Australian institutions are so hostile to freedom that telling the truth is an act of resistance
For too long, Australians committed to freedom have consoled themselves, believing that while their condition is desperate, it’s not yet serious.
As Christians lose their jobs, as Liberal and Labor governments embrace government censorship of our speech and opinions, and as the heritage that’s created liberal democracy and the rule of law is obliterated, too many of us have shrugged our shoulders and uttered some variation of ‘Oh well, it’s always darkest before dawn,’ or ‘The tide will turn’ or ‘The pendulum will swing back.’
But a pendulum swung from one side to the other never returns to its original position.
We need to understand that in Australia, we’re not losing our freedoms – we’ve already lost them. If you don’t feel you’re a free person, you’re not. The institutions that once sustained our freedoms either no longer exist or are hostile to freedom.
More than three years of Covid is proof that the principles and practices of freedom are no defence against the government. Put simply, if the Australian public were ever to be given a choice between liberty and security, it is now clear which they would choose. Remember, Daniel Andrews was decisively re-elected last year, and so was Mark McGowan in 2021.
Covid revealed Australians to be among the most obedient people in the world. If the arrest and handcuffing of a mother in her pyjamas in her living room in front of her screaming children for a social media post advertising a lawful protest don’t arouse a population and its politicians, then probably nothing will. No matter what the circumstances, a free country is not one which doesn’t allow its citizens to enter or exit.
One of the most perceptive historians of this country, John Hirst, wrote nearly twenty years ago about the myth we tell ourselves that we are easy-going, freedom-loving larrikins.
‘The Australian people despise politicians, but the politicians can extract an amazing degree of obedience from the people, while the people themselves believe they are anti-authority.’
‘Australians are suspicious of persons in authority, but towards impersonal authority they are very obedient.’
Hirst argued government arrived here in 1788 fully formed, and whatever freedoms Australians once enjoyed were given to them, not won, and that because of our history, the state has been relatively benign. We, therefore, tend to assume the best, not the worst, of our rulers.
The reality is that today in Australia, freedom is very much a niche interest. It goes without saying we’re more free than, say, the residents of Hong Kong. Our elections are still free, and we can still choose who to vote for (even if our major parties are virtually indistinguishable from each other).
To say that ‘freedom is lost’ is not to suggest that freedom can’t ever be regained. It can be, but it’s much more difficult to win back something than to maintain a hold of it. If ever we are to win back our freedom, there are three things we must understand.
First, the way to freedom in Australia is not through politics. Andrew Breitbart was right. ‘Politics is downstream from culture’. If we want to change our politics, we must first change our culture. The Liberal party is not a cultural institution; it has no interest in culture, and its influence on the country’s culture in recent decades has been negligible. Unlike the ALP, which understands cultural power, the Liberals have done nothing to foster intellectual or policy support for either the party or its aims. When Liberal MPs claim their party should avoid the ‘culture wars’ it reveals just how far their party is removed from the battle for the Australian way of life. No Labor MP would ever say their party should only talk about economics.
The Liberal party, just like any other civil institution, is a creature of a nation’s culture. As Australia’s culture has moved left, so have the Liberals. For nearly nine of the last ten years, the Liberals have been in power in Canberra, and freedom has retreated. Bill Leak, Archbishop Julian Porteous, Israel Folau, Peter Ridd, Zoe Buhler, and Calum Thwaites are just some of the Australians either persecuted or prosecuted in recent years by either their employer or government authorities because of what they said or believed. Every episode occurred under a Liberal prime minister. The Liberals have followed, not led, public opinion on the indigenous Voice to parliament.
Second, the institutions of education, the mainstream media, and civil society are all now unequivocally hostile to freedom. They cannot be renovated or ‘recaptured’. The only alternative is to create new and alternative institutions. It’s inconceivable, for example, that Australia’s universities will tolerate, let alone embrace, genuine diversity of opinion – they are too far gone. There’s no point attempting to ‘reform’ something irretrievably broken.
Third, we must think small. We are a dissident minority, and the forces arrayed against us are great. Justice, truth and human dignity might be on our side, but in practical terms, we’re holding a butter knife while our opponents are in charge of an Abrams tank. Gramsci was right. It will be a long march back, and success will be measured in inches. Charles Handy put it this way – ‘We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness.’
Every time we don’t lie to ourselves, we’re lighting a small fire. That’s the point of ‘Live Not by Lies’, the statement Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn released on the day he was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1974. Each of us must do what we can – no matter how seemingly insignificant – when we can.
‘[T]he simplest, most accessible key to our liberation [is] personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!’
This article was originally published in The Spectator Australia and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.