This extract is part of Australian Liberalism: The Continuing Vision
...Liberalism in Australia is not to be defined by looking at a Policy Speech or a political platform. The thing to remember constantly is that Liberalism is an attitude of mind and of faith, aiming at the highest standards of life, both material and spiritual.
The late Ben Chifley, whose ability I greatly respected, and who was a devoted and authentic Labor leader, once made a speech in which he described his party's socialist objective as the "light on the hill" to which he directed his course. That was the reason why, in facing any problem, his first question was "Could the Government take charge?" That attitude of mind explains why he politically achieved bank nationalisation and a Government monopoly in air transportation, and failed only in the Courts. In reality the Australian Socialist view, bluntly expressed, is that the individual is destined to be the servant of the State whose corporate political wisdom will direct and control his activities, leaving him little freedom of choice but a clear duty to obey.
I am not making an interpretation of my own. The Oxford Dictionary, a singularly objective publication defines Socialism as "a theory or policy of social organisation which advocates the ownership and con- trol of the means of production, capital, land, property etc. by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all."
True, the Australian Labor Party, confronted and defeated so frequently by the massive common sense of the Australian people, attempts to modify or even conceal the Socialist objective. But, confronted by a problem, their first instinctive recourse is to the Socialist solution.
That Socialism is a reactionary doctrine is of course clear. It does scant justice to the dignity of man. It shows no understanding of the vital facts in a community like Australia that is not sufficient to cut up the existing cake into neat slices; we must make bigger and better cakes as the years go on, and those who will make them, will be free men and women, fashioning their own future by their own efforts and in their own way, earning their own rewards, and so helping to build a better and more prosperous com- munity.
What I want to speak about is something of which organisation and structure are the outward and visible expression; the mental and spiritual attitudes which underlie our Liberal movement, which explain and justify our existence and express our basic purposes. I cannot claim to say anything very new, but there is a permanent significance about some elements which requires constant re-statement if it is not to be obscured by the expediencies of the moment.
A crucial significance attaches to our mental approach to a problem. There are many differences in this world which arise from misunderstanding the basic mental processes of another country.
Political reasoning in Europe, in parts of America, and in South Africa is essentially deductive; the major premise and the minor premise having been pre- determined, the inevitable conclusion emerges. The actual facts may not justify it; but if so, the facts must be made to fit
This process, driven into our minds by our under- graduate studies, produces great rigidity both of mind and of approach. It tends to prefer the letter to the spirit. It is an attitude of mind which has for example persuaded many good people to believe that they create a self-governing democracy in a former colony by the purely logical processes of making a procla- mation and setting up a Constitution; in pure forgetful- ness of the elementary fact that democracy is a grassroots matter, slowly growing from below, and not something which starts from the top. There is already much proof of this error in some of the new nations in Africa.
We in Australia have inherited the British nature of mind, which is predominantly not deductive, but inductive. Principles, if and when they are evolved, are the result of experience and practice; the very process by which the English Common Law evolved over a course of centuries, and was adopted in quite a few other countries, including our own. It affords a sharp contrast to the codified law of, say France.
Australian Liberalism inherits the inductive method, as opposed to the doctrinaire approach of Socialism. It is in this sense pragmatic, and not dogmatic, in its approach. The word "pragmatic" is widely misunderstood. It is sometimes used as a term of criticism and attack. Like many fashionable English words, its meaning needs to be examined and understood.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "pragmatic" as "treating the facts of history in their connection with each other as cause and effect, and with reference to their practical lessons." Used in a philosophical sense, "pragmatism" is seen as involving "the doctrine that the whole meaning of a conception expresses itself in practical consequences."
I occupy your time by the recital of these definitions, because the doctrinaires in our society like to discredit the pragmatic approach by saying that it represents a casual, day to day, matter of fact treatment of problems on a "catchpenny" basis, and is inconsistent with statesmanship.
Now, my approach, and I hope and believe that it is yours also, is that the first thing to do about any problem is to discover the facts, to decide whether on those facts, a particular action would be just beneficial and practicable.
In the working out of that problem, we should not be constrained by any pre-determined abstract theory, for we know that practically every political problem is a human one. On our decision will depend the well-being, or happiness, or security of many individual men and women.
It is of course, a good thing to consult the statistics and to examine economic trends with their assistance; but it is a cardinal error to think of human beings as mere figures in a calculation.
The first thing to be understood is that Govern- ments may control, or suggest, but of themselves they do not create things. Their function is to aid a climate in which individual enterprise will be demanded, and encouraged, and rewarded.
Here we come to the real issue between the Socialists and the Liberals. For, when an acute problem arises, the Socialist first thinks of the Socialist solution. Should the Government conduct this matter? But the Liberal seeks first the private enterprise solution Could private citizens, properly encouraged, solve this problem? It is only when we become satisfied, either that they can't or won't, that Government management comes into the picture. This is a vital difference of approach.
Of course, these old postulates, once so clearly seen and applied, tend to become blurred as time goes on. Success brings its temptations. The central beliefs which brought success may become encrusted with the corrosion of expediency. Now, apart altogether from the valuable support of the Apostle Paul, I cannot condemn expediency out of hand. For Politics, like War, has its Strategy and its Tactics.
A Strategic Conception is the dominating thing; it is not lightly to be changed or abandoned. But tactical exercises depend upon the time and the place and the circumstances. They do not conflict with the strategic conception, but they are its refined and sensitive expression.
This is all true of politics. A Liberal Government will do badly to seize a quick tactical advantage at the expense of its grand strategy. It must not sell a long- range objective for an immediate mess of pottage. But if it can confound its enemy by a sortie which leaves it nearer to its ultimate objective, the sortie has proved its value. The essence of the matter is that, in political warfare, you are wise to choose your own ground on which to fight, and not to fight your enemy on the ground chosen by him. He will, if he is competent, want you to devote your energies and skill to meeting him on his own proposals; to be on the defensive; to accept the negative role. A political party must never be a party which chronically says "No." If it never loses sight of its own ideas, it will be positive and creative. It must constantly formulate and fight for its own ideas, and never let either the people or its opponents remain ignorant of what those ideas are.
In brief, Australian Liberalism must present itself as the party of action, and the party of the future. We are not the ANTI party, but the PRO party. We must have a continuing faith, and such a belief in it that we become its constant crusaders.
...We stand for the dynamic community force of private enterprise; we are its protectors and encouragers, but we are not its servants. We prefer the live hand of the private entrepreneur to the dead hand of Socialism; but if the individual is to have social and industrial justice and to be guarded against what might become the tyranny of the strong, private enterprise must accept its duties, or even burdens. Its vigour and encouragement are indispensable in a progressive State, but it cannot operate law-free. Australian Liberals are not exponents of the "open go", for if we are all to have an "open go" - "each for himself and the devil take the hindmost", anarchy will result and both security and progress will disappear.
I mention security and progress because the function of Liberalism is to reconcile them with each other. It is one of my most satisfying memories that, after the wool boom which produced so great an inflation in our first three years of office, we aimed successfully at a substantial degree of financial and economic stability, accompanied by rapid development of our national resources. Stability, so far from hindering that development, actually encouraged it by attracting to Australia vast amounts of much needed adventure capital and valuable enterprise, particularly in the increasingly important mineral field.
...Governments do not provide enterprise; they provide controls. No sensible person can doubt that the revival of private enterprise is essential to post-war recovery and progress.
We, of course, must avoid becoming involved in a false dichotomy, the all-black or all-white of the one- eyed propagandist. We recognise that the State has great functions to perform which are far beyond the scope of private enterprise. The ancient idea that government's only function was to "keep the ring" while the private enterprise contestants slogged it out has no place in our Liberal philosophy. On the contrary, we recognise that the State has very wide responsibilities; by appropriate economic and monetary measures to assist in preventing large-scale unemployment; by social and industrial legislation to provide a high degree of economic security and justice for all its citizens. It must have progressive housing policies, accept great responsibilities in such disparate matters as education and transportation, ports and railways. The functions of the state grow from year to year in response to public demands, and will no doubt continue to grow as complexity of our international relations and our domestic economy increases. But government action will be of value only to the extent that there is a growing production of real wealth. This is where individual skill and effort prove themselves to be essential and must be recognised and encouraged in every possible way.
...There's an interesting thing about Federalism. Of all systems of government it is, because of its written nature, the most rigid and legalistic. Yet to make a Federation work, as we have found in Australia, requires great human understanding and flexibility of mind.
It is here that what I have called the pragmatism of the Liberal approach proves its value. The cental nature of the Federation I have briefly described; but beyond this, and in dealing with the practical problems, there must be no dogma, but an ascertainment of the merits and an honest desire to act upon them.
We have to remember, of course, that most broad propositions can be misleading unless they are properly qualified and defined. Thus, we stand for the individual, whose welfare must be the chief end of government. But the individual in a community has duties as well as rights, and some of those duties will be imposed by government. If there is to be freedom all-round, there must be a measure of discipline all- round. Freedom of speech, so much demanded by some modern students and so frequently denied by them to others, connotes a right to be heard and therefore imposes a duty on the listener, either to listen, or to leave.
...though we are for the individual, we are too realistic to be egalitarian. We must leave levelling down to the Socialists. We believe passionately that in a civilised community every individual must be given his opportunity; that our educational provisions and our social and industrial laws should exist for his benefit; that he should be fitted and encouraged to develop the best that he has in him. But we cannot fail to know that although all men and women have equal political rights, and are regarded as equal in the eyes of the law, they are not and never will be in fact equal to each other in talent, in vigour, or in character. We are to do our best for every individual, but in the result we do not foolishly aim at uniformity, which would inevitably be a drab and devastating thing
This view has no relation to the so-called class distinctions of long ago; for there are in Australia only two classes, the active and the idle. Each class is represented in all walks of life.
Our devotion to the interests of the individual leads us, of course, to some difficult practical problems. It is easy for us to condemn totalitarianism, for, to adapt the famous phrase, we believe that the ship exists for the sake of the passengers, and that the passengers do no exist for the sake of the ship. But we are equally opposed to anarchy, which defies all laws, denies all obligations, and seeks only to destroy.
Our individual citizen is to have self-discipline, to have duties as well as rights, to exist not as an isolated identity but as a civilised member of a civilised society which, expressing itself through a Parliament which it has freely chosen, makes laws which bind the individual. In that sense they limit his individual freedom and control many of his actions. But in the ultimate sense they guarantee his freedom against arbitrary interference, for discipline and freedom are not enemies but friends, so long as the discipline is, under a truly democratic system of government, socially self-imposed.
All of the rules under which we live, over a vast and complicated structure, from taxation to the rules of the road, are accepted because we know that without them the whole purpose of promoting and protecting the individual would be frustrated. It is for this reason that the self-imposed discipline of free men and women is in sharp contrast to the discipline of slaves.
Inaugural Sir Robert Menzies Lecture, Perth, Western Australia 12 May 1970
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