The Social Ravages of Sixties Philosophy

False Promises: Sixties Philosophy Against the Church: A Sociological Memoir Enhanced by Statistics 1903–1993
by Lucy Sullivan
Windrush Press, 2012, 226 pages, $12.99 plus $3 postage from 


In False Promises, Lucy Sullivan compares the two halves of the twentieth century in Australia from the viewpoint of social stability and morality. She uses Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data to show that while social trends in crime, divorce and illegitimacy remained relatively stable from 1902 to 1963, all then began to rise dramatically until all, particularly crime, which virtually tripled, had increased hugely by 1993. Only Christian adherence has a downward trend.

Sullivan juxtaposes these trends against the “libertarian” initiatives of government policies to show cause and effect; she dedicates the book to “Generations X and Y in explanation of the Australia they inherited.” It is an unhappy reminder of all we’ve lost.

Sullivan’s book is wide ranging, and while her arguments hinge on ABS data, her style is discursive: given positions are expanded to explain a situation more fully, along with historical and cultural references. Lucy Sullivan has been at the coalface of the unfolding problems she describes and is speaking the truth from experience.

She divides the book into three main sections: the social policy of church and state 1900–1963; the liberation social theory which followed and dramatically influenced government policy; and the outcomes of these policies at the twentieth century’s end. From sex, marriage and religion to employment, education and the arts, they’re all discussed and scrutinised.

In the first sixty years of the twentieth century, church and state both regarded marriage as a lifelong commitment and the foundation stone underpinning a stable, civilised society. They worked together on the unwritten assumption that traditional social conventions revolved round the family group and personal responsibility.

To this end, social policies supported the family unit, first with the recognition that the 1907 Basic Wage was inadequate for those with dependants and should be increased. The Widow’s Pension and Old Age and Invalid Pensions soon followed, and in the 1940s, Unemployment and Sickness Benefits and Child Endowment. All ensured that the family was supported and its members provided for when in real need.

At the end of the first half of the century, 86 per cent of Australians described themselves as Christians, and most being of British descent, accepted the legal and social traditions that produced a cohesive society. Crime and suicide rates fell, life expectancy rose, divorce was rare and schools, focusing on the basics, gave Australia a 95 per cent literacy rate, the second in the world after Japan.

Sullivan’s book illustrates just how this civil, well-functioning society saw an ever-accelerating rush in the next fifty years to discard the old in favour of the new, described by Sullivan as Liberation Social Theory. Daringly new and excitingly different, it burst on an unsuspecting nation in the 1960s.Strident feminism, just getting into top gear, was its enthusiastic handmaiden with the claim for equal pay and the promotion of women’s lifelong participation in the workforce.

Sullivan’s proposition is that the first tertiary-educated middle-class generation of the 1960s accepted Donald Horne’s facile description of Australia as the Lucky Country and had little conception that it was the very legal controls and social traditions they condemned that had produced this “luck”. “Freedom” was the mantra of these progressives: to liberate the individual, and by extension society, from legal and moral restraints.

But Sullivan also suggests that this well-ordered society had within it the seeds of its own destruction; Christian ethics and an attitude of personal responsibility were rapidly being taken over by state intrusion. Personal morality, seen as outdated and repressive, had become morality by law that sought to control their lives.

Communism’s long march through the institutions was taking hold, and how far the liberationists were seduced by the Marxist creed to undermine society by creating social chaos, or how far it was the intoxicating idea of primarily sexual freedom that excited them—“the cult of self-gratification”; the “id rampant” as Sullivan calls it—is something readers will mull over.

As they moved into positions of power in government and the bureaucracy, the liberationists’ influence soon began to be felt, unleashing disastrous social changes. Just what these were to mean Sullivan documents with compelling arguments, observations and comments that give us a devastating picture of society’s decline in the second half of the twentieth century. 

Liberating sex and marriage

As both church and state were supportive of marriage in the century’s first fifty years, they were not, as was often claimed, anti-sex. They were simply against sex outside marriage for the practical reason that it could leave a child without a legal and responsible father. But the new leaders of “unconventionality and enlightenment” saw sexual liberation as the ultimate freedom and the family unit and its social conventions as the enemy to be destroyed.

So they set out to dismantle the legal and social constraints that had given us a civil society, and to change them according to their personal inclinations and philosophy. Breaking family cohesion by freeing up divorce was the first step.

Although legal grounds for divorce had been extended over the first years of the century beyond the single ground of infidelity, the difficulty of getting a divorce militated against breaking up the family. The government was thus actively pro-family until pressure from the so-called “progressives”, with strong feminist backing, resulted in “no-fault divorce” first appearing in the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1961.

Sullivan refers to the legislation that followed as “hustled into existence by powerful middle-aged politicians (e.g. Australia’s Attorney General, Lionel Murphy) who wanted to marry their mistresses without the expense of supporting their abandoned first wives and families.”

In Murphy’s 1975 Family Law Act, “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” replaced all other grounds for divorce. Not only did the Act cause a flood of divorces, but Sullivan claims it “went beyond mere neutrality as regards divorce but embraced positive facilitation”. Liberated women suddenly left faithful, abstemious husbands, not to find another man, but to “do their own thing” and “find themselves”—at taxpayers’ expense. Children were not in the equation. Spurious academic “studies” claimed that children were better off if warring parents separated; but Sullivan maintains this was nothing more than an excuse; in reality self-interest trumped family cohesion.

Femocrats must have been outraged at a US judge’s comments in the 1940s: “There seems to be a prevailing impression,” he wrote, “that people who are unhappily married can come to the Divorce Court and ask that marriage be dissolved on that ground, but that is not the law … This court does not intervene on the grounds of unhappiness.”

In 1993 the divorce rate was three times that of 1953. This destruction of the family unit was exactly as the liberationists intended. From the previous pro-family policies, the government had began to pursue the reverse. In tandem with this, welfare was coming into their sights and the Widow’s Pension was the first target. 

Liberating welfare

In the early twentieth century, the Widow’s Pension was only for widows with children, but the feminists claimed that “compassion” demanded that all single mothers should get state support. It was a battle easily won and the Single Mother’s Benefit was introduced in 1973, soon to morph into the Single Parent’s Benefit—to accommodate political correctness—and later, the Sole Parent Benefit.

Sullivan pulls no punches: “What this amounted to was public funding of individual promiscuity.” Women “collected children by different fathers … and young men left a trail of children by different mothers behind them”. Sullivan makes the link clear between these unstable sexual relationships and domestic violence, child sexual abuse, neglectful parenting and male suicide.

But thanks to government benefits giving them financial independence, and with the stigma of illegitimacy gone, unmarried motherhood was “in”, young women flaunted their single status and marriage was ridiculed as “just a piece of paper”. But government help was called up when the “paperless marriage” brought no financial support.

The figure for illegitimate births in 1953 was 4 per cent. Towards the end of the century it had risen to 28 per cent, leaving in its train the virtual legalising of abortion.

As largesse in welfare increased, spending on Family Income Support and Family Supplements, which had grown out of the 1940s Child Endowment, decreased until families on average weekly earnings were on a level with unemployment benefits, thus removing the motivation to work. Anti-family ideology meant that a sole parent family could be better off than an intact family.

Working mothers first appeared in statistics in the 1980s and with them the need for childcare and taxpayer input into its funding. Without a shred of evidence, feminists claimed that children in childcare were better adjusted than those confined to the stifling family atmosphere.

Sullivan discusses fluctuating birth and marriage rates, male and female employment and the effects of immigration as background to her detailed analysis of the continual changes to taxation and welfare schemes that were intended to right wrongs but only resulted in policies that had, in their turn, to be compromised or changed.

Meanwhile liberated children and teenagers were becoming a problem. In the first half of the century, most children grew up with a mother and father in the family unit. Most children left school for employment in their mid-teens and, making only youth wages, remained living at home. Until the early 1970s, there were no (Sullivan’s emphasis) homeless children. But the Commonwealth government’s Homeless Youth Allowance put an end to that and young people now had the means to “escape” from their “oppressive” parents. In New South Wales, these distressed parents were forbidden to communicate with their runaway children. The removal of police powers against vagrancy only exacerbated the problem.

The distinction between youth and adult wages disappeared in the 1970s, resulting in the Unemployment Benefit being higher than apprenticeship wages and a further inducement to leave home at taxpayers’ expense. In 1973 unemployment among fifteen-to-nineteen-year-olds was 7.7 per cent; by 1975 it was 15.6 per cent.

Austudy, introduced in the late 1980s, provided a similar opportunity for the young to leave home. Marketed as promoting educational opportunities for financially disadvantaged students—a ploy often wheeled out to justify absurd social policies—it was handy in disguising youth unemployment.

As each legislative step exacerbated an already deteriorating situation, statistics proved that things were not going well. Sullivan’s simple example makes the connection plain: in the 1980s the fifteen New South Wales police districts with the highest AVOs (Apprehended Violence Orders), sole parents, unemployment and drug use were those with the highest incidence of welfare dependency.

In twenty years, welfare rose five-fold, from $400 per head of population in 1969 to $1900 in 1993, both in the equivalent of 1987 dollar values. By the beginning of the 1990s, every working Australian supported one other person, through taxation.

But while taxpayers forked out ever-increasing funds to support these schemes, no attention was paid to why they were failing. The new elite, blinkered by their own moral certainty, refused to see the link between policy and outcome. Instead, committees, task forces and inquiries simply resulted in more of the same. 

Liberating education

As libertarian policies captured the political agenda, education was in the front line. Rote learning and grammar in schools went out the door, “whole word recognition” replaced sounding out phonetically, while the need for “self-expression” and particularly “self-esteem” were heavily promoted, leading to downgrading testing and exams—“grading”, it was claimed, could damage self-esteem.

Marxist sociology filtered down from the universities into secondary schools to influence social sciences, history, English, geography and anthropology, and as philosophical egalitarianism took hold, Labor’s Education Minister, John Dawkins, abolished the distinction between universities and colleges of advanced education.

Corporal punishment was abolished in schools and teachers had their hands tied as to what they could legally do to miscreants. Discipline and respect for authority, undermined by those wanting to loosen or break all established rules of behaviour, led to sliding community standards and a confrontational attitude towards police.

The education bureaucracy promoted permissive attitudes with little booklets like “Girls Growing Up”, encouraging sexual experimentation, and the HIV threat in the 1980s became the excuse to force teachers to teach sex education.

There were no ABS statistics for drug use in the 1950s—it was illegal. But when freedom permeated the corridors of power, the liberationists’ aim to legalise illicit drugs dominated the agenda.

So-called educational material in schools promoted “harm minimisation”, the mantra of the drug lobby, as the answer to drug use, to the distress of families whose children had been drawn into the net, but whose pleas for help went unheeded. As free needles, free heroin and injecting centres were promoted by the drug lobby, the provision of needle disposal containers in public places was a backdoor way to promote public acceptance and, in turn, legalisation.

Sullivan quotes former MP Doug Anthony’s criticism of The Little Red Schoolbook, which radicals distributed outside schools in the 1970s: 

The book basically aims at undermining authority at all levels. It does this under the guise of an enlightened liberation that defends free and creative thought and individual development. In reality it denigrates the family unit, the church, our moral codes, our school system, law and order and government. It belittles what is necessary for an orderly society and what is good and wholesome in it.

That was the liberation philosophy.

Liberating crime

That crime rates fell at the beginning of the twentieth century was a consequence of the social policies of the time that produced an orderly and safe society. Criminals were held personally responsible for their offences and the punishment was seen “to fit the crime”. Abuse of police was a serious crime, drinking on the streets or on public transport was illegal and “drunk and disorderly” meant an overnight stay in a police cell to keep drunks off the streets. “Offending against good order” was a crime that targeted “obscene language and indecent, riotous and offensive conduct”.

But liberation sociologists, permeating the criminal justice system, viewed these practices as an invasion of individual rights and freedoms and remarkably quickly they were dismantled, with a disastrous effect on policing that left society open to mounting crime.

Punishment was anathema to liberationists, as crime was considered the result of society’s injustices. Judges and magistrates, themselves often products of the 1960s generation, greatly reduced penalties and imprisonment. Immigration from countries other than those founded on British traditions of morality and law fed into the homeless, unemployment and crime rates.

Property crime rose from 96 convictions per half million population in 1952 to 1523 in 1993, and violent crime from 18 in 1952 to 145 in 1993.

Strict censorship in literature and art was relaxed when the liberationists saw the depiction of violence and depravity as their right to freedom of expression, while the media, quick to take up new opportunities, became a major influence in the acceptability of new standards and a committed player, both subtly and overtly, in promoting contempt for Christianity.

The effect on the community at large was not considered; as Sullivan discusses at the beginning of her book, individual freedom trumpeted by the Me Generation is simply the promotion and defence of selfishness in the guise of freedom and rights.

Meanwhile, liberationists’ pervasive influence had far-reaching repercussions on public health. Childhood immunisation, hitherto particularly successful in controlling infectious diseases, declined, while strict and effective quarantine controls were relaxed to cater for the “rights” of migrants. Contact and tracing, previously successful ways of controlling epidemics, were rejected in the attempt to control the spread of AIDS as violations of privacy.

Mental asylums, which had hitherto kept the deranged off the streets for their own and the community’s protection, were blacklisted as oppressive and degrading to the individual. “De-institutionalisation” was the buzzword, and mental institutions were closed and non-existent “community housing” promoted as the answer to give “dignity” to the newly liberated. These unfortunates now turned up as the new homeless or in overcrowded general hospitals that lacked the facilities to cope with them. Prison became a de facto asylum and “vagrancy”, sleeping on the streets, almost non-existent in the 1950s, began to show up as a category of its own in ABS statistics. 

False Promises is not a book to be taken to bed for a light read. It is tightly packed and sombre reading. Sullivan describes it as “a sociological memoir enhanced by statistics”, a good description, as much of the book is founded on her own experience, lightened by amusing personal anecdotes. While it is not weighed down by statistics, they form a jumping-off point to the narrative, but happily, with the exception of the striking graph on the book’s back cover, there are no graphs in the text to distract from that narrative.

Now the 1990s are behind us and we are thirteen years into the twenty-first century, Sullivan presents us with a challenge. Referring to the ravages wrought by the Liberation Social Philosophy, she asks: “Can we, having emerged to some extent from its domination, undo its harm and avoid a repetition?”

Julia Patrick wrote about the Green dream of a human-free environment in the March issue.


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