The technique of modern business, with its morality of dog eat dog, which used to be called “free competition,” has led to the formation of Business Groups, which war, in unscrupulous ferocity, against other Business Groups or against individuals outside the organised canine pack. This process of the amalgamation of snarling curs into hunting packs provides mediocrity with a semblance of strength. Considered as a commercial phenomenon, it has justification of a sort. When there are too many dogs after one bone, partial unity is an advantageous compromise.
Thus it is that in Sydney, for example, the businessmen are organised into gangs not less ferocious, though perhaps more “legal,” than those which made Chicago notorious. The larrikin tradition of Sydney, with its Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo “pushes” that kicked men to death, has provided the necessary precedent.
Inasmuch as Sydney’s business gangs are organised solely for Commerce, their activities, of course, are merely significant in that field. It is when the technique of the larrikin push is applied to the suppression of new ideas, of national ideas, or to the suppression of a national culture, that it becomes really noxious, and ought to be put down. For forty years past the Australian business gangs, looking to England for three benefits — trade, protection against Japan, and protection against Socialism — have conspired to suppress the Australian Idea. It is thus that outstanding individuals, who might have done something to advance cultural standards here, have been hounded out of the country or into ineffectiveness. A vicious commercialism has gripped the nation by the throat.
Lying rumour, the characteristic “gossip” of small-towns anywhere in the world, remains rife in Sydney, spoiling other metropolitan features. Perhaps most of the Sydney business gangsters have come from small towns, retaining the slander-technique, if not the strict probity, of their background. In a true metropolis, the unusual man or woman — the “intellectual,” the person who dares to think originally — should have a place of refuge from petty persecution. It is so in all other metropolises.
But in Sydney it is not so. The liars who hounded C. J. Brennan out of Sydney University are of the same breed, and use the same technique, as those who hound a rival businessman out of business. This technique is known as “bone-pointing,” from the analogy of Aboriginal Magic whereby the witch-doctors point death upon a man. The secret whisperers of small-town Sydney, Pitt Street Sydney, following an infallible primitive instinct, do not hesitate to besmirch a man’s “moral” or financial character when they cannot cope with his Idea. Thus it will be said, “So-and-So is a very brilliant man — but, he is financially unreliable . . . he is not a good business man.” In other words, he is a very brilliant man, but he is not One of Us.
Let anyone begin publishing Australian books in Sydney to-day (I can speak from experience!) and he will soon discover what is meant by “bone-pointing.” Mysterious telephone calls will be made to his printers saying that he cannot pay his debts. Prospective investors in his Company will be solemnly “warned” to be “careful.” Whisper upon whisper will come to his ears, slander and innuendo will destroy his character. A conspiracy without the courage to come out into the open will cause him endless delays and frustrations. It has been the same with every entrepreneur who, for forty years past, has attempted to advance national causes which might possibly interfere with the imperial economic exploitation of Australia.
The English Garrison here is armed not with rifles (that would be too absurd) but with propaganda, a form of hostility not so easily recognisable as rifles, but almost as deadly. Apart from the obvious paid agents of London finance, and apart from the dear delightful University Professors, and apart from the Bunyip Knights and their entourage, the English Garrison here consists mainly of importing merchants whose import businesses would be adversely affected by the growth of indigenous Australian enterprise, whether cultural or merely commercial. The anti-Australians include many Australian-born.
So it is that, in Sydney to-day, there is, as Balzac said of Paris in the year 1836, an incessant warfare waged by mediocrity against the superior man —
“In Paris, when certain people see you ready to set your foot in the stirrup, some pull your coat-tails, others loosen the buckle of the strap that you may fall and crack your skull; one wrenches off your horse’s shoes, another steals your whip, and the least treacherous of them all is the man whom you see coming to fire his pistol at you point-blank.”
(The Atheist’s Mass. Clara Bell’s translation.)
Balzac himself, of course, a literary giant, warred successfully against this “armament of pigmies” which so precisely resembles the armament of Sydney’s businessmen of to-day against Australian efforts to mount upon Pegasus. The businessman, naturally, with his mind set upon plunder, does not want the public to think: he would prefer the public to be doped and lulled by the cinema, the press, and American crime-, sex-, and horror-magazines. But in despising, ignoring, or obstructing the growth of literature here, the businessmen are placing a rod in pickle for the own backs: they will drive the finest minds of the country into the ranks of Socialist agitation, to organise and concentrate a fury there which will destroy the entire present system of business, and replace it with a system less obstructive to national growth of mind.
Henry James the elder, writing in America at a time when America was in a phase of the undisputed hegemony of money-grubbing somewhat similar to that which exists in Australia to-day, defined intellectual liberty as follows:
Liberty consists in the inalienable right of every man to believe according to the unbribed inspiration of his heart, and to act according to the unperverted dictates of his own understanding.
It seems to me that such a definition would apply to national liberty as well as to personal liberty: and that in either application the term would not be condoned by the businessmen of Sydney in particular, and of Australia in general, today.
Without an aristocracy, and with a generation of business men utterly lacking in cultural appreciation or sense of responsibility, it would seem that the future of culture in Australia will find its guardians only amongst the plebs. It is highly significant that the first real outburst of Australian literature, and of Australian nationalism, occurred during the ’eighties and ’nineties after the Shearers’ Strike and the formation of the Labour Party. The eclipse of Australian literature and of Australian nationalism, during forty years of truckling to imperialist leadership and imperial trade, has been marked by the decline of the Labour Party to its present position of political gangsterdom and racketeering: the corruption, in effect, even of Labour ideals by the “ethics” of businessmen.
Many years ago, Australia was regarded as being politically the most advanced country in the world, in such matters as suffrage, industrial arbitration, and education. The “liquidation of illiteracy” by compulsory universal schooling was undertaken in this Commonwealth long before it was done in Soviet Russia. Australia was once, under the plebeian inspiration of socialism, an “advanced” country.
But to-day, alas! Thanks to forty years of the inferiority complex which arises from being commercially overshadowed and culturally flummoxed by the imperial rigmarole, we are earning and deserving the reputation of being a backwater where progress has been allowed to lie stagnant. Nothing but the proclamation of an Australian creed of life, of a faith in Australian nationality and destiny, can free us for a future cultural achievement of value. The choice is between Australian- and “Imperial-”mindedness. To be culturally inferior, commercially subsidiary, and politically an echo, may seem, to the imperial-minded, a fit destiny for Australians; but there are many, within Australia, who would reject such a destiny.
P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 179-184