I’ve kept out of the latest silly culture war so far, but I couldn’t resist this from Josh Frydenberg. After decrying a “long march to the left” in Australian universities, he says
It is absolutely critical that the next generation of students understand about where the rule of law came from, where democracy came from, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, women’s suffrage
Looking through that list, it can be described as a potted summary of the “long march to the left” in Britain (and by extension Australia) over the course of the “long 19th century” from the French and American revolutions to the outbreak of the Great War. At the beginning of that period, Freydenberg’s conservative precursors supported the rule of law, and opposed democracy, freedom of speech and religion and women’s suffrage. It was only after long struggles that restrictions on freedom of speech and religion like the Six Acts and Penal Laws were repealed. The fight for (initialy male-only) democracy and women’s suffrage took even longer.
If we extended Frydenberg’s list into the 20th century, we’d get something like this University of Sydney course which covers
struggles over labour rights and working conditions in the 1900s, women’s suffrage, Aboriginal land rights, race relations and the White Australia Policy, homelessness during the Great Depression, freedom of speech during the Cold War, the Vietnam Moratorium and sexual liberation in the 1970s, the environmental movement, refugees and asylum seekers, and LGBT rights today
This course was denounced by Bella d’Abrera of the Institute of Public Affairs in a piece supporting the need for a Western Civilization course. It’s notable that free speech and women’s suffrage occur both in Frydenberg’s celebratory list and d’Abrera’s denunciation. I’m guessing that, if pressed, d’Abrera would not defend the implication that these, and other items like the end of the White Australia policy, were things to be deplored. But it would be interesting to see her present a version of history in which all the freedoms we now enjoy appeared magically and without any strugge.
Looking at this mess, I think we might need a course in the history of Western Civilisation after all. It should be provided to people like Frydenberg and d’Abrera so they can decide exactly whether they want to stop the clock at 1970, 1950 or perhaps at 1900.