Beginning in the winter of 1966, Meanjin published a new series of commentaries on the reality of present-day life and living in God’s Own Country.
He looked at me with tearful eyes and said hoarsely: ‘But what about Australia . . . ?’
‘What’s Australia got to do with it?’
‘You mean we let Australia go to blazes?’
‘Look here now, we can’t do everything at once. Australia’s turn will come when there’s another opening. At a higher stage of historical development . . .’
The colonel slid forward on his elbows across the table: ‘Can’t you speed things up a bit, old man? Just a little bit . . .’
‘Speed what up?’
‘Well, this development business. . . Please be a pal, be a good fellow, help Australia on a bit . . .’
He was evidently confusing me with God . . .
ARRAM TERTZ : The Icicle
This is written at sea—both literally and metaphorically. Arriving in Australia with Europe or Asia or America parked like chewing gum at the back of one’s mind one can write freely, even fiercely, of personal impressions of Godzone: how changed this is, how much the same this or that remains, and how odd the other thing is by the standards of somewhere else. Leaving Australia temporarily after three years repatriation is a different cup of tea altogether. As the grey papier mache coastline dwindles on the horizon and the reality shrinks back to the school atlas outline, as one turns one’s back on Australia, recent certainties seem less certain, the old impressionistic impressions less impressive; and re-reading the earlier contributions to this series, as I have been doing by way of limbering up, has left me sceptical of the whole terms of the debate so far.
It is not that I don’t find a measure of agreement with all three of the distinguished contributors. It is on the contrary that the real area of agreement is so great—greater certainly than one might have supposed from Owen Webster’s side swipes at Ian Turner—and that the assumptions common to all three, Allan Ashbolt included, seem to me to demand close examination. For such a scrutiny not only reveals what seem to me the limitations of the ground on which discussion has so far concentrated, but throws up an urgent issue—the attitudes of Australian intellectuals to Australia, and likewise the attitudes of other Australians to them. What I want to suggest is that the ‘predicament’ of intellectuals here is not unique, though they sometimes act as if it is, and that what is needed by them is not only rationality and intransigence and realism, but a different perspective altogether: on the one hand a much franker self-analysis, including a recognition of the inherent predispositions of the intellectual personality, and on the other a transcendence of the hoary nationalistic preoccupations which have permeated the discussion so far.
And perhaps such things are best written at sea, out of range of coastal batteries, with a fresh wind gusting old passions out of the mind and heart, and—for once—one’s back not turned on the rest of the world. For to understand Australia one must look elsewhere.
What was most interesting to me about the first three GODZONE articles was the spectacle of three specimens of the species Australis intellectualis in action.* Not that they represent anything like a cross-section of course: one criticism I have heard of the series is precisely this, that all the contributors so far have been more or less ‘radical’ intellectuals, and the same complaint may well be levelled when I have finished. I am not sure either whether Mr Webster considers himself an Australian or not. It is all the same arguable of Australia, as Lasch argues of America, that modern radicalism can best be understood as a phase of the social history of intellectuals, and that both Dr Turner and Mr Ashbolt are more or less representative of the dominant, or at least most articulate, intellectual tradition in Australia, an indigenous radicalism. It is likewise arguable that Webster is a pretty fair example of another traditional feature of our intellectual life: the radical immigrant intellectual who imports both a stimulatingly new orientation and a rather limited understanding of the tradition he encounters in Australia. Hence his attack on Turner. I agree with Ashbolt that there is probably no basic incompatibility between them, that the real quarrel is over the definition of the word ‘ideology’. If ‘ideology’ means commitment to a certain set of principles as uniquely and unquestionably true, and to a certain course of action as uniquely and unquestionably right, then it certainly involves a betrayal of reason and intellect, la trahison des cleres in fact. If on the contrary it simply means a consistent attempt to apply reason to present and impending political and social problems, in other words to devise sensible policies for the welfare of the community, then I would be surprised if either Turner or Webster would object to ‘ideology’; and this, indeed, if I understand him, is the sense in which Turner was himself using the word. And although I do not accept his historical perspective (the notion that ‘reason’ was ever retreated from and that men could control their own lives to a larger extent in the past than they can in mass industrial society seems to me romantic) Turner’s insistence on the need for the application of reason is surely irrefutable and all-important.
What all three share pre-eminently in common is an alienation from the way of life of ordinary Australians. Ashbolt’s devastating opening indictment of suburban man would, I think, be Amenned whole-heartedly by the others. And if I were endeavouring to sum up the characteristic attitudes of Australian intellectuals (or at any rate the radical intellectuals) I would be inclined to begin with this—their dislike of, or even contempt for, many of the habits and attitudes of most of their countrymen. I am not concerned at the moment to look for an explanation, nor to enquire whether Australian intellectuals are in this respect really very different from their counterparts in other lands, but merely to state that I believe this to be the case.
Another characteristic in common is the belief in the efficacy of intellectual discussion about GODZONE, an almost touching belief some readers may think. This, in the case of Turner and Ashbolt, if not of Webster, manifestly goes with a passionate attachment to Australia. Even Webster, though too anarchistic to say much on the subject, seems attached to it as a country with an ‘uncommitted future’. I have the impression that this attachment is also widely shared among the Australian intelligentsia, or at least those members who have not become permanent expatriates. Such an attachment may seem at first sight almost a contradiction of their alienation, but it is nothing of the sort. Sometimes, it is true, the criticisms made of conventional Australian society are so sweeping and so virulent that one wonders what is left to love, apart from the bush itself. Nevertheless, I am dear in my own mind that even the most destructive critics, perhaps pre-eminently the most destructive critics, have been motivated by a profound love of country and a vision of the good society which, they believe, could still be consummated in the south Pacific. This was clearly the case with Brian Fitzpatrick, for example, and it is probably also the case with many Australian socialists and communists today.
In this connexion nothing irks me more than the conventional rubbishing of Australian communists with the jibe that they are traitors to their country. In a sense the reverse is true. They seem to me to suffer from an excess rather than deficiency of love and concern for their country. A much more apt criticism, and for me a decisive one, is precisely that this emotion has driven them in desperation well beyond the bounds of rationality. The utopianism of many Australian radical intellectuals may be naive but it is also endearing. In so far as their attitudes reflect a considered preference for the principle of a society based on compassion rather than selfishness I find much to admire in it, irrespective of whether it is practical or not, and certainly it is preferable to the narrow acquisitiveness endemic in their compatriots.
But to the extent that attachment to Australia exceeds a consciously subjective affection for homeland and countrymen and reflects a kind of nationalism I demur. Indeed, the preoccupation of so many Australian intellectuals with national interest in some shape or form does them no credit at all. For it is an expression of the persistence of a pernicious form of nineteenth century irrationalism, a hang-over the prevalence of which is another indication of our cultural time-lag. Australian nationalism grew out of the same mould which spawned the chauvinistic nationalism of late nineteenth century Europe. As a product of colonial rule it also belongs to the same movement which has more recently produced the rabid nationalism of Asia and Africa. We are in a good position to appreciate just how nationalism develops in response to imperialism, but this does not alter the fact that nationalism has proved the most aggressive force in modern history. Despite the post-war growth of international organisations its recent recrudescence in countries which have known it longest (France and West Germany for example) gives no cause for hoping that the age of nationalism, even in Europe, is approaching its end.
The view that nationalism is irrational and dangerous, a perversion of the intellect, is one which is widely held by intellectuals abroad. Once one is committed to the idea of the national interest as an ultimate end almost any atrocity can be justified. It is possible to argue, for example, that Australia must blindly follow America into military adventures anywhere and that the maintenance of White Australia is indispensable. (Though I should make it clear that I believe neither course is in fact justifiable even in these terms.) A comparison which stops at national boundaries is a stunted compassion, in fact a form of selfishness; a radicalism which can get steamed up about adjustments in the basic wage and ignores famine and starvation in neighbouring countries is a stunted kind of radicalism, in fact a form of conservatism. Indeed, to make my attitude to nationalism quite clear I subscribe to the dictum of E. M. Forster, namely that I would rather betray my country than a friend, though certainly I hope not to have to do either.
How then are these two characteristics of Australian intellectuals—their alienation and their nationalism—to be explained? And are Australian intellectuals really much different in these respects from those elsewhere?
To answer the first question we must look more closely at the relation between the intellectual and the community he lives in, and assess public attitudes to him. This is not to imply a one-way relationship. It may well be that the way in which he is regarded reflects to some extent the esteem in which he himself holds his community, but I think that a study of attitudes to intellectuals in Australia does go a long way towards accounting for their alienation.
The first thing to be noticed is the prevalence of anti-intellectualism. Here I accept Hofstadter’s definition of the American phenomenon: ‘The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimise the value of that life.’* That anti-intellectualism in this sense is prevalent in Australia hardly needs arguing. Indeed there is some evidence to suggest that it is particularly rampant at this time, though I do not share the fear that Australia is on the brink of a period of home-grown McCarthyism.
But it is important not to confuse resentment with status. Hofstadter argues that in America this resentment is a manifest action ‘not of a decline in the intellectual’s position but of his increasing prominence.’ This is clearly also the case with us. At the same time, this distinction between intelligence and intellect is crucial: ‘. . . intelligence is an excellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate and predictable range. . . . Intellect, on the other hand, is the critical, creative and contemplative side of mind.’ Whereas intelligence will seize and evaluate the immediate meaning in a situation ‘intellect evaluates evaluation, and looks for the meanings of situations as a whole.’ In other words the intelligent man is a practical fellow, a technical expert who knows his place, and harmless. The intellectual messes about with first principles and is dangerous.
The distinction is certainly all-important in Australian society. Consider, for example, the status of the physician, the bachelor of medicine, etc. Is not the awe in which he is held extraordinary to behold? Or perhaps not really extraordinary, since the collapse of any serious belief in an after-life has naturally given all agencies of longevity the status once accorded parson and priest. This adulation has certainly had deleterious effects on the professional status of Australian medicine. ‘You can’t blame Australian doctors behaving as if they were God,’ that rara avis, a radical physician, recently confided to me, ‘when everyone else treats them like one.’ Indeed, occasionally this adulation even rubs off accidentally on mere Ph.Ds. No Soho waiter could excel in lickspittle obsequiousness the tone of many Australians when they address you as ‘Doctor’. At the magic word egalitarian manners vanish. The stethoscope has replaced the sign of the cross.
It is really no surprise, therefore, that doctors were at the top of Professor Congalton’s well-known grading of occupational status—much higher than ministers of religion. What is surprising (pace Craig McGregor*) is that professors came second and that university lecturers were even in the top dozen, albeit lower than veterinary surgeons (more prolongers of longevity) and bigger business men. But this valuation is, after all, consistent with the rising interest among parents in getting their children into universities. One must not exaggerate this trend: Australia still rates dismally low by international standards in the proportion of young people we educate to senior secondary and university level, and the fact that parents this year tolerated thousands of qualified matriculants being deprived of the university admission to which they are in theory entitled, hardly argues a passionate, widespread concern. The slight part education played in the last general election was surely astonishing, and depressing.
All the same, it is evident that education is slowly becoming subject to the same competitive pressures that long ago made a television set de rigeur in almost every Australian home. An undergraduate in every home is gradually becoming a parental aspiration.
Given the apathy and even hostility to intellectuals one can encounter, the remarkable thing is not that so little but that so much money is spent on the universities and that such a doggedly philistine community is willing to support a system whereby I, for example, am permitted to undertake the study leave during which this article is being written.
But that apathy and hostility are still widespread there is unfortunately no doubt. Recent criticism of Victorian university students, for example, was no isolated phenomenon, though the attack on the retiring Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University was unusual both in its venom and its irrelevance. And evidently paranoid fantasies about left-wing academic conspiracies do find a welcome response in certain sections of the population. Not that the attitudes are always as explicit. Men do not rise in the morning, Hofstadter remarked, grin at themselves in the mirror, and say: ‘Ah, today I shall torment an intellectual and strangle an idea!’ But that is what in effect happens: the mortality rate for ideas in Australia is high.
I do not find it difficult to account for this antipathy. It is probably to be found in all countries recently, and some not so recently, in a pioneering stage. Anyone who reads Hofstadter’s book is bound to recognize parallels. Colonists literally have little time for intellectual pursuits, and such devoted studies of the origins of Australian cultural life as those by Nadel and Roe cannot disguise its paltriness.* Such intellectuals as did arrive—Webster’s ilk—were often eccentrics and mediocrities whose antics probably did not endear them to hard-headed squatters or tradesmen or other migrants in search of a fast pound. And when the political life of the colonies developed, intellectuals played a relatively small part. One can think of few in Victorian politics—Pearson and Higinbotham are about the only obvious examples—and with the doubtful exception of Deakin there have been no outstandingly successful intellectuals in federal politics: H. V. Evatt might have been counted but for the disastrous close of his career, a dose which probably reinforced anti-intellectualism in Australian voters.
And even when the universities gradually developed into something better than polytechnics they tended to be staffed mainly by English academics with superior airs, who aroused all the antipathies of a mounting nationalism. The recent anti-academic prejudices evident in the Sydney Bulletin, for example, are nothing new. Nowadays, though relations between town and gown have improved enormously, the academic community remains aloof to a notable extent: in Melbourne the recitals of the Musica Viva Society at Wilson Hall provide almost the only occasion when non-academics visit university premises in large numbers.
But there is more to Australian anti-intellectualism than this. In the first place, the climate in Australia does not generally encourage a vigorous intellectual life. During a humid Sydney summer it astonishes me to find anyone working in the Mitchell Library, for example; and given the hypothetical choice between reading a book (or attending a lecture) and slipping off to the beach for a surf after work it is understandable that the surf wins. Craig McGregor is probably justified in describing the beaches as the site of Australia’s ‘richest popular culture,’ though in doing so he indicts the whole condition of Australian culture. In his collection of short stories entitled The New Zealanders Maurice Shadbolt advanced the interesting theory that New Zealand society is slowly taking on the attributes of a Polynesian culture. The same might be argued of Australia—or at least of the warmer parts of it—but the hard facts of both economics and politics must of course severely inhibit any such trend. Still, just as climate allied to working class traditions prevent an overly hectic concentration on work, so the climate allied to the vestigial frontier tradition cripple cultural life and nourish a rich apathy to things artistic and intellectual. The very easy-going egalitarianism so many Australian intellectuals admire prevents them from attracting much admiration themselves from their fellow countrymen.
Thanks largely to the development of university education the situation is changing for the better, but slowly. Children who have been brought up in homes without any developed reading habits or other cultural interests and who continue to live at home while attending university can hardly be turned into graduates of any real culture in three years. Intelligent experts they may be at the end of the process, but they are unlikely to be anything more. And of course their parents and potential employers do not want them to be anything more. It is precisely the fear that young people may be taught to think for themselves and develop profoundly critical views of their society that seems to lie behind some of the recent criticism of university staff and students.
Yet universities have always been subversive places in the sense that they have taught students to question everything about the world and the society they live in. And subversive in this sense any university worthy of the name should be. That citizens concerned to maintain the status quo should be unhappy about it is comprehensible but reflects a prevalent misconception of the functions of a university and a liberal education, and a dangerous misunderstanding at that. But so long as Australian Arts faculties function largely as junior colleges for teacher training the confusion may well continue.
Anyway, I certainly take a more optimistic view of the younger generation than Turner. For all the conformism evident in the Beatle and other teenage cults there is much I find heartening here: in the wealth of talent that has been brought to light, in the bridging of class divisions, in the development of a form of dancing which teaches young people how to move their bodies spontaneously and gracefully (an accomplishment hitherto conspicuously absent in Australia, except perhaps on the beach), in the encouragement of a sense of dress and colour, and in the determination not to be browbeaten by adults into an unquestioning acceptance of their elders’ habits and mores.
The real comparison is not between Bessie Smith and the Beatles (whose lyrics I cannot accept as being ‘immature and mindless’) but between the Beatles and the more effete recordings of Crosby, Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters. Less than a generation ago adolescent parties were poor copies of grown-up affairs. Nowadays the boot is on the other foot. That middle-aged party-goers should these days ape the music and dances of teenagers is perhaps pathetic, but its implications are not wholly depressing. In the long run what is now happening could lead not to the widening of the gap between generations (as has sometimes been suggested) but to a healthy mixing, though that is still a long way off: I am reminded of the Australian male in his late thirties who, standing on a beach not long ago and innocently admiring a nymphette floating by in her bikini, was suddenly brought out of his reverie by the boyfriend who followed her and sneered as he passed, ‘Dream, dad, dream!’
True, events in China and elsewhere perhaps show that a fanatical younger generation can be a destructive political force. But on the whole the auguries are, I think, encouraging. My own experience of university students, for example, indicates that though they may be bored by party politics their standards of behaviour are above, not below, the rest of the community’s. Until now ageing and aged Australians have dominated our public life out of all proportion to their number. Happily that is likely to become less and less the case. But whether Craig McGregor is correct in predicting that young people will have a significant liberalising effect upon adult Australian society will depend to a large extent on the quality of the tertiary education they receive, in other words on Australian intellectuals. And perhaps the most urgent task of all will be to teach young people to discriminate between reason and non-reason, and respect for the former.
No imagination is needed, in any case, to appreciate why, in the circumstances just outlined, academics and other intellectuals should be regarded with considerable suspicion (witness the recent ludicrous attempt to blame staff for Monash students’ demonstrations during President Johnson’s visit) and why intellectuals in turn should feel estranged from the community outside the campus. To this may perhaps be added a further factor that most Australian academics come from homes comparable with those of their students and in many cases have themselves suffered a traumatic estrangement from bourgeois or working class families. This may add an additional ingredient of bitterness or sadness to the relationship, especially in a community in which money-grabbing still plays so large a part, but in which widespread abject poverty can no longer provide an excuse.
So much for alienation. What about nationalism? I have already suggested that Australian intellectuals, particularly radical intellectuals, tend to feel a strong love of country. The question is why. A rough answer might be that intellectual life in Australia has the same roots as nationalism, that political and literary nationalism for example, both emerged as an expression of national identity against the rest of the world. But that would certainly be a very rough answer indeed. Not only does it leave aside the issue as to why this awareness developed, but it ignores the fact that large numbers of intellectuals in Australian universities, then as now, contributed little or nothing to nationalism. The fact remains that many intellectuals have displayed, and still display, the lineaments of an aggressive nationalism, however little their outlook may seem to have in common with the nationalism of, say, the R.S.L.
And, to risk a paradox, it seems to me that this nationalism is a function both of their alienation and of the fact that they are not, after all, wholly alienated. Repelled by the mercenary values of a crude frontier society and its metropolitan sequel they have rejected the status quo, but they have not rejected altogether the possibility of change for the better, or its desirability. In their passionate concern for Australia (albeit as nationalists rather than conquerors) they resemble the Russian colonel in Sinyaysky-Tertz’s satire on dialectical materialism, impatient of inevitability. And it is easy, incidentally, to understand why, in Australia, so many frustrated nationalist intellectuals embraced Marxism in the ‘thirties and ‘forties: both the dialectical pace of development and the crude material basis of it were evident enough. Marxism added hope. They do not, or did not until recently, recognize that there is, alas, more than one track on the dialectical railway, and that in a country in which their own role has been minimal it should not be surprising if the destination of the train (The Spirit of Progress?) turned out to be not what they had hoped. But today the impotence of the intellectuals is only too clear and it is in this depressing situation that they must sit down and review their future conduct.
It is not easy to compare the conditions of intellectuals in various countries. Raymond Aron has argued that by not taking their intellectuals too seriously the British manage to avoid ‘both the militant anti-intellectualism which American pragmatism sometimes tends to lead to, and the uncritical admiration which, in France, is shown alike for the novels and the political opinions of writers, giving them an excessive sense of their own importance and inclining them to indulge in extreme judgments and vitriolic articles.’* Whether such generalisations are reliable may be questioned, but even if they were correct it is essential to distinguish between the intellectual as entertainer and the intellectual as influence. It is arguable for instant; that British intellectuals have a stronger influence on government policy, for example, than do their French counterparts.
In Australia, however, intellectuals appear to be taken seriously neither as entertainers nor as influences. At a guess their position is closest to that of American than British or French intellectuals, though it is probably a good deal worse even than in the United States. The differences are, all the same, differences only of degree, and though it is understandable that the intellectual grass should look much greener elsewhere, it is important to appreciate that the problems encountered by Australian intellectuals are shared by intellectuals and artists everywhere. The battle against censorship is a case in point. Probably the principal handicap which the Australian intellectual faces, and his British counterpart is spared, is the relative absence of any tradition of deference locally, an inherent respect for learning and the world of art and the intellect. But even here it is a difference of degree, not kind.
Their predicament is in fact part of the universal intellectual condition. Except in totalitarian countries where they are treated as the instruments of church or state, intellectuals have always been more or less the critics of their communities, have always been more or less subversive. Even under mediaeval and Renaissance Catholicism heresy proved insuppressible and eventually triumphed; even the Soviet Union has produced its Sinyaysky and its Daniel, not to mention the sixty-two brave signatories to the letter pleading for their release. If one looks, indeed, for the most impressive acts of intellectual and artistic courage in the contemporary world one turns not to the West—to the anti-Vietnam demonstrations in America and Australia, for instance—but to such acts as these in communist countries. Perhaps the most heroic of all was that of the Soviet sculptor, Neizvestny, who dared to argue with Khruschev when he visited the famous and ill-fated avant-garde exhibition in Moscow and even told the Russian leader that, in effect, he did not know what he was talking about.
Courage of this order is not conspicuous among Australian intellectuals today. The reasons have already been hinted at. It is not that there is no longer any scope for courage. It is partly that they have become increasingly disillusioned with the present state and future prospects of their country. Having expected so much they have been too easily disappointed. There is also a taint of arrogance here: piqued at their treatment many prefer to turn their back on society with the splendidly impotent curse of Ben Jonson’s cheated puritan on their lips: ‘May dogs defile thy walls and wasps and hornets breed beneath thy roof!’ Others find consolation in the soft life of Australian hedonism: beer, breeding and beach.
Yet there is no lack of problems awaiting analysis or of need for a courageous intransigence, particularly in the field of human liberty and minority rights.* It would take courage, too, to try to understand sympathetically the attitudes of non-intellectuals and assess realistically whether, and in what direction, the future could be influenced. It is just possible, for example, that if William Lane was brought back to life and shown the same denizens of suburbia whom Ashbolt anatomised he would say: ‘Yes, that’s what I was after—a relatively happy, healthy and well-off working class!’ Anachronistic thinking and abstraction are the twin curses of radicalism.
Does this mean that Australian intellectuals should, after all, remain nationalists? Am I not being inconsistent in condemning them for both their nationalism and their alienation? My reply is that what I am advocating is not nationalism in the sense of placing national interest or even the interests of a national literature or art above all other considerations. What I am suggesting is that, as one of the responsibilities of living in any community, we should attempt to understand it and state candidly what we think of it. ‘What is important for society as a whole,’ Hofstadter concluded, ‘is that the intellectual community does not become hopelessly polarised into two parts, one part of technicians concerned only with power and accepting implicitly the terms power puts to them, and the other of wilfully alienated intellectuals more concerned with maintaining their sense of their own purity than with making their ideas effective.’ Australian intellectuals, one is inclined to add, please copy.
Where the real courage comes in is in being prepared to make their criticism of Australia both compassionate and uncompromising. Religion provides a good example. Australia must be among the most materialistic nations in the world in the sense that, though most people may make some outward concessions to Christian tradition, the actual extent of belief in any sort of after-life is dearly limited and almost certainly declining. And if this is the case with the public at large it is much more so among intellectuals. Agnosticism or atheism probably represents the actual position of most if they ever bothered to formulate it. And to the destructive forces of nineteenth and twentieth century science the linguistic critique of logical positivism has added the coup-de-grace to religion—Marxist as well as Christian.
Yet few Australians would have a clue as to who Wittgenstein is, and few intellectuals have cared to explain. Indeed, apart from the efforts of small humanist, rationalist and libertarian groups, virtually nothing has been done in our public life. Turner’s Martians approaching earth in their flying-saucers would be forgiven for thinking we were a nation of devout Christians if they tuned into the A.B.C. any day of the week. It is only too easy to shrug one’s shoulders and, adopting the comfortable, pseudo-therapeutic approach of Jung, say that those who need religion should be left to enjoy it, the attitude in fact of the functional anthropologist to primitive religions. But we are not anthropologists (who do not have to spend the rest of their lives with the tribes they study anyway) but individuals with a responsibility for truthfulness and rationality. I certainly admire the forthright Catholic intellectual more than the lazy or cowardly agnostic.
What I am recommending is not simply a destructive task, a demolition job. A much more formidable challenge lies in the leavening of the crass materialism to which most Australians already only too effectively adhere. What is certain is that this materialism will remain as crass and dry as ever so long as this problem of ‘ideology’ is not squarely faced. Here Turner’s argument is also my own. If the distribution of affluence provided the most serious social problem facing Australians during the past century the quality of living (as Meanjin‘s editor has repeatedly pointed out) is likely to prove the most urgent and exasperating one during the next. And in devising a rational social ethic it will be important to retain what is worth while of both Christian and Marxist thinking while abandoning the dogmas of both. Here rationality and intransigence should go hand in hand, Turner and Webster. At the same time, internationally the distribution of affluence is still the overwhelming problem, a far more pressing one, than any at home, and here again the role of the intellectual in directing public attention and initiative to it could be valuable.
This raises the ultimate question: the actual scope for the intellectual in influencing his community, the actual possibility of engineering change. It is comprehensible in the light of long and bitter experience, that latter-day intellectuals should be increasingly resigning themselves to pluralism, to turning their backs on society. Defeatism is nowadays another leading characteristic of the Australian intelligentsia. And not only despair but arrogance will always be for them a deadly sin, simply because intellectuals qua intellectuals tend to nurse feelings of superiority and impatience. Whatever Eysenck’s limitations we certainly need to know more about psychology of political personality just as we need studies (in the manner of Lasch) of the Australian intellectual as a social type. To strike the reasonable balance between arrogance and humility, militance and tolerance, optimism and pessimism, in God-forsaken Godzone will never be easy, but it does provide a challenge, an intellectual problem, of precisely the sort intellectuals should enjoy. With perseverance they may even find it easier to win friends and influence people, and to ‘help Australia on a bit,’ than they had imagined. But in what direction?
Noel McClachlan’s article is the fourth in the current series of commentaries on aspects of life and living in God’s Own Country, particularly since the end of the ‘Menzies era’. Dr McLachlan (1927 – 2006), an eminent historian and author, was Reader in the History Department at the University of Melbourne. Other articles in the series: ‘The Retreat from Reason‘, by Dr Ian Turner (2/1966), ‘The Need for Intransigence‘, by Owen Webster (3/1966), and ‘Myth and Reality‘, by Allan Ashbolt (4/1966).—EDITOR.
*I am prepared to accept the admittedly broad and imperfect definition of Christopher Lasch (The New Radicalism in America, 1889-1963), that an intellectual is a person ‘for whom thinking fulfils at once the function of work and play.’ Not all intellectuals are academics, nor all academics intellectuals.
* Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life (New York, 1963).
* Craig McGregor, Profile of Australia (London, 1966).
* George Nadel, Australia’s Colonial Culture (Melbourne, 1957); Michael Roe, The Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia 1835-1851 (Melbourne, 1965).
* Raymond Aron, The Opium of the intellectuals (London, 1957).
*See, for example, Campbell and Whitmore’s authoritative study, Freedom in Australia (reviewed by Professor Geoffrey Sawer on p. 96) and John Stubbs, The Hidden People (Melbourne, 1966).