Why is anti-Australian sentiment so rampant?

Globalisation is over. National unity is back on the agenda. 

One of the consequences of the recent polarisation of Australian politics is the loss of the middle ground that has traditionally held Australian society together. The trend in Australia tends to replicate the experience of liberal democracies elsewhere. But why is this happening? Are people really so fed up with living in liberal democracies that they wish to be part of their own undoing? The problem stems from the habitual use of our individual freedom to say whatever we like about politics as a safety valve. It got us through the pandemic, but in light of the changing nature of geopolitics, it has become a bad habit that we now take for granted to our own detriment.

For generations, human society has succumbed to the idea that “it couldn’t happen to us”. Human nature is viewed as having evolved to the point where we, collectively, are somehow immune to the errors of the past. To be sure, technology and the institutions that govern modern society have evolved to support unprecedented populations, but that is still no guarantee of the resilience of the species. Human nature, like the natural world, has a way of reminding us that we do not control external events, nor do we have the ability to be guided entirely by reason.

At the wrong end of the height of Roman society, excesses of leisure and culture turned inward and consumed an empire that would otherwise stand the test of time, albeit with completely different people and in completely different geographies. Stoic philosophy, encapsulated by Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome’s “good” emperors, became a coping mechanism for individuals unable to comprehend external events amid uncertain and unfamiliar politics. The West may well be in that same situation now.

The Australian experience has been, despite critiques about the general willingness to obey federal and state government mandates, an exercise in supporting the common good, which is a central tenet of liberal democracy. But emerging from the exhaustion following years of obeying government mandates including the wearing of masks and checking in to every public space one visits, the national will is understandably waning. But geopolitics waits for nobody, and if we are not careful, the excesses of exercising our national freedoms may very well be our collective undoing.

It is too easy to ignore the lessons of the past. It is also rather boring to rehash George Santayana. But the past reminds us that we are no further from human nature than the Romans or indeed any other civilisation before us. While it is certainly a truism that Western Civilisation has provided greater freedoms and collective and individual advantages than any other human civilisation to date, it does not mean that it is infallible nor that the people who now live their daily existence as part of that very Western Civilisation will not or do not take its benefits for granted. Which brings me to my point.

We have the forgotten people, the Aussie battlers, the heroic diggers, shearers, and miners of Australian folklore, the original inhabitants and the immigrants who now call Australia home, and then we have the dissidents. The difference is that the dissidents of the past were fighting for a better Australia. The dissidents of the present, in the absence of the overwhelming majority of middle Australia, are perpetuating a view that the Australia we know today is somehow not worthy of our incredible history of liberty checked by responsibility and reform leading to improvement, however gradual and inadequate.

And while the ideal society eludes all humans, Australia has it pretty good. Some millennials may suggest that the previous generation has “stolen” some of their inheritance, but this sentiment is little more than the privilege of not knowing. Anyone who thinks it was easier to own your own home in the 1980s or 1990s simply wasn’t there. Sure, there are unique challenges today, but owning your own home was always something that required determination, focus, and ultimately, hard work. That much has not changed.

But the difference is that earlier generations of Australians were prepared to defend their homes, to defend their way of life, and to defend their liberties. While it is true that every generation from Aristotle and Confucius on down has lamented the inadequacies of youth, the trouble now is not generational, it is endemic among Australians of all ages. It is too convenient to blame the media or politics. They are both, after all, systems that supply people with what they want. 

Australians have experienced war and peace, prosperity and depression, recessions we had to have and circumstances we did not want. We will continue to do so. Modern Stoicism’s recent resurgence suggests that the extent of uncertainty has reached Roman proportions, but it offers little solace to Australians while many of our fellow citizens attack our society from within. Elsewhere, you may well be able to do whatever you like as long as you do not criticise the government. Here, you can criticise the government, but that implies attending to other responsibilities to support that very liberty.

In the current circumstances, attitudes toward our system of government and our political offices provide opportunities for public dissent that do little to improve Australian society while actively undermining it. Middle Australia is more important now than ever in maintaining an even keel as we navigate uneasy geopolitical waters. In the meantime, the forgotten people need to be remembered if they are to once again be called to rescue us from ourselves.

As much as it may seem inconceivable that we are in this geopolitical situation once again, here we are. Our island home can only be breached if we open the gates from within, and rampant anti-Australian sentiment is the enemy that may well do so. Only a reinvigorated “forgotten people” can keep the insidiousness of anti-Australian sentiment at bay if we are to ensure external circumstances do not dictate our destiny.