My overall philosophy is expressed in Bondage to Freedom, Human Rights in Australia, Socialism in Australia and issues of PAMP. PAMP, Vol 4, contains the following brief summary of my beliefs (with some additional modification).
PAMP is a private publication committed to exposing the overwhelming bias against liberal, conservative and traditional views and perspectives in the Australian public affairs media. PAMP does not hide its philosophical position. It is critical of the public affairs media who pretend to be impartial in disseminating the truth (see analysis of words of Chris Masters of the ABC in this issue). PAMP is particularly critical of the ABC which is funded by taxpayers' money and therefore has a duty to fairly present the competing views and perspectives (particularly those which have a significant following). The privately funded media has a right to express partisan views. However independence and commitment to truth and standards should not be claimed by partisan journalists. A popular myth about the media is that editorial content is controlled by media proprietors. It is in fact controlled by the editors and presenters, the overwhelming majority of whom in the ABC and the national and metropolitan print and TV media are left of centre and antagonistic to liberal, conservative and traditional views and perspectives. This formulation excludes from its scope radio and the regional media.
The ideas expressed above have been examined and explained in more detail in previous issues of PAMP. Readers interested in receiving past issues may write to me, enclosing $3 per issue (postage inclusive).
The following sections of this issue contain some indications of PAMP's philosophical perspectives and provides a counter to commonly expressed media criticisms of such perspectives.
Respect for opposing views (particularly those which enjoy significant popular support) is basic to democracy, human development, a responsible media and free expression. Respect for opposing views in the belief that the better opinion should triumph in public debate is basic not only to democracy but to the western way of life.
The famous words of Voltaire come to mind: "I disagree entirely with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it". Hard debate and disputation is an integral part of the true democratic process. Respect and toleration of the opinions sincerely held by others, based on reason and principle, is another important aspect. PAMP operates within these parameters. It is this absence of respect for (and recognition of the existence of) opinions (particularly views which enjoy significant popular support) which is the main criticism which PAMP makes of the Australian media. Lenin once said: "I think we must stick the convict's badge on anyone and everyone who tries to undermine Marxism ... even if we don't go onto examining his case". This tactic has been cultivated to a fine art by the left in politics, media, academia (and a few in the Coalition have caught the same disease). This tactic may be used by other sections of the community, but their words are rarely reported by the media. A more subtle use of the tactic involves ignoring an alternative view or pretending that an alternative view does not exist.
People who hold contrary views are painted as political opportunists, motivated by narrow political factors, stupid, dumb, deceived by false, hysterical, ideological or vituperative arguments, living in the past, seeking to defend vested interests or acting to further their own gains.
There is in these tactics, a conspicuous failure to recognise the existence of a contrary opinion, and an all-pervading belief that there is only one approach. These are attempts or methods to deny the existence of an opposing view. This is indicative of the totalitarian mentality. The totalitarian proceeds on the basis that his view is right and true and it is the only view. See further PAMP Vol l No 2, pages 8-9.
There are liberals and conservatives who are primarily concerned with ideology or material gain. This is equally true of as many on the left. But the vast majority of people interested in politics and political philosophy believe that their branch of socialism or liberalism or whatever will lead to a better life for the majority of people. (Many of those in the political process may also hope to gain in one way or other from the advocacy of their particular philosophy).
The difference between the majority of liberals etc and socialists etc is not in their lack of concern, but in the means to achieve these ends. It is counterproductive and, from the national point of view, retrograde to engage in rhetoric and to impugn motives. What is important is a discussion of the pros and cons of the competing views and philosophies.
The Editor of PAMP writes as an Asian who was born and reared in an eastern cultural environment. My primary secondary and undergraduate education was in Asia. I did postgraduate work in England and am now an Australian citizen. I was a socialist and lived in a socialist state, until my criticisms of the government for failing to put into effect socialist ideas and principles compelled me to immigrate. I came with my family to Australia without a cent in my pocket and have enjoyed living and working in the free world (or a relatively free world as compared to the system of government that prevails in the vast majority of countries).
I have developed a set of philosophical values through study and practical experience in society, the workplace and the political system. I have endeavoured to draw from the best of the values of east and west (interpreted in geographic and ideological terms) and to synthesise them.
Supporters of true liberalism and genuine free enterprise argue that it is the system which offers the greatest hope of gradually reducing inequality (not leading to equality which is an unachievable idea). They believe that history testifies to the manner in which capitalism was responsible for breaking down privilege; that the ideals and theory of socialism and progressivism are grand and humane, but the practice is ever increasing government regulation or selfish nihilism; that this occurs in both communist and democratic socialist countries with variations in degree; that many "reforms" are counterproductive and do not achieve the stated aims; and that a comparison between the practice of liberalism and the practice of "modern reformism" (as distinct from the ideals) provides a true perspective.
There are many interconnected causes of the rise of Western Civilisation. The overriding perspective is that it is a system which combines freedom with responsibility, and evolved a set of values and institutions which strikes a balance between freedom and order; the role of government and the role of the individual; liberty and licence; freedom and responsibility. Restrictions on freedom operated through law and also through a system of social sanctions. The law and social sanctions were derived from Christian principles and values (similar to the principles and values of other world religions). This carefully constructed system has been subjected to increasing attack and has been undermined by law. Law in the last few decades has increasingly sought to control individual activity in situations where freedom had earlier provided opportunity for initiative and action; leading to the great developments which took mankind from the age of the horse and buggy to space travel in the lifetime of one individual. The last one hundred years has seen more change and development than had taken place through the entire period of human existence.
There is a close connection between freedom and development. The freedom of Western Civilisation was never the freedom of the wild ass. There was a clear distinction between liberty and licence. Law and social mores provided for restrictions on individuals actions. These restrictions in law and social sanctions are being undermined. (This is not to defend every aspect of the earlier law and social morality, which was in some respects harsh and needed adaptation for a civilised society.) Some of the criticisms of the modern "reform" process are: (i) that change has been effected by merely focusing on the weaknesses and the problems without an appreciation of the strengths and the underlying rationale (ii) the reformists seek to achieve change through legislation and bureaucratic action, which has many pitfalls not foreseen and not understood by the purported reformers (iii) the law is moving away from fault as the basis for individuals' liability and responsibility; and (iv) the economic costs and the costs to freedom, initiative and innovation or bureaucratic regulation are not appreciated. This has led to much counterproductive reform.
The Closing of the American Mind: How our Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, by Allan Bloom, 1987 is a book by an academic on universities which has become a best seller. It is not an easy book to read and is complex and heavy going. It discusses what is wrong with education and the decline of standards and values in America in modern times. This analysis is of equal relevance to all western countries, including Australia. PAMP recommends this book to all its readers.
Mary Kalantezi's review of Dr Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" in the ACES Review Vol 15, No 1, September 1988, appears to accept some of the fundamental criticisms which Bloom has made. She however, concludes on the note that Bloom offers no solutions in overcoming the malaise in western society. Her view it that "a challenge in the face of intellectual and social fragmentation is to develop a socially relevant curriculum, yet one which meets Bloom's demand for coherence and a sense of social purpose". This is like searching in a dark room for a black cat which is not there.
Kalantezis unwittingly demonstrates the basic problem - the futile search to reconcile irreconcilables and the refusal to acknowledge tensions and contradictions. She echoes the views of many with similar approaches who want freedom, as well as order, individual liberty and well as equality, safety as well as the benefits of risk taking, a wide open society as well as less crime, material wealth as well as spiritual worth, individual liberty as well as collective good, economic and social regulation and political freedom - without stopping to think that each of these values take something away from the other. To use an ungainly but accurate expression, they have forgotten the trade-offs.
The most dangerous enemies of western civilisation are not the marxists, the neo-marxists, the fascists and other extremists. They are, and always have been a minority, though the small percentage of persons who reject fundamentally western civilisation and/or seek solutions in violent action or civil disobedience is increasing. The real enemies are those who, to use another hackneyed phrase, want to have their cake and eat it at the same time.
What are the solutions? PAMP answers that there are no solutions to complicated human problems. The productive and beneficial eras of human history are those where there has been a constructive effort to face up to problems with a sense of realism tinged by idealism.
The basic deficiency of so much of modern reform and progressivism (so called) is that it has not been predicated on an understanding of the values and institutions which were responsible for the rise of western civilisation (of which Australia is a part). These have been consistently undermined. These values and institutions which reflect the wisdom (and also the foolishness) of centuries of development, have been attacked rather than creatively developed to meet the emerging and genuine problems of modern life.
Values, standards and truly liberal institutions will not lead to a utopia, but they offer a firmer basis for dealing with the problems of living than philosophies of modern age reformers and progressivists (so called). These values, standards, institutions etc do not necessarily belong to a historical era. The great strength of Bloom's book is that he focuses on standards and values which are essential to the development and future of a civilisation. The main theme of the book is lost on Kalantezi and others who identify in great measure with his analysis of the problem but miss out on a crucial dimension.
An issue which receives little attention from politicians and media is the moral decay of our nation. Morality includes such values as honesty, the pursuit of truth, responsibility, duty, fairness in interpersonal relations, concern for one's immediate neighbours, respect for property, loyalty and duty to one's spouse and children, the work ethic and keeping one's word.
The failure to assume responsibility for one's actions, and the tendency to look to government for everything, are among the consequences of the breakdown of traditional morality.
Traditional morality is inestimably important. Without it, all kinds of injustices and oppressions against individual persons are sanctioned; not the distorted and imaginary oppressions of Marxist theory, but the real oppressions which arise when people forget the golden rule: love your neighbour as yourself.
The abandonment of traditional morality leads to expropriation of private property, heavy taxation, theft, waste, compulsory association, totalitarian thought control, sexual exploitation, homeless children, fraud and dishonesty, disloyalty to family, ever increasing government power and control, envy, indiscipline, laziness, individual irresponsibility, indecency, rudeness, impoliteness, social engineering and genocide, not to mention impiety.
When the values of a society which derive from its spiritual and moral foundations are destroyed, a vacuum exists and people can be manipulated according to the ideology and power ambitions of ruling elites.
All religions emphasise the importance of duties and responsibilities as distinct from rights. The Ten Commandments are duties. There is an a grave danger in the push towards legislative recognition of subjective rights (so-called) in response to the demands of politically influential pressure groups.
A duty-centred society is preferable to a right-centred society. If individuals are concerned about their duties, responsibilities and obligations, they cannot but be concerned about the rights, needs and freedoms of others.
A right-centred society is one in which individuals assert their rights. People are encouraged by individuals, organisations, Commonwealth and State departments and instrumentalities to demand rights, with no consideration for the effect of those demands on other people.
Governments and pressure groups which focus on rights give no thought to how rights can operate in the absence of a climate in which the importance of duties is emphasised. By comparison a duty-conscious society gives rise to respect for rights.
There is no end to the so-called rights which can be demanded. A right-conscious society in effect recognises a few rights (neglects many others). The rights that are recognised are those which are demanded by the powerful, the aggressive and the nasty.
There cannot be a right without a duty. An endless cacophony of demands by interest groups for rights has become a dominant feature of the modern Australian State (fed by legislation which encourages these demands). At the same time there is a deafening silence on the question of individual responsibility.
History has continually demonstrated that the greatest of civilisations decline and fall when they succumb to indulgence at the expense of discipline and endeavour. The fate of Egyptian and Roman civilisations are prime examples. It is not too early for Western civilisation to heed the supreme lesson of human experience
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