Books

Statement from the Mind?

The fundamental paradox of indigenous sovereignty is the challenge of creating a state-within-a-state. In this short book, political philosopher Duncan Ivison searches for a solution. An Anglophone Quebec native who teaches at the University of Sydney, where he is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Ivison brings a welcome comparative perspective to Australia’s indigenous debates. He is especially concerned to explore how liberal states like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States should react to demands for indigenous sovereignty and self-government; he does not consider the more repressive environments for indigenous peoples found in parts of the world like Central America and South-East Asia.

Ivison opens with a sympathetic consideration of the 2017 Uluru Statement that makes clear his book is more concerned with begging the question of the title than with answering it. Although Ivison recognises that the key demand of the Uluru Statement for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution” would create group rights that challenge the system of individual rights that lies at the core of liberalism, he is more interested in justifying that challenge than questioning it. A professional philosopher, he bases his arguments on the philosophy of John Rawls. But like Ivison in this volume, Rawls was really more concerned with what non-academics would understand as justice, not liberalism. The rough and ready equation of liberalism with justice leads Ivison into logical dead ends that can only be solved by a presupposed consensus on the desired outcome.

This review appears in June’s Quadrant.
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For example, Ivison stresses that “an Indigenous people is not a racial entity, but a political one: they are a polity”. He argues that this gives indigenous Australians “a collective and corporate right to self-determination” that is not possessed by other interest groups in Australia’s liberal society. He explicitly rejects the notion that indigenous rights can be granted or governed by the (liberal) colonial state, tracing them instead to indigenous specificity and the basic human rights due to indigenous peoples as peoples. Yet he wholeheartedly embraces the solution (in Australia) of a constitutionally-enshrined indigenous Voice to Parliament, which would advise on parliamentary legislation that it deems relevant to Australia’s indigenous peoples.

It should be obvious to any educated reader (never mind an accomplished political philosopher) that an indigenous Voice to Parliament only makes sense if indigenous Australians qua indigenous Australians accede to political membership in the colonial state and its institutions. It implies that individuals of indigenous descent are legally and spiritually citizens only of Australia, not dual citizens of Australia and indigenous polities. The indigenous Voice would be a creature of the Australian Constitution, its members presumably salaried by the Australian taxpayer. It could only come into existence on the basis of a referendum of the Australian population. It would be an Australian special-purpose constituency, not the sovereign instrument of a pre-existing indigenous polity. And it would—by Australian law—represent all Australian indigenous people or peoples to the Australian government, whether or not they wanted to be so represented.

The authors of the Uluru Statement claimed that the many “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations” (plural) of Australia. Indigenous peoples (plural) may be (or have been) polities, but the collective composed of all of Australia’s individuals of indigenous descent was never historically a polity. Under the influence of a national indigenous intelligentsia, it may be emerging as a polity today, but if so, then it is a polity that lacks a historical sovereignty that “has never been ceded or extinguished” (to use the language of the Uluru Statement). But indigenous intellectuals and political theorists can’t have it both ways: either the many indigenous peoples of Australia have inherited the unextinguished historical rights of continuously existing pre-colonial nations, or the individual Australians of indigenous descent form a unified racial minority group possessing race-based claims to historical justice.

There are thus two striking elisions in Ivison’s arguments—which, to be fair, merely reflect the elisions found in most politically-correct discourses regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights. First, the Voice demand implicitly accepts the legitimacy of the liberal colonial state to adjudicate on indigenous affairs. Political correctness forces Ivison to reject the legitimacy of the colonial state, but his argument that the Northern Territory Intervention could have been legitimated by the assent of an indigenous Voice accepts that the colonial state can legislate for individuals of indigenous descent. Second, indigenous sovereignty claims only make sense within the context of (plural) indigenous nations. Yet the Voice demand homogenises all Australians of indigenous descent into a single indigenous constituency.

Ivison laments the fact that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. He might have noted who voted for it: for example, states like Guatemala and Myanmar that have horrific records of indigenous repression. While Ivison and the Uluru Statement focus on indigenous incarceration, the exceptional characteristic of indigeneity in the liberal Anglosphere is the non-indigenous majority’s genuine desire for social inclusion. Sovereign indigenous states might choose not to incarcerate people for murder, rape, child abuse or domestic violence, but inclusion in the wider liberal polity implies an acceptance of its laws. In the abstract, it sounds absurd to talk of incarceration as a form of social inclusion. In practice, it means the ability of individuals of indigenous descent to call upon the protection of the colonial state, and receive it—even if called in against members of their own indigenous communities.

The colonial settlement of Australia was an often violent, profoundly illiberal process through which many people were dispossessed of their land and livelihood by an ostensibly liberal state. Over a slow historical evolution, the descendants of people who were external to the liberal colonial polity came to be included within it. Their liberal rights and freedoms are derived from the colonial polity itself, not from the profoundly illiberal polities of their ancestors. The avoidance of that uncomfortable reality pervades nearly all academic writing on indigenous rights. This book is no exception to that general rule. Can Liberal States Accommodate Indigenous Peoples? is provocative, engaging and commendably readable. It does not, however, confront head-on the truly difficult question posed in its title.

Can Liberal States Accommodate Indigenous Peoples?
by Duncan Ivison

Polity Press, 2020, 130 pages, $20.95

Salvatore Babones is the Philistine

15 comments
  • Harry Lee

    Yes, well. Let us go back to basics -basics often neglected by academics who know nothing and care nothing for the actual sources of the essentials for human flourishing.
    Among Aboriginal groups, obvious here in Australia, we note the high propensity to violence and the low incidence of capacity to learn from experience about how to deal with actual reality. And high violence and low capacity to learn to deal with evolving reality are the key factors that explain Aboriginal misery.
    That relatively few Aborigines can deal with the actual reality they face is explained by the key principles of evolutionary biology and evolutionary anthropology, namely:
    Over the many millennia, in response to environmental challenges, and the conditions of mind of dominant members of Aboriginal groups, the mental and emotional abilities required to deal with evolving challenges and incursions from external forces were not developed and/or were exterminated among non-dominant Aborigines.
    Since the British take-over, Aborigines have been offered all the help and resources that can possibly be offered to get up to date with reality and how to deal with it. But selective breeding over tens of thousands of years has ensured that very few Aborigines have the underlying capacities to take up the offer. And whites, of the marxist-inspired scum and naive idealist varieties, have blocked Aborigines from learning what they must learn if they and their descendants are to have opportunities to live flourishing lives.
    This is the truth of the matter. But today, no academic career is feasible if this truth is pursued.
    And politicians of all parties, very esp the ALP and Greens, and the commissars who control the universities and school systems, and many powerful members of the legal system, all act to suppress this truth, and therefore condemn Aborigines to continued misery.

  • lbloveday

    OFF TOPIC, but I can’t know whether Tony Grey’s article “China’s Threats to Taiwan and the World” in the July-August magazine will appear here.
    .
    I recommend it to anyone who gave even a smidgen of credence to Harry Lee’s claims of 7/4/2021:
    .
    “China could not even successfully invade Taiwan.
    Not that China would even try to invade Taiwan -it has no incentive to do so”.
    .
    A snippet from TG’s excellent article:
    .
    “It appears that Xi’s top priority is the reincorporation of Taiwan into China, certainly before the centenary in 2049 of the CCP’s control of China. Admiral Davidson, the Chief of the US Indo Pacific Command, recently warned that an invasion could occur in the next six years. Xi’s hope has history to support it”.
    .

  • STD

    lbloveday, not sure on that score. Only certainty is that Xi being a Marxist, makes his word and especially the spoken word untrustworthy, just like Muslim’s , these people have an agenda and ideology which is driven by power.
    Spoke to a Chinese guy at work about the Taiwan issue some time back , he reckons that Taiwan isn’t worth invading, from a Chinese perspective- keep in mind Chinese culture is intimately tied to money making and saving face. Not sure, but they are certainly not to be trusted.

  • Harry Lee

    lbloveday: What people say in public is no necessary guide to what they do to protect and extend their interests, and the interests of the institutions in which they serve.
    This is true of top military officers and politicians, and even media people, academics and public servants.
    Meanwhile, proper grounding in the nature of military power and how it can be projected in the context of wider matters of economics and geography, raw resources, manufacturing capabilities, energy supplies, supply infrastructure, and how to feed and therefore control the populace, and similar factors pertaining to potential enemies, is a necessary first step in having opinions about such things.
    And then there is the challenge of releasing oneself from beliefs that have no basis in reality.

  • Harry Lee

    lbloveday: China is indeed a huge threat to our sovereignty. The threat resides in the infiltration by CCP agents of all our institutions. The idiotic/suicidal import of millions of Chinese as “students” is accelerating this infiltration.

  • lbloveday

    STD,
    I don’t know either; I don’t claim to be prescient or infallible, but read and quoted others more au fait with the situation than I and recommended reading the supporting information in the article.
    .
    Contrast Tony Grey’s prudent use of “it appears” and Admiral Davidson’s of “could occur” with Harry Lee’s unsupported categorical assertions.

  • Harry Lee

    They say that the ignorant shall the Earth. But they have always owned it. Obviously.

  • STD

    The second rung on the ladder Harry ,your 100% right, keep in mind that the start of that infiltration commenced when Robert ‘HAWKE’ allowed all those Chinese Students to stay after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
    Not sure if the Communist party of China kicked up a stink or not, I know Labor wanted these people , that’s a given.
    2). It was the communist party of Australia headed by E,G Whitlam -THE WORKERS PARADISE PARTY- THE LABOR PARTY , whose efforts at giving China recognition in order for the West to access cheap industrial labour ,that basically empowered the other communist party in China. This was aided and abetted by the industrial arm of Communist Labor, the unions, who had intentionally basically priced Australia out of the labour market ,this provided incentive and attraction to Western economies and companies for Chinese labour.
    Let me think!
    I remember a picture of Richard Nixon with Chairman Deng Xiaoping sporting a “brimming smile”- WE WANT WHAT YOU HAVE- IN OTHER WORDS ECONOMIC MIGHT IS WHERE THE REAL POWER IS ,and we would like that.
    The funny thing with Marxists is they profess to see the unseen, UTOPIA, yet they couldn’t see their own stupidity right under their very own capitalist noses. It took them the best part of 40 years to grasp a mere inkling of the free nature of genuine human ingenuity.
    Be careful make no mistake, I was chatting with a Hong Kong Chinese guy at work, remarked that I thought the Chinese were smart, his reply,” Chinese are really smart”!

  • STD

    Communism with Chinese characteristics- keep turning right while looking left- Communism with a fascist view/outlook!

  • lbloveday

    STD,
    You cite one “Chinese guy at work”. I saw one Chinese guy recently interviewed in Australia who said COVID did not originate in China, but in the USA.
    .
    I cannot know what will happen, indeed no-one can, and I make no pretence of knowing, but I take far more notice of the opinion of Tony Grey and particularly that of Admiral Davidson, based as it is on far greater sources of information than are available to us, than that of Harry Lee’s evidence-unsupported assertions.

  • NFriar

    @Salvatore Babones great article.

    @Harry Lee – great summary of the current situation and how we got here.

  • STD

    lbloveday.
    Re: Harry Lee’s comment: “China could not even successfully invade Taiwan. Not that China would even try to invade Taiwan – it has no incentive to do so”.
    Firstly you have the comment by Admiral Davidson , as you alluded too.
    If China invades Taiwan they will have to deal with American foresight, expectation , planning and resolve- in summary China will have an American problem.
    On another level , Harry’s comment was both interesting and well thought out. He could well be right.
    Taiwan has a couple of things going for it.
    1) it is not part of China – therefore invasion lacks legitimacy – it would be a US led UN problem – with economic and political consequences.
    2)apart from the indigenous element ,their also of Chinese origin.
    3)Taiwan has vast business interests in mainland China- I think the saying goes that countries with mutual interests find it hard not to live with each other. Similar to the detente within marriage.
    4)Taiwan has six nuclear reactors – and has enriched and enriching capability. And it stores its own radioactive nuclear waste, some 18000 tons.
    As Confucius would say , “Chinese invasion would not be desirable or even a wise move “. So to that end Harry Lee is probably right, on paper the Chinese can have their cake, but in reality they cannot eat it .
    Therefore as Harry opined .”China could not even successfully invade Taiwan.Not that China would even try to invade Taiwan- it has no incentive to do so”.
    China has a political problem with the US, this is the crux of the Taiwanese ,Chinese problem- in matters of political alignment trust is king.

  • Harry Lee

    STD, you make strong and valid points. I add these:
    China needs the rest of the world to flourish, much more than the rest of the world needs China to exist. This truth can be seen in what China must import from the rest of the world, and must export to earn cash, to continue to exist as a functioning state. And in how easily the rest of the world, starting with the navies of the USA, India and Japan, with a bit of help on the side from the RAN, and the navies of SK, Singapore and Vietnam, could choke off the great bulk of China’s essential imports and exports in a trice.
    And to make the point again: To survive China needs the rest of the world, esp North America and Europe, to continue to grow their economies and the purchasing powers of their peoples.
    All public utterances re China’s incentive to start a shooting war over Taiwan, or any other matter, are in the categories of Determined Ignorance of Actual Reality or Must Say Things To Maintain Western Military Deterrence Against China’s Elites Making A Big Mistake.

  • john.singer

    If they were First Nations (Plural) then they were conquered ( see massacres maps) and therefore each Nation’s Sovereignty (if it existed) was lost by Conquest. Also the First People of Australia (indigenous) were resident in one of the 6 British Colonies at 1 January 1901 and now the only non-indigenous Australians are descended from people (and including the people) who migrated here after that date and took out Citizenship.
    All is probably now irrelevant because on the 13 March 2020 the Prime Minister created the National Cabinet and the Members have been effectively defederating Australia ever since.

  • lbloveday

    STD,
    .
    “He could well be right”.
    .
    I’ve not said he could not, nor that I have formed an opinion by analysing the situation to any great depth from data, but I have read the opinions/analyses of people who have.
    .
    But to reiterate, I contrasted Tony Grey’s prudent use of “it appears” and Admiral Davidson’s of “could occur” with Harry Lee’s categorical assertions – in the few comments of his I’ve read he invariably couched opinion as fact.
    .
    His assertion as fact about what China will do and will not do in relation to Taiwan displays an arrogance, a presumption of omniscience, I’ve not encountered in my other reading.

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