Last night, at a semi-secure, undisclosed location in Sydney, I had occasion to address a tonic group of serious thinkers who congregate periodically under the aegis of Quadrant magazine, which is by far Australia’s best cultural review.
My topic was “Fundamentally Transforming the United States of America.” But my remarks, I may venture to say, were not as dour as my title might suggest. For while a good bit of my talk was devoted to cataloging some of the many depredations conducted by President Obama & Co. against the freedom, security, and prosperity of America. I also noted that the metabolism of transformation, even “fundamental transformation,” works in both directions. Obama and his junta really are conducting open warfare against the Constitution and the rule of law (this just in: New Jersey cop: “If Obama doesn’t follow the Constitution, we don’t have to either”). But elsewhere in the world the virus of political correctness and socialistically-inclined torpor has been successfully rebuffed. The dynamo that is Canada under Stephen Harper is one example. Australia under Tony Abbott is another.
Both men have done an enormous amount in a very short time to revitalize their countries, demonstrating that the parable of Lazarus has an institutional as well as a personal application. Obama has been a sort of institutional wrecking ball on legs, but now that a light gleams, however faintly, at the end of the tunnel of his disastrous tenure, we should take heart from the examples of our Anglosphere neighbors to the north and across the Pacific. We can hope that the instinct for self-preservation will at last trump the desire to bathe in the glow of politically correct self-admiration. (“An Englishman’s mind works best,” said one wit, “when it is almost too late.”)
That said, I do want to register a demurral about Tony Abbott. One of the topics of conversation last night was his retreat from efforts to overturn section 18C of Australia’s “Racial Discrimination Act.” According to one of my dinner companions, the act provides for legal penalties if someone from a recognized minority or victim group feels offended by something said or written. Gosh. (What if I feel offended by people who promulgate such nonsense? Am I entitled to an apology and compensation?)
One prominent case involved a politically mature journalist and television commentator called Andrew Bolt. Mr. Bolt, who seems to have developed a habit of speaking frankly about contentious issues, has an admirable record of ticking off the delicate plants, redress mongers, and searchers-after-monetary-judgments with bracing regularity. His most recent supposed tort, the thing that sent him afoul of section 18C of The Act (majuscules, please!) was his observation a couple of years back that it had become fashionable among hip-aspiring whites to ape black fashions in clothes, speech, and demeanor. “The articles,” Wikipedia reports, “suggested it was fashionable for ‘fair-skinned people’ of diverse ancestry to choose Aboriginal racial identity for the purposes of political and career clout.”
This of course is quite true. You can see something similar at work in the States. And I may remark parenthetically that, as the historian Arnold Toynbee once observed, it is a reliable sign of decadence when the middle and upper classes begins to ape the manners of lower classes. But Bolt’s comments caught the eye of some eager litigants, who claimed that his comments were in violation of The Act. According to Wikipedia, “They sought an apology, legal costs, and a gag on republishing the articles and blogs, and ‘other relief as the court deems fit.’” In a travesty of justice that will be only too familiar to American readers, Bolt was found guilty of contravening the law. The episode, I am told, cost his employer a packet.
There had been a movement afoot to discard the preposterous section 18C, but Tony Abbott, calculating that he had other, bigger fish to fry, took the issue “off the table” yesterday.
I can understand Abbott’s motivation. Australia, like the rest of the civilized world, is facing an existential threat from wacko Islamic radicals (pardon the pleonasm). The first order of business is to deal with that threat. But a free society requires the oxygen of free speech. As an enlightened column in The Australian this morning put it, “The best way to combat opinion you don’t like is to have them debated.” Quite right. A free society is one in which anyone has the right to be an equal-opportunity offender. If you don’t like what someone says, fine. Respond to it. Refute it if you can. Or just ignore it and get on with things.
Last night, someone showed me a cartoon depicting the politically correct library of the future. There were lots of books. But all the pages were blank. Is that the sort of society we want to live in? I hope that Tony Abbott will eventually return to this issue and repeal this rancid, freedom-blighting bit of legislative political correctness. The air in Australia will be better for it.