Sir: The article “The Relentless Rise of the Authoritarian State” by Jonathan Sumption (December 2022) is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, and he is not alone in his unease about what appears to be a profound change in the public mood and in our political culture. He laments what he sees as our increasing abrogation of our freedom as responsible individuals in exchange for a perceived insurance by the state against the vicissitudes of life, and he illustrates this by the handling of the Covid pandemic.
However, as justified as his concerns are, I believe he has put the cart before the horse. The ratio of the importance of the individual to that of society has decreased since the first glimmer of co-operation between individuals for mutual benefit, and the complexity of society has increased as a result of closer interaction, technological development and greater division of labour. The management of this complex system has necessitated a correspondingly capable organisation that, in our Western democracies, is supposed to realise the will of the people and to which we have delegated authority to do so.
So, it is not the increasing authority of the state per se that is the problem, it is that, under the influence of neo-conservative ideology, the state is transforming itself from a tool for realising the will of the people into a business with its own identity and purpose. The population is seen as a market to which the state offers its products and services in exchange for votes and political donations, and whose expectations are manipulated to secure the success of the business. There is nothing wrong with society wanting to minimise the risks involved in a pandemic by utilising the best knowledge and technology and authorising the state to do so; what is wrong is for the state to use this authority to primarily minimise the risk to its own existence as a business, as Lord Sumption points out.
Erik W. Aslaksen
A Little Light
Sir: Christopher Akehurst pleads for someone to show why he is not “unjustifiably gloomy” in predicting “No Signs of Light in the West” (January-February 2023). He laments the failure of Middle Australia to resist the escalating idiocies of wokedom.
In the same issue Salvatore Babones provides an inadvertent ray of sunshine when he describes the desperate living conditions for common people in Europe as the Enlightenment emerged. He reminds us that economic dynamism has been an incidental consequence of liberal democracy, not a primary objective.
The distinction is crucial for those who share Akehurst’s concerns. An overwhelming majority of Australians born since the 1960s associate our Western legacy with a runaway economic system that is addicted to endless growth. A fear of looming environmental collapse dominates their thinking. They associate the Western tradition with material greed, a guilt by association that reinforces postmodernism’s embrace of identity. Who wants to defend those male, pale and stale vandals who have despoiled the earth? Who brought greed and violence to a continent that had previously known only gentle harmony?
It is of course the role of our captains of industry and government to argue that human ingenuity will find solutions to environmental challenges while maintaining economic growth. At present they are engrossed in displaying whichever virtue signals may persuade the Green crocodile to eat them last. Eventually the penny will drop and they will start to earn their expensive keep.
In the meantime we must quietly insist on argument to the point, not to the person. Postmodernism is simply a regression to the suffocating comforts of tribalism, and it spawns an endless succession of shallow ideologies. It must be contrasted with the universalism of liberal democracy. Small ideas against big, Kalangadoo versus Geelong. No contest.
Christopher Akehurst may begin to smile again.
Sir: Christopher Akehurst (January-February 2023) alludes to the pejorative meaning of “elite” in the education arena, and the focus on “equality of outcome”. I agree wholeheartedly. I said exactly the same thing thirty-two years ago. But nobody listens. Over time despair overcomes hope.
I said in an address to Griffith University alumni in October 1991, when I was Professor of Leadership and Dean of the School of Business at Bond University, and also Federal President of the Australian Liberal Party:
“The future of this country is going to depend very heavily on the education of our youth, on the training of our workforce, on the skill of our professions, on the quality of our scientists. And yet in recent years we have seen a constant barrage of policies and attitudes driving our educational systems in precisely the wrong directions.
“Our much valued more of equality has been bastardised. We see all around us a striving for equality of outcomes. We see a stifling of initiative and a repression of outstanding performance. The anti-elitists’ goal of equality of outcomes is arrant nonsense. It is a perversion of the natural differences that exist between each and every one of us.
“Intellectual anti-elitism is spawned by political paranoia. Our failure to recognise the difference between social elitism and intellectual elitism in Australia has led to some of the most damaging trends in education in recent times.
“In the Oxford Dictionary ‘elite’ is defined as the ‘best’. Competition and diversity should be the foundations on which a virile education system is built.
“What is the alternative? It is the mind-numbing drive towards the uniformity of mediocrity that we see all around us. If we are so concerned about equality, let us concentrate on the equality of opportunity, rather than equality of outcomes. That’s what it should be all about. We should be striving to ensure that our educational systems provide the opportunity for all to start in the race, but they should also provide the opportunity for those who are in front to keep on running when the finish line is reached, and not have to stop to let the others catch up.”
Defending Our Nations
Sir: I would like to congratulate Daryl McCann on his excellent analysis of the fundamental defence and foreign policy position facing Australia today (“Time for Everybody to Wake Up to China”, November 2022).
On drawing comparison to Great Britain in 1940, his criticism of Hugh White’s analysis reminds me of Lord Halifax, Foreign Minister in the Chamberlain government at the time of Dunkirk, who tried to urge a settlement with Hitler. Thank goodness, for liberty and civilisation, King George VI asked Winston Churchill to form a government that saw that settlement with the dictator was not an option but which, with vastly superior naval forces which could rescue a beaten army, a twenty-two-mile-wide moat of seawater, a tiny but highly efficient air force armed with a superior fighter (the Spitfire) and technological superiority (long-range radar), saw that survival was possible.
I see parallels today. The RN’s Astute-class, about to be overtaken by the Dreadnought-class, and the the USN’s Virginia-class SSNs are both apparently far superior to China’s SSNs, and these will be absolutely critical should any conflict arise. We are talking here about the survival of free democratic civilisation, just as Churchill was in May 1940. Accommodation with an absolute authoritarian dictatorship is not an option, but fighting to defend what we believe in may be the only option. That is why AUKUS is critical to our freedom. Such a pity Turnbull got it wrong on submarines.