Multiculturalism and Immigration
Andrew's Major Writings
For a list of Andrew's Writings on Multiculturalism, Immigration and Refugees, see the webpage headed Personal Biography. See also documents in the Webpage Andrew's Strong Support for a Fairer Immigration System and for Refuge
Andrew's key book on this topic was published at the end of 1995:
UNDERSTANDING MULTICULTURALISM AND AUSTRALIAN IDENTITY
This book was launched by Prime Minister Keating in December 1995. In his Speech at the launch, the Prime Minister said, amongst many other things:
This book became an important text used in universities and other institutions in the study of the philosophy and practice of Multiculturalism.
As Prof Dr James Jupp of the ANU said of the book: "There is no other definitive book on Australian multiculturalism"
**Excerpts from two of the 14 chapters of this book are given below.
In addition on this Web page there is one additional paper
Extracts from a paper on "Multiculturalism, Social Justice and Active Citizenship"
by Dr Andrew Theophanous presented to Globalisation and Citizenship Conference :
A lot of Andrew's work on these issues was through the National Multicultural Support Group, founded by Andrew in 1999. See Web Page of this name.
There were many important meetings and the production of 9 Newsletters over two years. Membership grew to more than 500 people nationally. There were several important Public Meetings such as the one pictured here held in Melbourne:
Excerpts from Andrew's book -UNDERSTANDING MULTICULTURALISM AND AUSTRALIAN IDENTITY
From Chapter 9, Part C.
MULTICULTURALISM AND PHILOSOPHICAL ANTHROPOLOGY
The question as to whether there is any universality in anthropology is critical to the project of genuine multiculturalism. As we have seen throughout this book, multiculturalism is not just a question of respecting diversity, but also of establishing unity in that diversity. Indeed, I have argued that the principles which are the basis of such unity, also act as limits to cultural diversity in the sense that they help us to select certain features of some cultures which become morally and politically unacceptable in a multicultural society.
Such a project, however, requires an argument in favour of those elements that do unite us as human beings. In the previous chapter, we saw that Rawls had maintained that we could establish such elements in an 'overlapping consensus' of the belief systems of different cultures. In particular, he argued that the 'comprehensive doctrines' of different cultures, while they may be philosophically incompatible, nevertheless contained important elements which overlap. It was noted, at that juncture, that this was to some extent the claim of philosophical anthropology. After all, why should we suppose that these comprehensive doctrines are likely to have such overlapping features? The answer must be that there is something in the situation of all human beings which leads them to refer to these universal features in their metaphysical and religious systems. But what are these features? And how can we establish their universal validity by reference to the evidence of anthropology?
Multiculturalism and the Universal Features of Humanity
Let me begin with the following assertion: while there is much debate as to what is universal and what is not, there are certain key features of human existence which are indisputably universal and common, and which are therefore referred to in all such belief systems. Consequently, human beings recognise several universal features which partly constitute the meaning of humanity These are:
1. Human beings see themselves as entities which are conscious and able to think and act in the world.
2. Human beings find themselves in a material environment in which there is a diversity of things (that is, objects) with which they can interact.
3. Human beings find themselves in an environment in which they recognise the existence of other persons with whom they can, and do, communicate, especially in the medium of the spoken language.
The above three features of human life, have been referred to by philosophers as transcendental, in the sense that they are necessary features of any world in which persons, considered in the abstract, can exist. Following the work of the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, much abstract and theoretical thinking has been directed towards establishing certain essential features of human beings, and hence of all societies, by appealing to such transcendental arguments. An example of this is the argument of Habermas, considered in the previous chapter, which seeks to establish certain fundamental principles of human rights and social justice by first establishing the necessary conditions for communication between persons to take place.
In general, I agree with the thrust of Habermas's argument and reject the views held by his critics, the post-structuralists. Nevertheless, we recognise the need to supplement the argument by reference to a more concrete analysis of the human experience. In order to do so, I shall refer to certain elements of human life which are universal, but which are not established by transcendental arguments, but rather are based on generalizations and observations of Anthropology.
The most important universal, yet concrete, features of human life, stem from the fact that human beings are a part of a specific system of nature. As a result, human beings from all cultures find themselves in a world of living things, specifically a world of plants, animals and other humans. As a consequence of this, there are a number of universal statements that can be made about the human condition. The most important of these are:
(a) like all other biological entities, human beings have certain physical and physiological needs, e.g. the need for food, the need for sleep and the avoidance of physical pain;
(b) like many other biological creatures, human beings are divided into male and female sexes; and
(c) like most other biological creatures, human beings go through a life-cycle; they are born, grow to physical maturity and, most importantly, they die.
The importance of these empirical, yet universal, facts about human beings cannot be sufficiently stressed. A man or a woman is a person in a biological environment, who recognises his or her own biological needs and limitations. The abstract transcendental features of persons must be considered, when referring to the general features of human life, in the light of these universal biological facts. There are other universal facts about human persons; in particular, the existence of specific human emotions such as anger, fear and affection.
Given these contingencies of human life, which are universal, the question arises: can we draw on this universality to establish an argument that there are features in common, or overlapping, in all cultures, such as would permit us to develop a universally valid theory of social justice and human rights?
This issue can be approached as follows: is there any reason to suppose that the belief systems of different societies will contain certain fundamental ideas and principles (the so-called comprehensive doctrines identified by John Rawls) such that we can make any universal generalisations about them? I believe that philosophical anthropology is the key here. I shall begin by considering the impact of the fact that human beings find themselves grounded as biological creatures in a biological environment. This fact causally results in two consequences:
1. The scope for the expression of their recognition capacities is much increased - for they have an abundance of diverse species of plants and animals to differentiate in their environment;
2. Their recognition of the biological facts specified above, particularly the fact that they are a part of life and the fact that they die, leads to certain fundamental questions about their existence which require solution.
I shall consider the first consequence by examining some of the data collected by anthropologists. It is beyond question that every society of the so-called primitive kind has developed systems of classification of the plants and animals, and of the geological and astronomical phenomena of the universe. The anthropologists Durkheim and Mauss in their work Primitive Classification give overwhelming evidence for the view that 'primitive' peoples exercise their powers of recognition by directing them at their natural environment in such ways that they are capable of making distinctions between flora and fauna, of which the inhabitants of so-called 'advanced' societies are quite incapable.0 Levi-Strauss rightly stresses this fact; for the distinctions made by these people are not only aimed at achieving practical results, nor are they merely for intellectual satisfaction (although this element is prominent).0 They are, I shall argue, attempts to gain more knowledge so as to be in a position to answer, or elaborate, or verify the solution to the fundamental questions facing humans.
Of course, the evidence of anthropology shows that, although it is a universal feature of human beings that they are able to differentiate things in the world, and so have some conception of space, time and causality, there are significant differences in these conceptions depending on other metaphysical beliefs regarding nature, the world and humanity. These differences are clearly important in understanding how the plurality of meanings arises in the diversity of culture Our task is, however, a search for unity in this diversity.
Can we say anything general and universal about such metaphysical frameworks in respect of their content? The most serious thesis which arises here is the view that all such frameworks seek to provide the basis for a solution of certain fundamental problems and questions facing human beings, notwithstanding the cultural milieu in which they exist. In other words, these frameworks have universal features in that they are all directed, at least, to the explanation of the questions which arise from the universal biological and other features of human life.
Death and the Nature of Human Existence
We can now proceed to consider whether we can say anything universal about the content of different metaphysical frameworks in different societies. My thesis is that all human metaphysical frameworks are concerned with solving certain mysteries which arise from the very situation of human beings, in particular the fact of death and the mystery of human existence. This is not to deny that many metaphysical frameworks may not also be concerned with other issues, such as the conflict between good and evil and whether human action is free or determined.
I believe, that all metaphysical frameworks are concerned with two fundamental dilemmas facing human beings:
1. It is a universal, but extremely contingent fact, of human beings that they die. Yet we can easily imagine persons who live in a universe without dying. That persons should endure ad infinitum is not an impossible conception - on the contrary, it is precisely because it is a conception held by all societies that the mystery is intensified. The intense agony raised by the recognition of the inevitability of death is documented in the mythology, literature, religion and other symbolic activities of very disparate human societies.
2. The problem of death cannot be solved without tackling the problem of the nature of humanity. These two questions are inextricably intertwined. Any attempt to answer the first question requires the ascription of some nature to humankind. Thus if humanity is conceived as a complex entity consisting of body, soul, spirit, etc., then one part of it may survive death while another perishes. No matter what answer to the problem of life and death is given, it is necessarily associated with some view as to ultimate human nature.
This relation of the two problems and their solution is found in all the great religions of the world and, I shall claim, in all the metaphysical frameworks of primitive peoples.
If this thesis is correct, we can see why such frameworks are held so tenaciously, even when what we would call 'facts' seem to contradict them. For these frameworks provide meaning and purpose to the life of that people. More importantly, they provide hope. The hopelessness which arises when one abandons such beliefs emphasises our lack of knowledge in this matter. This is well illustrated by the work of Albert Camus, who sees us trapped by our essential ignorance of the meaning of life and the possibility of immortality.
To defend my claim that all human societies are concerned with the solution to the problem of death, or at least to its overcoming, I refer to Paul Radin's excellent book Primitive Man as Philosopher, where he explains: 'The theme of the inevitability of death pervades the proverbs and poetry of every tribe.'0 Consider three examples:
1. O how it strikes us full in the face Death!
O how completely does it crush us
O what pain!
( Ba Bonga, Southern Africa)
2. Death has been with us from all time,
The heavy burden long ago began.
Not I can loose the bonds
Water does not refuse to dissolve
Even large crystals of salt.
And so to the world of the dead
The good too must descend.
( Ewe, Eastern Africa )
3. The tide of life glides swiftly past
And mingles all in one great eddying foam
O heaven now sleeping! Rouse thee, rise to power
And thou, O earth, awake, exert thy might for me
And open wide the door to my last home,
Where calm and quiet rest awaits me in the sky.
( Maori, New Zealand )
The first poem reflects the fear and sense of being overwhelmed which death can bring. The second is an expression of the inevitability of death with a note of regret. The third is a resignation to death, coupled with a quiet confidence in the afterlife to come. These three attitudes to death themselves are conditioned by the extent of commitment to the actuality of immortality or even to its possibility.
Compare this with an assertion from Goethe: The thought of death leaves me in perfect peace, for I have a firm conviction that our spirit is a being of indestructible nature; it works on from eternity to eternity: it is like the sun, which though it seems to set to our mortal eyes, does not really set, but shines on perpetually.
The most important conceptual distinction for metaphysics is the appearance/reality distinction. This distinction is absolutely necessary to any attempt to solve the problem of death. The dilemma is really this: if reality is mere appearance, then it seems that life, despite all striving and achievement, is abruptly terminated by death. But such death seems to negate the ascription of meaning to life itself - for how can life have any purpose, any meaning if there is nothing further than the grave, if man is nothing but an entity which perishes with all other biological entities? The strength of these questions is illustrated even in our own time; the restless search for the answers is as prevalent today as ever. I am not saying that no significance can, in principle, be ascribed to life without positing a reality/appearance distinction. Rather, I am saying that even if this distinction is finally rejected, that even then the distinction has to be contemplated.
Positive Theories on the Nature ofHuman Existence
The question we have raised as to the context of these explanatory frameworks can be explain further. As we have seen, the concern with the issue of death leads to a variety of answers with respect to the nature of human existence. These answers can be classified in terms of four basic categories, using a structuralist method. they constitute the four ways in which we can logically think about the relation between human life and the fact of death.
(1) (a) All, or (b) part of life is conceived as transcending, and extending beyond death;
(2) Death is the absolute end of life;
(3) Life and death are both appearances and not absolute occurrences; and
(4) We can never know whether there is a life after death and must live our life on the supposition that (a) there is such an afterlife, or (b) there is no such afterlife.
There is usually a correspondence between a society's answer to the problem of death and its account of the nature of humanity. Hence for each of the above views of death, there has developed a corresponding viw of human beings as follows:
(1) (a) The self as a 'spiritual substance' or spiritual essence,
(b) The self as several 'substances' or 'essences', one of which survives;
(2) The self as physical and perishable substance;
(3) The self as part of God or some universal consciousness, spirit, etc;
(4) Cannot have knowledge of true essence of self, hence
(a) must have faith in the absolute reality of self, or
(b) must proceed as if there is no essence that transcends earthly existence.
In listing these solutions to the problems of death and the nature of man, I am proposing a methodology in the spirit of the social structuralists. The procedure is to list all the possibilities which can be consistently maintained and then to survey each homogeneous society to see which of the possible solutions have been adopted.
In this section, I have been concerned with what I consider to be two of the central and universal concerns of religion and mythology. The common elements which have been found to occur in widely divergent cultures and geographically distant communities adds further weight to my claim that human beings are concerned with the resolution of these fundamental issues. Indeed, some social theorists who have detected these similarities have claimed that there are universal structures in the human mind which are repeated in various ways in different societies and historical periods. Whether this structural explanation is correct or not, I do not rely on it for my claim about the universality of certain key concepts and principles which have deep and pervasive roots in all of humanity. All that I claim is that philosophical anthropology strongly supports the thesis that there are certain fundamental elements of human existence which will give rise to similar questions and a similar set of possible answers. When this occurs, human beings will come to reflect on principles of respect for persons and social justice.
Human Frailty, Human Rights and Social Justice
My general thesis to this point has been that, notwithstanding the variety of functions and substantial content of such philosophical frameworks, they have at least one thing in common: the concern with the problem of death and the nature of humanity. But assuming that this point is accepted, it can still be argued that this is insufficient to provide any common features which can serve as the basis of an overlapping consensus on social justice and human rights. Thus, even if we accept the logical structural classification of the different possible answers to the metaphysical questions (as I have expounded them above), it could be argued that nothing much follows about the principles of social justice. Hence, the mere fact that these frameworks are concerned with the same issues, does not in itself provide us with a sufficient basis for an overlapping consensus.
I accept this point; we will need to supplement the argument. However, there are two positive outcomes from this exercise to this juncture. First, if we are to develop our multicultural theory on the basis of equal respect for certain fundamental features of all cultures, then a key issue is that we must respect the general metaphysical framework of those cultures. Given that human beings have no infallible answers to the problems of the death and the nature of man, it follows that prima facie, at least, we should respect the diversity of metaphysical frameworks which different cultures have thrown up in an attempt to answer these questions. Hence, one of the most important aspects of multiculturalism is the respect for the general metaphysical views of a particular cultural tradition, in particular the views on God, the nature of humankind and the nature of life and death.
There is a second important point which arises from our discussion of philosophical anthropology, namely, that there are certain fundamental things which we share in common in virtue of our humanity. These fundamental unifying elements of human existence include our recognition of the inevitability of death and our recognition of the frailty of the human condition, evidenced by a number of fundamental needs, including the need for food, shelter and the avoidance of ill health and physical pain.
These common elements of the human condition, it can be argued, could form the foundation from which we can derive principles of unity among different cultures and within a culturally diverse society. In other words, it should be possible to develop an argument for human rights and a concept of social justice on the basis of the fact of our sharing in the same human frailty and facing the same general problems of human existence.
The social theorist Bryan Turner has outlined the elements of a theory of human rights in which he specifically draws on the tradition of philosophical anthropology, and on the theory of sympathy or empathy.
Unlike the theories of Hobbes, as argued in his 'Leviathan', Turner's theory is that this situation of frailty does not arise from the aggressive conflict between individuals, but rather from the very circumstances of the human biological situation: 'Human beings are frail, because their lives are finite, because they typically exist under conditions of scarcity, disease and danger, and because they are constrained by physical processes of ageing and decay.'0 (p.501)
At this point, Turner identifies a problem:
. . . while all human beings are frail, some are more frail than others. My argument, rather than providing a defence of universal human rights, could justify the principle of the survival of the fittest. In a society where many social groups (the elderly, the sick and children) are frail, it is in the interests of the survival of the strong (or the less frail) to maximise their advantages (by genocide, for example). How can the frailty argument get round the problem of human nastiness? As we have seen, the Hobbesian solution (and generally all solutions which depend on some appeal to human rationality) is to suggest that rational actors will have an interest in security.
Turner, however, rejects any solution which involves a social contract approach. He also rejects any appeal to universal principles of rationality, as in the Kantian philosophy. He introduces another element to his theory: namely, that all human beings have an inherent sympathy for the plight of others. Turner considers this sympathy to be, a 'consequence of, or supplement to human frailty'. His thesis is, therefore, that human beings will want their rights to be recognised because they see in the plight of others their own possible misery; for example, the strong can empathise with the weak, because their own ontological condition prepares them for old age and death. (Note the similarity between this argument and Rawls' argument for the Second Principle of justice).
Turner's approach differs from social contract theories in that he wishes to emphasise the affective and emotional characteristics of human beings, which create in all of us, the basic capacity for sympathy. Part of this capacity is based on fundamental human activities, including parenting.
Turner's approach is one example of how philosophical anthropology may be used to derive a theory of the universal appreciation which all cultures have for the frailty of the human condition and the fundamental empathy and compassion which human beings may develop for each other as a result of this appreciation. Such an approach is positive and worthwhile, in that it is directed towards developing a theory of social justice based on human rights. However, there are number of philosophical problems with any such approach. First, it is clear that this positive view of philosophical anthropology is likely to be rejected by those who claim that human beings are essentially selfish and aggressive. For, if the view that human beings are sympathetic, and concerned with the welfare of others, is to have some validity, then how do we explain the negative aspects of human history, and society? It is not enough simply to assert a positive view of philosophical anthropology which allows us to develop a theory of social justice. We will need to back that theory further, a challenge I take up in Chapter 14.
This leads to the second question: why should we assume that there is a propensity in history, or even in modern society, towards such positive aspects of human behaviour? In other words, why should we make the assumption that history is progressing towards greater recognition and embodiment of social justice, rather than the opposite? Again, I consider this question in Chapter 14.
What I am claiming to this point, is that there are three important philosophical traditions which independently, and in a stronger sense, collectively, support the general proposition that there can be universal principles of social justice, and that these principles apply in a diversity of human societies or in a diversity of cultures within a multicultural society. The insights provided by these three traditions also provide much hope for the future of such multicultural societies based on social justice.
I now turn to the question: How viable is this synthesis of social justice and multicultural principles when applied to the modern nation state, and in particular to the Australian nation?
.. C. Taylor, 'The Politics of Recognition', Op. Cit., p.72. . Ibid., p.64. .Ibid., p. 67. . C. Mouffe, 'Democratic Citizenship and the Political Community', in Dimensions of Radical Democracy, C. Mouffe, (ed), Verso, London, 1992, pp.225-239. .Ibid., pp.230-231. .Ibid., p.233. . J. Rawls, Political Liberalism, Colombia University Press, New York, 1993. Ibid., pp.140-141 See J. Rawls, Lecture IV, 'The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus', Ibid, pp.133-172. Ibid., p.180. Ibid. . J. Rawls, 1972, Op. Cit. J. Rawls, 1992, Op. Cit. . J. Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, Beacon Press, Boston, 1975. . J. Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vols 1&2, Beacon Press Boston, 1984. . Ibid. . E. Durkheim and Mauss, Primitive Classification, University of Chicago, Chicago, 1963. . C. Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, Weidenfield and Nicholson, London, 1962. . P. Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher, Appleton, New York, 1927. . B. Turner, 'Outline of a Theory of Human rights, Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp.489-512. . Ibid., p.501. . Ibid., pp 506-507.
From Chapter 10 Part A and Part B.
ON THE NATURE OF THE AUSTRALIAN IDENTITY
In the introduction to this book, I raised a number of questions as to what constitutes Australian identity. This is, as we shall see, a complicated question. For, as a number of commentators and historians have indicated, defining the Australian identity - even prior to the mass immigration program and the development of multiculturalism - has not been easy. Indeed, there has been more discussion of the need to define Australian identity, than an actual determination of its character.
In his book Inventing Australia, Richard White maintains, 'there has been a national obsession in Australia on the whole question of who we are, and what our identity is'. He says for example that 'most new nations go through the formality of inventing a national identity, but Australia has long supported a whole industry of image makers to tell us what we are.'1
A number of social theorists have claimed that this obsession with trying to find the elusive Australian identity stems from the fact that Australians have not had any significant defining events in their history, such as the Declaration of Independence in the United States or the French revolution, or even a long tradition, such as that of English the common law and parliamentary system, to significantly define who they are as a people. According to these theorists, the 'Australian identity' is a concept which has been created artificially.
In the introduction, I argued that, prior to the development of multiculturalism, Australian identity consisted of two strands: one that emphasised our British heritage, and one that emphasised a limited form of egalitarianism and commitment to social justice. I suggested that many social observers tended to emphasise only one of these strands - the British heritage - and ignored the other important element of traditional Australian identity: the egalitarian tradition that arose in Australia in the Nineteenth Century, and which became dominant in the Twentieth Century.
The nature of this tradition has been the subject of intense debate; essentially, it was a tradition based on some principles of social justice. I do not mean the principles of social justice in the universal sense in which we understand them today; on the contrary, they were very limited concepts. Indeed, at that time, Australian leaders saw no contradiction in asserting, for example, that all people were equal, while simultaneously espousing doctrines of racial and cultural superiority. Specifically, egalitarianism did not mean an equality with the indigenous peoples of this nation, or with the 'coloured' immigrants. It was, therefore, no surprise to find that, in the late 1800s, the Chinese, Indians and Pacific Islanders, all of whom had been brought in or had come in as laborers to Australia, were denied the status of citizenship. Thus, Charles Pearson, in his 1891 book National Life and Character declared that 'if national existence is sacrificed to the working of a few mines and sugar plantations, it is not Australia alone, but the whole civilised world that will be the losers...We are guarding the last part of the world in which the higher races can live and increase freely for the higher civilisation'. (P 41)
These views were found across the political spectrum, including in the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party. In particular, the vast majority of Australians saw no contradiction between the expressed egalitarianism and the view that Australia should be a 'white society', one which remained permanently separated from other races.
So the criticism that many of today's Australians make of Australia prior to the 1940s is valid; unlike the situation in the United States, the White Australia policy led to a virtual closing of the migration program in Australia from the 1890s to the 1940s for people of many cultures and races. This phenomenon was clearly in contradiction with the ideals of egalitarianism and was arguably very damaging to Australia's economic and social development prior to World War II.
Because of statements such as Pearson's, some historians have claimed that Australian egalitarianism is a myth, which ignores the actual inequality that existed. The myth is also said to have been useful in creating a false cultural tradition to fill in for the absence of any genuine cultural identity among Australians. One such view is presented by Patrick O'Farrell, when he says: 'Australia's dominant myths and legends, be they of bushman or bushranger, digger or trade unionist, blokes, mates and ockers are self-induced deceits and evasions. These frauds have been enormously important in determining our self-image and have taken on their own reality.'2
I believe this to be an extreme view; I do not concur that Australia's early commitment to social justice and egalitarianism amounts to nothing. I believe that the tradition does have a lot more substance to it than critics would concede. Indeed, I shall argue that there is a lot of continuity between the pre-war egalitarian tradition and the postwar social justice tradition in Australia. This is especially true if we consider the history of the Australian Labor Party and the labor movement generally.
These two strands in the Australian identity were also, to some degree, in conflict with each other. Thus, although there is no doubt that British traditions had a very significant and obviously dominant influence on Australian culture, especially before World War II, the attitudes of Australians to Britain have been ambivalent, and even (in some cases) hostile, as with the Irish descendants.
Indeed, a number of significant Australian writers, such as Henry Lawson, have made a point of emphasising their contempt for the contemporary British culture of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries: in particular, they have shown contempt for leaders in Australia who were too eager to be subservient to British traditions, and especially the British leadership. Notwithstanding such views, popular opinion focused on the importance of British culture to Australian culture, especially in the formation of the Australian identity. The complex nature of this influence is very well summarised by Nicholas Jose in his chapter on 'Cultural Identity' in Australia: The Daedalus Symposium:
Such complexes of feeling are a remote legacy of Australia's colonial past. From the first stirrings of national sentiment in the late Nineteenth Century to the tentative emergence of nationhood at Gallipoli, according to some historians, or after the Second World War, according to others, Australia developed in a provincial relationship with the mother country. Fledging nationhood did not mean automatic cultural independence, despite the fervent hopes of nationalists. It merely institutionalised the cultural dominance of distant Britain, against which Australians had to define themselves and struggle for existence. Even when her power declined, Britain continued to be at the centre of the cultural and political empire that gave Australia a place in the world . . . Their allegiances were divided between the stimulating peculiarities of their local world and the unassailably indifferent metropolis. They were spurred on, and daunted, by conflicting challenges: to find a voice for their new land, and to attain the highest standards of the old. Some stayed at home to forge a defiant vernacular.3
Those who have claimed that there is a conflict between the development of multiculturalism and Australian identity, have generally referred only to this one strand in that identity. They have ignored the egalitarian and social justice tradition. Indeed, as was shown in Part 1 of this book, the development of multiculturalism was constantly under attack by those who held that Australian identity was 'Anglomorph, essentially British, monocultural'. One such critic, John Hirst, maintained that it is acceptable for multiculturalism to be based on certain aspects of Anglo-Celtic culture, such as English language, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, tolerance and the 'fair go' tradition; but he then makes the following comment:
Multiculturalism interpreted in this way - a diverse society united by core institutions and values - is unexceptional. But the institutional legacy of a more separatist multiculturalism is still with us: the public funding of migrant organisations to enable them to maintain their own cultures. This has two dangers. First, the obvious one that migrant cultures contain elements antagonistic to the core values. The second, indirect danger is that the support of migrant culture smacks of official favouritism. Nothing could more endanger the standing of migrants in this society. It is offensive to the liberal and egalitarian elements in our culture, the same elements which are so important hitherto in the success of the migration program.4
Critics like Hirst are mistaken; multiculturalism in Australia does not, and has not, threatened the British-based institutions or the centrality of English as the national language of Australia, and no sensible multicultural philosophy would do so, given our historical tradition. However, Hirst and others ignore the egalitarian and social justice tradition and therefore, ignore the historical continuity between multiculturalism as properly understood, and the second strand in Australian identity.
As Manning Clark shows in A History of Australia, this second strand in Australian identity is most important in positively affirming those things in Australian history which have made some contribution, not only to our own development, but to the development of progressive ideas and trends throughout the world.
***Multiculturalism and the Changing Australian Identity
As we have seen throughout this book, the face of Australia has been transformed by the postwar immigration program and the policy of multiculturalism has evolved as a response to this diversity. The question now arises: to what extent has multiculturalism transformed the Australian identity?
As I have discussed above, traditionally there have been two strands to our national identity. The first is the British legacy and the second is the commitment to a limited form of egalitarianism. I have made the point that both these strands of our identity were unfortunately intertwined with an emphasis on cultural, even racial, superiority. Obviously, multiculturalism challenged this negative feature of our earlier Australian identity. The idea of the superiority of constructed Australian culture, and of the British heritage on which it was supposedly based, clearly could not be maintained perpetually after the arrival of people from so many other cultural backgrounds.
However, there were also some very positive outcomes from the impact of multiculturalism on Australian identity, even though these are not commonly referred to. Indeed, as far back as 1977, Dennis Cahill observed that: the more positive and functional aspects of the migration phenomenon such as cross-cultural fertilisation, intercultural consciousness, integration and cultural development, have been neglected as too vague and abstract for serious research, and in particular, little attention has been directed towards the changes in consciousness within the host culture.5
This failure to examine the positive effect of migration on the host culture has been somewhat redressed in the eighteen years since Cahill made his observation. Indeed, in a post-modern era, where scholars are deconstructing everything from gender to the nation-state, immigration history and multicultural studies are areas of burgeoning interest.
If we approach the issue from this positive point of view, we can see that, over the past fifty years, Australian culture has absorbed and expressed the presence of migrants from around the world in various ways. Most notable and celebrated among these is the revolution in the nation's cuisine. In addition, we are enjoying more cosmopolitan literature, theatre and film, though progress in presenting our multicultural face in the television media is disappointingly slow. Names that are conspicuously of non-English origin are appearing in cricket and football teams at the highest levels. The level of inter-cultural marriage is high and the level of blatant racial discrimination is decreasing.
The popular icons of Geoffrey Blainey's 'Old Australia' may be transforming themselves in the image of multiculturalism, but the less visible vestiges of institutionalised power are proving more intractable to change. Commonwealth and State parliaments, the upper echelons of the Public Service and the senior levels of business have disproportionately few people from non-English speaking (NESB) backgrounds. It is apparent that the levers of power will not be surrendered easily and it may also be true that the accoutrements of multiculturalism are a small price to pay for the retention of real power. This issue of removing the barriers to NESB people's access to the halls of power is closely connected to the other principal means by which multiculturalism is changing the Australian identity. In addition to shifting our identity from its British base to a more cosmopolitan one, multiculturalism is transforming the meaning of the 'fair go'.
As I have discussed earlier, the commitment to social justice in Australian history has always been exclusive. Multiculturalism is both broadening and deepening the concept of social justice in Australia.
A raft of government programs and policies seeks to provide NESB people with the same opportunities as other Australians. The Access and Equity Strategy requires Commonwealth departments to adjust their services, if necessary, to ensure that NESB people get equitable outcomes. The Racial Discrimination Act and the Racial Hatred Act are legislative expressions of the political and bureaucratic stance against discrimination on the grounds of race, culture, religion or ethnicity.
As well as bringing about the development of a broader, more authentic version of the 'fair go', multiculturalism has deepened our understanding of social justice. Our understanding has been deepened, because of the alternative understandings of social justice that people from around the world have brought to Australia.
Those who wish to assert that Australian identity is monocultural - that it is tied to specific cultural practices and one specific sociocultural tradition - have had problems dealing with Australia's cultural diversity. Their general approach has been that, although cultural diversity may be tolerated, it is only tolerated to the extent that, at some point in the future, migrants will come to accept and assimilate to an ideal of Australian identity and culture.
Does the 'Australian Identity' Exist?
At this point a difficult question arises: does the idea of an Australian identity have any meaning in the modern world? Leaving aside the development of Australia as a culturally diverse society, it can be argued that the whole idea of an 'Australian identity' makes very little sense, given the developments of the modern age. In other words, even in the absence of Australia's own cultural diversity, there are so many changes taking place in the world, and their impact on Australia and the modern way of life is so great, that our identities would be changing anyway.
This is the thesis put forward by Hugh McKay in his book Reinventing Australia. In the introductory chapter, entitled 'The Big Angst', he raises the following issues.
For individuals, then, there is no mystery about the primary source of stress and anxiety: it is the result of having to adapt to changes in our lives which are so significant that we are required to re-think who we are.
For Australian society at large, the last 20 years have been just like that, the so called Age of Anxiety is in reality nothing more than a symptom of the fact what we are really living in is the Age of Redefinition. Since the early 1970s, there is hardly an institution or a convention of Australian life which has not been subjected either to serious challenge or radical change. The social, cultural, political and economic landmarks which were traditionally used as reference points for defining the Australian way of life have either vanished, been eroded or shifted.6
Furthermore, he says: 'the Australian way of life is now being challenged and redefined to such an extent that growing numbers of Australians feel that their personal identities are under threat as well. 'Who are we?' soon leads to the question: 'Who am I?'7
In this context multiculturalism is easily attacked; it is convenient to blame multiculturalism for these modern dilemmas of identity. Indeed, as saw in the first part of this book, multiculturalism is a scapegoat for many who feel their identity is threatened from a number of sources.
The question of whether there is such a thing as Australian identity leads to the theoretical questions: what do we mean by a social or cultural identity in this sense, and why is it important to have such an identity?
An initial response to the second question is that without such a sociocultural identity, we lose all sense of ourselves and dramatically reduce the meaning of our existence as human beings. There is a whole tradition of social theory to support this view. The fundamental claim is that an individual's self-understanding is inextricably linked to membership of a particular community.
According to this view, each member of society has a social identity, a set of social roles (teacher, mother, sportswoman . . . ) or as having a certain status within the community. These different roles form a complex entity which constitutes social identity.
Each social role usually involves specific rules; for example, there are rules that a bride in our culture must follow. Yet there are many cases where we adopt roles in which we do not make conscious reference to the rules; we have already accepted those rules and internalised them in our own being. The way one behaves towards parents, teachers, or - if one is a teacher - towards one's students, are common cases of internalised rules.
What is the nature of social identity and the social roles connected with it? Why do sociologists and social theorists talk about these as intricate parts of the social system?
B. AUSTRALIAN IDENTITY AND THE NATION-STATE
The Development of the Nation-state
The model of social organisation adopted by the Australian colonies in 1901 mirrored that which had developed in Europe and North America in the late Eighteenth Century. The nation-state was inspired by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Science was rolling back the frontiers of nature and human beings had a Promethean faith in their ability to unlock the perennial mysteries of existence. The nation-states, and the Enlightenment-inspired concepts of liberal rights that accompanied them, lacked the divine legitimacy of the kingdoms that had preceded them. Monarchs had simply pointed to the heavens and claimed to rule by the grace of God, but the rulers of these emerging democracies were making new claims to reason and rationality.
Nationalism came to fill the void left by the decline of the monarchy and the church. National identity emerged as a serious alternative to spiritual identity, and civic life challenged religious life as the ultimate expression of meaning. The architectural wonder of town halls and public spaces where citizens gathered, eclipsed that of the cathedral spires and palaces in the great cities of Europe. One of the most important historical events that symbolised the eclipse of the old order and the beginning of the new was the French Revolution, with its call for liberté, egalité et fraternité.
And yet, despite its appeals to rationality and its belief in the inherent logic of human existence, the Enlightenment spawned its own powerful myth - that of the nation-state. I use the word 'myth' because it is not clear what the substance of this entity, the 'nation', consists of. Much of the philosophy of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries went into the construction of the essential character of the nation-state.
In addition, a band of historians, led by Michelet in France, Seeley in Great Britain and Mazzini in Italy, finessed the line between fiction and history, and embellished their nations' pasts with tales of heroic deeds and bold victories. Scattered, diverse, and frequently disunited populations became unified nations with glorious destinies beneath the pens of these myth-makers.
But what does the term the nation-state really refer to? Anthony Smith, in attempting to define the nation-state, sets out some primary assumptions and beliefs common to nationalism. On the basis of these assumptions, he defines the 'nation' as:
. . . a named human population sharing a historical territory, common memories and myths of origin, a mass, standardised public culture, a common economy and territorial mobility, and common legal rights and duties for all members of the collectivity. 12
Smith goes on to argue that the 'appeal to national identity has become the main legitimation for social order and social solidarity today.' This all-embracing definition is misleading, since there are many nation-states that have only some of these elements and not others.
Liah Greenfeld in her book, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, warns us against the attempt to reduce the different types of nationalism to one idea. Nor should we identify the nation simply with a particular religious, linguistic or ethnic human grouping, although there often is an interrelationship between the nation and such groupings: Nationalism is not related to membership in all human communities, but only in communities defined as 'nations'. National identity is different from an exclusively religious or a class identity. Nor is it a synonym for an exclusively or primarily linguistic or territorial identity, or a political identity of a certain kind (such, for instance, as an identity derived from being a single subject of a particular dynasty), or even a unique identity, that is, a sense of Frenchness, Englishness, or Germanity, all of which are commonly associated with national identity.13
It is important to recognise that two models of the nation-state emerged in the Nineteenth Century. The first model, which I call the liberal democratic model, used the provision of a certain, limited set of civil and political rights as its unifying principle. Loyalty to the nation-state earned such rights as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the protection of the rule of law. The principle of unity within the nation-state was maintained through commitment to the constitution of the nation-state and agreement to abide by the laws, as democratically determined.
The second model of the nation-state is called essentialist. According to this model, national unity is achieved through an appeal to the idea of the nation as an essential entity, whose existence is not dependent on the whims of individuals. For example, in the philosophy of Hegel, the nation-state is referred to as a quasi-metaphysical being:
All the value man has, all spiritual reality, he has only through the state. For his spirituality is the knowing presence to him of his own essence, of rationality, of its objective, immediate actuality present in and for him . . . The State, thus, is the foundation and centre of the other concrete aspects of national life, of art, law, morality, religion, science. All spiritual activity, then, has the aim of becoming conscious of this union, that is, of its freedom . . . the universal which appears and becomes known within the state, the form into which is cast all reality, constitutes what is generally called the culture of a nation. The definite content, however, which received the form of universality and is contained in the concrete reality of the State, is the spirit of the people.14
The ideas of Hegel were similar to those of other German thinkers, such as Herder and Fichte. They were responsible for the often repeated claim that Germany as a nation-state was based on a quasi-metaphysical model. Fichte, for example, claimed: But to whom a fatherland has been handed down, and in whose soul heaven and earth, visible and invisible, meet and mingle, and thus, and only thus, create a true and enduring heaven - such a man fights to the last drop of his blood to hand on the precious possession unimpaired to his posterity.15
According to this approach, the nation takes on qualities ranging from the personal to the god-like. Jules Michelet, the great French historian of the nineteenth century, described France in the language of the lover: 'herself a woman (like Joan), she had the feminine nobility, but also a woman's charming sweetness'.16 Michelet was but one of a band of myth-makers (typically historians) sponsored by the state to invent and sustain a national mythology.
The Nation State and Ethnicity
It has been argued that the most important feature of the nation-state, irrespective of whether one adopts the liberal-democratic model or the essentialist model, has been the commitment to one ethnicity and one public culture. According to this view, states that consist of more than one ethnicity, or that are multicultural and multi-ethnic, are considered to be unstable. If one accepts this view, then the price to be paid for solidarity of the nation-state, is the death of cultural diversity.
In this sense, nationalism becomes a homogenising ideology. The nation-state exists by virtue of those who are allowed within its ethnic and cultural boundaries and those who are outside. But this insistence on cultural homogeneity is a false basis for social solidarity. As Anthony Birch points out in his book, Nationalism and National Integration:
Humanity is not naturally divided into nations. For most of human history, for at least 60,000 years and possibly for twice that period, humanity was divided into small tribes. As populations increased and communications improved, these tribes merged into larger social groupings, but nations are relatively recent and relatively artificial creations. Very few of the national societies that now exist are completely homogenous in a social and cultural sense. With a handful of exceptions, modern nations are an amalgam of historical communities which possessed a fairly clear sense of separate identity in the past but have been brought together by various economic, social and political developments.0
It is ironic that the nation-state conceived in this way should arise from the humanism of the Enlightenment. For this very principle of the one ethnicity is contrary to universal principles of one humanity as put forward by the Enlightenment thinkers and by philosophers such as Kant. Indeed, in some of its forms, this nationalism became the worship of the nation-state and the irrational exclusion of other peoples, other cultures, other races. It was no wonder then that the Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century saw an explosion of wars based on excessive emphasis on nationalism and the inability to resolve differences between people.
The two models of the state outlined above, can be combined with a reference to the question of ethnic and/or cultural identity. Hence, there have been nation-states that have focused almost exclusively on one ethnicity, some that have incorporated two or more distinct ethnicities and some nation-states that have been multi-ethnic with significant cultural diversity. Thus, the United States is a multi-ethnic liberal state and Britain was, until recently, a liberal, mono-ethnic state. On the other hand, Hitler's Germany was an extreme example of a mono-ethnic, essentialist state, while the Soviet Union, under its version of communism, was a multi-ethnic, essentialist state.
However, there is a major criticism of such multi-ethnic models; that is, they are inherently unstable and do not contain sufficient solidarity. Thus, the liberal-democratic, multi-ethnic United States is seen to be unstable, especially since large sections of its citizens, such as blacks, indigenous Indians and certain ethnic groups - including the Spanish Americans - often consider themselves to be alienated from the main body of the nation and to be, in some sense, second-class citizens.
Similarly, the essentialist, multi-ethnic model that underlay the Soviet Union was also an unstable nation. The grandiose idea on which it was based soon collapsed when the totalitarian apparatus of the Communist Party was removed by a democratic revolution. As a result, the Soviet system collapsed into a number of separate nations, each of which was based essentially on one dominant ethnicity. A similar, but more violent fate, befell the former Yugoslavia.
Although these societies were a combination of culturally diverse groupings, both multi-ethnic models effectively relied on a myth based on a set of values that defined 'the nation'. In the American nation, this set of values centred around the idea of the 'American dream' which was the idea that through the market-based economic system, each individual had the potential to become wealthy and to pursue happiness. In the Soviet style system, this myth was based on the Utopian vision of a socialist society as progressed by the Communist Party. In neither case was there a genuine attempt actually to come to terms with the relationship between the idea of the nation and cultural diversity.
It would appear that we have reached a serious dilemma from the point of view of defining a national identity. On the one hand, the monocultural, mono-ethnic model provides a basis for solidarity and stability in the short term. However, it is of no use in today's increasingly itinerant, cosmopolitan world, and in a culturally diverse society like Australia. On the other hand, we have seen that several so-called multi-ethnic models of the nation-state have been based on a unifying mythology, a constructed rather than genuine principle of unity.
One way out of this dilemma is to reject the idea of the nation-state altogether as an outdated concept. Thus, while we can accept that the 'imagined community'18 of the nation has proved to be an effective vehicle for developments such as industrialisation over the past two centuries, it could be argued that it has now outlived its usefulness. This is because the nation-state has also been a powerful force for democratisation and, in the late Twentieth Century, the democratic forces unleashed by the nation-state now challenge its legitimacy.
Furthermore, the information age has superseded the industrial age and the exchange of information makes the idea of a nation-state based on the one culture unsustainable. Added to this, the mobility of the world's population undermines efforts to create such a homogenous, monocultural 'nation'.
In Nations and Nationalism since 1780, E. J. Hobsbawn extends this idea further:
The characteristic nationalist movements of the late Twentieth Century are essentially negative, or rather divisive. Hence the insistence on 'ethnicity' and linguistic differences, each or both sometimes combined with religion. In one sense they may be regarded as successors to, sometimes the heirs of, the small nationality movements directed against the Habsburg, Tsarist and Ottoman Empires, that is to say against what were considered historically obsolete modes of political organisation, in the name of a (perhaps misconceived) model of political modernity, the nation-state. In another sense most of them are quite the opposite, namely rejections of modern modes of political organisation, both national and supranational. 19
If the idea of the nation-state is to survive, it must be redefined so as to address the issues raised above.
The forces leading to the decline of the nation-state have also had an impact in Australia. Indeed, Australia has been a good example of the changes that have undermined the traditional nation-state. As we have seen, for half a century now, the so-called Australian national identity - premised upon a belief in a monocultural society - has been transformed because of the arrival of people from all over the world; the Australian continent now plays host to a myriad of cultures. We can no longer sustain an Australian 'identity' based on 'cultural' homogeneity in the face of the country's ethnic heterogeneity and cultural diversity.
R. White, Inventing Australia, George Allen and Unwin, North Sydney, 1981, p viii. .E. Thompson, Fair Enough: Egalitarianism in Australia, UNSW Press, NSW, 1994, p. 250. .. N. Jose, 'Cultural Identity', in Stephen Graubard, (ed.), Australia: The Daedalus Symposium, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, 1985, p. 312. .. J. Hirst, 'Australia's Absurd History' in J. Carroll (ed), Intruders in the Bush, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, pp. 206-207. .. Dennis Cahill, 'Dialectical Poly-Ethnicity: a Contemporary Model to Understand Ethnic Interaction and Cultural Contact', Ethnic Studies, vol. 1, no. 3, 1977, p. 1, from Paul Carter, 'Baroque Identities: Migration and Mimicry', in Livio Dobrez, (ed), Identifying Australia in Post-Modern times, Bibliotech: Canberra, 1994, p. 10. .. K. Mackay, Reinventing Australia, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, 1993, p. 17. .. Ibid., p. 19.
Copyright © 2007 Dr Andrew Theophanous