Australia is a sovereign state with a unique national character that it is entitled to preserve, not just because it is ours, but because it is good. The Australian character, rooted in a profound respect for individuals and their freedoms and duties, is a particular expression of the English-speaking variant of Western Civilisation and its values, which are responsible for unparalleled human flourishing and excellence. In Australia, these values are institutionalised in the basic facts of our shared social life, like our dominant culture, laws, way of life, social norms, and rights. We should aim to preserve our Australian character for two reasons: first, so that future generations can be provided the same freedoms and opportunities that earlier generations of Australians have been fortunate enough to enjoy; second, because the survival of the Australian character is pivotal to the cause of human advancement.
In recent decades, the civilisation of which our country is a part has developed an acute crisis of confidence. Since the end of World War Two, the nations of the West, under sustained hostility from the opinion making class (including academics, policymakers, politicians, and journalists), have come to doubt their own characters and right to self-preservation. Australia has not been exempt from this critique, and the intellectual leadership of our country has often gone out of its way to promote rhetoric and policies which, if taken to their logical fulfilment, would result in the gradual erosion of Australia’s unique identity, heritage, and way of life.
Most Australians would not like to see this happen – myself included. We must defend Australia’s right to national self-preservation against this critique and maintain what it is and what it means to be Australian.
To begin to understand why Australia’s unique national character ought to be preserved, it is necessary to place Australia in its proper civilisational context. Australia belongs to the wider family of the English-speaking Western world. The Anglosphere, as it is known, is made up of Britain, Ireland, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. Although some other Commonwealth countries also list English as an official language, they are not part of the core group due to their complex histories, which often place the evolution of their identities and associated characters on their own distinct trajectories. Nations of this core group are connected by their shared heritage in the British Isles, broadly similar civic institutions, and cultural mindsets. Australia cannot be understood in isolation from the civilisational blueprint upon which its national character is based.
The Anglosphere is the jewel in the crown that is Western Civilisation. This group is, in my view, the world’s pre-eminent civilisational bloc. It has a consistent track record of producing the most stable and prosperous societies. Its cultural, political, economic, industrial, technological, and military pre-eminence is unparalleled in world history. These nations have achieved this status, in part, due to the triumph of their national characters and, in part, due to serendipity. Led by the United States, this group has made incomparable contributions towards the cause of human advancement. As things stand, it continues to wield enormous influence over global affairs.
The pre-eminence of the Anglosphere began with the rise of the British Empire, which reached the peak of its dominance over global commerce and trade during the 1800s. An indelible consequence of which has been the emergence of the English language as the lingua franca of the world. Then, following its reluctant participation and victory in World War One (1914-1918) and World War Two (1939-1945), the United States emerged as the new world leader. The value of commodities in global trade began to be measured against the value of the American dollar, as established under the Bretton Woods system in 1944. The spread of English makes it easier for American pop culture, slang terms, social norms, and fashion trends to be exported to the rest of the world. And of course, the United States remains the world’s foremost military superpower. At present, it hosts 800 military bases across 70 different countries. This affords the United States unparalleled capacity to influence global affairs and advance its strategic interests through a combination of direct and indirect intervention as it sees fit. Australia’s own position in the globe has been strengthened by its military alliance with the United States, enshrined in the ANZUS Treaty of 1951.
Over the course of these centuries of influence, the Anglosphere has become the world’s greatest producer of science and culture. The Anglosphere is home to some of the world’s leading universities, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Berkeley, and Stanford to name a few. Unsurprisingly, discoveries and innovations in medical science and other technical fields primarily come from the Anglosphere, as does the world’s high technology. The world’s largest and most easily recognisable technology brands such as Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter stand as proof of this. At the same time, most of the major sports that are played around the world originated within the Anglosphere – soccer, cricket, baseball, basketball, and tennis – and English language (particularly American) film and television is watched all over the world. This continues to make the United States the country with the largest number of recognisable celebrities outside its own borders.
This culture of innovation is also a culture of excellence. High achievers from the Anglosphere have often boldly gone where no one had gone before. New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person to reach the highest peak in the world at Mount Everest in 1953. Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first persons to reach the surface of the moon in 1969. American Victor Viscovo became the first person to reach the deepest point at sea in the world by diving to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 2019. Not all societies tend to produce such ambitious outliers.
The Anglosphere has also come to dominate political philosophy, as it has sought to explain, to itself and to others, the secrets of its success. From Thomas Hobbes and John Locke to David Hume and John Stuart Mill, the civic ideas that have emerged as the result of the English and Scottish Enlightenment have since gone on to form the basis for free, just, and prosperous societies. Examples of such ideas include concepts we too often take for granted, among them rule by popular consent, social contract, separation of powers, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, equality before the law, private property rights and individual liberty. While these ideas have not always travelled well outside the West, this only reinforces the exceptional nature of the civilisation that produced them and has made them work to the benefit of ordinary people.
The wide-ranging success of the Anglosphere countries can be credited to their shared values and institutions, inherited from the nations of the British Isles. If these contributions were limited to a single aspect of human endeavour, it would be tempting to attribute them to sheer happenstance, but it is self-evident that these contributions are exceptional, sizable, and widespread across a diverse range of fields, suggesting a deeper cause. In their seminal publication Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress political scientists Samuel P. Huntington and Lawrence Harrison argued that a society’s progress and stability were determined by the dominant culture that shaped its values and public attitudes. The most visible proof of the validity of this hypothesis can be seen in cases where a single population demographic with identical ancestry is split up across two different territorial units and left with different national mindsets, the contrast in economic and political stability after the initial few decades ends up proving to be immense. East and West Germany, North and South Korea, and some might argue, Pakistan and India are cases in point. The Anglosphere is the inverse case, with nations sharing common institutional structures and thus common success, despite being spread across the world.
It follows that if this core group of nations, of which Australia is a part, is to continue to provide the world leadership in human advancement, their national characters, which include these institutions and the values that support them, must be preserved. If their settings were tinkered with, we would be left with societies that turn into a mishmash of conflicting values and internal power struggles based on competing identities. Through major demographic shifts due to mass migration, Anglosphere nations including Australia, run the risk of ending up resembling some of the social and political circumstances often found in the developing world. For Australians, this means preserving the distinct mindset which makes us who we are.
As Australian society has gone through rapid changes in recent decades, it has become fashionable for some to claim that we do not even have a distinct culture or set of values. But not only is it clear that Australia is part of a uniquely successful civilisational bloc, it is equally clear that within this bloc and among the nations of the world, Australia has a unique character which, in light of that success, it is reasonable for us to want to preserve. Far from the claims of the critics, the Australian character is readily identifiable, and while no culture can be reduced exactly to a few bullet points, our culture can be summarised in a way that most reasonable people will find recognisably Australian. The point is not that no other countries have any characteristics like these – indeed, as we have seen, the case for them rests in part on their being shared in some sense across our civilisation – but rather that they exist here in unique fashion, emphasis, and combination.
When we claim that the unique Australian character should be preserved, our reference is to something like the following ethos:
- Individualism: Australians try to treat one another as individuals, without deference to rank or title. Rather than assessing people on markers of pedigree, status, or class, Australians generally try to judge one another on matters of substance, like integrity and reliability, as embodied in the concept of the ‘good bloke’.
- Modesty: Australians do not try to lord over one another by touting our achievements and using them to belittle others. Open boasting tends to alienate Australians because it obscures rather than reveals a person’s integrity.
- Scepticism: Australians are not possessed of fanatical convictions that lead us to meddle in the lives of others. There is a willingness among Australians to accept that others know their own minds better than we do. We are dubious of over-the-top and lofty language, which we recognise as manipulation, and we are capable of a profound and benign indifference, being genuinely unmoved by matters that do not concern us directly.
- Personal space: Australians are willing to give each other space to live (after all, we have a lot of it to give), and we generally expect a lot of space to be given to us. This is true in a physical sense – Australians have a much greater expectation of personal space than many other peoples have – but also metaphorically. Australians do not like pushy people or the undue imposition of personal authority, and, reciprocally, try to be conciliatory and respectful.
- Rules: Australians, it has been noted, are more deferential to institutions than people, and we tend to be sticklers for rules. This deference comes from the proposition that everyone is equal under the rules, and that the rules should work to everyone’s benefit. As such, our commitment to rules-based order manifests as a belief that the rule-makers should be chosen on their merits, the better to deliver for us, and that following the rules should be encouraged rather than forced (though, as we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are not shy of using the stick as well as the carrot if that is required to assure faith in, and adherence to, the rules).
The most striking feature of Australia is that our country is basically individualistic but that our framing of individualism is centred on how each of us should treat others, and not just how we can express ourselves. This unusual commitment has a direct connection to Australia’s success as one of the most stable, free, and desirable countries. Whereas in some societies around the world, it is acceptable to be somewhat boastful of social status and pomp, in Australia the kind of modest individualism described here helps us ensure that we remain socially egalitarian. And while in some societies it is acceptable to be somewhat coercive – parents, for instance, often push their children on what to study, who to marry, who not to befriend or what political opinion to hold – in Australia, the same idea, expressed as scepticism and belief in space and tolerance, ensures that we choose our own pathways in life. And whereas in some societies, people tend to rely heavily on favours through networking with powerful people to get ahead in life, in Australia, our character ensures that we keep nepotism, corruption and bribery out.
Our unique character is our own way of expressing the deepest values of our civilisation. The Anglosphere generally and our own experience specifically together demonstrate that societies built upon these kinds of values make extraordinary contributions to humanity. We should want to preserve this character – indeed, it seems absurd to even ask why we would ever contemplate the alternative. And yet, that is more and more what we are expected to do.
Since the end of World War Two, Western Civilisation, the Anglosphere, and Australia have been beset by self-doubt, as though none of the above successes were real, or, even if they were, unequivocally outstripped by failures that, just as surely, have deep roots in our culture and character.
To put the point simply, World War Two changed the way that the West’s intellectuals view our civilisation. Never before in world history had humanity experienced, not one but two, large scale global conflicts using modern industrialised weapons that caused unprecedented violence and bloodshed. In response, many Western academics began to develop philosophical modes of thinking to account for this mass carnage. Examples of these schools of thought are critical theory, postcolonialism, poststructuralism and postmodernism. They connected the history of Western colonialism, drawing references to various colonised natives like the Zulus of South Africa, the Aborigines of Australia, the Maoris of New Zealand, the native tribes of the United States and Canada, and the various Mesoamerican cultures overhauled by the Spanish conquistadors, to the violence of the early and middle 20th century, and concluded that the nascent post-World War Two ‘rules-based’ global order, ostensibly a promise to avoid further outbreaks of globalised violence, was merely a continuation of European imperialism under another guise – an impression bolstered by the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam. In 1978, Palestinian American theorist Edward Said published his seminal work Orientalism, the core argument of which was that for centuries European thinkers had portrayed the Oriental world as exotic, barbaric and backward in Western literature, art and philosophy. In his view, this was done to justify colonising the world and extending European civilisation far beyond Europe as a civilising mission. This hypothesis gained immense trac