfare are federal powers and so provide a means of federal intrusion into the social domains of the states.

The presence of different cultures serves, if Acton is right, to demonstrate the illegitimacy of claims by the state to represent the one voice of the people, which it may use to assert absolute sovereignty. But the present assertion by the state of the internal and historic unity of the various ethnic and indigenous peoples is similarly an invasion of liberty and an attempt to co-opt their diverse interests. It is an imposition of state power, group by group, through discriminatory favouring of the non-traditional in order to undermine the traditional institutions of freedom.

The differences in and between the recent migrant and indigenous people of Australia are not owed to the state, but the state is seeking to usurp control of their expression and to remake them as dependent on patronage. It is promoting “the intrusion of government beyond the political sphere, which is common to all, into the social department which escapes legislation and is ruled by spontaneous laws”.

“This sort of interference,” says Acton, “is characteristic of an absolute government, and is sure to provoke a reaction.” Perhaps that reaction is reflected in the growing distrust of government.

The state, in a conception that both allows diversity and promotes freedom, and from which 19th-century nationalism marked a retreat, is not “the progeny of a common ancestor, or the aboriginal product of a particular region … but a moral and political being”, Acton wrote.

Multiculturalism, like ethnographic nationalism, seeks to replace loyalty to the political system, formed out of history, with the more primitive loyalty to the tribe, founded on nature. Public policy, if civilisation is to be maintained, must support the larger, more abstract and sophisticated loyalty – for the natural loyalty to family and tribe is involuntary and will take care of itself.

But multiculturalism seeks to destroy the first in favour of the second. It removes the very tension Acton sees as essential to liberty and civilisation – the obligation to sacrifice private interests to the general wellbeing.

Diverse immigration, at levels that benefit, and under conditions not detrimental to, the Australian people as a whole (rather than in response to the self-interested demands of unassimilated foreign peoples), may well serve as a source of national strength and political freedom, as Acton envisages, provided political loyalties of a tribal nature can be laid low. Multiculturalism as a political policy works against this process.


Nationalism was a disapproved enthusiasm in the post-World War II period. Born at the beginning of World War II, until I had passed the age of 20 I believed that nationalism was Germany’s error, while fascism was an empty and unapplied word. So, it was with some unease that I, and probably others of my generation, noted the rise under Paul Keating to prominence in public discourse of the term “nation” and the concern with symbols of nationality such as the flag and “Head of State”. Before, we had been simply a country and a democracy.

The talk of nationality and state in Australia was not, however, a return of the 19th-century wish to make race define state and override history and law, but a concern to return to a unity of political loyalty, which was being broken up on the basis of race by multiculturalism. The disintegrative effects of multiculturalism were, it seems, perceived even by those who promoted it, and their alter ego, republicanism, was perhaps a ploy to retain the support of a disaffected majority. (Keating, who loved to make accusations of racism, was also a champion of republicanism, and expected it to save his prime ministership.)

It was supposed to make us more Australian, at a juncture when multiculturalism was saying there was no such thing as Australian. This move would, however, only exacerbate the problems of division that multiculturalism and indigenous separatism have created for Australia.

Just as the French Revolution des­troyed the political basis of nationality, so a move to a republic would exacerbate the loss of tradition and history that multiculturalism has promoted.

To parody Acton re France: “The Commonwealth of Australia is, geographically as well as politically, the product of a long series of events (many of them preceding the discovery of Australia itself), which established alike the state, the culture and the territory. Multiculturalism repudiates alike the agencies to which Australia owes its government, its culture, and its territorial legitimacy.”

With the repudiation of the true basis of the Australian state (and, significantly, the alienation of its territorial basis via the Mabo and Wik judgements), an “abstract and fictive” nationality was being sought via republicanism and the invocation of a new, single, unifying figure, the Head-of-State or President.

This again contrives a centralisation of state power in the federal government. Our state system gives us what Acton looked for in multinational federations or empires – a check on central power. The focus in the republican position on the Head of State is as more than the governor-general, who is just the federal equivalent of the states’ governors. The call is for the sort of unity and over-arching power that the federal system was designed to prevent.

The shadowy presence of the Queen, which republicanism seeks to abolish, further diminishes the centralising of state power in Australia. (As head of the British Commonwealth of Nations, we can hardly, demand that she should be specifically Australian.)

Acton’s argument would tend, rather, to support the preservation of our place in the British Commonwealth and, if anything, the cultivation of stronger political links with Britain and its other members. Isolating ourselves as a republic would weaken our cultural and political resources, so that we would suffer the fate of detached sub-nationalities described by Acton: “Their tendency is to isolate and shut off their inhabitants, to narrow the horizon of their views, and to dwarf in some degree the proportions of their ideas.”

This is already occurring in Australia as our cultural and historical autonomy is increasingly asserted. Multiculturalism is retribalising Australia and primitive forms of thought and personal association are taking root.

There are many signs. School syllabuses in history and literature concentrate on the “relevant”, which means only what is present in the popular culture. Much of university culture no longer recognises the disinterested pursuit of truth. There has been a great growth in superstition, with schools even teaching about ghosts and witches in place of history. Tribal approaches to justice – such as victim compensation – are being introduced: different laws for different races.

The education of newcomers in the terms of civilised ethics, which demand that obligations of honesty and fair-dealing supersede loyalty to family and tribe, and in our specific institutionalisation of them, is a matter of survival as a modern nation.

Civilisation, the ethic of the state above that of tribe or family, took root in England as the first Nordic invaders replaced its Celtic population. It achieved a steady development, supported by the institutions of kingship and law, throughout the medieval period. In its fuller growth it was brought to Australia by English settlers and has flourished here.

Our history is such that we have only one option as a high culture, and that is to know and develop the British tradition. Abandon that, and we are left with a multitude of trivialities, an impoverished culture no matter how superficially diverse.

Surely it is the civilised character of Australian society and its polity – the security combined with freedom – that has attracted so many immigrants of diverse cultures in recent years. And this achievement is surely part of any attachment our citizens of Celtic origin feel for this country. It is clear, too, that Aboriginal Australians, while tutored in its derision, are increasingly reliant on its conceptualisation of the obligations of citizenship.

Lucy Sullivan is an Australian social scientist.

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