Section 42 [The Foundations of Culture in Australia, by P. R. Stephensen, 1936]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) by P. R. Stephensen.]

§ 42

Loyalty and disloyalty

If Imperial Federation were a fact, instead of being merely a juristic fiction, and if all the “Nations” within the Federation were of equal wealth, population, prestige and power, it would still be necessary for an Australian to consider whether his primary loyalty was to the whole or to the part. Patriotism is a sentiment attached to one place, and cannot be attached to a series of places scattered over the whole face of the earth. An Australian patriot must of necessity place Australia first in his thoughts. It would be a species of altruism approaching insanity for an Australia to consider Canada’s welfare, for example, as being more worthy of attention than Australia’s welfare, in any particulars in which the two Dominions might happen to be in disagreement. It is the Canadians, presumably, who will do whatever is necessary to safeguard Canada’s welfare.

Similarly, then, if Britain has attained to “Dominion Status” under the Statute of Westminster, the people of Britain may be expected to safeguard the interests of Britain, rather than those of Australia, in any matters of mutual discussion. Australian altruism need not extend to the point of national suicide. There is a permissible limit to self-abnegation, even with a partnership, or federation, of nations with “equal status.” An Australian patriot is concerned mainly, and indeed solely, with Australia’s welfare, and relies upon neither England nor Canada for guidance in intrinsic matters. For the patriot, whether English, Australian, or Canadian, the part is greater than the whole: and will always be so. Patriotism is by definition local. The nation without patriotism will soon cease to exist.

Patriotism, which Dr. Johnson defined as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” found an example in Dr. Johnson’s own account of Scotland in his voyages to the Hebrides. His loathing of the Scots merely for being un-English was a complete illustration of arrant English patriotism. It may be assumed that Dr. Johnson exempted himself and other English scoundrels from his definition. Similarly, when Nurse Cavell said that “Patriotism is not enough,” she was about to die for her country.

On Anzac Beach, a number of “Diggers,” with a rum-jar, were discussing the causes of the War. They were joined by a “Tommy” conscript, five feet three in height. The Tommy, they discovered, did not know where he was, though he thought vaguely that he was on the way to Berlin. He had no knowledge of geography, of history, or of world-politics. He had left school when he was twelve years of age, and had tended a steel-furnace, on night-shifts, ever since then — until now suddenly, without knowing why, he found himself in uniform in a strange place where some very large men were drinking rum. His contribution to the discussion of the causes of the war was as follows: “Ah don’t know nowt abaht it. England’s in trooble, and Ah’m here, lads, that all Ah know . . .

This perfect specimen of cannon-fodder, as true an English patriot as Dr. Johnson, represents the “invincible” type of Englishman who, after subduing Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, mentally and physically, then proceeded to conquer other foreign places beyond the seas; and extended the English ego all over the earth, to the considerable profit of the English merchants and moneylenders.

What concerns us is that the continued extension of this English ego to Australia, of this automatic English patriotism, however admirable it may be from the locally English point of view, has, as we may now discern after 150 years of it, a reverse effect of patriotism here: and tends indeed to become Australian unpatriotism. While respecting English patriotism, in all or most of its forms, in England, we begin to wonder in a vague way whether something of the same quality of feeling, of national ego, in Australia, and as regards the welfare and pride of Australians, might not be desirable in our own interests.

When Kingsford Smith arrived in England on his first and epoch-marking flight around the world, he said to the enquiring English reporters: “No, I am not an American. Yes, I served in the War. I was in the Royal Air Force. No, I am not English. I am an Australian. I put Australia first. Britain comes second in my thoughts.”

This very just and handsome concession to “British” feeling is one which almost all Australians are willing to make. Very few English people, however, by reciprocity, would place Australia as high as second in their considerations. England first, England only, is their idea.

Any Englishman who, living in England, habitually regarded Australia as the most important part of the Empire, would be very properly regarded there as a madman. Any Fleet Street newspaper editor who habitually and every day placed news cabled from Australia in the most prominent type on his front page, and relegated the local (English) news to a place of secondary importance, would be considered a fool, a lunatic, or merely an incompetent editor; and would be promptly and properly “sacked.”

Yet in Australia there are thousands of Australians who habitually regard England as being the most important part of the Empire: and there are hundreds of newspaper editors who habitually place English cabled news on their front pages and relegate Australian (local) news to a secondary position amongst the drapers’ advertisements.

Are these Australian disloyalists mad, or merely thoughtless?

Not having heard, perhaps, of the Statute of Westminster, have they hence failed to realise that Australia is indeed now a nation, on a par with Britain as such?

Or is the Statute of Westminster nothing but a pretty fable?

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 145-148

Editor’s notes:
arrant = downright, extreme, thorough, utter, without moderation (as in the phrase “arrant nonsense”)

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