This piece originally appeared in the Spectator Australia in July 2018.
When I lived in Sweden, I would watch football with my Swedish mate Rob and struggle with some of the Swedish players’ names. Even now, I cannot roll an ‘r’, let alone roll one into the Swedish ‘g’, as in the common name ‘Berg’—which sounds more like our word ‘berry’ than something into which you might crash a ship. Once, Rob asked, perhaps redundantly, why English commentators never try to say Swedish names properly. I could only tell him that most people don’t know they are saying the names incorrectly, and even if they did know, they would likely pronounce them about as well as me. Being Swedish, Rob found this reasonable. Others, apparently, do not.
Last week, a minor controversy broke out over the way that SBS World Cup presenter Lucy Zelic pronounces players’ names. Following the example of the iconic Les Murray, Zelic often says the names as would native speakers. For this she has been subjected, shamefully, to abuse on social media. Zelic is an excellent professional, who clearly studies the players and the game very closely. Her decision to pronounce the players’ names as she does is not inherently objectionable. However, in response to the criticism, Zelic and her co-host, former Socceroo Craig Foster, moved from the reasonable view that a commentator should know the players’ names to implying the country as a whole needs a multicultural education and everyone should aspire to know all the names of the world. Foster said that Zelic’s pronunciation is ‘what SBS is about… respecting every culture’. He went on, ‘If you can’t get someone’s name right, you’ve got no regard [for him or her]’. Zelic added that the criticism means it is time for SBS to ‘re-educate a different audience’. But this suggestion that respect for others demands native, rather than anglicised, pronunciation is far too high a standard.
This piece first appeared in Meanjin (Autumn 2018).
The last time identity played such an outsized role in Australian politics, then opposition leader John Howard famously stated his ambition for a country in which people should feel ‘comfortable and relaxed’ about the past, present and future. Howard’s phrase has been remembered because, for detractors and supporters, it captures something deep and resonant in the conservative idea of government. It is an idea worth revisiting now, more than 20 years later, as our politics again breaks down over claims of institutional and historic unfairness, and a conservative response that is, depending on how you look at it, either wilful complacency and disregard or an entirely understandable desire to be left in peace.
The purpose of this essay is not to rehash the meaning of Trump and Brexit, to muse about the collapse of the conservative establishment, or to declaim against any specific issue on today’s activist agenda. Instead, I propose to examine the philosophical debate that underlies the political back-and-forth. I will explore the struggle for recognition that animates identity politics. In the concept of recognition, progressives have found a cause to rally behind: differential institutional treatment of members of historically oppressed groups that enables those individuals to participate fully in society, thereby securing their dignity as truly equal citizens. Its absence is held to cause real harm. This is a strong claim that, if correct, implies a justification for the coercion, both state and cultural, of those who contribute, by act or omission, to the continued marginalisation of others.
The question, then, is whether anyone can in good conscience believe that the existing political and cultural institutions of our liberal democracy (which together I refer to as the social order) are preferable to a politics that prioritises the recognition of difference. Or, alternatively, whether such conservatism, indulging in comfort and relaxation not available to all, is an ongoing threat to equal citizenship and individual dignity, and must therefore be excluded from our politics and our society.
This piece originally appeared in the Herald-Sun on 16 April 2018.
The decision by the Victorian Government to spend $225 million of taxpayers’ money on renovating Etihad Stadium is corporate cronyism of the highest order, and inseparable from the AFL’s recent lamentable Left-wing turn.
This piece first appeared in the IPA Review and can also be found here. It is a review of Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of Law, which can be purchased here.
Across the United States, governments at all levels participated in the segregation and consequent impoverishment of African Americans. For 100 years, from the end of the Reconstruction period following the Civil War to the 1970s, federal, state, and county administrations discriminated against African Americans in housing and employment. The effects of this discrimination haunt the US to this day, and demand remedy by the governments that participated in it.
So argues Richard Rothstein in his new book, The Color of Law. Rothstein aims to show that racial segregation in the US was not de facto but rather de jure—that is, a product of government action, sanctioned by the law. He argues that segregation is unconstitutional under the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments and that anyone harmed by breaches of these laws is entitled to a remedy.
This piece was co-authored with Daniel Wild (Research Fellow, IPA) and first appeared in the IPA Review. It can also be found here.
The idea that Indigenous Australians should have a separate voice in our Parliament, the push to make Australia Day a representation of our divisions rather than our unity, and the calls for formalised diversity quotas are all manifestations of identity politics, where our legal rights are allocated according to our race, gender and sexuality. This identity politics movement seeks to divide us, and poses a threat to the functioning of our liberal democracy.