Section 48 [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.]

§ 48

Chauvinism and culture

Once again, I feel that it is necessary to apologise, at least to my more civilised readers, fro what may appear to be a chauvinistic disquisition, but is nothing of the kind. Chauvinism is a vice peculiar to European nations, and to Britain’s apt pupil, Japan. Nationality, in Australia, can have no tinge of chauvinism. It is self-evident that Australians have no need whatever to conquer or invade the territory of any other nation, in order to acquire more land. We have already more than sufficient land. Defence in Australia, means defence; and cannot, by any stretch of imagination or hypocritical logic, mean aggression. It is this elementary, and somewhat Antipodean, fact which removes the discussion of Australian nationalism from the sphere of academic discussion based on merely European categories of nationality and imperialism.

The Disunited States of Europe have contributed an atavistic concept of nationality to world thought — a concept which has no natural home in other continents. Federations, such as the United States of America and also the United States of Australia, show how local disunities can be overcome in a continental area. But, in comparatively barbarous and sub-civilised Europe, there is apparently no real move toward Federation. The States of Europe still maintain their local governments, tariffs, feuds and grounds of disunion, which Federation has abolished in America and Australia.

To the American or Australian observer, European squabbles are on the level of obsolete “interstate” disputes, which an enlightened Federation of Europe could amicably solve. The monstrous chauvinism of European States has certainly tended to bring the concept of “nationality” into disrepute: but that chauvinistic concept of nationality is a narrow and European one. If Europe is to go snarling into self-destruction under this concept, that is Europe’s affair. We non-Europeans seek a more decent concept of nationality — one not based on the murder of other peoples: though resolute in authentic self-defence.

It is necessary for Australians, with a culture of the future to construct, to free their minds of the European war-neurosis and chauvinistic psychology. In such ways we show that the Antipodean mind moves in Antipodean categories, and we provide the basis for a culture infinitely superior to the sub-civilised culture of sabre-rattling Europeans such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Winston Churchill. Europe, indeed, may prove to have been no more than the experimental laboratory of the white race; which may eventually find its fullest maturity in our Australia: particularly if the old laboratory explodes, chemically asphyxiating its inmates.

In brief, the word “nationalism,” in Australia, bears little or no resemblance to the same word as used in Europe. In Europe, for example, a nationalist would be a person who wished his country to participate in wars, for patriotic reasons of national aggrandisement: whereas, in Australia, a nationalist would, for the very same reason, desire his country to keep out of wars. In Europe a nationalist thinks in terms of a piece of territory which is often no larger than an Australian sheep-station: our national vision, even if insular, is at least based on the insularity of the largest Island in the world — an island which contains several sheep-stations as large as Germany or Italy. It must be admitted that there is a certain largeness in our view.

But, if this reasoning fails to convince “advanced” thinkers, who are afraid of such words as “nationality” and “patriotism” (because of the European implications of such terms), let me remind them that, in Soviet Russia, a country which advanced thinkers will presumably admire, the concept of nationality has not perished, nor has national defence — though chauvinism is discouraged there, let it be hoped.

Dimitrov, speaking at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, in 1935, severely rebuked the Communist parties in all countries (other than Russia) for neglecting national sentiments. He said in effect that the Communists had left it to the Fascist parties to encourage national pride, and that in this respect the Communist Parties had been grievously out of touch with the masses. He quoted Lenin on national pride: “We love our language and our motherland; we, more than any other group, are working to raise its masses to the level of intelligent Socialists. . . . We are filled with national pride, and therefore we particularly hate our slavish past.” Lenin, it is obvious, took pride in being a Russian, and considered that the Czarist regime was disloyal to Russia, because it “sold” Russia to foreign bondholders — British, French, and German. (The Czar’s court, even during the war, was notoriously honeycombed with German agents, and was a hotbed of anti-Russian intrigue. The mad contradiction of imperialist “nationalism” is that it is so completely international, without country and without national conscience, where investments are concerned.)

Dimitrov, in his lecture to the Comintern, rebuked the Communist Parties outside Russia for “self-satisfied sectarianism” and “doctrinaire narrowness” on this question of nationality and national culture. He claimed that, in Soviet Russia, the revolution had not only “averted the destruction of culture, but had raised culture to the highest stage of florescence as a truly national culture — national inform and socialist in content, under Stalin’s leadership.”

This should be sufficient to show “advanced” internationalists that they had better tread warily in condemning offhand any use of the world “national” in relation to culture. It is a paradox indeed, to those who think merely in formal and literal terms, to find an international communist such as Dimitrov advocating “national” pride. Obviously the word “national” has two meanings — one chauvinistic, one cultural. For this reason I decline to be carpeted for chauvinism in what I here advocate in regard to Australia’s need for national and cultural self-expression.

Before we leave the topic of Soviet Russia, I should like to add that, in my opinion, Australian Communists, if they blindly follow European Communist thought, without adapting it to Australia’s specific requirements, in application and idiom, put themselves thereby on the same intellectual level as the imperial-automata who, within Australia, blindly follow the line of imperialist thought imported from Europe. Australian conditions are not the same as English conditions or as Russian conditions. We must do our own thinking.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 161-165

Editor’s notes:
antipodean = of or relating to Australia or New Zealand; normally used by Europeans to refer to Australians or New Zealanders, or items from those two countries, however, the term is also used by the inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand to refer to themselves (“antipodean” also refers to two things that are direct opposites, including two places or areas which are on opposite sides of the world; hence the origin of its usage regarding Australasia)

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