Saturday, 7 November 2009

Is Australia's lack of critical conservative thinking something very deep?

One thing about Australia that I have noticed differentiates it especially from most of the United States, but also from at least those parts of Europe between the “European Divide” (those areas that do not drain to the Mediterranean or the Atlantic west of the Basque Country) and the Baltic is the absence of thinking that is both critical and conservative.

As Robert Inchausti shows in Subversive Orthodoxy, between the French Revolution and the emergence of punk rock conservative Christians offered quite a number of highly interesting critiques of society that were to have a significant impact on political thinking through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. However, Inchausti’s book gives no example from Australia, and related writers like Allan Carlson give very few. It is noteworthy how, despite the conservatism and religiousity of Australia working class and the dominance of large sections thereof by the Catholic Democratic Labor Party, the kind of "antipolitical politics" described by Inchausti is completely absent. So is conservative criticism of Australian lifestyle and culture a là Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful (to which Australia, with its flatness and natural unity, is the purest antithesis).

Other area where critical, but conservative and religious, thinking is absent
  1. are the forestry-dominated economies of Scandinavia, the Pacific Northwest (Joel Garreau’s "Ecotopia") and New Zealand. Here religion has never been remotely strong owing to the scarcity of resources inherent in an economy where harvesting occurs only once in a lifetime - as opposed to every year with farming, herding or most hunter/gatherer economies. Moreover, since timber is easier to steal than food, forest owners can concentrate wealth very strongly, which leads to militant unions that encourage big government and secularism. In such a society religion is seen as irrelevant and highly orthodox, disciplined faith as a means of pacifying the masses, especially as big government encourages women to masculinise.
  2. Europe south of the “Divide” (Italy, Spain, Portugal) is a very different case, but “subversive orthodoxy” is equally absent because the Catholic Church was so closely tied to the ruling classes that offering any sort of criticism of the social order meant challenging Church authority and orthodoxy. This could be argued of Latin America and perhaps Germanophone Europe as well.
What this may reflect, as I, following Rod Dreher, say in my previous post, is that Australia’s low-density suburban lifestyle is simply not a threat to religious practice as the hectic, high-density lifestyle of European and Asian cities certainly is.

The result is that in suburban Australia people can be devoutly religious whilst still socialising within a culture generally rather sceptical about religion. This is simply impossible in the cities of Europe, East Asia, and even much of North America. As Rod Dreher and Sara Maitland say, to practice religion in such environments requires extraordinary levels of self-discipline and the self-enforced exclusion of many conveniences most people desire.

In the absence of such requirements, critical thinking, even if Christian and conservative, naturally loses its entire purpose.

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