Windschuttles and weathercocks

Amid the voluminous commentary on the Windschuttle hoax(es), the most telling, for me, was a summary of his political peregrinations from Guy Rundle at Crikey. It’s paywalled but I’ll quote the best bit:

The man who’s now editing Australia’s premier conservative magazine was advocating the revolutionary potential of LSD in the 60s, media studies as “radical pedagogy” in the early 70s, was enthusiastic for Pol Pot peasant-style revolts in the late 70s (“the oil is almost gone — soon the Aborigines and poor whites will rise up” he wrote in Nation Review in the late 70s) and re-emerged in the 90s, after the global collapse of the left, as a man who thought there was no Tasmanian genocide, that the White Australia policy was a left-wing plot, that John Steinbeck made up the Great Depression and that the British Empire could not have been cruel because its officers were Christians.

Like a mendicant Pope, he’s spent his life wandering from one state of certainty to the next, in the search for godknowswhat.

The only stage missed was his (“Killing of History”) period as a scourge of postmodernist and relativist theory and fan of the empirical approach of researchers like Henry Reynolds.

That brings to mind the more general phenomenon of migration from dogmatic left to dogmatic right, which I discussed quite a while ago here, and linked to Paul Norton.

82 thoughts on “Windschuttles and weathercocks

  1. “No Australian historian contends there was an Australian holocaust.
    — Dirk Moses, The Australian, January 13 2003

    I don’t want to call it genocidal, but I’m not going to tidy it up either.
    — Cassandra Pybus on the Tasmanian Aborigines, Sunday, Channel 9, May 25 2003

    In my opinion, genocide is neither a necessary nor a useful concept for the task of understanding the nature of the white colonisation of this country.
    — Bain Attwood, Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History, 2005, p 92”

    It seems that these days no prominent historian is willing to use the terms holocaust or genocide to describe what happened in colonial era Tasmania or anywhere else in Australia for that matter.

    To that extent at least, Keith Windschuttle won the history wars.

  2. Windschuttle like a mendicant Pope?
    More like a pedantic Mercantilist.

    I guess if you can cobble together a sensationalist $29.95 book that accuses almost the entire profession of Australian historiographers and social therorists of being “left wing black armbanders” (when the closest they would have come to revolutionary actions is to be heard saying “Eureka” in a dusty library archive room somewhere) you will get reviews from all and sundry book sellers.

  3. I find it hard to believe there was a White Australia policy. The myrmidons (chilout, African Oz, et al) are always chanting that “Australia has always been multicultural”. How can a policy based on discrimination exist alongside a policy of non-discrimination?

  4. Alanna, John Quiggin,

    Bain Attwood, Cassandra Pybus and Dirk Moses all used the words genocide and holocaust to describe Australian colonial only to retract these claims once Windschuttle arrived on the scene.

    It is simply bad faith not to credit him with forever changing the way we view our colonial history.

  5. John, if I may reply to melaleuca by saying when history is sexed-up it is a distortion of the true facts and then becomes fiction in its own wright and a whole lot of bulldust.

  6. Cardinal Newman wrote: ‘to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often’. The career of KW has to make one question at least the second half of this maxim.
    Another former Marxist who turned decisively right is Frank Furedi (see George Monbiot’s article on support for the Heathrow Airport extension, and Furedi’s recent article on the crisis of capitalism, in which he wrote: ‘In these confused times, we should attempt to defend capitalism from its small-minded opponents’).
    But another way of looking at this is to seek out what in these people’s ideology hasn’t changed at all. In what ways have they remained consistent? I think grid-group cultural theory can help here. Both Windschuttle and Furedi come across as strongly individualist and firmly anti-egalitarian and anti-hierachical, and always have done (I’m using these terms in a technical sense). On this analysis, they haven’t changed much, hence the imperfections.

  7. I know none of the participants, but I’ve occasionally seen:

    “passionate, faithful environmentalist” ===> climate change denier” without going through rational skepticism in the middle.

    I consulted with some (very good) psychology professors I know. They pointed me at terms like ambiguity tolerance and all-or-none thinking.

    They commented that sometimes, if someone takes a passionate extreme position based essentially on faith, and that faith gets punctured, and if they’re prone to ambiguity-intolerance, they can flip all the way to the other extreme.

    One mentioned some cases where someone actually oscillated back and forth, but the more common case was to do one major switch.

    Pop psych is always problematic, but I think there were potentially-useful comments.

    a) Some people are *quite* comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, distributions rather than means, error-bars rather than single hard numbers, nuanced opinions, the possibility of people who are not all good/bad, etc.

    b) Some people are at least trained in some of these things.

    c) But for others, this is a desperately terrifying worldview.

  8. I guess the purpose of an extreme view like Windschuttle’s is to have a moderating influence on people he sensationally charges with fabrications and all sorts of misdemeanors including different political views (generally people try to be conciliatory) as in the fact that Mel notes that Cassandra Pybus now states

    “I don’t want to call it genocidal, but I’m not going to tidy it up either.”

    I think that this was attempt to shut him up more than anything.


    My one question is how are we going to moderate Windschuttle and bring him back from the edge?

  9. John#10 – thats very interesting. Didnt Brendan Nelson and Michael Costa do a similar thing ie left right left or right left right?
    Ok truth session – who else has done it? I confess to having voted for nearly every party except Fred Nile and the Shooters Party.

    I still havent got the result I want. The right have overtaken the balanced in most major parties and the states are no indicator of fed inclinations and I suspect Treasury of being run by by tin men. Where is a person to go? Although I confess to not minding Rudd. At least a gentleman and not a heckler. I hope he can find a heart for the tin men.

  10. Rundle’s piece is very entertaining and raises the question of individuals who first promote extreme left views and then extreme right views.

    Is it the money of the right looks too good? It is the Look at Moi, Look at Moi, Look at Moi phenomenon? Certainly Windschuttle’s views have led him to pick up some nice little earners. Probably even more importantly, is that he has gained nationwide notoriety.

    It is hard to believe that someone who has wildly variable values has any wider principles -except perhaps “I know best”.

    If it wasn’t so personally embarrassing Windschuttle would probably be revelling in the current controversy. Possibly he is anyway.

  11. Agree Jill# I agree. Windschuttle is probably revelling in it because it will give him a right of reply (oh no….) sooner or later.

  12. Can anyone reveal (Guy Rundle might mention this, but as I’m not a Crikey subscriber I can’t gain access to his full article) what event(s) turned Keith Windschuttle away from the extreme Left? It’s my belief (fortified by a reasonably thorough Google search) that KW, for all his love of controversy, has been remarkably coy about answering that question. (Unlike George Orwell, Richard Crossman, Arthur Koestler, and others who explained in considerable detail why, and when, they abandoned all sympathy for communism.)

    I’d be surprised if monetary considerations had much, if any, of an impact on KW’s change of ideology. But I don’t know.

  13. Dont quote me but didnt he get a bit ostracised by the academic community at some university…could explain a lot but its a vague reading lost in the haze somewhere now

  14. Well, maybe KW did get ostracised by fellow academics, but somehow I can’t see that, if it occurred, as being any sort of determining factor in KW’s ideology change. Some people (maybe most) would feel inwardly sabotaged by such ostracism. But would KW have felt thus? I doubt it. He has always relished quarrelling as such, I suspect, whatever his political allegiance at any specific time was. Again, I don’t know. This is guesswork.

    “All-or-none thinking” has been mentioned by John Mashey at #11. It could be a partial explanation, not only of KW’s switches from one ideology to another, but of why we have never been given a clear “The God That Failed” statement from KW (such as we got from Orwell, Crossman, Koestler, and other intellectuals) as to why he forsook the extreme Left in the first place.

  15. Robert – Nope – we havent had that from Windschuttle. At least Brendan Nelson has made the “I finally came to agree with the idea of liberalism because”…. speech.
    Can we ask him to oblige us with a please explain? Maybe with that other book we are waiting for.

  16. JR,

    Have you considered the possibility that, in the light of his highly variable approach to reality, that Winschuttle is in fact a writer of fiction, at heart, and should be treated as such. Affrontingly entertaining rather than challenging or threatening!

  17. I suppose BilB it could be said that Windschuttle does have a plot; or has he lost it?

    However he asks us to suspend our disbelief far too much for his writing to be successful in the fiction genre and “affrontingly entertaining” is a generous assessment.

  18. If Australia was established by genocide, then genocide it was. The problem is that a full and rigorous argument for genocide, that is totally convincing, has not yet emerged. A series of mass slaughterings does not necessarily equate to genocide.

    This is not to say that a hypothesis for genocide has no basis.

    Nineteenth press clippings, smallpox outbreaks, frontier conflicts, settler diaries, medical and scientific knowledge, aboriginal oral history, all combine to point to unofficial colonial genocidal intents and outcomes.

    The British that landed on the shores of Port Jackson came from a empire built on absolute slavery of other races, and this underpinned their subsequent interaction with Australian natives.

    If the aboriginal tribes of Australia had been some long cut-off tribe of ancient Anglo-Saxons, would the British have acted differently?

    The real problem in Windschuttle is that he did not condemn as fabrications the same types of errors by, for example, Alan Frost and Judy Campbell.

    Windschuttle is engaging in a political struggle, not a legitimate academic endeavour.

    Windschuttle and his ilk (eg Brunton) want Australians to believe that aborigines disappeared by innocent disease, when, in similar circumstances, such disease did not depopulate either Papua New Guinea nor New Zealand.

    Reviewing and correcting faulty footnotes, and contesting various interpretations of evidence are always worthwhile activities and writers should be free to propose new interpretations without fear of reactionary and right-wing ratbags.

    As new materials become available we must always revise and rewrite our history. This is something rightwing dogmatists such as John Howard and self-style ‘conservative objectors’ such as Windschuttle (and others) are desperate to avoid.

  19. #13: Who else has made the radical left-right switch? KW’s predecessor, Paddy McGuinness. Paddy was not coy (#16) about the switch either – he once wrote a column on the subject.

    Brendon Nelson strikes me as always having been a buccaneer.

    The switch is partly explained because ambiguity and nuance (currently trendy buzz-word) are incoherent. We want the world to make sense. The left wing view and the free market right are both coherent world-views. In-between is not.

  20. Unfortunately Windshuttle not only accused many academics of coming from the left but also many artists per this quote from David Williamson

    “Williamson also questions the obvious: “I’m not convinced that our conservative commentator’s belief that just about all our artists are of the left is valid.”

    I dont think they came from the left. They probably just didnt like John Howard if the truth be known. Windschuttle needs to get over his one party view of the world. Democracy isnt like that.

    A real put down article on David Williamson can be found at – you guessed it Quadrant online.

    Its a sour publication all round.

  21. A very interesting read Alanna. A telling comment was “Those in Australia who share the conservative views of the majority of the community are excluded from the nation’s artistic life where the Left are the censors and cultural gatekeepers”.

    Having read and seen a number of David Williamson plays over the years the politics are always presented as secondary to the relationships, the personal failings and strengths of characters in a variety of situations and often exposing corrupt behaviour. The plays make people uncomfortable in order to question their own society. Infidelity which he explores, for instance, is neither a creature of left or right but is a topic.

    To see this article highlighted shows that Quadrant has got real problems and the current editor will not address those problems.

    The article itself starts out as a critique of a Williamson play, goes off into a rant on how the left gives artists a hard time so that artists have to conform and ends up saying that although the audience liked the play that it was slight and not worthwhile as Williamson had tried something different.

    A decent editor would have noticed that it was not a review, not analysis in any real sense as the body of Williamson’s work was ignored and an unbalanced view of the themes Williamson has developed over the years. Apart from that the essay was poorly structured. It needed an editor’s red pen not a benediction. Attacking the left using the theatre of David Williamson did not make the essay entertaining.

    What brings success in the theatre, is not an adherence to the left or the right, but the ability to connect to the audience who encompass a range of political viewpoints. Political rants rarely work. Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” exposes corruption in high places but will rarely be dramatised because audiences find the long political speeches boring, even without a left, right slant.

    Williamson has shown a consistent ability to give Australians a voice. Williamson explores ambiguities between what is said and what is done. Windschuttle by his recent response to the hoax shows that this is not something he can do. His conversion to the right means he needs to go with a view of the world which involves condemning those who fail to fit in with his (now) right wing certainties.

  22. I call myself a Left winger,I simply cannot help it.I have lost at tennis with my Left handedness. So if in fact, the reality of being Left wing or not, in the modern sense,which mayalso include reading Karl the Marx but noting other figures may have more prominence,more backbone and more radishes to eat than a nickel in a Nicklelodeon, I think that was a musical playing apparati.The radish, reference, will be found in a Columbia University Encylopedia 1945 vintage.Work hard and find the reference ,if your wing desire it. So ,take a moment to notice the news from Sri Lanka.Where the Tamil Tigers,will need Christ’s means to walk on water out in the ocean somewhere,because they are being crushed said the man.And even though Sri Lanka suffered terribly at the hands of a well known tsunami of not so long ago,all is fair in love and war became the routine again. India had a plan to build an enormous canal or underwater drain for shipping purposes around to trading partners and back.This massive engineering work would probably destroy Sri Lankan fishing ,it was said at the time by critics.Mighty India didn’t seem to give a stuff. This is leading to all you cats sitting on the back alley of wingism, what particular boot would you like being thrown at you,if in fact, you have nothing to say of any relevance at all, on passing news,and thus no credible insight!? The boot will not be tossed by me,but, by those who maybe hoping Australia can do more to stop bloodshed.

  23. PROF. HENRY REYNOLDS: Two things. One, genocide is a crime of government. And, two, there has to be an intent. There has to be an intent to kill a group of people even if that isn’t fully carried through. Now, in my view, the British Government, that is the British Imperial Government, never had the intention to wipe out the Tasmanians. Nor do I think Governor Arthur did. He was engaged in a war. He was willing to use as much force as was necessary to crush Aboriginal resistance, but this doesn’t make it genocide. It makes it a form of warfare.

    This is what Reynolds concluded about the question of genocide both before and after the Windschuttle imbroglio.

    Windschuttle changed nothing because there was nothing to change.

    Windschuttle did expose some sloppy practice by other historians. But his attempts to make sense of the history of Tasmanians Aborigines are deficient in narrative, critical analysis of documents, and understanding of context.

    Little wonder his much-promised companion volumes are still-born.

  24. I don’t really think Brendan Nelson counts as being a genuine intellectual conversion, inasmuch as he strikes me as being someone of limited intellectual capabilities period.

    He seems to have gradually morphed from trendy progressive to populist windbag. In other words, he has gone from promoting simplistic nonsense on one side of politics to promoting simplistic nonsense on the other side of politics.

    More a case of getting out of bed on the other side.

  25. Agree Jill # 27
    That telling quote you posted from Quadrant shows the desperation of Quadrant to promote their views as “the majority views”. I suspect the majority of conservatives dont even agree with Quadrants stand. A certain Mr Denman in another thread noted that many of his progressive conservative friends (I usually call them moderates) are horrified by the extreme right views promoted by elements within the party and by these sorts of publications.
    I also have a friend who has been a labor party member for many years and she said an almost identical thing about the promotion of the right wing extremes by elements within the state labor party. I would tend to place Costa and Roozendal. (the spellling of his name escapes me and Im not inclined to look it up)
    I think some people need to adopt black and white positions of “certainty” as this thread suggests and this really says motre about their inability to observe and comprehend subtleties or amiguities around their position, than anything else ie a somewhat expedient superficial clumsy mind.

  26. Thanks for the link to Norton’s excellent article, which I hadn’t seen. To me the ability of these people to swap from extreme left to extreme right is not surprising. It has nothing to do with politics, which is a means to another end: advancing their own self-importance. Once you subscribe to a totalitarian doctrine, in which you believe that your views overrule others right to have a view, then you have already abandoned most moral restraints. After that, isn’t it just a case of win at any cost, to make your ego feel better? I think the real problem with all of these people is not arrogance but intellectual insecurity: a desperate need to prove themselves right.

  27. re #29

    It is not clear why Reynold’s says “Genocide is a crime of government” when article 4 of the convention says the exact opposite.


    “Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

    Possible smallpox genocide in North America (Amherst) and by unknown parties in Australia, was not necessarily endorsed or known by a government.

  28. Interesting point, Chris.

    Private persons or groups could carry out acts of mass murder. Indeed events like the Myall Creek Massacre could be seen as genocidal.

    However, a government can either attempt to prevent such murders from occurring, or they could connive in those murders, or they could actually assist the murderers.

    In the case of the Myall Creek Massacre, several whites were hanged for the crime. This was most unusual in the annals of race relations.

    Most of the time colonial governments wrung their hands and complained, with some legitimacy, that they were powerless to stop depredations because they simply didn’t have the resources to stop massacres.

    There is no case that I am aware of that colonial authorities went out with the intention of destroying whole groups of people. This is Reynold’s point.

    However, there is the recklessness argument. Perhaps colonial authorities should have been aware that massacres would happen if whites were allowed to take possession of crown lands. But by the same token, NSW authorities, at least, attempted to stop squatting at first, but discovered they were powerless to do anything about it.

    Thus to return to your definition of genocide, in the case of “private individuals” being found guilty of genocide, that would only happen if the national justice system failed to punish persons guilty of genocide.

    Thus, international law applies only after there is a failure of national law.

  29. The Queensland Native Police was raised with the express purpose of ‘dispersing’ those indigenous peoples standing in the way of development of the Colony. It operated by strategic campaigns interspersed with responses to individual pastoralists’ complaints about, say, cattle losses. The killing was primarily done by indigenous constables, but the officers were all European.

    Now, while I’d agree with Reynolds that there was no specific intention to exterminate Aborigines as a race, the operational strategy of the force was similar to contemporaneous vermin control agencies such as the Brisbane Rat Gang. The concept of genocide, first developed to describe the catastrophe visited upon the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, is not really useful to describe the treatment of indigenous Australians by the Queensland colonial authorities. Perhaps a neologism is required.

  30. It is a tendency to see things in simple terms, to rely on simple arguments containing logical leaps.

    Windschuttle’s criticism of Chomsky for supporting the Khmer Rouge is a classic of the genre. The Quadrant editor was himself also a fan of the Khmer Rouge at the time, but he has revised this away as well.

    That takes a certain mode of brain operation.

  31. Hal9000

    Do you have a reference for your quote? I am not across these issues as they relate to Qld.


  32. There seems to me to be a split between the definitions of genocide that could produce quite different assessments. defines it as “The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group” which is more like the meaning I learned from my parents. In this case a perpetrator would be trying eliminate all members of the target group. Even a concerted attempt to eliminate all the local aborigines, which seems on my limited knowledge, more like what happened in the worst cases, wouldn’t necessarily be genocide under this definition.

    The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – which I must admit I hadn’t read until now – has a much wider definition of acts acts committed with intent to destroy the group, in whole or in part, including killing, physical or mental harming, prevention of births or removal of children. As I read this definition, intention is required but not just actual killing but also indirect means like removal of children of a only part of the target population is sufficient. I don’t really see how anyone (who can think straight, which may or may not include KW) could deny this wrt the Australian aborigines, except by rejecting the convention itself.

  33. A word on terminology.

    Homicide does not mean killing all humans. It is the simpler, objective, a killing of a human.

    Regicide does not mean killing all kings. It just means killing of a king.

    Strictly speaking, I think, genocide does not mean killing all of a genotype. It just means killing of a member of a genotype – a member of a race.

    However the distinction between homicide and genocide implies that more than one individual is killed. The Convention is worded in plurals.

  34. Chris – – have a look at Jonathan Richard’s: The Secret War: A True History of Queensland’s Native Police. University of Queensland Press. 2008

    It is the latest and best (in my view) book on the QLD native Police. Richards has found reams of new records which through more light on the activities in QLD

  35. also indirect means like removal of children of a only part of the target population is sufficient.

    But those practices didn’t emerge until the 20th century.

    That is outside the scope of the controversy between Windschuttle and the historians he discountenances.

  36. “That is outside the scope of the controversy between Windschuttle and the historians he discountenances.”

    Except as regards the new vaporware Volume 2 mentioned in the post, which is supposed to be about the Stolen Generations.

    Perhaps Windschuttle could make an annual announcement of a virtual Volume 2, alerting the right to historical evidence they should disregard, but without the necessity of actually writing anything.

  37. Katz

    How have you determined that removal of children didn’t emerge until the 20th Century.

    Has this been studied or published?

  38. Chris – the practice began in the earliest days of settlement with children taken as guides, farm labour and servants. The first known institution was the native institution at Parramatta in 1814 which took children and raised them so they could become “civilised” and learn english production methods which centred on activities around small plot farming hoping they would then “civilise” others. It was a failure. When the females grew up they ran away with native males and reverted to aboriginal culture quite naturally. It was legally sanctioned in 1909 by the Aboriginies protection act which gave the board the legal power to take children away from their families and a later amendment (1915) made it possible for officials to take children without a court order or the consent of their parents.

    These things are not hard to verify or look up but as usual some people make sweeping statements that are not at all factual without any sources whatsoever. Its a hallmark of the deniers isnt it?

  39. Governor Macquarie’s experiment in 1814 was not aimed at taking children away from their parents, at least not permanently. It was a naive attempt to change Aboriginal culture as a whole.

    As Alana says, the formalised practice of permanent child removal didn’t begin until 1909. In some states this policy was more explicitly eugenicist than in others. WA was notoriously eugenicist under the administration of A.O. Neville.

  40. Katz, the 1814 experiment was an experiment in the permanent raising of these children to adulthood (after which they were free to do what they wanted). Contact with their aboriginal relatives was discouraged. I have the papers on that initial experiment here somewhere but alas too tired to look for it now (but I may tomorrow to check my own understanding)

    This discussion on stolen generations goes back to early settlement with the exploitative use of aboriginal labour dating from early settlement I would suggest, notwithstanding its legislative ratification in 1909.

    The stolen generation links to Winschuttles arguments against genocide of Tasmanian aborginies by virtue of the definition of genocide and examples of circumstances that illustrate that intent.

  41. the permanent raising of these children to adulthood

    As opposed to temporary adulthood?

    To view Macquarie’s experiment as “genocidal” in any sensible meaning of the word is absurd.

    On a similar basis, compelling Aboriginal children to attend school to learn a European curriculum could also be seen as genocidal. Do you believe that to be the case?

    Exploitative use of Aboriginal labour and all other forms of discriminatory practice may be racist, but they cannot sensibly be called genocidal.

    Discussion of projects and plans may involve discussion of genocidal principles. But discussion alone can never be genocide.

    If one strays too far from Reynolds’ definition of genocide (@ 29) one finds oneself torturing the concept into incoherence.

    I repeat. Eugenicist practices typified by A.O. Neville’s policies were genocidal.

  42. Katz#47

    You said

    To view Macquarie’s experiment as “genocidal” in any sensible meaning of the word is absurd.

    That is actually a very incorrect interpretation of what I said. Please read what I said again. Of course it is absurd.

  43. The removal of children to keep as domestic servants, or use as guides, or to exploit for their labour, could more than reasonably be called genocidal.

  44. Genocide

    The mental element of the crime is defined as follows;
    “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”,

    I draw your attention to the words “in whole or in part”
    There is also a physical element and the crime must contain both parts (under international law)
    (a) Killing members of the group;

    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    I would call what happened to the Tasmanian aboriginies genocide.

    For the removal of children both c) and e) could be satisfied. I would call the stolen generations an attempt at genocide notwithstanding that some involved may have thought they were acting honourably. The effect is in total and motivations were in many cases self serving as was the pushing of aboriginies on to reservations in the name of protection and limiting their freedom of movement. White aprons – black hands – its a very worthy read – the use of blacks as almost domestic slaves and wetnurses etc. This was in QLD.

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