Recently my father, an old Rhodesian, remarked that the annual Australia Day fiasco reminded him of Pioneers’ Day in that country. Every year on September the twelfth, the Union Jack was raised in Salisbury, to honour the arrival of Cecil Rhodes and his column in 1890, those who had “won first prize in the lottery of life” and in a more corporeal sense, had recently won the wars in Matabeleland.
By the early 1960s, the mood was shifting. People of more liberal inclination were uncomfortable with the expression of unreserved patriotic sentiment, while on the other side of the political fence there was a growing antipathy towards British policy in southern Africa. But Rhodesia was a latter-day Sparta, and the numbers argument was the only argument that needed to be made. There was white rule, or there was black rule, and nowhere in the middle could the difference be happily split, at least not along the time scale the reformers wanted. The wise knew that an industrial society could not be handed over to a people recently uplifted from the iron age, and that, if the tribesman could assess good personal qualities in an individual, he was not equipped to make the same judgments about society writ large. But the experimenters on the other side of the Atlantic, drunk with Enlightenment universalism despite their own segregated society, were enthusiastic for a different kind of 1776. We all know how that experiment went, and the mirth that accompanied it. Persona non grata, the old Rhodesians became a byword for the sins of racism, of colonialism, of white supremacy, and all the rest: a stateless, disappearing people.
The rightness or wrongness of the Rhodesian cause can be hotly contested, certainly. But an age that worships egalitarianism could conclude matters only one way. After Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, the country staggered through war, terrorism and sanctions until capitulation in 1980. More states now recognise the Republic of South Ossetia, which nobody has heard of, than ever recognised Rhodesia. Zimbabwe was born in its stead, and we know how that turned out; but just as nobody wanted to recognise Rhodesia, few want to recognise that unrestrained utopian egalitarianism has limits.
This essay appeared in a recent Quadrant.
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To first the Shona and Matabele, vae victus; to the Rhodesians in turn, vae victus. We postmoderns, who believe we have ascended beyond the thoughts of Thucydides and Hobbes and the Gallic chief Brennus, must remember that behind the velvet glove is the iron fist. Lidia Thorpe, speaking in Melbourne on Australia Day, was honest when she said she wanted real power, and by now it is clear that inches will never suffice for those who desire miles. Every concession only leads to the next one, and it begins to feel like a zero-sum game.
There are vast differences between the Rhodesia of the 1960s and 1970s and the Australia of the 2020s: differences in geography, constitution, the spirit of the times, and most of all in demographics. Yet it increasingly seems the Rhodesians were merely the first cab off the rank. Unlike the Rhodesians, a demographically robust society—particularly a materially and militarily powerful society—must be transformed inwardly before it can be defeated. The numbers here are not the same, but the indigenous issue merely forms the thin edge of the wedge, a wedge more Camp of the Saints than Blackhawk Down. All of it serves to break apart, piece by piece, the legitimacy of the European roots of our country; the legitimacy of Europeans in our country at all. Two per cent of the population are vanishingly unlikely to ever run the show. But there are many others who stand to gain from the deracination of the country, which once we thought a noble venture into Enlightenment virtue. Race is back, if it ever went away in the first place, and historic Australia is on the wrong side of the argument. Not that the historic Australian nation particularly wants to have the argument—self-flagellation and a belief in the primacy of the individual over any collective suffices instead. But individualism is a game that everybody else must play for it to work, and we’ve bet the house that this game is more attractive than the varied forms of collectivism that, for most of human history, have held sway. If the British Empire was acquired in a fit of absence of mind, Australia might be given away in a fit of self-loathing.
Pick up any journal article on the subject from any university. If you can get through the langue de bois and the scholastic lexicon you will find the same themes that have trickled downward into the popular media, the school system, the press: white privilege and whiteness, and how to deconstruct them. I am astonished, but less and less so, by the enthusiasm with which many Australians greet their own impending deconstruction. I suppose nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history, and history for the past two centuries has swung decidedly in one direction. Yet I suspect that if we continue to deconstruct whiteness at the intellectual level, eventually we’ll do it at the physical level, too. Human beings seem to enjoy that sort of thing rather a lot, especially in the name of progress.
And all progress is destruction for these people—the left-leaning historic Australian who wishes, above everything, for the amour propre of the good global citizen—and so addicted are they to the cult of progress that their own destruction seems a small price to pay. If they wish to immolate themselves, I’d be a lot happier about it if they’d do it a distance from me. And preferably not set my home alight with them. I only have one home, and in one’s home one is supposed to be privileged. It’s small comfort that this collective suicidality is likely hubristic in character. Nobody believes—really, truly believes—the things they hear or repeat. Unfortunately, the habit of uttering easy untruths has become customary.
The conversation, in real terms, remains academic at this point, and will likely remain so for the Baby Boomers. For the younger generations, the question will be existential in coming decades. Talk about the demographic decline of white Australians tends to be couched in self-congratulatory sentiment about how wonderfully diverse our country is becoming, hell being truth realised too late. I often ask my bien pensant friends with young children if they will be happy for their offspring to grow into adulthood a despised minority in the country of their birth. To many the thought has never occurred. Everybody, they seem to have concluded, will act out the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Maybe, if we can keep the bread and circuses in full swing, and we settle for a national life with an ill-defined national character, and bend the knee forever to familiar sentiments that are obviously untrue and deleterious to the human spirit, and ignore the degeneration of our civic square. I am less sanguine on the subject, judging by present trends, and confident I can make arguments about exactly which side history is on a little more persuasively than they can.
And none of this, I hope you understand, is an argument against those of another ethnos. Some Rhodesians, no doubt, had malice in their hearts, as some Australians do today, man being what he is. No, this is an argument against a progressive ratchet that never ceases to make demands, that insists on removing the traditional foundation of a nation. Our own reformers will never be satisfied, as permanent revolution is the best means by which they can get their way, and if there is a great deal of malice in a nation, that is where you will find it today. If Australians acquiesced to this project, and caused it to gain such a foothold, it is because too many were afraid to say what they suspect to be true, and we have been boiled like the proverbial frog. Many more equate decency with refusing to face hard truths, and who does not want to seem decent? Our cardinal sin is not racism but cowardice. We would prefer to sacrifice the Australia we knew than risk being called a racist, and nobody is more guilty of this than conservative politicians. Where is the man with the thumos to shout, “Enough! Australia Day remains!” He would be a hero to the cowed everyman and a villain to the ABC. What better accolade than that?
At a micro-level, human friendship can transcend difference, and be better for it. At a macro-level, the opposite appears to be true, unless you annihilate all difference, the ties of family (or families at all), and create something devoid of historical character. This might be beyond the scope of the utopians, though they are trying their damnedest to do it. All the differences that once existed between nations will exist within them instead. Indigenous Australia has territorial claims to parts of the country; new migrants do not, and so their claims must be political, economic, cultural, social and moral in character. The future is likely best-case Brazil, worst-case Zimbabwe. The Zimbabweans who took the country wanted a home they could call their own; settler Australians have no less a right, and rights are in the end only enshrined by power. This is the lesson of Zimbabwe, to speak nothing of consequences to human life.
Our own Bush War will be—has been—decades long. It will not involve Marxist guerrillas in the bush with AK47s, crossing into Mozambique and back with impunity. Instead, it will constitute empowered activists spouting the invective we no longer find alarming, assisted by legions of cosmopolitans with plunder on their mind, permitted by a morally exhausted majority that submit so the shouting will stop. But the shouting will never stop. There will be no sudden takeover of government, a signing over of the accounts, but a slow transformation of our institutions, our language, our customs, and our national spirit, one that is already well under way. We will awake one day and not recognise the country, our neighbours, our laws, our society: vae victus to Australia. And, unlike the Rhodesians, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.