My post on Keith Windschuttle’s statements defending the White Australia policy drew an interesting response. No-one, as far I can see, was prepared to defend Windschuttle outright, but there was a sudden and startling outbreak of caution. Maybe Windschuttle had been misquoted. Maybe the interview gave a misleading picture of his book and we should all wait to read it. Maybe the term “White Australia policy” was never used officially. Maybe the dictation test was administered so as to admit educated Indians. Maybe my links were inaccurate.
All of this is very uncharacteristic of the blogosphere. The nature of blogging lends itself to summary judgements based on limited evidence, not waiting for years until all the evidence is in. You read the papers, make a judgement and (at least among the better class of bloggers) if you turn out to be wrong, you admit it with good grace. Why has the response in this case been so different ?
I think it’s because of the R-word racism. There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist. It’s OK to say that Adolf Hitler was a racist, and that apartheid was racist, but the idea that any actual Australian could be a racist is utterly taboo. Even I can’t resist the Zeitgeist on this one. In my post, I called Windschuttle “a consistent apologist for racism, happy to use racist arguments in support of his cause”.
It’s obvious why this taboo has emerged. Racism is an evil, bloodstained ideology and no one wants to admit association with it. Hence, almost no-one is silly enough to come out with a clear-cut statement like “white people are inherently superior to black people, and should be able to use them as they see fit”.
In this respect, racism is very similar to Communism. But while few people were willing to endorse Soviet Communism openly, particularly after the purges and the exposures of Kruschchev’s secret speech, there were plenty who were always willing to make excuses for the communists along the lines of “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” and so on. With his characteristic turn of phrase, Lenin called people of this type “fellow travellers” to their faces and “useful idiots” behind their backs.
Since his (still unexplained) swing from far left to far right about a decade ago, Windschuttle has consistently sought to excuse racist actions by whites (or, more precisely, British whites) by the usual range of strategies including denial of the facts, quibbling about irrelevant details, denunciation of witnesses and attacks on the victims as subhumans responsible for their own demise. But, in politically correct Australia, that’s not enough reason to call him a racist. So, I’ll just call him a fellow-traveller.
fn1. There’s an obvious model for this kind of thing in the recent historical literature, but I’ll leave the identification as an exercise for readers.
In case people have forgotten Windschuttle’s track record on matters of this kind let’s look at a couple of examples of blatant inconsistency, invariably operating to put whites who might be accused of racism in a good light, and blacks in a bad one. In his book on Tasmania, Windschuttle denies that Aborigines resisting white occupation could be viewed as displaying humanity or compassion on the basis of claims (for which he had almost zero evidence) that they had no words for these concepts. On the other hand, in claiming that the Aborigines were responsible for their own extinction, he accuses them of prostituting their women, a concept that is meaningless in a society without money or formal concepts of trade (leaving aside the well-documented and widespread incidence of rape).
In the interview promoting his new book on White Australia, Windschuttle supports the view, often stated by apologists for the policy, that it was the product of economic incentives. By contrast, in this New Criterion piece on the history of the British Empire, Windschuttle defends the view that the British abolition of slavery was due to moral revulsion rather than economic motives. In other words, when the British (taken here to include white Australians) do the right thing, this is evidence of the moral superiority of British/Christian civilisation. When they do the wrong thing, it’s a “rational and, in a number of ways, progressive, product” of economic circumstances.
If you want to confirm all this, I have a long essay here or you can search the site for chapter and verse.