Politics

A Civic Community for a Civilised Nation

Democracy is a characteristic of the state, but democracy can only function and flourish in a society with a healthy sense of civic community. Civic community is the large-scale overlapping and interweaving of identities among all or nearly all of the people who come together to form a society. Any state can hold elections, but without civic community, elections can be sterile, divisive or even destructive. They can push people apart instead of pulling people together. The Brexit controversy in the United Kingdom demonstrates in a small way the potential of democracy to act as a centrifugal force in society, but the disruption of Britain’s civic community caused by Brexit is a temporary phenomenon that should not be exaggerated. Much more consequential for the British state is the possibility that the UK’s civic community might fracture along ethnic and territorial fault-lines, as in Scottish independence.

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Such centrifugal forces are hardly evident in Australia. Australia has neither territorial nor ethnic political parties, and although Australian democracy could certainly be improved, it cannot reasonably be said to be under threat. The question for Australia is how to strengthen its civic community, especially in the light of mass immigration and demands for an “indigenous voice” to federal parliament. These epochal transformations challenge the historical continuity of Australian society and have the potential to act as powerful centrifugal forces on Australia’s formerly compact civic community. As in the United Kingdom, civic community in Australia has historically been centred on the institutional continuity of the state, but the intellectual rationale behind the “indigenous voice” movement tends to shift the basis of civic community towards the territorial narrative of country, while mass immigration has sparked a debate around multiculturalism that promotes the idea of Australia as a multi-ethnic compendium of nations.

Terms like “country” and “nation-state” are often used interchangeably, but country, nation and state are all distinct concepts with different historical meanings. For example, only states can be members of the United Nations, to the exclusion of many self-identified nations (Biafra, Catalonia, Iroquois Nation, Kurdistan, Scotland) and de facto countries (Abkhazia, Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Taiwan). All functioning civic communities in the world today combine overlapping features of countries, nations and states; the differences that distinguish civic communities are relative, not absolute. Nonetheless, the form of civic community that predominates in a country/nation/state shapes its character, how it perceives its past, and how it plans its future.

The distinctiveness of the terms “country”, “nation” and “state” can be brought into clear focus by examining those few cases where the three concepts do not line up. Consider Korea. The country of Korea is split into two territories that are administered by distinct states: the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). The widely held assumption that these two states should some day “reunify” is based on an understanding of Korea as a single country. The Korean nation, however, also includes some two million Koreans who live in north-east China, where Choson (Korean) is one of fifty-five officially recognised minority ethnicities, and some half million members of the stateless Korean minority ethnicity in Japan.

Transitions among the three categories country/nation/state can be traumatic, and even violent. For example, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were states that strove in vain for decades to meld their peoples into new nations. When their respective states broke down in 1990-91, both states fractured on national lines. But the constituent (ethnic) nations of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union did not correspond neatly to the constituent (territorial) countries. The result in both cases has been decades of genocide, war and frozen conflicts along the fault-lines of overlapping countries/nations/states. Thirty years later, many of the successor countries/nations/states have still failed to re-establish smoothly functioning, consensual civic communities. Most of the successor countries/nations/states are not, or are only partially, democratic.

The imaginary “ideal type” (although not necessarily the best type) of civic community is one in which a well-defined territorial country exclusively hosts a single ethnic nation governed by a democratic state. This was the ideal of the French Revolution and the republic it proclaimed. Of course, that “ideal” unleashed a quarter-century of terror and continental war that lasted from the storming of the Bastille in 1789 until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Throughout those years, French revolutionary armies strove to create a “greater” country of France and use the power of the state to impose French nationality on all who fell within its borders. Revolutionary France also attempted to set up subordinate sister republics throughout Europe, even as Napoleon attempted to suppress the emergence of an independent country/nation/state in Haiti.

History shows that there is no single viable combination of country/nation/state from the perspective of fostering a peaceful, democratic civic community. Although all three models of civic community usually overlap in varying degrees, it is far from obvious that the best model for democracy is the French republican “all three” solution. The best approach for any civic community depends on its historical legacy, its present constitution, and its desired future. Country, nation and state will all play important roles in the future development of civic community in Australia. The question for Australia is: to what degree does it want to emphasise each one?

 

The importance of civic community for democracy

Civic community is an inelegant name for what we usually call a country, nation or state. A strong sense of civic community is important for the health of democracy because it undergirds the norm that the winners of an election are expected to govern for the good of the whole of society. That is to say, civic community rejects the notion of “winner-take-all” politics, whether under a democracy or under any other form of government. For most of the history of the world, most societies lacked such a sense of civic community: Karl Marx’s assertion in the Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” rang true at the time because true civic communities were rare in mid-nineteenth-century Europe. In Australia, as in the United Kingdom, substantial portions of society were still excluded from full participation in parliamentary government. In the United States, substantial portions of society were still in chains.

A strong sense of civic community does not guarantee that a society will be governed as a democracy, but it is a prerequisite for meaningful democracy. Abraham Lincoln famously appealed for the “government of the people, by the people, for the people” in his Gettysburg Address in 1863, but the original formulation from which he adapted the phrase was the abolitionist Theodore Parker’s plea in 1850 for the “government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people”—with a stress on the qualifier “all” (that is, a unified civic community that included both black and white Americans). Disaggregated into its constituent components, this catchphrase demands that the same principles should govern all citizens, that all citizens should have a say in how they are collectively governed, and that government should promote the welfare of society as a whole.

The American philosopher John Dewey characterised civic community as the society-wide “great community” of interlocking identities and affiliations that replaces the sense of “local community” that was lost in the creation of large-scale modern societies (The Public and Its Problems, 1927). A civic community arises when the citizens of a society participate together in the project of building a common future. The founding father of the discipline of sociology, the French scholar Émile Durkheim, called this the organic solidarity of modern society, which he contrasted to the bolt-on “mechanical solidarity” of pre-modern societies. Organic solidarity means that no one is self-sufficient; people rely on other members of society for nearly all of their needs, physical and spiritual.

When a society is broken into multiple, distinct civic communities, organic solidarity breaks down. In the United States before the Civil War, society had broken down into separate civic communities based on territory: the “North” and the “South”. In the US presidential election of 1860, both major parties split along territorial lines, with the Democrats fielding separate Southern and Northern candidates while the Whigs fractured into a (Southern) Constitutional Unionist party and a (Northern) Republican party. Other civic communities have fractured by ethnicity, for example Belgium, where the main political parties today are all either explicitly Flemish or Walloon. It is also possible for a civic community to fracture institutionally, as with devolution in the United Kingdom. When divisions like these occur, shared governance is impaired, as at Westminster today, where the chief objectives of the Scottish National Party have little to do with the effective governance of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Democracy thrives in civic communities where individual identities are thoroughly enmeshed in many overlapping networks. This embeds organic solidarity in the identities of individual people. For example, in Australian society, a person may be (at the same time) female, heterosexual, a homeowner, an environmentalist, of Chinese heritage, a First Fleeter, a silent-film fan, a medical doctor, a war veteran, a parent, physically disabled, and so on. Each of these identities links the person to different identity networks. In such societies, there are rarely permanent majorities or permanent minorities. A person who is in the minority on one issue (for example in the 2017 same-sex-marriage survey) is likely to be in the majority on other issues (such as support for franking credits). As a result, in a democracy like Australia’s, most people find themselves on the winning side most of the time. Nearly everyone wins on something, some of the time, and there are few if any permanent losers.

Yet in such a civic community, most people who vote for any particular political party actually oppose at least some of its policy positions. That may create the appearance of a failed democracy, for example when a policy position gains only 51 per cent support for inclusion in a party platform, and then the party goes on to win election with only 51 per cent of the vote. But such complexities are fundamental to the sociological foundations of a healthy democracy. Counter-intuitively, the reality that most winning policies are supported by a minority of the people does not necessarily contradict the proposition that “most people find themselves on the winning side most of the time”. These two seemingly contradictory propositions can coexist when there is a high degree of overlap across identity groups in the kinds of policies people support.

The overlapping political preferences that deeply embed organic solidarity in individual people’s identities arise from shared participation in common social endeavours. As long as people’s participation in social life (and with it, their senses of identity) interweave and overlap with each other, civic community will remain strong. When people segregate themselves into social groups with high levels of in-group collaboration but low levels of between-group collaboration, civic community (and with it, democracy) suffers. Democracy thrives on social complexity, and suffers when people construe their identities in very simple “us versus them” terms.

 

The country as a territorial form of civic community

There is no one “correct” foundation on which to construct a civic community. Perhaps the simplest form of civic community is the community of all of the people who happen to live in a particular geographical territory: a civic community centred on the country. The country model of civic community is the one that prevailed in Europe until quite recently. Historically, most European civic communities consisted of a set of territories that happened to be ruled by a particular family (as in the United Kingdom, Spain, Austria-Hungary, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian empire). Such multinational states have existed throughout history, often with different laws and separate school systems for citizens of different nationalities, even within the same city or town. Even today, many societies are legally multi-ethnic or multinational, for example Israel, most Muslim-majority countries, and some Latin American countries with large indigenous populations.

One of the most famous historical examples of a territorial civic community is China. Ancient and imperial traditions identified a Chinese tianxia (“all under heaven”) that was defined in territorial terms to include the ethnically Han nation(s) and the various peoples who lived on the periphery of the Chinese world. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the ensuing republican government, known as the Beiyang Republic (1912 to 1928), adopted a flag consisting of five coloured stripes, each stripe representing one of the major ethnic groups of territorial China: Han (red), Manchu (yellow), Mongol (blue), Hui (white) and Tibetan (black). Each of these groups, in theory, lived as a distinct national community under its own customary laws, although all were ultimately subject to the same civil law. Many of the conflicts going on in western China today relate to the forced integration of Uighurs and Tibetans into the Han-dominated country that is the People’s Republic of China.

Territory can work as an effective basis for civic community, but it may not be the most effective basis for a democratic civic community. The problem is that, although shared inhabitation of a particular place may enmesh people in a dense web of interdependencies, it does not necessarily promote overlapping individual identities. People may be connected to each other by employment, market, friendship, and even marital relations, yet still form distinct groups or classes. Bakers and butchers may depend on each other for survival (organic solidarity) yet still self-segregate into hostile guilds in which individual bakers and butchers have little in common but their occupations. They might vote in blocks as bakers and butchers, not as individuals who have many identities. This is particularly a risk in multinational countries where political parties are organised on strictly national lines.

In Australia, the embrace of a territory-based understanding of civic community would imply an emphasis on the land itself and its indigenous inhabitants as the defining features of Australian society. Such an understanding of civic community would be well-suited to accommodate multiculturalism and its logical extension, multinationalism. Australia the country would be understood as a place shared by people who belong to many different nations, some of them prioritised by prior occupation and others prioritised by later invitation. In this understanding of Australian society, January 26 truly is “invasion day”, since the only nation without a legitimate right to a place in Australian society is the English one.

Claims for the recognition of an “indigenous voice” in the Australian Constitution are ultimately based on an understanding of Australia as a territory-based civic community. Similarly, the widespread adoption of welcome-to-country rituals at state events implicitly subordinates Australia’s current governing institutions to the centrality of the country, which predated the importation of those institutions and might well outlast them. The country-centred approach to civic community thus calls into question the legitimacy of the Australian state as it is currently constituted. From the perspective of the governance of the country of Australia, a commitment to Westminster-style parliamentary democracy should not be privileged over (for example) rule by a council of elders.

Although there are certainly powerful elements of “country” in contemporary Australia’s construction of its own civic community, it seems clear that Australia’s self-understanding is not primarily territorial. Australia may some day cut its ties to the British monarchy, but it is unlikely to disavow Westminster-style democracy. Nor does Australian multiculturalism seem to be taken very literally by recent immigrants, who seem more inclined towards assimilation than towards forming distinct national communities. However, movements to create distinct indigenous representative institutions and give official support to multiculturalism do tend to encourage the dis-integration of Australia’s civic community, and the vilification of English settler colonialism does tend to undermine the legitimacy of Australia’s existing democracy.

The country concept of civic community is best suited to support democracy in societies where immigration is rare and most people self-identify as the autochthonous inhabitants of the land. In societies like Finland and South Korea, the identification of the country as the “land of the Finns” or the “land of the Koreans” is unproblematic, and although it may not be very welcoming to foreigners, it does not tend to undermine democratic institutions. Australia, by contrast, is almost uniquely ill-suited to accommodate a country-centred sense of civic community, given its small indigenous population and large immigrant population. “Advance Australia Fair” may tug at the heartstrings, but a civic community based on territory would make a poor foundation for building a better Australian democracy.

 

The nation as an ethnic form of civic community

The idea of the “nation” is as old as human language, but the reality of the modern nation is slightly over 1000 years old. It arguably originated in England, where an understanding of the existence of an English nation (the “Angelcynn” or Angle-kin) predates the territorial unification of the country of England itself. It was Alfred the Great who invented the modern nation based on a generalised sense of ethnic belonging buttressed by an educational system that promoted a national language (English, as opposed to the more cosmopolitan Latin), a legal system that promoted shared traditions (the Anglo-Saxon common law, as opposed to the Roman civil law), and the use of official journalism to promulgate a shared national story (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). The outline script for nation-building has been roughly the same ever since.

The most influential work on the meaning of “nation” today is the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s 1983 book Imagined Communities. But Anderson focused mainly on the creation of new nations in Africa and South-East Asia in the era of decolonisation. Anderson’s identification of government bureaucracies (and school systems in particular) as the primary agents of nation-building echo Alfred’s strategy from 1100 years earlier. Before Anderson, the premier authority on nation and nationalism was the historian Hans Kohn (Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, 1965), who recognised England (albeit seventeenth-century England) as “the first full manifestation of modern nationalism”. Whether traced to the 800s or the 1600s, the idea is the same: a nation is an “imagined community” (Anderson) with a “living and active corporate will” (Kohn).

The great “springtime of the nations” in Europe was the revolution of 1848. Its emblematic but much-misunderstood song, “Das Lied der Deutschen” (The Song of the Germans), idealised the idea of “Deutschland über alles” (“Germany above all”)—not above all other nations, as it is usually misconstrued, but above all of the competing German states of the early nineteenth century, such as Austria, Bavaria and Prussia. The song, and the revolutions for which it provided the soundtrack, asked Germans to transfer their loyalties from their petty local monarchs to the broader German nation. It was actually made Germany’s national anthem by the socialist first president of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich Ebert, to signal a break from the German empire of the Prussian Kaisers. It only later came to be viewed as a militaristic song.

Whereas the English state predated and (under Alfred) actively moulded the English nation, in Germany the nation predated the state, and Germany nationalists pushed for the creation of a German state. The German pattern applied throughout most of continental Europe, leading to the creation of a continent full of aggressive, explicitly nationalistic states that used military power to suppress the national aspirations of ethnic groups that lacked their own nation or found themselves “trapped” in the “wrong” nation. Japanese nationalists followed the continental European model in forging a unified Japanese state during the Meiji Restoration of 1867 to 1872. Like the new European nation-based states, the new Japanese nation-state soon started on a program of subjugating neighbouring nations to its rule.

By contrast, most of the post-colonial countries of the twentieth century followed the English pattern of forging nations out of the populations they governed. These efforts have often been unsuccessful. Henry Parkes’s much-maligned identification of a nation in 1890 with the “crimson thread of kinship” that connects people to a common ancestry, directly echoing King Alfred’s description of the English as the Angle-kin, points to the reason: it is easier to operationalise a nation than to create one. The English nation was consolidated by Alfred, not created by him. Post-colonial nations, in contrast, have often been seen as artificial, even (or especially) by their own people. Many of the political challenges faced by post-colonial countries derive from the presence on their territories of several latent nations, as well as from the extension of these latent nations across borders.

The “old” idea of Australia as a British or Anglo-Celtic settler nation is clearly no longer viable, if it ever was. Indigenous Australians might ultimately have been assimilated into a broadly Anglo-Celtic Australian ethnicity through intermarriage, but the mass refugee immigration following the Second World War cut the crimson thread before that even became a possibility. Thus any attempt to build an Australian nation today would have to follow the post-colonial route of manufacturing a new national identity from scratch. There have been some steps in this direction, mostly centred on sports, media and the national anthem, but it would take many generations for these to foster a genuine sense of shared ethnic kinship among Australians. Continuing mass immigration would push the consolidation of such an Australian national identity even further into the future.

Whether or not it would strengthen Australia’s democracy to promote a greater sense of shared nationhood among its people, it seems certain that Australia’s civic community will never again be centred primarily on the idea of Australia as nation. Nevertheless, Australia is so far from being a nation in the classic sense of the word that there seems nothing to fear from the increasing prominence of national symbols in Australian civic life. Although nation-building is unlikely to prove successful in Australia (even in the event that it was deemed to be desirable), nation-building efforts would almost certainly be benign in their effect, both for Australia and for its neighbours.

 

The state as an institutional form of civic community

People rarely sing songs about state institutions, but over the last 100 years or so the state has become the world’s most important form of civic community. It is the only form of civic community recognised by intergovernmental organisations like the United Nations. States are often even recognised to be governing countries over which they have no effective control, as in the case of Georgia’s nominal authority over Abkhazia. States also exert legal authority over self-declared national groups, as in the case of the Spanish state over Catalans. The authority of the state is so decisive that the main aspiration of most national liberation groups is to achieve statehood for themselves.

The state seems to function most effectively as the foundation for civic community in the British settler societies of Australia, Canada (apart from Quebec), New Zealand and the United States. They all inherited distinctively English state institutions, including the common law, jury trials, personal freedoms, limited government, bicameral legislatures, separation of powers, a strong commitment to the rule of law, and (crucially) a focus on the individual (not the family, guild or commune) as the fundamental unit of society. Yet whereas the United Kingdom itself is disunited by the disparate histories of its constituent countries and nations, the four major British settler societies face no such challenges (except in the case of Quebec). To bring the unity of the settler societies into sharp focus, imagine the difficulties they would face if each hosted two or three Quebec-like internal nations.

The institutions of the four settler societies and the United Kingdom have diverged substantially from those of England over the last four hundred years, but these societies have, if anything, grown closer to each other in the era of globalisation. Despite being born from England, they have never exhibited an English nationalism, and have never been identified as overseas territories of England (as such). Instead, the societies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States each began with a bundle of institutions divorced from ethnicity and with no roots in the territories to which they were transplanted. These institutions have been applied proactively to new immigrants and retroactively to indigenous populations.

The parliamentarian Edmund Burke wrote in 1790 of “the various, complicated, external, and internal interests which go to the formation of that multifarious thing called a State”. Burke understood state institutions as being deeply embedded in society and considered it dangerous to sever the link between society (as it had organically developed) and the state. In his view, the institutions of the English Constitution embodied “an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity—as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right”.

An “entailed” inheritance is one that cannot be alienated. The American founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”, but Burke disagreed. Jefferson may have been right in theory, but Burke was right in practice: many people in the world, even in Jefferson’s own country, have been denied Jefferson’s “unalienable” rights. But the entailed liberties of Englishmen have been passed down intact in all four of the major British settler societies, despite the fact that English ethnicity makes up only a portion (in the United States, a very small portion) of those societies’ ethnic make-ups. Winston Churchill thought that “the American Constitution … embodied much of the ancient wisdom of this island”, but he might as well have said “the American society”.

In the British settler societies, where civic community is centred on institutions and the state, ethnicity and nationality have become aspects of identity that tie individuals together in inclusive (not exclusive) ways. Immigrants to Australia typically have no pre-existing relationships with the vast majority of other Australians who share their national origins. Thus they form associations that cross-cut other identities in society. As they inter-marry with people of other ethnicities, they create even more complex interlocking ties. The challenge of binding the members of indigenous nations into the larger civic community is more difficult, and poses perhaps the greatest challenge to institutional consensus in these societies. It does not, however pose any real challenge to the Australian state—or to Australian democracy.

All of the British settler societies had civic communities based on English institutions before they developed their own governing states. The institutions that undergird their civic communities today thus predate their states, and are embodied in them. Whereas in most other countries the state has taken the lead in promulgating shared institutions, in the British settler societies, pre-existing institutions have shaped the emergence of the state. Their states are, in effect, the crystallisations of their institutions. That distinctive history has made the state in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States remarkably robust. Only in these countries has the state evolved the same kind of organic embeddedness in society as has the country or nation in longer-settled societies.

 

Australian identity and Australian democracy

Australia’s civic community is firmly centred on the Australian state and the democratic institutions it embodies, though with a secondary attachment to the territory/country of Australia and a slight admixture of residual and nascent concepts of Australian ethnicity/nationality.

As a state-centred civic community, Australia is in large part defined by its institutions. This reality can be demonstrated with the help of a simple thought experiment: had English institutions never been transplanted to the territory that is now Australia, the civic community or communities formed by the indigenous inhabitants of the country would almost certainly look nothing like Australia’s. There would either be multiple Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation-states or a single, continental, multinational state, in neither case inheriting English institutions, and (in the light of international comparisons) almost certainly lacking Australia’s robust democracy.

Australia’s democracy can be strengthened by reinforcing Australians’ awareness of and attachment to their society’s institutional origins, development and shared future. School history classes should focus on Federation in 1901 as the seminal moment in the Australian story, much as American history is dated from 1776, but treat the British back-story (including the settlement period) as the foundation on which Australia was built. Anzac Day, which is often criticised as an Anglo-Australian holiday, should be celebrated as an Australian holiday full stop. Crucially, efforts to broaden Anzac Day should not focus on attempting to identify multicultural ethnic contributions to the First World War war effort. They should focus on highlighting the continuing vibrancy of the Australian institutional heritage that has been preserved through the efforts of Australia’s armed forces.

A particularly contentious milestone in Australia’s institutional history is January 26, Australia Day. Efforts by anti-settlement activists to rename it “Invasion Day” are clearly untenable, since they would imply a collective guilt on the part of all non-indigenous members of the civic community. Collective guilt only makes sense in a civic community construed as an ethnic nation, and Australia is not such a nation. Put simply, what is “Invasion Day” to recent immigrants? “Australia Day” is meaningful as the date on which the civic community in which they live was transplanted to the country in which they live. “Invasion Day”, by contrast, asks them to assume collective responsibility for the destruction of a society to which they have no connection. Nonetheless, given the sensitivities that surround Australia Day, it probably makes sense to reduce the state role in its celebrations (for example, by moving many official ceremonies to September 17, Australian Citizenship Day) and to refocus Australia Day around local and personal observances.

To strengthen its democracy, Australia should put an end to the official promotion of multiculturalism. Australia has a greater proportion of foreign-born citizens than any other country in the developed world. Whatever the merits of Australia’s mass-immigration program and whether or not it continues, Australia faces the challenge of integrating immigrants on an unprecedented scale. Assimilation and multiculturalism are two fundamentally opposed approaches to integration. Assimilation aims at the forging of a single, shared civic community, while multiculturalism assumes movement towards a multinational state. Democracy depends on assimilation. Australia should, of course, allow its citizens to embrace whatever cultures they choose, but it should not question the unity of its own civic community by officially promoting the idea that immigrants are expected to exempt themselves from it.

Similarly, it would be dangerous for Australia to enshrine an “indigenous voice” in its Constitution. To do so would be to promote the formation of a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nationhood as a separate civic community under the Australian state. Where indigenous Australians do live in distinct ethnic communities, native-title mechanisms give them a voice in the management of their own affairs. But there is no separate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community spanning the whole of society. Certainly, the ancestors of people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent suffered grave misfortunes, and it is conceivable that the Australian state would decide to make some form of redress. Nonetheless, to encourage the development of a new ethnic state-within-a-state would be detrimental to Australia’s democracy.

Australia’s identity as Australia, and as a democracy, is closely bound up with its (English) institutional origins. This does not make Australians English. But it does mean, strange though it may sound, that Australia’s civic community is more purely defined by English institutions than is England’s itself. In England, there are strong (though declining) elements of nation/ethnicity in the civic community, but in Australia these elements are almost completely lacking. The crimson thread of kinship, if it ever existed, has long since been cut. Australia is now tied together by a dense weave of institutions, some tracing back a millennium or more, but most of them spun in the last century by Australians themselves. This state-centred civic community supports a robust and vibrant democracy. The most important thing that Australia’s politicians can do to strengthen that democracy is to have faith in it, and by doing so, to inspire their fellow citizens to do the same.

Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney and the author of The New Authoritarianism: Trump, Populism, and the Tyranny of Experts. This article is based on his submission to the Australian Parliament, Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry into Nationhood, National Identity and Democracy.

 

14 comments
  • Ted

    “Whether or not it would strengthen Australia’s democracy to promote a greater sense of shared nationhood among its people, it seems certain that Australia’s civic community will never again be centred primarily on the idea of Australia as nation. Nevertheless, Australia is so far from being a nation in the classic sense of the word that there seems nothing to fear from the increasing prominence of national symbols in Australian civic life. Although nation-building is unlikely to prove successful in Australia (even in the event that it was deemed to be desirable), nation-building efforts would almost certainly be benign in their effect, both for Australia and for its neighbours.”

    In other words, Australia as we knew it – an actual nation with an ethnocultural core and a distinct character – is dead. We are now left with just a bunch of disparate people who happen to be in proximity with each other. Visit Sydney, Melbourne or Perth to see our future – multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-lingual entrepôts with no real local character and containing no real Australians. Decades of mass non-Western immigration has unmade Australia and turned into a Tower of Babble. How utterly depressing.

  • Ted

    *Babel

  • Ted

    It is remarkable how quickly Australia is being transformed demographically. The diversification and internationalisation of Australia’s population through ongoing mass immigration does indeed raise questions as to whether anything approximating a sense of nationhood can survive. Consider:

    “Over the last eleven years Australia’s population growth, largely driven by immigration, has been running at record levels. For the 34 years from June 1972 to June 2006 growth averaged 210,200 per year; from June 2007 to June 2018 the annual average was 378,400.

    In the earlier period net overseas migration (NOM) accounted for 42% of the increase, while in the recent period it has accounted for 59%. By 2017-18 the population was growing by 393,500 per year, with 67% due to NOM.

    As the population has grown it has become more culturally diverse. At the 1976 census there were 10.8 million people living in Australia and 80% were Australian-born. Most of the rest (17%) had been born in the UK, Europe or New Zealand. In 2017 the total was 24.6 million with 71% Australian-born, 12% born in the UK, Europe or New Zealand, 14% in the Middle East, North Africa or Asia, and 3% in Other Africa or the Americas.”

    Source: http://tapri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Tapri-survey-2018-final-report-April.pdf

    Furthermore:

    “”You have to pinch yourself. In 2006 our population was under 20 million, and now it’s over 25 million. I can’t think of a developed Western country that’s experienced a change of that magnitude,” says Andrew Markus, a professor at Monash University who tracks social cohesion.

    “The Chinese-born population of Australia grew by half to 650,000 in the five years to last year (more than eight times faster than the overall population), and by 2023 is on track to exceed Eng­lish-born. The Indian-born population grew even faster to 590,000, overtaking the number of New Zealanders, traditionally the second biggest stock of ­foreign-born residents after the Brits.”

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/2010s-end-of-a-turbulent-decade/news-story/5326dbe99c1122afce0e4a1ff289ec55

  • Ted

    The diversification and internationalisation of Australia’s population through ongoing mass immigration does indeed raise questions as to whether anything approximating a sense of nationhood can survive. Consider:

    “Over the last eleven years Australia’s population growth, largely driven by immigration, has been running at record levels. For the 34 years from June 1972 to June 2006 growth averaged 210,200 per year; from June 2007 to June 2018 the annual average was 378,400.

    In the earlier period net overseas migration (NOM) accounted for 42% of the increase, while in the recent period it has accounted for 59%. By 2017-18 the population was growing by 393,500 per year, with 67% due to NOM.

    As the population has grown it has become more culturally diverse. At the 1976 census there were 10.8 million people living in Australia and 80% were Australian-born. Most of the rest (17%) had been born in the UK, Europe or New Zealand. In 2017 the total was 24.6 million with 71% Australian-born, 12% born in the UK, Europe or New Zealand, 14% in the Middle East, North Africa or Asia, and 3% in Other Africa or the Americas.”

    Source: http://tapri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Tapri-survey-2018-final-report-April.pdf

    Furthermore:

    “”You have to pinch yourself. In 2006 our population was under 20 million, and now it’s over 25 million. I can’t think of a developed Western country that’s experienced a change of that magnitude,” says Andrew Markus, a professor at Monash University who tracks social cohesion.

    “The Chinese-born population of Australia grew by half to 650,000 in the five years to last year (more than eight times faster than the overall population), and by 2023 is on track to exceed Eng­lish-born. The Indian-born population grew even faster to 590,000, overtaking the number of New Zealanders, traditionally the second biggest stock of ­foreign-born residents after the Brits.”

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/2010s-end-of-a-turbulent-decade/news-story/5326dbe99c1122afce0e4a1ff289ec55

  • T B LYNCH

    Abbott understood all this.
    That’s why he voted against Work Choices in cabinet.

  • Stephen Due

    Ted. I enjoyed your comments and appreciate the effort required to put the figures together and present your case. Not so the article itself, unfortunately, as it seemed to be leading nowhere. I agree with your diagnosis. I would add that what we are seeing are the dire consequences of multiculturalism. Hence the value of the much-maligned White Australia policy, which always seemed like a good idea to me.

  • Ian MacDougall

    SD: The White Australia Policy is gone, because it was founded on a myth and wishful thinking. How and on what basis would you run ‘racial’ tests for immigration? Whiteness of skin (excluding suntans of course.)? No negroid appearance? Facial features perhaps (no mongoloid eyes?)
    The major identifiable racial groups of humankind are by the most-used scheme Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid and Australoid. But there has been much sub-grouping, interbreeding and intermarriage. eg Burmese, Cambodians, Vietnamese etc are physically distinct, in the main.
    According to 19th C anthropologists Australia pre-1788 had three distinct races of Aborigines: Tasmanians, Murrayans and Carpentarians,.The describable distinction indicated that there had not been much interbreeding to produce one common racial line of them.
    Blues Point in Sydney is named after the colony’s original, popular and well-known (black) ferryman, who went by the name of Billy Blue. The gold rushes brought in prospectors and fortune-hunters from much of the wider Earth, mentioned in much early folk-music. Chinese and American miners, Afghan (actually Pakistani) cameleers, Scottish farmers, Irish publicans… you name it. And all living by their wits and making up a whole new culture as they went along. It is actually all there in the words of Waltzing Matilda. Swagman, billabong, coolabah, jumbuck….
    And as Henry Lawson put it: “They call no biped ‘Lord’ or ‘Sir’, / And touch their hat to no man.”

  • Stephen Due

    Ian McD. According to Wikipedia (“White Australia Policy”) the objective was to restrict immigrants to people who were British or European. The focus was not overtly on race but on maintaining a society that was predominantly British in origin and homogeneously Western in culture. In practice it worked to exclude Asians (among others). The policy was and continues to be described as “racist”. However there was no particular moral obligation on the Australian government (in my view) to invite immigrants on any basis except what was considered best for the country.
    The manifest problems of ideological multiculturalism, not only here but also in the UK and Europe, seem to justify the policy in retrospect. No tangible benefit (again in my view) has been gained.
    It is always possible, after all, that the intelligent and far-sighted people who sought to protect Australia’s Western cultural identity actually knew what they were doing. I suspect they would regard our current immigration policy as pure folly.

  • Salome

    I prefer ‘integration’ to ‘assimilation’. The latter might happen over time, but it is too much to expect of people who have just arrived. I wish we’d return to the old rules about citizenship–if you take on Australian citizenship, you do so renouncing any previous citizenships, and if you take on another citizenship, you lose your Australian citizenship. Then it was clear as to where loyalties lay.

  • Doubting Thomas

    In 1958, I worked briefly for the Immigration Department in Sydney when the WAP was still in force. I worked in the registry where there were four alphabetical sections and a fifth labelled Asian and Shipping. Although I created and maintained an alphabetical index card for, say, Louis Armstrong who visited Australia about then, his actual file was controlled by the Asian and Shipping clerk, as were those of all other non-whites. As it was obviously not possible to distinguish the racial origin of most people by their names, if we received correspondence from or about someone whose alphabetical card was marked to refer to A & S that’s where the matter went.
    At this distance in time I still cannot wrap my head around the petty nastiness of the policy, which originated, iirc, in the 19th Century goldfields and was perpetuated by the ALP after Federation.
    It was a shameful policy then, and we will not live it down for many generations yet.
    Those who remember the post-war influx of migrants and refugees well remember the racism that was far too prevalent back then. But most realise that it takes no more than two generations for the grandchildren of immigrants to become fair dinkum Aussies, and for us to wonder what all the fuss was about.

  • Ian MacDougall

    Stephen,
    I agree with you about Europe’s immigration problems, and incline to ask why Australia should open its doors; never mind its borders. Our continental population density is small, but if you focus on the arable regions and leave out the vastness of the dry interior, it is comparable to the US, Canada and NZ.
    (The Greens vote has settled at around 10%, limited IMHO by their crazy open doors policy to people identifying as refugees and who try to jump the immigration queue.)
    You say “It is always possible, after all, that the intelligent and far-sighted people who sought to protect Australia’s Western cultural identity actually knew what they were doing. I suspect they would regard our current immigration policy as pure folly.”
    I think that would probably still be the case were it not for the fact that though our domestic needs are largely satisfied by Australian-produced goods, except for automobiles and electronics, we have to sell to countries like China, Indonesia and Japan, who might raise a question or two about immigration policy before signing up to the latest trade deal. Such issues IMHO for example lay behind the appalling IMHO Whitlam-Fraser-Hawke-Keating appeasement of Indonesia over East Timor.
    Buddhism IMHO is a religion far superior to Islam, yet Buddhists are predominantly Mongoloids ethnically while Muslims are mainly Caucasoid (Arabs; Pakistanis; Iranians), Africans and Malays.
    And the ‘no-go’ ghettoes of Europe are all Islamic. See https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/15629/france-crackdown-political-islam

  • Doubting Thomas

    Ian Mac, I think the “appeasement” of Indonesia was simply a matter of us having no realistic alternative, at least at that time.

  • Farnswort

    “I think that would probably still be the case were it not for the fact that though our domestic needs are largely satisfied by Australian-produced goods, except for automobiles and electronics, we have to sell to countries like China, Indonesia and Japan, who might raise a question or two about immigration policy before signing up to the latest trade deal.”
    I don’t think such countries have any right to lecture Australia on immigration. Indonesia, China and Japan have highly restrictive immigration policies and rarely grant citizenship to people with no ethnic links to their countries. The typical Australian of European descent has faint chance of ever becoming a Chinese, Indonesian or Japan citizen, if they so wished. As Geoffrey Blainey observed, Australia’s immigration policy is largely “based on an appeal to international precepts that our neighbours sensibly refuse to practice.”

  • lhackett01

    The idea that Aborigines have much to offer Australia, its Constitution and National identity is absurd. Aboriginal culture has virtually nothing to offer that would benefit Australia, the Australian Constitution, or Australians generally.
    It is long past time when we should be honest about Aboriginal culture before we go any farther down the path towards a Voice and Aboriginal sovereignty. The many Aboriginal cultures essentially remained unchanged throughout the past 60,000 or so years of their time in Australia. They made none of the advances of most other human groups throughout the world during the same period. Aborigines did not build large stone monuments, did not farm animals and did not cultivate the soil for crops, notwithstanding the embellishments and misinterpretation of Bruce Pascoe in his book “Dark Emu”. Aborigines never developed an “iron age”, “bronze age”, pottery or the wheel.
    Traditional Aboriginal culture in many groups included infanticide, cannibalism, and the sexual exploitation of women. Violence was endemic; read William Buckley’s journals. Violence remains endemic in many Aboriginal groups; read Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, an Aboriginal woman, the daughter of Warlpiri woman and politician Bess Price.
    The British claimed Australia under the international conventions prevailing at the time. The claim was legally valid. Activist judges after Mabo, and recently, have chosen to apply ‘progressive’ ideas to overturn the law as it was at the time of British settlement and to make judgements that discriminate, nonsensically, in favour of Aborigines, like the recent judgement that an Aborigine cannot be deemed an alien under the terms of our Constitution even if born overseas and a citizen of another country.

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