Once Upon a Time in the West

On the pol­i­tics of white cul­tural supremacism

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Richard Cooke

Fears about cul­ture have long of­fered a ve­neer for fears about for­eign­ers.

“If one should pro­pose to all men a choice, bid­ding them se­lect the best cus­toms from all the cus­toms that there are, each race of men, af­ter ex­am­in­ing them all, would se­lect those of his own peo­ple; thus all think that their own cus­toms are by far the best.” Herodotus, The His­to­ries It is one of our man­i­fold na­tional mis­for­tunes that a time of cri­sis in Aus­tralian pol­i­tics has co­in­cided with the “Fat Elvis” years of Tony Ab­bott’s ca­reer. Just as washed-up singers plug away at RSL clubs and retro nights, so Ab­bott has taken his show on the road, mak­ing one-night only ap­pear­ances at right-wing think tanks and “re­li­gious free­dom” or­gan­i­sa­tions. Some of these are very retro in­deed – the Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom once de­scribed its mis­sion as seek­ing to “re­cover the ro­bust Chris­ten­domic the­ol­ogy of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th cen­turies”. But Ab­bott’s clichés are the con­ser­va­tive boil­er­plate of the ’80s, ’90s, and now. Ab­bott doesn’t so much give speeches as give vari­a­tions of the same speech. In 2015 (Mar­garet Thatcher Lec­ture), it was “as­sert­ing Western civil­i­sa­tion against the chal­lenge of mil­i­tant Is­lam”. In Oc­to­ber 2017 (Global Warm­ing Pol­icy Foun­da­tion) it was “civil­i­sa­tional self-doubt is every­where; we be­lieve in ev­ery­one but our­selves; and ev­ery­thing is taken se­ri­ously ex­cept that which used to be”. A month later (Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom) he said that “cam­paigns for same-sex mar­riage and the like are a con­se­quence of our civil­i­sa­tional self­doubt and the col­lapse of cul­tural self-con­fi­dence”. It is his ver­sion of ‘My Way’. Any­one fa­mil­iar with con­tem­po­rary con­ser­va­tive thought, such as it is, will recog­nise this strain of apoc­a­lyp­tic rea­son­ing: the West is no longer com­fort­able as­sert­ing its supremacy, par­tic­u­larly against a resur­gent and hard­line Is­lam, so it is no longer supreme, and a fifth col­umn of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ists and glob­al­ist leftists is re­spon­si­ble. This view is ex­em­pli­fied in the work of peo­ple like Mark Steyn and Dou­glas Mur­ray, in fact just in the ti­tle of their works, called things like Lights Out: Is­lam, Free Speech and the Twi­light of the West and The Strange Death of Europe: Im­mi­gra­tion, Iden­tity, Is­lam. In Aus­tralia, al­most ev­ery mem­ber of the right com­men­tariat sub­scribes to this view of the West and the Rest, or some­thing like it. It was il­lus­trated al­most per­fectly by an ex­change be­tween Cory Bernardi and An­drew Bolt on Sky News. Bolt played a clip of Robert Menzies ad­vo­cat­ing the White Aus­tralia pol­icy, where Menzies dis­cussed the im­por­tance of na­tional ho­mo­gene­ity. Bolt and Bernardi agreed that Menzies was right, but for the wrong rea­sons. The pol­icy should have been one of cul­tur­ism, not of racism. “I think that was the ac­tual deeply im­moral part of the White Aus­tralia pol­icy, that it was couched in con­cern over race, rather than of cul­ture,” con­cluded Bolt. The more vir­u­lent ver­sions of this po­si­tion weaponise racism and cul­tur­ism in­ter­change­ably: so when three white “pa­tri­ots” ac­costed Se­na­tor Sam Dast­yari in a Mel­bourne pub in Novem­ber with “You ter­ror­ist! You lit­tle mon­key … Why don’t you go back to Iran?”, and Dast­yari re­sponded with “I think you guys are a bunch of racists”, the re­join­der was “What race is Is­lam?” (Ap­par­ently still one that can be racially pro­filed at air­ports.) Fears about cul­ture have long of­fered a ve­neer for fears about for­eign­ers. It was ex­actly “cul­tur­ist” con­cerns, for in­stance, that made Aus­tralia de­cline Jewish refugees at the Evian Con­fer­ence in 1938; in fact, most mod­ern mi­gra­tion move­ments have been met with a sim­i­lar re­sponse at one time or an­other, by ev­ery­one from Enoch Pow­ell to Ge­of­frey Blainey. These ob­jec­tions can be dis­missed as sim­ply a more palat­able form of racism, or even an ex­er­cise in pro­jec­tion. Af­ter all, Western hege­monic power has not been sapped by hu­man­i­ties grad­u­ates writ­ing woke re­views of Won­der Woman, but rather by mil­i­tary fail­ure in Iraq and Afghanistan. So too Chris­tian­ity’s moral author­ity in the West has been un­der­mined less by some Gram­s­cian “long march through the in­sti­tu­tions” than by prodi­gious quan­ti­ties of church child mo­lesta­tion. How­ever, we can agree there is a grow­ing re­luc­tance to crit­i­cise other cul­tures from a Western stand­point, and a sim­i­lar un­will­ing­ness to give in­vo­ca­tions of Western na­tion­al­ism their full pomp. Es­pe­cially in the An­glo­sphere, many of the West’s tra­di­tions, mon­u­ments and in­sti­tu­tions are be­ing in­spected for blood­stains, and in this en­vi­ron­ment the left are more gun-shy about in­ves­ti­gat­ing, say, the cul­tural com­pat­i­bil­ity of mi­grants. It is

World War Two should have proved for­ever that the mod­ern state, mod­ern weaponry and a na­tional mythol­ogy of racialised su­pe­ri­or­ity could not be left to­gether un­su­per­vised, but there are some very slow learn­ers …

left up to the Tony Ab­botts of the world to make the case that Is­lam needs a Re­for­ma­tion. It is the 500th birth­day of the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion this year, and oth­ers have pointed out how strange it is to see a Catholic who trained for the priest­hood front the cel­e­bra­tions. It’s also been noted that Is­lam has no church to re­form, that a sec­tar­ian schism al­ready ex­ists within the umma, that the Re­for­ma­tion re­sulted in hun­dreds of years of war, mas­sacre and icon­o­clasm not dis­sim­i­lar to what we are see­ing in Syria now, and why would a bil­lion or so Mus­lims lis­ten to Tony Ab­bott any­way. Less com­mented on has been the role of the Re­for­ma­tion in pro­duc­ing the very thing Tony Ab­bott de­spises: cul­tural rel­a­tivism. Be­cause cul­tural rel­a­tivism does not mean that all cul­tures are cre­ated equal. It means ac­knowl­edg­ing that all cul­tures be­lieve them­selves to be su­pe­rior, and that, as the prod­uct of our own cul­ture, we are in a poor po­si­tion to judge. His­tor­i­cally, deem­ing cul­tures preter­nat­u­rally in­fe­rior has not re­sulted in good things. The “tol­er­ance” we talk about to­day is a di­rect de­scen­dent of re­li­gious tol­er­a­tion, a prin­ci­ple painfully as­sem­bled af­ter cen­turies of sec­tar­ian car­nage across Europe. Just as the Thirty Years War led to an ef­fort to dampen the more ma­lign as­pects of re­li­gious supremacy, so too the geno­cides of the 19th and 20th cen­turies ce­mented an ef­fort at ex­tend­ing this tol­er­a­tion to race and cul­ture. “It is to put a very high value on your sur­mises to roast a man alive for them,” wrote Michel de Mon­taigne, who him­self ad­ju­di­cated in the French Wars of Re­li­gion. He was talk­ing about the heretic’s pyre rather than white phos­pho­rous be­ing dropped out of a plane, but the sen­ti­ment is the same. You might call it a Western tra­di­tion of cul­tural rel­a­tivism – and it is pred­i­cated on the hard-won knowl­edge that a man speak­ing about “cul­tural con­fi­dence” is of­ten reach­ing for his re­volver at the same time. Martin Amis used to have a party trick where he’d ask an au­di­ence, “Who feels morally su­pe­rior to the Tal­iban?” Some trem­bling hands would go up and he’d pro­nounce the West hope­lessly self-loathing and all the rest of it. But this ques­tion has an un­spo­ken con­clu­sion “… and so we should keep bomb­ing them”. It was the well-known so­cial jus­tice war­rior Im­manuel Kant who noted that colo­nial “pow­ers which make a great show of their piety … drink in­jus­tice like wa­ter”. He meant that the West should deal with the beam in its own eye be­fore ap­point­ing it­self oph­thal­mol­o­gist to the world, and left-lib­er­al­ism has been try­ing to make that stick for more than 200 years. Of course, con­ser­va­tives main­tain a kind of cul­tural rel­a­tivism about all this too. They can tell you the death toll of com­mu­nism, but ask how many died from

How pow­er­fully do you have to hate Mus­lims to con­clude that 2015 was a more so­ci­etally sui­ci­dal year in Euro­pean his­tory than 1942?

colo­nial­ism and they start blath­er­ing about the railways. World War Two should have proved for­ever that the mod­ern state, mod­ern weaponry and a na­tional mythol­ogy of racialised su­pe­ri­or­ity could not be left to­gether un­su­per­vised, but there are some very slow learn­ers … In his re­cent book The Strange Death of Europe, Dou­glas Mur­ray quotes Ste­fan Zweig, writ­ing in 1942: “I felt that Europe, in its state of de­range­ment, had passed its own death sen­tence – our sa­cred home of Europe, both the cra­dle and the Parthenon of Western civil­i­sa­tion.” “Zweig was right,” con­tin­ues Mur­ray. “Only his tim­ing was out.” His tim­ing was out? How pow­er­fully do you have to hate Mus­lims to con­clude that 2015 was a more so­ci­etally sui­ci­dal year in Euro­pean his­tory than 1942? By ev­ery mea­sure – even the sorry mea­sure of ter­ror­ism – it was one of the safest, freest and most pros­per­ous years in the his­tory of the con­ti­nent. The colour of the vin­tage was less white, though. Mur­ray’s book pro­duces the same tired mo­tifs of Oc­ci­den­tal sol­i­dar­ity all the oth­ers do, from Charles Mar­tel to the Bat­tle of Lepanto. Europe might have been bloody, but at least it wasn’t bloody Mus­lim. This phoney sense of con­ti­nu­ity hides a lot, above all the chang­ing for­tunes and al­le­giances of cul­tural hi­er­ar­chy. It pays to re­sist Freudian analy­ses of pol­i­tics, but there is some­thing go­ing on here. Be­cause find some­one firmly and vo­cally on board with Western Civil­i­sa­tion, and chances are not long ago they were hold­ing a sec­ond-class ticket. On first im­pres­sion, Don­ald Trump is not the most nat­u­ral heir to the tra­di­tion of Leonardo and Galileo. (Even his Chris­tian sup­port­ers must reach back to the vul­gar­ian Ro­man Em­peror Con­stan­tine for a com­par­a­tive fig­ure.) Elect­ing a grotesquely un­qual­i­fied sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian game-show host to the most pow­er­ful po­si­tion in the world looks more like cul­tural sui­cide than al­low­ing in some refugees does, but Trump was not go­ing to let that spoil his party in Poland. He does not seem like the world’s big­gest fan of Krzysztof Pen­derecki ei­ther, but dur­ing his visit in July the pres­i­dent was do­ing his own cover ver­sion of ‘Twi­light of the West’: “We write sym­phonies,” he said. “We pur­sue in­no­va­tion. We cel­e­brate our an­cient he­roes, em­brace our time­less tra­di­tions and cus­toms, and al­ways seek to ex­plore and dis­cover brand­new fron­tiers.” Con­ser­va­tives cooed. Lib­er­als fumed. “What on Earth does that have to do with any­thing?” the Wash­ing­ton Post writer Jonathan Cape­hart wrote. “In that one line [“we write sym­phonies”], taken in con­text with ev­ery­thing else Trump said, what I heard was the loud­est of dog whis­tles. A fa­mil­iar boast that swells the chests of white na­tion­al­ists every­where.” Whether it was a dog whis­tle or not, the en­su­ing con­tro­ver­sies over­looked a much more com­pelling con­tra­dic­tion: the lo­ca­tion. Be­cause what does a Western “we” mean in War­saw? If the lo­cal crowd ap­plauded so nois­ily, it was partly with re­lief. Not long ago, the idea that Poland was an ex­em­plar of Euro­pean civil­i­sa­tion was re­garded, quite lit­er­ally, as a joke. This speech also felt strangely fa­mil­iar to me. I’d had an abortive cor­re­spon­dence with a far-right Aus­tralian writer who was out­raged I had called his ideas racist. Like Bernardi and Bolt he was a cul­tur­ist, not a racist, he said, and that was a crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion. The coinage “cul­tur­ism” al­lowed space to dis­cuss is­sues of iden­tity with­out re­course to ge­net­ics, even if the re­sult­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion was the same. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sig­na­ture: he was a Polish-Aus­tralian, liv­ing in Poland, a na­tion that has per­haps suf­fered more from the sav­age ac­tions of “cul­tur­ism” than any other. The pre-mod­ern treat­ment of Poland was so se­vere that when Napoleon sent Polish mer­ce­nar­ies to sup­press the Haitian rev­o­lu­tion, they ended up join­ing with the slaves. They were so sim­patico that their descen­dants are still there in Port-au-Prince. One of the up­ris­ing’s lead­ers, Jean-Jac­ques Des­salines, de­clared his com­radesin-arms the “white ne­groes of Europe”, a de­scrip­tion re­ceived as an hon­orific. Poland had al­ready been torn apart by its Euro­pean neigh­bours many times by then, and would so suf­fer many times more. Tellingly, one of its con­querors, Fred­er­ick the Great, com­pared Poles to the Iro­quois of Canada, and sim­i­larly ripe for coloni­sa­tion and dis­place­ment.

The sup­pos­edly im­memo­rial bonds of Western civil­i­sa­tion are not only largely con­cocted but also highly mu­ta­ble.

It is an event tied to anti-Polonism that gives us our own term “cul­ture war”. It comes from Bis­marck’s Kul­turkampf, an at­tempt to sup­press Catholi­cism in Ger­many that also saw the ex­pul­sion of 30,000 eth­nic Poles from Prussia. The at­ten­dant cam­paign of racist pro­pa­ganda helped lay the ground­work for Ger­man con­cep­tions of leben­sraum in Eastern Europe. This racial strain was found in Rus­sian and even Lithua­nian an­i­mus to the Poles as well, and rolling cam­paigns of conquest, sup­pres­sion and ex­pul­sion through­out the 19th and 20th cen­turies would cul­mi­nate in a rare and cat­a­strophic si­mul­ta­ne­ous geno­cide. In the 1930s and 1940s, Nazi and Soviet death squads, as the his­to­rian Ti­mothy Sny­der puts it, “goaded each other into es­ca­la­tions”. Com­pared to its blue­prints, the Nazi geno­cide was still an un­der­achieve­ment: the Gen­er­alplan Ost, never fully im­ple­mented, ac­counted for the “piti­less” de­struc­tion of 20 to 30 mil­lion Eastern Euro­pean Slavs and Jews, the fi­nal push­ing back of the fron­tier of “prim­i­tive Slav­dom” for good. Yet when Poland dis­graced it­self in Novem­ber with a 60,000-strong fas­cist demon­stra­tion to cel­e­brate its in­de­pen­dence – more a na­tional psy­chotic episode than an ex­pres­sion of iden­tity – marchers were car­ry­ing flags of Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tionist gov­ern­ments from wartime Hungary, Slo­vakia and Spain. Em­brac­ing the pageantry of your mur­der­ers looks more like the strange death of Europe than mi­gra­tion (Poland’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is 0.1%), but for many Judeo-Chris­tian civil­i­sa­tional chau­vin­ists this is a model to em­u­late rather than a con­ti­nen­tal em­bar­rass­ment. The fact the Is­lam­o­pho­bia is co­mor­bid with a la­tently mur­der­ous anti-Semitism can be over­looked. So too the hypocrisy: Poland pro­duces mil­lions of mi­grants to the rest of the EU, and would be beg­gared if other na­tions took the same at­ti­tude. So Don­ald Trump’s time­less “we” turns out to be barely 50 years old, and cov­er­ing a hor­rific record. The sup­pos­edly im­memo­rial bonds of Western civil­i­sa­tion are not only largely con­cocted but also highly mu­ta­ble. If Poles are so keen to ce­ment what­ever fee­ble claim to be­long­ing, it’s partly to stop all this hap­pen­ing again. Not even Polish Catholi­cism could keep them off the bot­tom of the peck­ing or­der. The first non-Ger­man Waf­fen SS di­vi­sion, one in­tended to help im­ple­ment the Gen­er­alplan, and trained on what is now Polish ter­ri­tory, was the Hand­schar Di­vi­sion, made up en­tirely of Bos­nian Mus­lims. In the present day, the right and far right de­fine their eter­nal iden­tity so com­pletely against an Is­lamic “other” that the con­ven­tions of the past can be star­tling. Both Hitler and Himm­ler, for ex­am­ple, lamented that Europe had not be­come Is­lamised un­der Turk­ish conquest. “The peo­ples of Is­lam will al­ways be closer to us than, for ex­am­ple, France,” Hitler wrote in what would ef­fec­tively be­come his sui­cide note. Himm­ler’s ra­tio­nale was even more as­ton­ish­ing: the Turks were “re­li­giously tol­er­ant, they al­lowed each re­li­gion to con­tinue to ex­ist, pro­vided it was no longer in­volved in pol­i­tics – other­wise it was fin­ished”. This sep­a­ra­tion of church and state was some­thing for Ger­many to em­u­late. These were not aber­ra­tions of Nazism, ei­ther. Hun­dreds of years ear­lier, Martin Luther had writ­ten that some Protes­tants wanted “the Turk to come and rule be­cause they think our Ger­man peo­ple are wild and un­civilised”, and him­self in­sisted that mil­i­tary ac­tions against the Ot­toman Em­pire should not have a spe­cial re­li­gious enmity. Is­tan­bul took in Protes­tants as re­li­gious refugees, and when French Catholics mas­sa­cred 25,000 Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day the Pope pre­sented the in­sti­ga­tor with a gold medal. One con­tem­po­rary ac­count said it brought the pon­tiff “a hun­dred times more plea­sure than would have fifty vic­to­ries sim­i­lar to those the Holy League won last year against the Turks”. That vic­tory was the Bat­tle of Lepanto, now re­vised into a land­mark tri­umph of Western self-as­sur­ance. While there was a stronger affin­ity be­tween Protes­tantism and Is­lam, Catholic pow­ers also fought with the Ot­tomans against their fel­low Chris­tians, and a se­ries of popes even sought the pro­tec­tion of the sul­tans. None of this is to say that there were not re­li­gious, cul­tural and ter­ri­to­rial clashes be­tween Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam, East and West. But these were only one of a se­ries of shift­ing hi­er­ar­chies of dom­i­na­tion and de­struc­tion, which could change at any time. Per­haps, though, the right side of pol­i­tics has made its own ac­com­mo­da­tion to his­tory, and is happy to leave these bits be­hind. While con­ser­va­tives have not tra­di­tion­ally been on the side of the En­light­en­ment or

While con­ser­va­tives have not tra­di­tion­ally been on the side of the En­light­en­ment or the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, they now seem to re­gard them not just as part of the fur­ni­ture but as fam­ily heir­looms.

the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state (in fact, Pope John Paul II was still ar­gu­ing against this as late as 1988), they now seem to re­gard them not just as part of the fur­ni­ture but as fam­ily heir­looms. They want the past judged by the stan­dard of the past, and the present judged by an ob­jec­tive stan­dard of ex­cel­lence. It is a model of mer­i­toc­racy ap­plied to na­tions. Isn’t it ob­vi­ous, af­ter all, that some na­tions do do bet­ter than oth­ers, and that cul­ture must play a part in that? “Dis­cussing cul­tural rel­a­tivism with cul­tural rel­a­tivists is like play­ing ten­nis with some guy who says your ace is just a so­cial con­struct,” Mark Steyn once put it. “It’s all but im­pos­si­ble sim­ply be­cause it’s a de­nial of re­al­ity.” And I get what he means. Imag­ine sur­vey­ing the world as if for the first time, cross-ref­er­enc­ing the most fun­da­men­tal in­ter­stices of re­li­gion and cul­ture. Some­thing would im­me­di­ately be­come clear: wher­ever one re­li­gion in par­tic­u­lar flour­ishes, democ­racy withers. In fact, coun­tries where this re­li­gion holds sway are al­most never democ­ra­cies, un­less they have un­der­taken a bloody process of ex­tri­ca­tion, shear­ing its tenets away from the state un­der the most strin­gent cir­cum­stances. The lines be­tween re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and dic­ta­to­rial au­thor­i­ties blur con­stantly, some­times to the point of in­di­vis­i­bil­ity. This is so per­va­sively in­ter­na­tional that it can­not be a co­in­ci­dence. There are ex­cep­tions, of course, but they seem chaotic and corrupt. Women suf­fer in them dis­pro­por­tion­ately re­gard­less, and piety acts as a thin ve­neer for machismo and ha­rass­ment. Tor­ture, cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, and a be­lief in su­per­sti­tious de­ter­min­ism flour­ish. So do ter­ror­ism and or­gan­ised crime, even among di­as­poric mi­grants who are still be­liev­ers. The state and the pop­u­lace con­cern them­selves with the impi­eties and blas­phemies of writ­ers, artists, and even sci­en­tists and doc­tors, some­times vi­o­lently. Swathes of books are banned or con­demned by re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties, not just pornog­ra­phy but nov­els and en­quiries into phi­los­o­phy. Per­haps the most trou­bling symp­tom is felt as an ab­sence. This faith seems to act as a brake on in­no­va­tion and hu­man in­ge­nu­ity. It en­er­vates economies and stymies change. It is the mid 20th cen­tury, and the re­li­gion you are sur­vey­ing is Ro­man Catholi­cism. It can be sat­is­fy­ing, watch­ing a cul­tural chau­vin­ist lose their mojo when the ta­bles are turned. There is am­ple po­lit­i­cal re­search to show that these con­flu­ences ex­ist even now. They are in­ter­na­tional, gran­u­lar, vol­u­met­ric and ro­bust: Protes­tant coun­tries are richer, freer, more sta­ble, more demo­cratic, less corrupt, less sex­ist, more ed­u­cated, and more tol­er­ant of oth­ers’ faiths than their Catholic coun­ter­parts. It is lit­tle won­der that Tony Ab­bott’s Western tri­umphal­ism leads him to ac­ci­den­tally cham­pion the Re­for­ma­tion: it is the well­spring of the qual­i­ties he prizes. Com­bine the cur­rent demo­cratic or­ders of Bri­tain and the United States, and they have been in place longer than the con­sti­tu­tions of ev­ery Catholic na­tion in Europe com­bined. And – if you’ll ex­cuse me con­tin­u­ing this un­pleas­ant ex­er­cise to its limit – is it re­ally an ac­ci­dent that these per­sis­tent democ­ra­cies are the places where anti-Catholi­cism has flour­ished? Is it not, in fact, a pre­con­di­tion to their suc­cess? Make these claims al­most any­where out­side Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land, though, and you will feel the tem­per­a­ture change. This cool weigh­ing up of rel­a­tive so­ci­etal merit has trans­formed into a prej­u­dice, and the con­ser­va­tive has lost both his taste for eval­u­a­tive com­par­i­son and his love of tra­di­tion. (I’m as­sum­ing it’s a him.) It is no longer sim­ply “fac­tual” to make these kinds of com­par­isons. It is sec­tar­ian. The con­ser­va­tive will in fact trans­form into a cul­tural rel­a­tivist, and be right to do so. They will point out the la­tent dom­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence in these hi­er­ar­chies, and de­cry the cur­rency of in­val­i­da­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion and un­fair­ness. Cul­tural stud­ies will change into a mul­ti­fac­to­rial dis­ci­pline: af­ter all, to op­er­ate mean­ing­fully, sec­tar­i­an­ism must ig­nore ge­og­ra­phy, his­tory (es­pe­cially colo­nial­ism), and as­cribe to in­tent and in­dus­try all of

Colo­nial Aus­tralia was not founded on a “Judeo-Chris­tian tra­di­tion”, or any­thing like it.

the boun­ties of the past’s ac­ci­dents. Above all, the ex­er­cise threat­ens to res­ur­rect ghosts of the worst and most un­for­giv­ing vi­o­lence hu­man so­ci­ety has ex­pe­ri­enced. You can sense the aver­sion to these com­par­isons even in the phrase “Judeo-Chris­tian tra­di­tion”. There is no such thing in Aus­tralia. Colo­nial Aus­tralia was not founded on a “Judeo-Chris­tian tra­di­tion”, or any­thing like it. These words may not mean any­thing even to­day, be­yond an em­bar­rassed at­tempt to hide a mil­len­ni­a­long tra­di­tion of Chris­tian anti-Semitism. (There are even those who ar­gue that there is a more mean­ing­ful “Judeo-Is­lamic tra­di­tion”, from two re­li­gions that are his­tor­i­cally bet­ter friends.) But the words cer­tainly didn’t mean any­thing in 1788, when they had never been ut­tered, and would have been con­sid­ered an ab­surd con­tra­dic­tion in terms. Un­til re­cently, the “Judeo” part of that shared her­itage couldn’t even make it past the door of a golf club. (“Sorry, son, no Jews, jock­eys or jail­birds,” the for­mer ALP politi­cian Barry Co­hen was told, in case the mes­sage was too sub­tle.) But even the “Chris­tian” part did not mean what it means now. New South Wales and its sis­ter colonies were founded on Protes­tant prin­ci­ples, specif­i­cally those bor­rowed from the Protes­tant As­cen­dancy in oc­cu­pied Ire­land. Catholi­cism, which meant Ir­ish Catholi­cism in early Aus­tralia, was not merely looked down upon – for the first 30 years of the colony (with one brief pe­riod of ex­cep­tion), its pub­lic prac­tice was il­le­gal. Re­stric­tions on the cel­e­bra­tion of Mass were eased in 1820, but the lega­cies of sec­tar­i­an­ism in Aus­tralian so­ci­ety were in place un­til stun­ningly re­cently. The NSW Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion, for ex­am­ple, did not em­ploy a sin­gle Catholic un­til 1979. The his­to­rian Nor­man Ab­jorensen noted that the elec­tion of Nick Greiner in 1988 as NSW premier was the first time that a Catholic had led a non-La­bor gov­ern­ment, ex­clud­ing a sin­gle case in the 1930s. “What is ex­tra­or­di­nary,” he con­tin­ued, “given Aus­tralia’s sec­tar­ian his­tory, is that it aroused so lit­tle in­ter­est at the time.” This his­tory reached high-pitched an­i­mosi­ties that are now scarcely be­liev­able, partly be­cause they have been laun­dered out of our his­tory. On a bad day, Mel­bourne’s Brunswick looked like Belfast: in 1897, a mob of 30,000 Catholics men­aced sev­eral hun­dred Loy­al­ist Orange Lodge mem­bers, the two sides hav­ing to be sep­a­rated by mounted po­lice. In the early 20th cen­tury, Protes­tant ex-ser­vice­man formed Loy­al­ist para­mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions, ready to fight off an imag­i­nary Fe­nian in­sur­rec­tion. Ed­mund Bar­ton met the Pope in Rome as a ges­ture to ease some of this ten­sion, and tens of thou­sands protested. There was even a tiny ver­sion of to­day’s dual cit­i­zen­ship cri­sis: in the 1940s and 1950s, sec­tar­i­ans used

The fact that the big­ots of the past have been wrong ev­ery time has not de­terred the big­ots of the present.

sec­tion 44 of the Con­sti­tu­tion in High Court chal­lenges against Catholic par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates, pred­i­cated on the old charge that Catholics were loyal to the Pa­pacy, not the Crown. They were sup­ported by pe­ti­tions and news­pa­per ed­i­to­ri­als. Dur­ing ten­sions within the La­bor Party in the 1950s, BA San­ta­maria was forced to is­sue a state­ment deny­ing he was a cap­tive of Catholi­cism (Arch­bishop Man­nix wit­nessed it): “There is no Catholic or­gan­i­sa­tion seek­ing to dom­i­nate the La­bor Party or any other po­lit­i­cal party ... So that there will be no equiv­o­ca­tion, Catholics are not as­so­ci­ated with any other sec­u­lar body seek­ing to dom­i­nate the La­bor Party or any other po­lit­i­cal party.” But the split in the La­bor Party, when it came, was driven by a rift be­tween Catholics and so­cial­ists. The charge of “dual loy­alty” seems ar­cane now, but still sur­faces from time to time. “The PM Ab­bott has taken an oath as he is Ro­man Catholic,” wrote one com­menter on an ABC ar­ti­cle, “so he has taken an oath to a for­eign power the Vat­i­can.” A para­noid cu­rios­ity now, but once one of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics. Even Menzies, who largely re­solved the con­tentious is­sue of state aid to Catholic schools, would greet his sole Catholic mem­ber of cabi­net by say­ing, “Be care­ful, boys, here comes the Papist.” Prej­u­dice gen­er­ates few new ideas, so it is no sur­prise that so many of the charges now lev­elled against Mus­lims were once made against Catholics or Jews. For ex­am­ple, the One Na­tion cam­paign against halal la­belling, which marks it as a “re­li­gious tax”, is a re­tread of a 1980s Ku Klux Klan leaflet­ing cam­paign against kosher food. So too present-day Is­lam­o­pho­bia bor­rows heav­ily from the the last-ditch anti-Catholic cam­paigns of the 1950s. Then it was Catholi­cism, not Is­lam, that sup­pos­edly had some de­fect in its DNA. It was an ide­ol­ogy, not a re­li­gion, some stunted rel­a­tive of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Amer­i­can Free­dom and Catholic Power was a huge best­seller in 1949; Com­men­tary magazine sum­marised its ar­gu­ment like this: “The claims and pre­ten­sions of the Church to le­gal pri­macy, if not mo­nop­oly, in re­li­gion, ed­u­ca­tion, and fam­ily re­la­tions, are felt to be def­i­nitely in­com­pat­i­ble with the lib­eral, plu­ral­is­tic foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can democ­racy.” That sounds very fa­mil­iar. So what hap­pened? Did Protes­tant tri­umphal­ism and prej­u­dice “work”? Did these kinds of tri­als by fire ul­ti­mately force Catholics into the ac­com­mo­da­tions of the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil, or make John F Kennedy re­nounce any claim to his faith in­form­ing his pol­i­tics? Should anti-Catholi­cism be re­peated as a suc­cess, or is this the wrong kind of “cul­tural self-con­fi­dence”? The an­swer is self-ev­i­dent. It was moder­nity, and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, not sec­tar­ian prej­u­dice, that turned ques­tions of Catholic loy­alty and com­pat­i­bil­ity into a non­sense. Even Tony Ab­bott him­self has re­marked on the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween anti-Mus­lim and anti-Catholic prej­u­dice, and so too did the late for­mer prime min­is­ter Mal­colm Fraser: “You know, peo­ple used to say Catholics are not Aus­tralian be­cause they owe al­le­giance to the Pope. And I could hear con­ver­sa­tions when my fa­ther was alive in which peo­ple re­ally be­lieved that. Now we know how to­tally false and to­tally wrong those sorts of views were, but it was part of Aus­tralia. Now as other peo­ple heard those ar­gu­ments, they said, ‘Look, we’ve just got to put that aside.’ But, now, it’s Mus­lims, who [sup­pos­edly] owe their al­le­giance to the Prophet.” The fact that the big­ots of the past have been wrong ev­ery time has not de­terred the big­ots of the present. This works not only at the level of his­tory but also with in­di­vid­u­als across time. Pauline Han­son’s warn­ings in the late 1990s about the threats of Asian mi­gra­tion are con­sid­ered ridicu­lous now, but the ab­sence of non-as­sim­i­la­tory crime gangs hasn’t de­terred her, or her vot­ers, from a copy­cat hys­te­ria. She still in­sists she was right. As it’s cur­rently con­sti­tuted, Is­lam­o­pho­bia can’t even work on its own terms. Take those pic­tures of miniskirted crowds in Kabul – a favourite of right-wing so­cial me­dia. Is Is­lam es­sen­tially and eter­nally op­posed to sec­u­lar­ism, apart from when it wasn’t 40 years ago? Per­haps colo­nial­ism, con­stant at­tacks on Mus­lim coun­tries, and giv­ing Saudi Ara­bia trillions of dol­lars to ex­port Wah­habist fun­da­men­tal­ism might of­fer a clue to an al­ter­na­tive and less self-flat­ter­ing ex­pla­na­tion, but that doesn’t seem

to stop the spe­cial plead­ing. “In the Mus­lim world, there is no mu­sic,” Mark Steyn re­cently told Quad­rant magazine, an ab­surd state­ment that to the em­pir­i­cally minded seems very much like a de­nial of re­al­ity. There’s a per­sis­tent lib­eral be­lief that prej­u­dice is sim­ply a mat­ter of ed­u­ca­tion, or cross-pol­li­na­tion, and that the racist’s fear is fear of the un­known. I’ve met too many ed­u­cated racists to be­lieve this, but it also over­looks some­thing just as self-ev­i­dent: that racism is ben­e­fi­cial to the racist. Supremacism can, in a so­cio­pathic sense, of­fer its own proof: I must be su­pe­rior, other­wise you wouldn’t let me do this to you, and I would be wrong to do it. Colo­nial­ism is per­haps the supreme ex­am­ple of this. The racist can even come to be­lieve that their racism is ben­e­fi­cial to the vic­tim, a kind of cus­to­di­an­ship or pa­ter­nal­ism. A clue to the wholly bo­gus way this hi­er­ar­chy of Western supremacism works comes from an­other rightwing fix­a­tion: elitism. If the West pro­claims it­self su­pe­rior to oth­ers, that is self-con­fi­dence. But if the in­ner city de­clares it­self su­pe­rior, or even feels it­self to be su­pe­rior to the sub­urbs, this is not as­sur­ance but ar­ro­gance: “con­ceit”, “smug­ness”, “sneer­ing”, the chat­ter­ing of bien pen­sants – the sheer vol­ume of clichés di­rected against this sen­ti­ment shows how pro­scribed it is. Mount Druitt doesn’t write many sym­phonies ei­ther, but point this out and you are the worst kind of snob, in­deed a bor­der­line en­emy of the peo­ple. Few on the left feel com­pelled to make this strange kind of ge­o­graph­i­cal com­par­i­son any­way, and would im­me­di­ately be ex­co­ri­ated if they did. There is a rare ex­cep­tion on the right, though. Charles Mur­ray is best known for re­heat­ing 19th-cen­tury race sci­ence in his no­to­ri­ous book The Bell Curve, but you can at least say his at­tach­ment to dis­cred­ited Vic­to­rian ideas is con­sis­tent. He also wrote a book called Hu­man Ac­com­plish­ment: The Pur­suit of Ex­cel­lence in the Arts and Sci­ences, 800 BC to 1950, which at­tempted to ap­ply a clumsy tem­plate of “ex­cel­lence” and in­flu­ence to cul­tural out­put. It is a silly ex­er­cise in cir­cu­lar rea­son­ing, where Mur­ray looks up Western en­cy­clopae­dias and bi­o­graph­i­cal dic­tio­nar­ies, and then uses their em­pha­sis on Western fig­ures as a mea­sure of Western ex­cel­lence. It is also an­other op­por­tu­nity to let cul­tur­ists die by the sword. As you can guess, Catholics, Poland and Eastern Europe again suf­fer by com­par­i­son, but so does the Amer­i­can South, which de­spite be­ing suf­fused with white Protes­tants of Euro­pean ex­trac­tion man­ages to pro­duce no “sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures” be­fore 1850, only two by 1900, and a smat­ter­ing there­after. Even to­day the Amer­i­can South is far poorer, sicker and less ac­com­plished than the for­mer Union states. It is

These peo­ple had their chance. The “self­con­fi­dent” ver­sion of Europe they pined for used to ex­ist, and it wasn’t a pic­ture of har­mony, but a char­nel house.

also much, much more vi­o­lent than the North, and in fact drags the United States away from the OECD av­er­age on crime al­most by it­self. But I have never heard any­one talk­ing about “South­erner on South­erner” crime, or sug­gest­ing that strato­spheric in­fant mor­tal­ity rates are due to pre-En­light­en­ment be­liefs. The cur­rent con­di­tion of the South­ern United States is eerily sim­i­lar to the Rea­gan­ite vi­sion of the black ghetto in the 1980s: riddled with gun crime, so­cially and sex­u­ally ir­re­spon­si­ble, ad­dicted to drugs (only opi­oids rather than crack), a waste­land for the fam­ily that shirks work in favour of wel­fare. This time, the chaos is as­cribed nei­ther to cul­ture nor to “per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity” but to out­side in­ter­fer­ence. But surely if the logic of cul­tur­ism works ge­o­graph­i­cally, it also works do­mes­ti­cally. All over the West, com­pared to their re­gional coun­ter­parts, grad­u­ates in the in­ner city are richer, less likely to be di­vorced, less sui­ci­dal, more char­i­ta­ble, less vi­o­lent and in­clined to crime, more cul­tur­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally pro­duc­tive, and less prone to sub­stance abuse. Does it make sense then, to ar­gue that the ACT has an in­trin­si­cally su­pe­rior cul­ture to Far North Queens­land? Is one even a bet­ter ex­pres­sion of Western cul­ture than the other, be­cause it is more suc­cess­ful? The hard right-edge of “race re­al­ists” – the evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gists re­cruited in the ser­vice of cul­tur­ism – be­lieve that Africa is less suc­cess­ful not only be­cause of its cul­ture but also be­cause of lower av­er­age IQs. Any spu­ri­ous rea­son­ing will do to jus­tify this claim. “Euro­peans needed big­ger brains to sur­vive colder cli­mates” is a pop­u­lar calumny. This se­lec­tion can re­port­edly work even across three or four gen­er­a­tions. Are the keep­ers of the cul­tur­ist flame ready, then, to con­cede that Pauline Han­son is a trop­i­cally in­duced con­gen­i­tal id­iot, and that her warm-cli­mate, non-city-dwelling sup­port­ers have lower IQs for cli­matic rea­sons? Con­ces­sion isn’t re­ally their game, and even re­flec­tion is a hard ask. So per­haps some other re­al­ism is re­quired in­stead. These peo­ple had their chance. The “self-con­fi­dent” ver­sion of Europe they pined for used to ex­ist, and it wasn’t a pic­ture of har­mony, but a char­nel house. The uneasy sol­i­dar­ity of white­ness could be punc­tu­ated at any time by re­pres­sion, mas­sacre, war and ul­ti­mately geno­cide. The most har­mo­nious ex­pres­sion of Judeo-Chris­tian cul­ture in Europe wasn’t the pacific mur­mur of its cities, but the quiet of its grave­yards. The cul­tur­ist nos­tal­gia only makes sense when you re­alise that the long­ing is not a long­ing for peace. It is not a sense of civic com­mu­nion these peo­ple are pin­ing for at all. It is the din of the bat­tle­field.

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