Australian Way of Life

The Weird Obsession With Freedom

Written by
19 April 2021
The Weird Obsession With Freedom

This is the editorial from the Autumn 2021 edition of the IPA Reviewby Editor of the IPA Review, Scott Hargreaves. A Table of Contents can viewed here. IPA Members receive a print edition and online versions of articles are progressively released in the months following publication. To join/subscribe see here.

On April 25, this year, Australians and New Zealanders will commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The suggestion by the Victorian Government that the Anzac Day marches should be cancelled due to COVID-19 was rightly met with horror by the IPA and by Australians of all hues. The reaction showed just how much Anzac Day means to people, and how important are its rituals and the many memorials at which these take place.

For this reason I am pleased to publish on page 16 an article by legendary Queensland historian Dr John Moses on how Anzac Day was established even while the Great War was still in progress, and the role played by Canon David Garland of Brisbane. Dr Moses is particularly keen to point out the inescapably Christian roots of the Anzac Day rituals, and those interested in how the followers of the various Christian denominations in Australia developed the spirit of mutual tolerance and cooperation will see this as another fine example.

We should cherish this as—in our more secular age—Anzac Day is treasured by all Australians, whether they are or have been part of a Christian tradition at all.

The wider point made by Moses is that today’s generation of historians literally cannot understand what Anzac Day means to people because they do not have the historical imagination to comprehend a time when virtually everybody did profess religion. Similarly, Michael Easson in his article on page 32 explains how the ALP is shooting itself in the foot by ignoring, if not denigrating, the current generation of voters who are religious. Michael certainly is capable of the historical perspective, tracing the ALP’s foundations to when Christianity actually was one of its inspirations.

Generations before had to fight for their ancient rights, such as free speech. As do we.

The common thread is that vital ideas can become lost, as the education system is mired in a universal sense of now-ism, either ignoring the past or only speaking of it for long enough to belittle it. This historical amnesia—and/or the self-immolation of cultural and intellectual heritage—is also behind the recent setback for Peter Ridd in the full Federal Court. IPA Research Fellow Andrew Bushnell, in our cover story, has provided a masterful analysis of the deeply troubling import of the Court decision, and how dismissive it is of traditions of intellectual inquiry and free speech that are at the heart of our Western culture.

Thankfully the High Court has granted Peter leave to appeal, which suggests it at least understands the wider implication of the case. Now we shall see whether it is prepared to reinforce rather than destroy cherished ideas of free speech.

The Weirdest People in the World by Jospeh Henrich

Understanding the roots of the Western culture which—up until now—has venerated free speech is the mission of Professor Joseph Henrich, whose book I review on page 50. Henrich coined the phrase WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) to describe the unique features of the Western mind, and quotes mountains of statistics to explain its features and the remarkable surge of prosperity and freedom it has created. Whatever the merits of other world civilisations and traditional cultures, WEIRD cultures are uniquely successful, and the adoption of its key elements by countries outside the original ‘West’ have led to similar outcomes of freedom and prosperity (think Taiwan).

If Western Civilisation is going to survive the assaults from postmodernism, Critical Race Theory, and the like, then researchers such as Henrich have a vital role to play. I hope you find the review as interesting as I found the book.

Australia is a WEIRD country, but has a distinctiveness all its own. Those who colonised Australia created in the 19th century the free, liberal and democratic nation that was—and still is, for many—the envy of the world (whatever its faults). When our major cultural institutions overwhelmingly propagate black armband views of Australian history we need to work harder to understand and educate people about our own history, and how previous generations of Australians thought about it. That is why I asked historian, Dr Richard Allsop, to reflect on one of the great original works on our country, Keith Hancock’s 1930 work, Australia. If you think big government and a massive national debt is new, think again, but Richard’s article on page 40 also outlines the choices available to us to restore national prosperity and confidence.

For want of space I can only commend to you without elaboration articles by Susan Prior with her fascinating perspective from Norfolk Island of climate change and sea levels, Richard Allsop (him again!) reviewing a book on censorship, Cian Hussey on the great Matt Ridley’s latest book, and Evan Mulholland on Marian Wilkinson’s invention of a “Carbon Club”.

Finally, the IPA has now published Summoning Magna Carta: Freedom’s Symbol Over A Millennium, by IPA Adjunct Fellow Dr Zachary Gorman. He reminds us that previous generations had to fight for their rights, such as free speech. And so do we.

The great Henry Ergas gave the book a generous review in The Australian, and said:

It is a marvellous effort, and will be of enormous use, particularly (but not only) to those coming to the subject for the first time.

Learn more about Magna Carta and buy the book at ipamagnacarta.org.au

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Scott Hargreaves

Scott Hargreaves is the Executive General Manager at the Institute of Public Affairs

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