Conservatives pine for the days of unapologetic cultural supremacism. Do they really know what they’re getting themselves into?
“If one should propose to all men a choice, bidding them select the best customs from all the customs that there are, each race of men, after examining them all, would select those of his own people; thus all think that their own customs are by far the best.”
Herodotus, The Histories
It is one of our manifold national misfortunes that a time of crisis in Australian politics has coincided with the “Fat Elvis” years of Tony Abbott’s career. Just as washed-up singers plug away at RSL clubs and retro nights, so Abbott has taken his show on the road, making one-night only appearances at right-wing think tanks and “religious freedom” organisations. Some of these are very retro indeed – the Alliance Defending Freedom once described its mission as seeking to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries”. But Abbott’s clichés are the conservative boilerplate of the ’80s, ’90s, and now.
Abbott doesn’t so much give speeches as give variations of the same speech. In 2015 (Margaret Thatcher Lecture), it was “asserting Western civilisation against the challenge of militant Islam”. In October 2017 (Global Warming Policy Foundation) it was “civilisational self-doubt is everywhere; we believe in everyone but ourselves; and everything is taken seriously except that which used to be”. A month later (Alliance Defending Freedom) he said that “campaigns for same-sex marriage and the like are a consequence of our civilisational self-doubt and the collapse of cultural self-confidence”. It is his version of ‘My Way’.
Anyone familiar with contemporary conservative thought, such as it is, will recognise this strain of apocalyptic reasoning: the West is no longer comfortable asserting its supremacy, particularly against a resurgent and hardline Islam, so it is no longer supreme, and a fifth column of multiculturalists and globalist leftists is responsible. This view is exemplified in the work of people like Mark Steyn and Douglas Murray, in fact just in the title of their works, called things like Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech and the Twilight of the West and The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.
In Australia, almost every member of the right commentariat subscribes to this view of the West and the Rest, or something like it. It was illustrated almost perfectly by an exchange between Cory Bernardi and Andrew Bolt on Sky News. Bolt played a clip of Robert Menzies advocating the White Australia policy, where Menzies discussed the importance of national homogeneity. Bolt and Bernardi agreed that Menzies was right, but for the wrong reasons. The policy should have been one of culturism, not of racism. “I think that was the actual deeply immoral part of the White Australia policy, that it was couched in concern over race, rather than of culture,” concluded Bolt.
The more virulent versions of this position weaponise racism and culturism interchangeably: so when three white “patriots” accosted Senator Sam Dastyari in a Melbourne pub in November with “You terrorist! You little monkey … Why don’t you go back to Iran?”, and Dastyari responded with “I think you guys are a bunch of racists”, the rejoinder was “What race is Islam?” (Apparently still one that can be racially profiled at airports.)
Fears about culture have long offered a veneer for fears about foreigners. It was exactly “culturist” concerns, for instance, that made Australia decline Jewish refugees at the Evian Conference in 1938; in fact, most modern migration movements have been met with a similar response at one time or another, by everyone from Enoch Powell to Geoffrey Blainey. These objections can be dismissed as simply a more palatable form of racism, or even an exercise in projection. After all, Western hegemonic power has not been sapped by humanities graduates writing woke reviews of Wonder Woman, but rather by military failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. So too Christianity’s moral authority in the West has been undermined less by some Gramscian “long march through the institutions” than by prodigious quantities of church child molestation.
However, we can agree there is a growing reluctance to criticise other cultures from a Western standpoint, and a similar unwillingness to give invocations of Western nationalism their full pomp. Especially in the Anglosphere, many of the West’s traditions, monuments and institutions are being inspected for bloodstains, and in this environment the left are more gun-shy about investigating, say, the cultural compatibility of migrants. It is left up to the Tony Abbotts of the world to make the case that Islam needs a Reformation.
It is the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation this year, and others have pointed out how strange it is to see a Catholic who trained for the priesthood front the celebrations. It’s also been noted that Islam has no church to reform, that a sectarian schism already exists within the umma, that the Reformation resulted in hundreds of years of war, massacre and iconoclasm not dissimilar to what we are seeing in Syria now, and why would a billion or so Muslims listen to Tony Abbott anyway.
Less commented on has been the role of the Reformation in producing the very thing Tony Abbott despises: cultural relativism. Because cultural relativism does not mean that all cultures are created equal. It means acknowledging that all cultures believe themselves to be superior, and that, as the product of our own culture, we are in a poor position to judge. Historically, deeming cultures preternaturally inferior has not resulted in good things.
The “tolerance” we talk about today is a direct descendent of religious toleration, a principle painfully assembled after centuries of sectarian carnage across Europe. Just as the Thirty Years War led to an effort to dampen the more malign aspects of religious supremacy, so too the genocides of the 19th and 20th centuries cemented an effort at extending this toleration to race and culture.
“It is to put a very high value on your surmises to roast a man alive for them,” wrote Michel de Montaigne, who himself adjudicated in the French Wars of Religion. He was talking about the heretic’s pyre rather than white phosphorous being dropped out of a plane, but the sentiment is the same. You might call it a Western tradition of cultural relativism – and it is predicated on the hard-won knowledge that a man speaking about “cultural confidence” is often reaching for his revolver at the same time.
Martin Amis used to have a party trick where he’d ask an audience, “Who feels morally superior to the Taliban?” Some trembling hands would go up and he’d pronounce the West hopelessly self-loathing and all the rest of it. But this question has an unspoken conclusion “… and so we should keep bombing them”. It was the well-known social justice warrior Immanuel Kant who noted that colonial “powers which make a great show of their piety … drink injustice like water”. He meant that the West should deal with the beam in its own eye before appointing itself ophthalmologist to the world, and left-liberalism has been trying to make that stick for more than 200 years.
Of course, conservatives maintain a kind of cultural relativism about all this too. They can tell you the death toll of communism, but ask how many died from colonialism and they start blathering about the railways. World War Two should have proved forever that the modern state, modern weaponry and a national mythology of racialised superiority could not be left together unsupervised, but there are some very slow learners …
In his recent book The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray quotes Stefan Zweig, writing in 1942: “I felt that Europe, in its state of derangement, had passed its own death sentence – our sacred home of Europe, both the cradle and the Parthenon of Western civilisation.”
“Zweig was right,” continues Murray. “Only his timing was out.”
His timing was out? How powerfully do you have to hate Muslims to conclude that 2015 was a more societally suicidal year in European history than 1942? By every measure – even the sorry measure of terrorism – it was one of the safest, freest and most prosperous years in the history of the continent. The colour of the vintage was less white, though.
Murray’s book produces the same tired motifs of Occidental solidarity all the others do, from Charles Martel to the Battle of Lepanto. Europe might have been bloody, but at least it wasn’t bloody Muslim. This phoney sense of continuity hides a lot, above all the changing fortunes and allegiances of cultural hierarchy. It pays to resist Freudian analyses of politics, but there is something going on here. Because find someone firmly and vocally on board with Western Civilisation, and chances are not long ago they were holding a second-class ticket.
On first impression, Donald Trump is not the most natural heir to the tradition of Leonardo and Galileo. (Even his Christian supporters must reach back to the vulgarian Roman Emperor Constantine for a comparative figure.) Electing a grotesquely unqualified septuagenarian game-show host to the most powerful position in the world looks more like cultural suicide than allowing in some refugees does, but Trump was not going to let that spoil his party in Poland. He does not seem like the world’s biggest fan of Krzysztof Penderecki either, but during his visit in July the president was doing his own cover version of ‘Twilight of the West’: “We write symphonies,” he said. “We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.”
Conservatives cooed. Liberals fumed. “What on Earth does that have to do with anything?” the Washington Post writer Jonathan Capehart wrote. “In that one line [“we write symphonies”], taken in context with everything else Trump said, what I heard was the loudest of dog whistles. A familiar boast that swells the chests of white nationalists everywhere.” Whether it was a dog whistle or not, the ensuing controversies overlooked a much more compelling contradiction: the location. Because what does a Western “we” mean in Warsaw? If the local crowd applauded so noisily, it was partly with relief. Not long ago, the idea that Poland was an exemplar of European civilisation was regarded, quite literally, as a joke.
This speech also felt strangely familiar to me. I’d had an abortive correspondence with a far-right Australian writer who was outraged I had called his ideas racist. Like Bernardi and Bolt he was a culturist, not a racist, he said, and that was a critical distinction. The coinage “culturism” allowed space to discuss issues of identity without recourse to genetics, even if the resulting discrimination was the same. I couldn’t take my eyes off the signature: he was a Polish-Australian, living in Poland, a nation that has perhaps suffered more from the savage actions of “culturism” than any other.
The pre-modern treatment of Poland was so severe that when Napoleon sent Polish mercenaries to suppress the Haitian revolution, they ended up joining with the slaves. They were so simpatico that their descendants are still there in Port-au-Prince. One of the uprising’s leaders, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared his comrades-in-arms the “white negroes of Europe”, a description received as an honorific. Poland had already been torn apart by its European neighbours many times by then, and would so suffer many times more. Tellingly, one of its conquerors, Frederick the Great, compared Poles to the Iroquois of Canada, and similarly ripe for colonisation and displacement.
It is an event tied to anti-Polonism that gives us our own term “culture war”. It comes from Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, an attempt to suppress Catholicism in Germany that also saw the expulsion of 30,000 ethnic Poles from Prussia. The attendant campaign of racist propaganda helped lay the groundwork for German conceptions of lebensraum in Eastern Europe.
This racial strain was found in Russian and even Lithuanian animus to the Poles as well, and rolling campaigns of conquest, suppression and expulsion throughout the 19th and 20th centuries would culminate in a rare and catastrophic simultaneous genocide. In the 1930s and 1940s, Nazi and Soviet death squads, as the historian Timothy Snyder puts it, “goaded each other into escalations”. Compared to its blueprints, the Nazi genocide was still an underachievement: the Generalplan Ost, never fully implemented, accounted for the “pitiless” destruction of 20 to 30 million Eastern European Slavs and Jews, the final pushing back of the frontier of “primitive Slavdom” for good.
Yet when Poland disgraced itself in November with a 60,000-strong fascist demonstration to celebrate its independence – more a national psychotic episode than an expression of identity – marchers were carrying flags of Nazi collaborationist governments from wartime Hungary, Slovakia and Spain. Embracing the pageantry of your murderers looks more like the strange death of Europe than migration (Poland’s Muslim population is 0.1%), but for many Judeo-Christian civilisational chauvinists this is a model to emulate rather than a continental embarrassment. The fact the Islamophobia is comorbid with a latently murderous anti-Semitism can be overlooked. So too the hypocrisy: Poland produces millions of migrants to the rest of the EU, and would be beggared if other nations took the same attitude.
So Donald Trump’s timeless “we” turns out to be barely 50 years old, and covering a horrific record. The supposedly immemorial bonds of Western civilisation are not only largely concocted but also highly mutable. If Poles are so keen to cement whatever feeble claim to belonging, it’s partly to stop all this happening again. Not even Polish Catholicism could keep them off the bottom of the pecking order. The first non-German Waffen SS division, one intended to help implement the Generalplan, and trained on what is now Polish territory, was the Handschar Division, made up entirely of Bosnian Muslims.
In the present day, the right and far right define their eternal identity so completely against an Islamic “other” that the conventions of the past can be startling. Both Hitler and Himmler, for example, lamented that Europe had not become Islamised under Turkish conquest. “The peoples of Islam will always be closer to us than, for example, France,” Hitler wrote in what would effectively become his suicide note. Himmler’s rationale was even more astonishing: the Turks were “religiously tolerant, they allowed each religion to continue to exist, provided it was no longer involved in politics – otherwise it was finished”. This separation of church and state was something for Germany to emulate.
These were not aberrations of Nazism, either. Hundreds of years earlier, Martin Luther had written that some Protestants wanted “the Turk to come and rule because they think our German people are wild and uncivilised”, and himself insisted that military actions against the Ottoman Empire should not have a special religious enmity. Istanbul took in Protestants as religious refugees, and when French Catholics massacred 25,000 Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day the Pope presented the instigator with a gold medal. One contemporary account said it brought the pontiff “a hundred times more pleasure than would have fifty victories similar to those the Holy League won last year against the Turks”. That victory was the Battle of Lepanto, now revised into a landmark triumph of Western self-assurance.
While there was a stronger affinity between Protestantism and Islam, Catholic powers also fought with the Ottomans against their fellow Christians, and a series of popes even sought the protection of the sultans. None of this is to say that there were not religious, cultural and territorial clashes between Christianity and Islam, East and West. But these were only one of a series of shifting hierarchies of domination and destruction, which could change at any time.
Perhaps, though, the right side of politics has made its own accommodation to history, and is happy to leave these bits behind. While conservatives have not traditionally been on the side of the Enlightenment or the separation of church and state (in fact, Pope John Paul II was still arguing against this as late as 1988), they now seem to regard them not just as part of the furniture but as family heirlooms. They want the past judged by the standard of the past, and the present judged by an objective standard of excellence. It is a model of meritocracy applied to nations. Isn’t it obvious, after all, that some nations do do better than others, and that culture must play a part in that?
“Discussing cultural relativism with cultural relativists is like playing tennis with some guy who says your ace is just a social construct,” Mark Steyn once put it. “It’s all but impossible simply because it’s a denial of reality.” And I get what he means.
Imagine surveying the world as if for the first time, cross-referencing the most fundamental interstices of religion and culture. Something would immediately become clear: wherever one religion in particular flourishes, democracy withers. In fact, countries where this religion holds sway are almost never democracies, unless they have undertaken a bloody process of extrication, shearing its tenets away from the state under the most stringent circumstances. The lines between religious authorities and dictatorial authorities blur constantly, sometimes to the point of indivisibility. This is so pervasively international that it cannot be a coincidence. There are exceptions, of course, but they seem chaotic and corrupt. Women suffer in them disproportionately regardless, and piety acts as a thin veneer for machismo and harassment. Torture, capital punishment, and a belief in superstitious determinism flourish. So do terrorism and organised crime, even among diasporic migrants who are still believers. The state and the populace concern themselves with the impieties and blasphemies of writers, artists, and even scientists and doctors, sometimes violently. Swathes of books are banned or condemned by religious authorities, not just pornography but novels and enquiries into philosophy. Perhaps the most troubling symptom is felt as an absence. This faith seems to act as a brake on innovation and human ingenuity. It enervates economies and stymies change.
It is the mid 20th century, and the religion you are surveying is Roman Catholicism.
It can be satisfying, watching a cultural chauvinist lose their mojo when the tables are turned. There is ample political research to show that these confluences exist even now. They are international, granular, volumetric and robust: Protestant countries are richer, freer, more stable, more democratic, less corrupt, less sexist, more educated, and more tolerant of others’ faiths than their Catholic counterparts. It is little wonder that Tony Abbott’s Western triumphalism leads him to accidentally champion the Reformation: it is the wellspring of the qualities he prizes.
Combine the current democratic orders of Britain and the United States, and they have been in place longer than the constitutions of every Catholic nation in Europe combined. And – if you’ll excuse me continuing this unpleasant exercise to its limit – is it really an accident that these persistent democracies are the places where anti-Catholicism has flourished? Is it not, in fact, a precondition to their success? Make these claims almost anywhere outside Scotland and Northern Ireland, though, and you will feel the temperature change. This cool weighing up of relative societal merit has transformed into a prejudice, and the conservative has lost both his taste for evaluative comparison and his love of tradition. (I’m assuming it’s a him.) It is no longer simply “factual” to make these kinds of comparisons. It is sectarian.
The conservative will in fact transform into a cultural relativist, and be right to do so. They will point out the latent domination and violence in these hierarchies, and decry the currency of invalidation, discrimination and unfairness. Cultural studies will change into a multi-factorial discipline: after all, to operate meaningfully, sectarianism must ignore geography, history (especially colonialism), and ascribe to intent and industry all of the bounties of the past’s accidents. Above all, the exercise threatens to resurrect ghosts of the worst and most unforgiving violence human society has experienced.
You can sense the aversion to these comparisons even in the phrase “Judeo-Christian tradition”. There is no such thing in Australia. Colonial Australia was not founded on a “Judeo-Christian tradition”, or anything like it. These words may not mean anything even today, beyond an embarrassed attempt to hide a millennia-long tradition of Christian anti-Semitism. (There are even those who argue that there is a more meaningful “Judeo-Islamic tradition”, from two religions that are historically better friends.) But the words certainly didn’t mean anything in 1788, when they had never been uttered, and would have been considered an absurd contradiction in terms.
Until recently, the “Judeo” part of that shared heritage couldn’t even make it past the door of a golf club. (“Sorry, son, no Jews, jockeys or jailbirds,” the former ALP politician Barry Cohen was told, in case the message was too subtle.) But even the “Christian” part did not mean what it means now. New South Wales and its sister colonies were founded on Protestant principles, specifically those borrowed from the Protestant Ascendancy in occupied Ireland. Catholicism, which meant Irish Catholicism in early Australia, was not merely looked down upon – for the first 30 years of the colony (with one brief period of exception), its public practice was illegal.
Restrictions on the celebration of Mass were eased in 1820, but the legacies of sectarianism in Australian society were in place until stunningly recently. The NSW Cricket Association, for example, did not employ a single Catholic until 1979. The historian Norman Abjorensen noted that the election of Nick Greiner in 1988 as NSW premier was the first time that a Catholic had led a non-Labor government, excluding a single case in the 1930s. “What is extraordinary,” he continued, “given Australia’s sectarian history, is that it aroused so little interest at the time.”
This history reached high-pitched animosities that are now scarcely believable, partly because they have been laundered out of our history. On a bad day, Melbourne’s Brunswick looked like Belfast: in 1897, a mob of 30,000 Catholics menaced several hundred Loyalist Orange Lodge members, the two sides having to be separated by mounted police. In the early 20th century, Protestant ex-serviceman formed Loyalist paramilitary organisations, ready to fight off an imaginary Fenian insurrection. Edmund Barton met the Pope in Rome as a gesture to ease some of this tension, and tens of thousands protested.
There was even a tiny version of today’s dual citizenship crisis: in the 1940s and 1950s, sectarians used section 44 of the Constitution in High Court challenges against Catholic parliamentary candidates, predicated on the old charge that Catholics were loyal to the Papacy, not the Crown. They were supported by petitions and newspaper editorials.
During tensions within the Labor Party in the 1950s, BA Santamaria was forced to issue a statement denying he was a captive of Catholicism (Archbishop Mannix witnessed it): “There is no Catholic organisation seeking to dominate the Labor Party or any other political party ... So that there will be no equivocation, Catholics are not associated with any other secular body seeking to dominate the Labor Party or any other political party.” But the split in the Labor Party, when it came, was driven by a rift between Catholics and socialists.
The charge of “dual loyalty” seems arcane now, but still surfaces from time to time. “The PM Abbott has taken an oath as he is Roman Catholic,” wrote one commenter on an ABC article, “so he has taken an oath to a foreign power the Vatican.” A paranoid curiosity now, but once one of the defining characteristics of Australian politics. Even Menzies, who largely resolved the contentious issue of state aid to Catholic schools, would greet his sole Catholic member of cabinet by saying, “Be careful, boys, here comes the Papist.”
Prejudice generates few new ideas, so it is no surprise that so many of the charges now levelled against Muslims were once made against Catholics or Jews. For example, the One Nation campaign against halal labelling, which marks it as a “religious tax”, is a retread of a 1980s Ku Klux Klan leafleting campaign against kosher food. So too present-day Islamophobia borrows heavily from the the last-ditch anti-Catholic campaigns of the 1950s.
Then it was Catholicism, not Islam, that supposedly had some defect in its DNA. It was an ideology, not a religion, some stunted relative of totalitarianism. American Freedom and Catholic Power was a huge bestseller in 1949; Commentary magazine summarised its argument like this: “The claims and pretensions of the Church to legal primacy, if not monopoly, in religion, education, and family relations, are felt to be definitely incompatible with the liberal, pluralistic foundations of American democracy.” That sounds very familiar.
So what happened? Did Protestant triumphalism and prejudice “work”? Did these kinds of trials by fire ultimately force Catholics into the accommodations of the Second Vatican Council, or make John F Kennedy renounce any claim to his faith informing his politics? Should anti-Catholicism be repeated as a success, or is this the wrong kind of “cultural self-confidence”? The answer is self-evident. It was modernity, and multiculturalism, not sectarian prejudice, that turned questions of Catholic loyalty and compatibility into a nonsense.
Even Tony Abbott himself has remarked on the similarities between anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic prejudice, and so too did the late former prime minister Malcolm Fraser:
“You know, people used to say Catholics are not Australian because they owe allegiance to the Pope. And I could hear conversations when my father was alive in which people really believed that. Now we know how totally false and totally wrong those sorts of views were, but it was part of Australia. Now as other people heard those arguments, they said, ‘Look, we’ve just got to put that aside.’ But, now, it’s Muslims, who [supposedly] owe their allegiance to the Prophet.”
The fact that the bigots of the past have been wrong every time has not deterred the bigots of the present. This works not only at the level of history but also with individuals across time. Pauline Hanson’s warnings in the late 1990s about the threats of Asian migration are considered ridiculous now, but the absence of non-assimilatory crime gangs hasn’t deterred her, or her voters, from a copycat hysteria. She still insists she was right.
As it’s currently constituted, Islamophobia can’t even work on its own terms. Take those pictures of mini-skirted crowds in Kabul – a favourite of right-wing social media. Is Islam essentially and eternally opposed to secularism, apart from when it wasn’t 40 years ago? Perhaps colonialism, constant attacks on Muslim countries, and giving Saudi Arabia trillions of dollars to export Wahhabist fundamentalism might offer a clue to an alternative and less self-flattering explanation, but that doesn’t seem to stop the special pleading. “In the Muslim world, there is no music,” Mark Steyn recently told Quadrant magazine, an absurd statement that to the empirically minded seems very much like a denial of reality.
There’s a persistent liberal belief that prejudice is simply a matter of education, or cross-pollination, and that the racist’s fear is fear of the unknown. I’ve met too many educated racists to believe this, but it also overlooks something just as self-evident: that racism is beneficial to the racist. Supremacism can, in a sociopathic sense, offer its own proof: I must be superior, otherwise you wouldn’t let me do this to you, and I would be wrong to do it. Colonialism is perhaps the supreme example of this. The racist can even come to believe that their racism is beneficial to the victim, a kind of custodianship or paternalism.
A clue to the wholly bogus way this hierarchy of Western supremacism works comes from another right-wing fixation: elitism. If the West proclaims itself superior to others, that is self-confidence. But if the inner city declares itself superior, or even feels itself to be superior to the suburbs, this is not assurance but arrogance: “conceit”, “smugness”, “sneering”, the chattering of bien pensants – the sheer volume of clichés directed against this sentiment shows how proscribed it is. Mount Druitt doesn’t write many symphonies either, but point this out and you are the worst kind of snob, indeed a borderline enemy of the people. Few on the left feel compelled to make this strange kind of geographical comparison anyway, and would immediately be excoriated if they did.
There is a rare exception on the right, though. Charles Murray is best known for reheating 19th-century race science in his notorious book The Bell Curve, but you can at least say his attachment to discredited Victorian ideas is consistent. He also wrote a book called Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950, which attempted to apply a clumsy template of “excellence” and influence to cultural output.
It is a silly exercise in circular reasoning, where Murray looks up Western encyclopaedias and biographical dictionaries, and then uses their emphasis on Western figures as a measure of Western excellence. It is also another opportunity to let culturists die by the sword. As you can guess, Catholics, Poland and Eastern Europe again suffer by comparison, but so does the American South, which despite being suffused with white Protestants of European extraction manages to produce no “significant figures” before 1850, only two by 1900, and a smattering thereafter.
Even today the American South is far poorer, sicker and less accomplished than the former Union states. It is also much, much more violent than the North, and in fact drags the United States away from the OECD average on crime almost by itself. But I have never heard anyone talking about “Southerner on Southerner” crime, or suggesting that stratospheric infant mortality rates are due to pre-Enlightenment beliefs. The current condition of the Southern United States is eerily similar to the Reaganite vision of the black ghetto in the 1980s: riddled with gun crime, socially and sexually irresponsible, addicted to drugs (only opioids rather than crack), a wasteland for the family that shirks work in favour of welfare. This time, the chaos is ascribed neither to culture nor to “personal responsibility” but to outside interference.
But surely if the logic of culturism works geographically, it also works domestically. All over the West, compared to their regional counterparts, graduates in the inner city are richer, less likely to be divorced, less suicidal, more charitable, less violent and inclined to crime, more culturally and intellectually productive, and less prone to substance abuse. Does it make sense then, to argue that the ACT has an intrinsically superior culture to Far North Queensland? Is one even a better expression of Western culture than the other, because it is more successful?
The hard right-edge of “race realists” – the evolutionary biologists recruited in the service of culturism – believe that Africa is less successful not only because of its culture but also because of lower average IQs. Any spurious reasoning will do to justify this claim. “Europeans needed bigger brains to survive colder climates” is a popular calumny. This selection can reportedly work even across three or four generations. Are the keepers of the culturist flame ready, then, to concede that Pauline Hanson is a tropically induced congenital idiot, and that her warm-climate, non-city-dwelling supporters have lower IQs for climatic reasons?
Concession isn’t really their game, and even reflection is a hard ask. So perhaps some other realism is required instead. These people had their chance. The “self-confident” version of Europe they pined for used to exist, and it wasn’t a picture of harmony, but a charnel house. The uneasy solidarity of whiteness could be punctuated at any time by repression, massacre, war and ultimately genocide. The most harmonious expression of Judeo-Christian culture in Europe wasn’t the pacific murmur of its cities, but the quiet of its graveyards. The culturist nostalgia only makes sense when you realise that the longing is not a longing for peace. It is not a sense of civic communion these people are pining for at all. It is the din of the battlefield.
“If one should propose to all men a choice, bidding them select the best customs from all the customs that there are, each race of men, after examining them all, would select those of his own people; thus all think that their own customs are by far the best.”
Herodotus, The Histories
It is one of our manifold national misfortunes that a time of crisis in Australian politics has coincided with the “Fat Elvis” years of Tony Abbott’s career. Just as washed-up singers plug away at RSL clubs and retro nights, so Abbott has taken his show on the road, making one-night only appearances at right-wing think tanks and “religious freedom” organisations. Some of these are very retro indeed – the Alliance Defending Freedom once described its mission as seeking to “recover...