So John Howard wants to test aspiring Australian citizens on “our culture and our values, and certainly some understanding of our history”.

In relation to “our history”, how broadly does Mr Howard define “our”? Does he mean the narrow “our” of himself, Keith Windschuttle and the sanctimonious windbags congregating around Quadrant and The Oz’s opinion page? Does Howard’s version of “our history” reject indigenous suffering, labelling it the “black armband view”?
And how does Howard define “our culture”? Is it the narrowly-defined allegedly Judeo-Christian culture of John Stone and Kevin Donnelly? Is it the logic of columnists who insist the actions of two schoolboys reflect on one sector of our community whilst refusing to acknowledge that the actions of drunken and stoned rioters reflect on another part of the community?

In 1992, the Centre for Independent Studies published the postscript to a book of leading classical liberal thinker FA Hayek under the title of Why I Am Not a Conservative. In the forward to this pamphlet, Chandran Kukathas speaks of how conservatives lack what liberals have i.e. “political principals which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions … it is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force’”. 

 Some conservatives cannot accept the possibility of plurality of values and cultures in a society. They refuse to take “a principled stand on the wrongness of coercing those whose actions do not themselves invade the liberty of others”. Kukathas says this “makes conservatism a much more welcoming new spiritual home for the repentant socialist.”

Is it any wonder, therefore, that genuine liberals (as opposed to pseudo-liberal neo-Conservatives) are opposed to this attempt to impose a certain version of Australian culture from on high?

It is for Australians to decide how their culture (or should that be cultures?) is defined. It isn’t for governments to legislate to create a class of new citizens bound to one version of this culture. I believe there is a place in the world for government-sponsored and legislated culture. It’s called North Korea.

Peter Fray

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