Andrew Bolt (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

The state of Australia today is that you haven’t had time to process the last right-wing outrage before the next one comes along. Thus, Blair Cottrell was on Sky News, interviewed by the pathetically weak Adam Giles, while I’m still thinking about Andrew Bolt’s “tribes” article.

There’s a few things to say about the “tribes” piece, as much about it as symptom, rather than simply advocacy. Bolt, a Dutch-born immigrant, argued that Australian society was being “invaded” by alien tribes who did not assimilate, and this was creating a divided society fed by leftish elites pushing multiculturalism, threatening us with disaster.

Had Bolt argued this anytime up to, say, the late 1980s, the argument could have been described as merely “nativist”, arguing for the preservation of a dominant monocultural society, and, if nothing else, a coherent point of view. But now, there’s nothing to “invade”; in the last two decades, the numbers have shifted sufficiently to make us — especially in Melbourne and Sydney — a genuinely multicultural, multiethnic society.

As I’ve noted before, we weren’t really a multicultural society all the time we were talking about it, through the ’70s and ’80s — in terms of numbers, social power, etc, non-Anglos remained somewhat marginal. It was John Howard’s governments that cemented the policies by which Australia became a post-Anglo society, not the pointy-headed academics of Bolt’s fantasies.

The second thing to note is that, pre-1948, we were a genuinely multicultural society, in a manner entirely different to the post-1948 process, in which a de facto assimilation occurred by means of mass culture. Some, quite a few, older migrants might have never learnt English; their kids all watched Channel Nine and listened to 3XY/2KY. By contrast, pre-1948, it was understood that the — small — non-Anglo-cultures would have their own worlds, with which the Anglo-world interacted — Chinatown, Germantown (Richmond, in Melbourne), Jews, then Italians in Carlton, with their own newspapers.

That’s what makes Bolt’s remark about the Jews gathering in North Caulfield — which is surely anti-Semitic — so telling. He’s not about multiculturalism, the tribes, etc. He remains a proponent of the continental European reactionary tradition, an expression of white-skin hysteria. Antisemitism is always the hard stuff in this mix, because the Jews are seen as an alien presence at the heart of a non-Semitic Christian culture.

But whether Bolt is doing this as part of News Corp’s clear drive to maintain flagging sales through outrage (in which case he is unbelievably cynical) or whether he is doing this out of passion (in which case he is genuinely obsessive and stupid) is irrelevant to the greater issue.

That is, that we do need a joined-up serious conversation about how immigration, social development, urban planning and housing happen, because at the moment we are doing it not well, and the knee-jerk response to Bolt is to simply defend the current process, which is a shoddy neoliberal one of flooding the labour market to suppress wages, sell branded education, and pay little attention to how this changes cities and communities.

Neoliberalism is the internationalism of fools, and if progressives simply become its loyal subalterns on these matters, then they will be identified by large sections of the population as servants of the elite. It’s not wrong or racist to feel a little disturbed that the whole north of the Melbourne CBD has become a giant, mostly Asian, student village, with a short-term population many of whom could be anywhere. This is a product of a lack of mixed-use, central public housing, and the casual commercial nihilism in which state Labor governments have engaged for some time now.

The same goes for urban centres like Box Hill in Melbourne’s east, core sections of which have become rather separated. But this is once again the product of networks of capital being permitted to wholly reconstruct urban spaces for specific markets.

People have a right to live where they want, but different ways of allocating space would mean that communities of affinity can form, which are also “inter-threaded” with other communities. To believe that we should pay no attention to this, as part of urban policy, from the left/progressive side, is to put too much faith in the capacity of humans to live via abstract and universal values, which is the core idiocy of progressivism. We are going to become a genuinely global nation, especially in our urban centres, that is a rather taller order than simply being a European multicultural/Indigenous one, and it is not something that can be done in a fit of absent-mindedness.

Meanwhile, we wait to see if the leaders of Australian Jewish peak bodies will break off from their ultra-Zionism long enough to actually speak up for their own community, and name right-wing anti-Semitism for what it is, before the next outrage, and evidence that the Australian right has decomposed into a thoroughly pernicious entity.

What do you think of progressives’ capacity to deal with the raging right? Write to [email protected].