Reviews in The Round Table
A selection of reviews by Ged Martin published in The Round Table.
As a historian, I have two problems with political scientists. First, they refine and define until they create a three-legged parrot of an idea, with beautiful plumage but impossible parentage. Secondly, too often they write about the past without a true historical sense, using it as a quarry for contemporary polemics. Here three political scientists from the University of Melbourne offer a sweeping reappraisal of the essence of Australian citizenship. Am I forced to abandon my prejudices?
On the conceptual front, Brian Galligan, Winsome Roberts and Gabriella Trifiletti are admirably clear. There is nothing new, they say, about globalisation, although they acknowledge that events now operate in 'instant time', whereas early Australia was left to its own devices for months - a crucial point not prominent in the subsequent analysis. They insist that there has been no clear review of the nature of Australian citizenship in the light of the demise of Empire, attacking the anodyne conclusion of the country's Citizenship Council in 2000 that the country has no distinctive political culture. They argue that Australian history has too often been interpreted through a simplistic colony-to-nation model, in which sovereign independence is equated with living happily ever after. Since there is no such thing as complete independence in the era of globalisation, such mythology implies that citizenship itself is devalued by the erosion of sovereignty. Rejecting this as a bogus yardstick, they emphasise that Australian citizenship predated political independence and has always been multi-layered, with supra-national (imperial/British Commonwealth) elements alongside sub-national (state and local) patriotisms. They are untroubled by the technical objection that there was no such beast as Australian citizenship until 1949, regarding the older term 'British subject' as merely a convenient survival born of the need to write the federal constitution into a Westminster Act. In any case, they insist upon a 'small-c' concept of citizenship, one of general social activity rather than of formal participation in the political process. In short, the future in which Microsoft rules the wires looks very like a re-run of the past in which Britannia ruled the waves. 'Post-modern globalism is reminiscent of Australia's past history.'
How well do the authors handle that history? They argue, persuasively, that the Australian colonies developed a vigorous culture of citizen participation leading to, and further encouraged by, self-government - well before Australia either united as a 'nation' or became an independent state. The movement for federation generated an additional level of citizenship, supplementing a still larger-scale identification with the British Empire. In the first half of the twentieth century, Australia passed from Imperial Dominion to Pacific Nation, so that its notions of citizenship were already complex before the encounter with globalised challenges to the nation-state. There is some shaky history, but most of the glitches do not matter. The 1926 Balfour Report on Dominion status is best distinguished from the 1917 Balfour Declaration on Palestine. Ireland was not a Dominion in 1907. More serious is the statement that the 1898 New South Wales referendum on federation failed because the 'Yes' vote did not achieve 'the special majority of 10,000 that had been prescribed'. In fact, support for federation fell short of the required threshold of 80,000 votes. The error bears upon the implied purpose of the authors' portrayal of federation as a popular upsurge of pan-continental sentiment in favour of a new level of citizenship. It is possible to assemble any number of newspaper quotations about the inevitable triumph of the federal spirit in the hearts and minds of the people (the authors give one from 1874). These alone do not explain why federation happened, nor do they tell us why the process took so long. There is the standard allusion to the Australian Natives' Association, a friendly society of the locally-born who were commendably firm about their apostrophe. Certainly, the ANA provided the organisational backbone for the campaign in Victoria but, far from being the precursor of pan-Australian identity, it hardly existed in the other colonies.
As British subjects, Australians, then, enjoyed the reality of citizenship without articulating the concept. A rare example of the terminology came from a group of German-Australians interned during the First War, who asked if they were 'still citizens of Australia'. The authorities assured them that they were indeed, and that since citizenship involved obeying the law, they would remain locked up. This poignant example highlights an issue of the balance between responsibilities and benefits in citizenship. As 'citizens' of the Empire, Australians gained in security - but they paid no taxes to London, endured few restrictions and, if they fought in imperial wars, they did so as volunteers.
By 1999, Australia was a signatory to almost 3,000 international agreements, few of them scrutinised by legislators, a development that seemingly strengthened the executive and the judiciary rather than the individual. The 1995 Teoh case blocked an attempt to deport a non-national whose children had been born in Australia. The High Court ruled that in ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canberra had created a 'legitimate expectation' that its provisions would be incorporated into law, even though Parliament had not done so. Here globalisation appeared to circumvent citizen participation in the framing of laws. But the authors also adduce the 1994 Toonen case, in which campaigners hauled Tasmania's ban on homosexuality before a UN Committee. Sadly, few citizens will have the determination to take a case to the United Nations, although in former times hardly any Australians ever appealed cases to the Privy Council. The difference lies in another aspect of citizenship, that of identification. Independent Australian Britons took pride in the Union Jack. I doubt if gays will take to the streets of Hobart wearing blue berets. Nobody will wish to denigrate any text that boosts the notion of citizen empowerment in a frightening world, and I am personally keen on reminding Australians of their imperial past. In this case, the conceptualisation has been uncharacteristically broad and the history over-optimistic.
JEREMY MOON AND CAMPBELL SHARMAN, EDS, Australian Government and Politics: The Commonwealth, The States and the Territories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. xiv + 322, ISBN 0-521-82507-5 hardback, 0-521-53205-1, paperback.
If Nature abhors a vacuum, then surely the science of politics should overwhelm a federation. Sovereignty may be theoretically divisible, but it is impossible to believe in the constant and precise equality of power between centre and periphery necessary to maintain a true federal equilibrium. Indeed, three of the world's most enduring federations, the American, Australian and Swiss examples, all began in times when the outside world could be kept at arm's length, so that the central power could be deliberately emasculated. The Australian Commonwealth, remark the editors, was 'born of compromise and reared on opportunism'. The growth of an external affairs dimension, which barely existed in 1901, has formed an important element in the shift towards centralisation of effective power. In 1983, the Australian government pushed its foreign affairs powers to the length of preventing the Tasmanian government from building a controversial dam - but the island state has retaliated by quarantining Canadian salmon. After a century of federation, Australians are governed through a diverse assortment of parliamentary regimes - Canberra, six states and two territories - prompting the editors of this book to ask whether the continent has one political system or nine.
In the aftermath of the centennial, this collection of eleven thoughtful essays offers a timely review of Australian politics. First, a grumble. Contributors should begin with a note on population. Thus on Western Australia, the editors themselves helpfully indicate that they are talking about two million people, two-thirds of whom live within sixty miles of Perth. By contrast, we learn that Tasmania faces the loss of half its people in the next half century, but it is not until eighteen pages later that we are told that the island only has 470,000 of them to start with.
Australian academics accord to the Labor Party what in computers is called the default position. Moon and Sharman defend this emphasis on the conventional grounds that Labor pioneered mass membership and caucus control, forcing their opponents ('anti-Labor') to follow suit. Moreover, for long periods Labor has been the largest single vote-winning party. There is both paradox and myopia in this view. First, how was it that the Australian Commonwealth was designed without mass parties in mind at all? Here the population factor becomes important. Even today, the average ratio of voters to parliamentarians is 1:2250, small enough for politicians to maintain support through informal networks. Labor's structures make it is easier to study, but the mere fact that the party had to organise thus was as much a sign of weakness as of strength. Moreover, while Labor may have been the largest single party, much good did this do it in pursuing power. The editors argue that for seventy years after 1910, that is, in response to the irruption of Labor, Australian politics was characterised by conservative stability. Indeed, Canberra has only become a two-horse race since 1983 when the party substantially re-branded itself. To argue that Labor was 'unlucky' to lose so often is inadequate. The truth is that the 'anti-Labor' parties generally formed a coherent alliance and were more successful in winning majority support. These essays usefully demonstrate how the Country Party functioned as the right wing's rural safety valve, its variable strength across Australia providing much of the diversity that distinguishes the internal politics of the states. Sure, the coalition parties often disagreed, but open squabbles could be healed. When Labor quarrelled in the 1950s, the outcome was a split, indeed The Split, that left wounds for decades.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Australian democracy is that it accords unquestioning legitimacy to structures that hamper majority rule. The rules for voting have been altered time and again: compulsory voting favours Labor, obligatory listing of all candidates on the ballot helps the right-wing parties. Representation is still sometimes weighted to rural areas, penalising the urban strength of Labor, except in Western Australia, where the mining seats also benefited. Most surprising of all is the barely questioned entrenchment of the upper houses. At Commonwealth level, the Senate survived unscathed the crisis of 1975, although state governments can no longer change its political complexion when filling casual vacancies. The state Legislative Councils have pioneered the committee investigations that have so strengthened the work of all parliaments in recent years, part of Australia's hybrid 'Washminster' system. Few state assemblies number as many as 100 parliamentarians, so that a disproportionate number of the majority party will hold ministerial posts, hampering the scope for an active lower house committee system. Queensland, which scrapped its Council, and the Northern Territory, which does not have one, are not regarded as the most vigorous legislatures in the country.
Behind all this stands the conservatism of the Australian electorate. That most democratic of all devices, the referendum, actually helps to fend off change: only eight of the 44 proposals to amend the Commonwealth constitution since 1901 have succeeded. New South Wales voters are keener to make changes, but the Northern Territory voted against statehood in 2002. Australia prides itself on being one of the first countries to allow women to vote. But it was 1921 before a woman was elected, and 1990 before one formed a government, both in Western Australia. Not until 2001 did a woman lead an opposition into government when Labor's Clare Martin was 'stunned' by her success in the peripheral Northern Territory. Compulsory participation underpins continuity, and so democracy pays at the price of its own success. Elsewhere, Australians may not get the governments they deserve but they certainly seem to get the politics they want. It may not be only Tasmania that desperately needs creative vision but must rub along with opportunism and brokerage. In middle-class Canberra, the infant Australian Capital Territory executive experiments with relaxing cabinet solidarity, but is it symbolic that the ACT's most radical notion has been the attempted legalisation of euthanasia?
Even though each state is different, outsiders will be struck by the homogeneity of Australian politics. We hear in passing of a rogue legislator who called himself 'South Australia First' and of tiny local parties trying to break into the fissiparous legislatures of Hobart and Darwin. But, unlike Canada, Australia has no secessionist movements and its coast-to-coast party system is remarkably uniform. One system or nine? Moon and Sharman tackled the question with some advanced mathematics, and their answer is: yes and no. It seems an appropriately federal response.
NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Edited by Raymond Miller
Auckland: OxfordUniversity Press
Revised Edition 2001 of New Zealand Politics in Transition (1997)
xxviii + 572 pages Tables
Although democracy is our secular religion, its theology is opaque. Democracy is about majority rule, through free and fair elections. But the value of a vote depends upon the system of representation (first-past-the-post or proportional) and the effectiveness of the party system (multiple or cops-versus-robbers). Some voters choose a leader, others merely select a local lobbyist. Having voting, once every three-to-five years, citizens find themselves subject to powerful governments, which sometimes break their pledges and often impose unpopular policies. To add to the complexity, democracy has acquired two ethical aspects: it must respect the rights of minorities, and it must be honest. These worthy add-ons place considerable strain upon two supporting institutions, the judiciary and the bureaucracy. The courts must act as umpires, while taking orders from the players. Civil servants must be both independent and accountable. Analysed in these terms, democracy may provoke the traditional response to the description of the giraffe: there ain't no such animal.
But democracies do exist, and if the beast cannot be defined, surely its habitat can be identified. But if we reject monarchies and federations, both of which theoretically limit the principle of majority rule, the options narrow until we are forced to conclude that democracy is what they have in New Zealand. There the de facto head of state plays a ceremonial role, and the weak upper house is long abolished. Women have long had the vote, the majority speak in triennial elections, but the Maori minority have its guaranteed place. In return, for much of the twentieth their government gave them a welfare state and a command economy to insulate them from a cruel world.
Then, suddenly, it was no longer so. Twice in succession, New Zealand's electoral system failed to deliver: in 1978 and 1981, Labour outpolled National, but Muldoon took more seats. Worse, the country was living beyond its means. The revival of its founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, sent shock waves through the system. Labour took office in 1984, but the bureaucracy seemed to retain power. The political system was overhauled, most notably in the adoption, from 1997, of "MMP", a form of proportional representation which made elections an efficient head-count but complicated the formation of governments.
As the earthquake subsides, the publication of New Zealand Government and Politics seems a timely moment to assess this renewal of democracy. The 48 contributors produce 47 essays arranged in eight sub-sections that cover a huge range of topics, including Cinderella subjects like local government. As a student textbook, each contribution ends with questions for discussion. (One invites undergraduates to debate whether MMP is "dog tucker".) Evolving from an earlier volume entitled New Zealand Politics in Transition, this collection conveys a sense of system that is still adrift. Thus the opening section deals with three macro-topics, national identity, globalisation and civil society, but it is not clear from the rest of the book whether they are fundamental or merely prefatory. In piam memoriam, we start with a combative squib from the late Bruce Jesson calling for the distinctive identity of a republic. That is hardly a live issue, but it is surprising to find little interest in the continuation of legal appeals to the far-away Privy Council. Brian Easton argues that globalisation is neither intrinsically neither good nor bad, and that it is hardly new: there would be no New Zealand without the refrigeration ships of the Victorian technological revolution. Barry Gustafson shows that civil society is not easily reconstructed. 500 pages later, the collection concludes on a different note, with three essays on neo-liberalism. Personally, I would have swapped these for an audit of democracy, a term that rarely appears in these pages. (It may be noted that specifically Maori issues merit just three essays, while the section on political parties contains no separate discussion of New Zealand First, the party that has spanned the Maori and Pakeha spheres.)
Has New Zealand democracy been strengthened by the innovations of recent years? MMP means coalition, coalition means consensus, and consensus means the end of presidential-style rule: for the first time in the twentieth century, MPs actually rejected a government bill in 1998. But who has the claim to form a government, the leader of the largest party, or the front-person of the largest grouping? As Jonathan Boston shows in his use of the concept of "negative parliamentarism", New Zealand ministries can be both installed and dismissed by a minority of the whole legislature - democracy with a random touch. Farcically, a minister with a multiple portfolio can be punished for failure by dismissal from part of the job without departing from the cabinet. The Public Services Commissioner splendidly declares that politicians are responsible for outcomes, bureaucrats for outputs. But when coalitions quarrel, are civil servants forced into decision-making? Then there is the Citizens' Initiated Referendum (CIR), usefully dissected by Helena Catt. Ten percent of registered voters can petition (and somebody must check each signature) for a national vote on any proposition. Why ten percent, when the threshold for party representation under MMP is only five? With New Zealand's media following the international trend towards dumbing down, how can the people make an informed decision, especially in isolation from the big picture of overall policy? In 1999, they voted overwhelmingly for tougher sentences upon violent criminals, but who decides how to meet the cost? Experts say that MMP cannot work with fewer than 120 MPs, but the people voted to cut the parliament to 99. Does democracy mean giving the people what they want, or deciding what is in their best interests? Since the CIR is merely advisory, it merely highlights the theoretical inconsistencies of democracy itself. And yet, as Alan McRobie points out, New Zealand is one of the few countries with a democratic heritage stretching back 150 years. It is worrying that the system should remain so theoretically muddled in a country that has deliberately modernised its institutions. This is a useful book, even an alarming one.
GARRETT WARD SHELTON, ed.,
Encyclopedia of Political Thought
New York: Facts on File Inc., 2001, pp. ix + 342, ISBN 0-8160-4351-5 (hardback)
I learnt something from taking an undergraduate course in Political Thought. I learnt that I could not understand Political Thought. As I grappled with the set books, words loomed in front of me, big ones too. I laboriously disentangled them just as I had been trained by the Janet and John books. Sentences continued to swim while I drowned, first in incomprehension and finally in panic. The course accompanied the unfolding of the UDI crisis in Rhodesia. This provided a provocative contemporary angle for the genial conservative who tried to teach me. Plato wanted the gold to rule; he would have been for the settlers. Aristotle restricted citizenship, Machiavelli and Hobbes were brutal about the use of power. No problem with Locke, for the white minority owned the property. Rousseau had no time for majority rule. By the time the exam came around, all I had grasped was that the white Rhodesians were unlucky not to have lived in the previous two millennia. Political Thought was not for me.
But, like it or not, we are all affected by political theory, perhaps most of all when we do not know enough to question it. I simply had to pick up some grasp of the subject just as I came to terms with other puzzling aspects of the human condition - through instinct, deduction from knowing remarks and occasional fumbling experiments of my own. With the Encyclopedia of Political Thought, I finally hoped that I had could find answers to all those questions I had been too shy to ask. In semi-coffee-table format, with pages set in large type and double columns, its fine hard cover decorated with pictures, it brought back reassuring memories of the Beano Annual. Containing over 400 bite-sized entries in user-friendly form, this is definitely a volume for every reference library. Most entries have a note on further reading and there is a brief general bibliography, which includes most of the tomes that foxed me forty years ago.
Broadly, there are two sorts of entry, both of them showing some bias towards the United States. Some deal with concepts, such as abolition (of slavery), abortion, absolutism, activism, alienation. Others discuss people, including Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan ('noteworthy in political thought', but for his advocacy of conservative ideas rather than for originality, 254). There is no entry for 'Commonwealth', even though one version of the idea was influential in early America. Each entry is liberally cross-referenced, so that an enquiry about Plato may guide the reader to topics as various as justice, fascism and James Madison. Daringly, I read my way through the topics of that terrifying course of forty years ago, and found the material gently reassuring. Finally, I plucked up my courage to confront that naughtiest of all intellectual experiences: what on earth is all this business about Foucault? There he was, trailing the First Amendment and the Virginia apologist for slavery, George Fitzhugh. I read about his life, his sad death and his views on authority. There the clouds closed in: '… authority cannot be regarded either as a form of action opposed to power or as an institution that merely wields power, but as a mechanism of political management that is composed by the fluid exercise of power throughout society' (110). Professor Sheldon's team have evidently done their best to convey a simple meaning, but I wish they had told us what Foucault thought about the Rhodesia crisis.
Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism, and the Canadian State. Toronto: University of Toronto Press and WashingtonDC, WoodrowWilsonCenter Press, 2002. viii + 534 pp. ISBN 0-8020-3758-5 (hardback) and 0-8020-8539-3 (paperback)
Stephen Clarkson has written an impressive book deploring the subordination of contemporary Canada to the United States. Fittingly, he holds a Chair with the splendid title of 'Political Economy', for only somebody with a grasp of both democracy and dollars could have achieved such an analysis. Yet this is no bloodless parade of trends and figures. As Clarkson points out, social science methodology elevates precision at the cost of significance. The statistic that Canada exports goods worth $360 billion to the United States has no inherent meaning, even though that represents forty percent of the country's gross domestic product. 'Grasping the significance of a fact involves making a judgment, and making a judgment invokes one's core values.' (9) An activist for Canadian national causes for forty years, his book was triggered by the simple query posed by a friend, 'Stephen, will Canada survive?' (407). Canada, he was sure, would continue to fill its space on the map, but what sort of country it would be? The result is a prolonged cry of pain, a combination of post-mortem and rallying cry.
A passionate book, but constructed around a social sciences definitional framework. Ottawa is located at the mid-point of five levels of governance, staggering beneath the emerging global and continental tiers above and dumping its responsibilities on the existing provincial and municipal spheres below. In 1971, Nixon refused to exempt his northern neighbour from an emergency import surcharge, so shaking Canadians in their comfortable Keynesian paradox that used the profits from cross-border trade to combine State support for industry with the provision of welfare services for the citizenry. Canadians now faced a clear choice, and being Canadians they adopted both policies, although not simultaneously. Down to 1984, Trudeau sought a more autonomous Canada, through diversified trade and multilateral diplomacy. This approach was already in the doldrums when the Conservatives swept into office. According to Clarkson, Brian Mulroney brought no fresh ideas and, consequently, he was temperamentally vulnerable to embracing the free trade panacea argued in the 1985 MacDonald Report. Thus Canada bounced headlong from insulated independence to the barely considered Plan B of continental integration.
At this point, enter globalization. In principle, the phenomenon goes back to Edison, if not to Columbus. Its terrifying modern form brings rapid and intrusive change: trans-national corporations, unsleeping stock markets, computerisation of cash and information, the imposition of hegemonic cultural norms. But Clarkson also discerns two accompanying concepts, global governance and globalism. For corporations to operate on a world stage, rule-making is required. By tackling this issue with regulations in phone-book bulk, the European Union flies in the face of globalism, which fights the very notion of regulation by governments. It would be flippant to dismiss Clarkson as yet another Canadian nationalist intellectual crying 'we was robbed' by the victory of free trade with the United States (CUFTA) in 1988. He is right to identify the novel feature of the Canada-US agreement as the opening of cross-border movement to services. Once locked into CUFTA, Canadians found, as they had been warned in 1891 and 1911, that they must follow Washington wherever it led. When the Americans opened trade talks with Mexico, CUFTA soon became NAFTA, and Canada was sucked into a new philosophy of continental governance. Investment is a service, and investors must be protected from expropriation by excitable Latins. Under NAFTA's Chapter 11, any investor, actual or even potential, can sue a sovereign government for obstructing trans-national corporations as they gouge environments and customers. Two years after NAFTA, in 1994, came the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and neoconservative corporate governance went global. (Ottawa, incidentally, has taken a WTO case against France for using health regulations to block imports of asbestos that are banned within Canada.)
Chapter after chapter chronicles the damage that Clarkson blames upon neoconservatism. Some of his arguments may be probed. Clarkson is a Torontonian, proud of a great city that faces environmental and economic problems, including loss of control over its powerful pan-Canadian banking sector. He argues that neoconservatives have hypocritically downloaded key public functions to the municipal level to weaken the role of government, as symbolised by the lethal epidemic caused by polluted drinking water in Walkerton, Ontari. But it does not follow that creation of a single municipality for Metro-Toronto fits part of the pattern, for all that Clarkson briefly labels the behemoth as 'glocalization'. The parallels with Margaret Thatcher are far-fetched: she hand-bagged big-city regimes. Nor is it cricket to cite Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman's demand for provincial status without noting that most Metro intellectuals regard Lastman's election as a sad loss to his previous calling of furniture retailing.
It is striking to note the virtual omission of concern about the Quebec issue. A decade ago, it was 'whither Canada?' that agonised such tomes. Now secession is silently dismissed, as the neoconservative challenge to the State prompts the question 'wither Canada?' Sometimes there is a tension between Clarkson proving that the State has been castrated and Clarkson hoping that it might be revived to protect Canadian values. To a Britain facing the challenge of the Euro, the Bank of Canada's autonomy, however constrained, and the country's ever-sinking dollar, may seem potent symbols of old-fashioned sovereignty. His suggestion that the dollar should 'float up to what is thought to be its true value' (thought by whom?) in order to 'raise the wealth of all Canadians' (416) sounds like the greatest piece of Voodoo economics since Harold Wilson reassured us about the pound in our pockets. (A stronger dollar would, as Clarkson says, make imports cheaper. It would also flood the country with American and Mexican goods, while increased export prices would force Canada back to a mere staple producer.)
Clarkson was unlucky, too, in his timing. His massive analysis has only marginally responded to the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Optimistically, he suggests that the American response proves the resilience of the national State, but it is not clear that the war on terrorism is going to do much for the autonomy of any national State other than the USA. Lastly, it is in the nature of the beast that the final breathless chapter on democratic remedies is a gallop through tried nostrum, less persuasive than the preceding indictment. More participation, better paid civil servants, richer universities - but also new political techniques to operate within the globalized framework, such as Canadian environmentalists lobbying Congress direct. This is an important book, and deeply alarming too.
Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia
London, Allen lane, 2004, pp. xxxviii + 720, ISBN 0-713-99450-9
Frank Welsh is a retired banker who has written an impressive number of general histories. The fact that he is an Englishman appears to be regarded as an issue in the authorship of this massive study of the Australian experience, although it is hard to see why this should be so. Predominantly this is a political history, with a solid component of external relations from the 1880s onwards, and indeed public affairs offer one of the few coherent frameworks for such a study. Each chapter is split into bite-sized sub-sections, a useful device for covering the ground during phases such as the later nineteenth century, when six separate colonies are motoring aimlessly forward, or the muddled inter-war period when the historian must squeeze in allusions to the SydneyHarbourBridge and the Bodyline text-matches. One nuisance is the elusiveness of the referencing. Welsh’s endnotes list many sources and provide further acerbic comment. Some publishers use the running head to identify the relevant page numbers in the text. Others at least include the chapter title as a guide. This work grimly confines itself to chapter numbers for each section of endnotes, forcing the reader to leaf backwards to the start or flip hundreds of pages to the Contents list. Why?
At times, it is difficult to know which audience the book is aimed at. To explain, for instance, that Queensland has the population of Hampshire and Sussex in the area of western Europe presumably says more to British readers than to their antipodean cousins. On the other hand, it is Welsh’s opinions that form the most valuable element in the book, and these will make most impact on Australians themselves. Nor is he grimly predictable. True, he condemns Chifley’s plans to nationalise the banks, but on Vietnam and Aboriginal affairs, he is sardonically radical. He insists that the arrival of Europeans should be termed an ‘incursion’ not an ‘invasion’. He is sensible in dismissing the notion that ‘mateship’ is unique to Australian male culture, argues against the utility of compulsory voting and regards the country’s home-made honours system as ‘ridiculous’. He dislikes Westpac as the name of a bank, prefers Waltzing Matilda to Advance Australia Fair as a national anthem and regards the classic novel Such as Life as ‘barely readable’. On recent politicians, some of whom he has dealt with on business, he can be charmingly lethal. I am not sure that Malcolm Fraser was ‘a twentieth-century Gladstone’, but Arthur Calwell was certainly a ‘dinosaur’. Gough Whitlam had ‘all the qualities needed to succeed in politics, except that of judgement’, but his penchant for overseas jaunts made him only ‘a part-time tyrant’. Whitlam’s nemesis, the governor-general Sir John Kerr, ‘might have been a bastard but he was unmistakeably an Australian bastard’. Bob Hawke’s enemies regarded him as ‘a foul-mouthed drunken boor’, while his friends would quarrel only with the tone of the description. Andrew Peacock was ‘handsome, sporting and charming’, while John Howard was ‘none of the above’.
Few of Welsh’s evaluations are neutral, and some seem off-beam. In Commonwealth terms, the American invasion of Grenada was tactless, but was it ‘unprincipled’? More to the point, why mention it all? This is a very discursive book, even ruminating on the mystery of national football codes and outlining the rules of cricket. Unfortunately, the text is not always accurate. Lord Grey’s committee of 1849 was not a parliamentary enquiry but an experiment in policy-making under the auspices of the privy council. Grey himself left office in 1852, not 1854, which was the year the Americans prised open Japan, not 1858. Except through the traditional form of quarter sessions, I do not think local government had become a training ground for national politics in Britain by 1850, and I am sure Disraeli, in the Hughenden graveyard, did not plan the 1887 Jubilee celebrations. New South Wales conservatives did not intend to create a hereditary upper house in 1853: the celebrated ‘bunyip aristocracy’ proposal went no further than providing for a possible future titled electoral college. John Hackett collected his knighthood two decades after he appears as ‘Sir John’ in 1890, J.X. Merriman did not become premier of the Cape for sixteen years after he appears in 1892 (fascinating man, but why mention him at all?). De Valera was not prime minister of Ireland (where I live we say ‘Taoiseach’) when he visited Australia in 1948, nor did Menzies break Walpole’s record for holding the office. Britain joined the EEC in 1973, not 1971, and the Queen presided over not five but sixteen Commonwealth realms at the time of Australia’s republican referendum. Whitlam’s tactical resignation as Labor leader in 1968 was directed against dictation by the extra-parliamentary National Executive and not designed to liberate him from the caucus. (Indeed his narrow victory tended to increase backbench control.) There was no joint sitting of the two houses of parliament before the 1974 election, since the constitution provides for such an eventuality only after an inconclusive double dissolution. Compass points and simple arithmetic are occasionally wayward. John Hunter sailed eastward to seek help from the Dutch at the Cape in 1788, not westward, and Admiral Somerville withdrew the Indian Ocean fleet in 1942 to Mombasa, not to west Africa. Thirteen years intervened, not ten, between the murder of Gordon in 1885 and the reconquest of the Sudan in 1898; twenty-four years, not fourteen, between the LBJ visit in 1967 and Bush senior’s tour in 1991.
Welsh is also cavalier with names. Some figures in the Australian past are usually referred to by two forenames: William Charles Wentworth, John Hubert Plunkett, John Dunmore Lang and the pervasive New Zealander William Pember Reeves. Welsh democratically slices out their middle names in each case, while Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson seems lucky not to have become plain ‘Fergie’. In other cases Welsh is oddly formal. I doubt if anyone has called New Zealand’s first woman prime minister ‘Jennifer Shipley’ since she left school, while the appearance of the Western Australian mining magnate as ‘Langley Hancock’ comes as a surprise to those who know him through the ancient Scottish folk ditty, ‘Old Lang’s Iron’. There are errors in the names of Watkin Tench, James Bicheno, Allan McLean and the Earl of Dudley ─ minor glitches in minor figures. Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, and Ireland’s Charles Stewart Parnell are also casualties, the more regrettable as neither really needed to be dragged in at all.
But if we put aside these blemishes, we can perceive a deeper question behind Welsh’s endeavour. He is impressed by Australia’s success, economically, socially and democratically, as confirmed in UN lifestyle league tables. Brazil had natural wealth but has struggled to create a decent society. Japan modernised but drew upon an integrated pre-industrial economy and a firm institutional basis ‘whereas Australians, to a very considerable extent, developed their own solutions’. How could they have done this in so short a time as two hundred years? In short, when does Australian history start? Now, your reviewer left Canberra in1977 to work in Ireland and Britain. If the story cold-started in 1788 (and the opening scenes were hardly promising) then it follows that one-eighth of Australia’s history has taken place since I left. Conscious though I am of the ageing process, I cannot accept so impacted a timescale, the more so as much of the achievement was already well in place while I was there. Clearly, then, we need a mental framework that places the Australian past in a much longer context, one that still values European Australians for their adaptability, just as it honours the claims of Aboriginal Australians based on their prior occupancy and spiritual affinity to the environment. Herein lies one overwhelming challenge to the writers of general histories: how does one handle ‘the story so far’, the cultural baggage and institutional inheritance that Australians imported from the far side of the world? Almost equally perplexing is the corollary to the equation: is there a happy ending? There is for our author, since we leave him rejoicing in 2003 at England’s victory in the rugby world cup. In a tailpiece, he hopes that Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke might sit down with assorted ex-governors-general and Aboriginal thinkers to draft a blueprint, or Green Paper, that will unscramble the complicated federal system, accommodate a safe republic and usher in a brave new world of democracy, just like the federation movement a century ago. Alas, I challenge the comparison and I doubt the methodology.
This is a lively and well-written book: I blenched at two uses of ‘aggravating’ to mean ‘provoking’ and winced at two examples of ‘inter’ being used for ‘intra’, a small enough haul of nitpicking in a quarter of a million words. And much can be forgiven the first general history ever, in my recollection, to cite that most delightful of all emigration pamphlets, Australia A Mistake: New Brunswick for the Emigrant, produced in 1855 before the Empire had come to be thought of as one big happy family.
Rethinking Settler Colonialism: History and Memory in Australia, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand and South Africa
Annie E. Coombs (ed.)
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006, pp. xiii + 274, ISBN (hardback) 0-7190-7168-2
Cultural Identities and the Aesthetics of Britishness
Dana Arnold (ed.)
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004, pp. xi + 205, ISBN (hardback) 0-7190-6768-5, (paperback) 0-7190-6769-3
From the point of view of Commonwealth Studies, the most heartening aspect of these two collections of essays lies in their methodology. One demonstrates yet again that the comparative approach can illuminate the past of disparate areas of European settlement around the globe, the other that the idea of “Britishness” can be used as a starting point for the examination and projection of identities. Rethinking Settler Colonialism brings together thirteen contributions, plus an overview from the editor, covering aspects of the past in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, with a side excursion along the Oregon Trail. Their common theme deals with the creation and re-interpretation of human memory, especially through museums, exhibitions, monuments and origin narratives. An unusual feature is the inclusion of a short section of art work (reproduced in black and white) and a poem. Dana Arnold has assembled ten essays with an emphasis upon the uses of architecture and landscape to shape imposed cultural identities, but individual contributions range as widely as the Arthurian legend and the archaeology of Assyria. Case studies are taken from Australia, England, India, Ireland and Wales. Both volumes form part of the Manchester University Press “Studies in Imperialism” series, so it is hardly necessary to comment that they are handsomely produced.
The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons
Malden, Mass., Blackwell Publishing, 2004, pp. xxiv + 540, ISBN 0-613-23616-3 (pbk)
Few scholars could be better qualified to write this book than Christopher Bayly. Professor of Imperial History at Cambridge, he has an exceptional grasp of the comparative history of empires and he wears his learning lightly. The present work develops the approach of his earlier overview, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World 1780-1830 (Longman, 1989), in which he set the British Raj in India not so much in the comparative filter of rival European projections upon the wider world, but rather within the context of the rhythms of rise and contraction among other Asian empires. The result is a giant of a book that will remain a landmark study.
Bayly begins by playing down the notion of ‘prime movers’, pointing out, for instance, that American independence preceded industrialisation and so could not have been its by-product. Smiling politely upon the post-modernists, he defends the continuing utility of ‘grand narrative’. He is even agnostic about the label of ‘modernity’, preferring to search for elements of uniformity, a term which enables him, through a slight play on words, to work outwards from the presentation of the human body towards the systematisation of structures and philosophies. Thus it is clear from the outset that this is no minor intellectual skirmish but a massive assault delivered on a wide intellectual front, a Normandy invasion of a book.
The story begins in the late eighteenth century with the crumbling of old regimes all across Europe and Asia (sub-Saharan Africa is harder to accommodate, the Americas are still subordinate). Thanks to ‘archaic globalisation’, the world of muskets and sailing ships was already beginning to cohere into a single community. In many societies, work patterns were increasingly harnessed to market economies, and these ‘industrious revolutions’ imposed the discipline that would facilitate factory production. Here is the ‘Age of Revolutions’ in an interconnected, global perspective. However, the new world order that emerged after 1815 was fragile, and the next half century was ‘a period of flux and hiatus’. Its chief achievement, the centrality of the state, prompts a discussion of the definitions and dimensions of that strange creature. On balance, Bayly concludes, the notion of the state acquired sufficient legitimacy to dazzle the minds of contemporaries, but its manifestations (especially in China) could not always mobilise sufficient force to impose effective central control. Moreover, this mid-nineteenth century world was still one shaped by archaic globalisation, and only gradually moving towards full internationalisation. Bayly argues for the importance of the state ─ only then does he move to industrialisation and large-scale urbanisation as a prelude to consideration of nationalism. Twenty years ago, a book of this kind would have focused upon ‘imperialism’, but Bayly relegates this intellectual by-road to half a dozen pages, insisting that its manifestations are simply part of a chicken-and-egg, cause-and-effect circular process of nationalisms in conflict.
By the late nineteenth century, Bayly is ranging even more widely, into the realm of ideas such as liberalism and socialism, the rise of science and the emergence of global idioms not merely in art and architecture but even in literature. In such a world of rationality and naked power, how did religion survive? Bayly dismisses the condescending marginalisation that sees religion as a form of primitive protest against change, arguing rather that the great faiths themselves embraced elements of modernity, using printing, mass education and systematisation of doctrine, to become ‘Imperial Religions’, often in partnership with local states and helping to articulate the nationalisms that they fostered: even the Church of England inflated itself into the Anglican communion.
From 1880 onwards, everything speeded up. Elements of the old regime, such as monarchy and racism, died hard ─ one half-suspects that Bayly blames their obstinate survival for the First World War. Unfortunately, the cumulative and accelerating pace of change created an atmosphere of decay and crisis beyond the control of burgeoning internationalism, both economic and intellectual, and so it was that in August 1914 the guns shattered the remaining barriers to a single, integrated and unambiguously modernised world. How had it happened that north-western Europe and its American projection had come to drive the whole planet? Bayly acknowledges that they were more successful than the rest of the world, but he dismisses explanations that assert European ‘exceptionalism’, let alone assume innate European superiority or pronounce verdicts of failure elsewhere.
‘Historians keep themselves in a job by overthrowing received wisdom once a generation or so,’ Bayly remarks. Indeed, ‘they think they are at their best when challenging orthodoxy’. But this is no mere cussed inversion of previous dogma. Rather it is the conflation and extension of much recent scholarship to produce what the author terms ‘a reflection on, rather than a narrative of, world history’. Paradoxically, I have found it an extraordinarily difficult book to read, and my assessment is of necessity admiring rather than profound. Without doubt the block must be traced to shortcomings in the reviewer. Bayly writes well and, unlike more ponderous polymaths, he does not seek to humiliate the reader with the grinding force of his knowledge. Better surely to have this global grand sweep rather a historiography of empire composed of endless monographs on the inshore fisheries of the Marzipan Islands. Whence, then, my unease? Primarily it stems from one of Bayly’s undoubted strengths: he is a master pattern-maker. If patterns are made by joining up the dots, then everything depends on the selection of those dots. The problem is that, in any period, empires will be in the process of reforming centrally while they advance and retreat at the periphery, states will exhibit simultaneous symptoms of decadence and renewal. A broad and visionary intellect will identify contemporaneous similarities and parallels at opposite ends of the planet, but whether these represent trends or coincidence it is hard to know. Indeed, Bayly’s predominant unifying theme for much of the nineteenth century is one of transition, in which resilient survivals resist change in a stewing pot of flux and fluidity. Indeed, notwithstanding the book’s title, even modernity is a muted and almost tacit concept.
This in turn leads to two areas of unease about the terminal date, 1914. First, was the modern world born at or before Sarajevo? If modernity boils down to uniformity, to an interrelated planet, then surely the touchstone must be China. For much of the twentieth century, China was somehow relegated to the international sidelines, a cordoned-off and peeping spectator of external events. Only at the start of the twenty-first century has the Chinese economic boom, dreamed of for two hundred years, finally lured outside investment and impacted upon world raw material prices. It seems almost ungrateful to raise the second problem: Bayly has come closer than most historians to tackling the secret of the universe, and it is hardly fair to demand that he should have thrown in the causes of the First World War as well. But if a scholar can look back and so beguilingly discern the origins of our world today, surely the same hindsight ought to be able to trace the sub-text that led to Tannenberg and the Somme. Somehow, 1914 doubles as unexpected disaster and logical culmination. Perhaps Bayly will emulate Hobsbawm, whose work he admires, and give us a sequel for the twentieth century.
The text is enriched by unusually well integrated and thought-provoking illustrations, plus a dozen maps which are helpful but not totally reliable. One dealing with religion has shunted Quebec City into Manitoba and eccentrically appears to equate Wellington with Lourdes and Mecca, an example perhaps of the overlap between pattern-making and shoe-horning. (If the aim was to avoid a blank space around New Zealand, why not select Anglican Christchurch or Free Kirk Dunedin?) Be in no doubt, you will read, mark and learn a great deal from The Birth of the Modern World. But the full process of inward digestion may require more than one journey through this intriguing text.
Historical Directory of New Zealand: Second Edition
Keith Jackson and Alan McRobie (Eds)
Historical Directories of Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East, No. 56
Lanham (Maryland), Toronto and Oxford, the Scarecrow Press Inc., 2005, pp. lxxx + 451, ISBN 0-8180-5306-X
“Hastings, Battle of, 1066. Normans [qv] won.” Historical dictionaries notoriously either state the obvious or disinter the arcane: context and causation are not their strong points. In this case, a note bizarrely buried in the cataloguing data demonstrates that the challenge is even greater. “Readers should note that the New Zealand flag differs from the Australian flag”, it begins, before sketching the differences in pointed stars. Readers are evidently not assumed to be New Zealanders.
But this revised edition of a 1996 publication welcomed in these columns is far from a textbook for a Kiwi trivia quiz. There are maps, and a chronology which emphasises events of the past decade. An essay provides a concise overview of the country’s history, highlighting the Maori renaissance (there is also a short glossary of Maori words) and recent changes to the political system, which the editors, both distinguished political scientists, are highly qualified to handle. Appendices provide basic statistics and list ministries. (The government raised almost $20 million by selling off the national vehicle testing service.) I was disappointed that the hefty section on bibliography omitted the British Review of New Zealand Studies from its list of useful journals, but there is compensation in two pages of key web-sites.
The core of the dictionary remains the 353 pages of short factual entries, generally impressive in their cogency and cross-referencing. Grumbles are minor. “Glasgow, David Boyle” conflates a title with a surname, while cricketer Greg Chappell becomes “Chapple”: serves them right for being a Lord and an Aussie. According to its web-site (and web-sites surely cannot lie) Auckland University of Technology gained university status in 2000, not 1996 as stated. It is not clear why there are entries for four of the original six provinces, with Nelson and Taranaki omitted. The dates for the short-lived secession of Southland are included under “Provinces” and supplied on a map inset. I tracked down the 1968 sinking of the inter-Island ferry, the Wahine, under “Disasters”. The middling cities of Hamilton and Dunedin rate entries, but not Invercargill (fair enough, what would you say?) and Napier or indeed, its twin town, another Hastings. Then there is Lyttelton, which is not marked on the maps. Readers puzzled by the New Zealand flag are unlikely to know that it is the port of Christchurch. I would have welcomed entries about the writer Robin Hyde and the historians J.C. Beaglehole and Keith Sinclair not least because expatriates such as Frances Hodgkins and Ernest Rutherford win places. An entry on New Zealand’s Scandinavian pioneers would have been appropriate, but as neither the Scots nor the Irish rate specific mention, this may be too much. The general heading of “Religion”, with specific cross references to Jews, Ratana and Ringatu, seems piously correct: some whisper that Catholicism and Protestantism contributed (not always helpfully) to the country’s development. But we all have our preferences, and librarians will welcome this new edition.
LAWRENCE FREEDMAN, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, Whitehall Histories: Government Official History Series, 2005, 2 vols, pp. xviii + 253, xxxi + 849. ISBN (set) 0-415-36431-0.
To Sir Lawrence Freedman, official history is neither definitive nor propagandist, but a scholarly account based on the ‘quite marvellous’ experience of access to government documents: he generously thanks his researcher, Christopher Baxter, for simplifying his task. Where there is no documentation, he offers only tentative opinion. Thus he has ‘found no references’ to the use of nuclear weapons (II, 58). Since the Treasury was excluded from running the war, he accepts that it was paid for out of a mysterious ‘contingency fund’, which presumably re-filled by magic each night. Nobody, he insists, has attempted to influence him, and it is his own firm (and welcome) judgement that it is ‘simply not true’ that the Belgrano was sunk to destroy a negotiated peace. (II, 736).
The two volumes are of unequal length, the second giving four times as much coverage to 1982 as the first allocates to the preceding two centuries. Freedman’s cogent survey of the sovereignty issue perhaps conveys more uncertainty than the British position warrants: by 1982 there was title based on 149 years of occupation. The Falklands (‘like Dartmoor on a bad day’) hardly invited settlement. In 1771, London and Madrid agreed a compromise similar to the formula-fudging attempted 211 years later by those whom Freedman calls ‘do-gooders’: each tacitly recognised the claims of the other while denying their validity. The British soon withdrew their settlement but not their claim. Spanish governors remained until Madrid’s authority crumbled in 1806. By 1811, the Falklands were uninhabited. When Argentina declared its independence, barely half a million settlers struggled to control a million square miles. Perforce, the new republic ignored the desolate archipelago 300 miles from its coast. In 1829 an entrepreneur secured appointment as Argentina’s governor. A British diplomat protested and an American warship evicted him. In 1833, the Union Jack was raised once again.
Argentines were hardly obsessed with the issue: they even offered to trade their claim against a defaulted loan, and did not serious press it until 1884. Still later, Buenos Aires suddenly noticed that it owned Britain’s sub-Antarctic islands: South Georgia was claimed in 1948. More often, there was practical acceptance of the status quo established when Spain finally recognised Argentine independence, with no mention of the Falklands, in a rapprochement brokered by Britain in 1859. From 1972, a subsidiary of the Argentine air force ran a service to Stanley: Imperial Airways did not fly into Jersey after 1940.
Holland does not covet Belgium; Mexicans accept the loss of Texas. Why are Argentines unable to move on? Three elements in their experience are central to understanding this dispute. First, in 1980 the country accounted for 0.5 percent of global population, but Buenos Aires was the world’s fourth largest city: when politicians could not deliver bread, they provided circuses. Secondly, the country’s military culture is absurdly disproportionate to its defence needs. A legacy of the nineteenth century, when Argentines fought each other and exterminated their aboriginal population, the military intervened in politics for self-preservation. Together, demagogues and generals fostered the politics of imagined enemies and dramatic gesture. A third element was the recent immigrant background of the population: Argentines yearned to be respected as a European nation, even a world power. Perversely, the Falklands dispute was a by-product of unrequited Anglophilia.
How, then, could Britain respond? To dismiss the ‘Malvinas’ claim as preposterous would be similarly to damn Argentina for its obsession. Hence Britain had to negotiate, and negotiation meant concession. With India and Africa gone, why hold on? The problem was the opposition of the Islanders, and their lobby in London. Everyone now agrees that British governments should never have conceded the Falklanders an effective veto. If their voice was to be heard, Islanders deserved at least an informed idea of their own vulnerability. Late in the day, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) began to talk of ‘education’ and sometimes of ‘making their flesh creep’ (I, 135) with predictions of Argentine nastiness should they refuse to co-operate. The strategy was internally flawed.
Freedman does not say much about the Falklands population. He reports 1813 of them in 1980, but not how many were locally born. In passing we learn of expert opinion that the community (if that is the right word for such a troubled group) could not be sustained below 1500, and that many believed it to be heading that way fast. Nor do we learn much about the Falklands Islands Company (FIC) which owned much of the land. The FIC, it seems, made money for its shareholders and the UK Treasury, but was under-performing even in relation to the limited economic potential of the Islands. Twice in the 1970s it changed hands. Could there have been a unilateral British package, permitting Argentine investment in the FIC, a transition period on sovereignty, and resettlement grants for those Falklanders who wanted to leave? There are worse fates than state-sponsored emigration to New Zealand (‘euthanasia by generous compensation’, Sir Rex Hunt called it). Surely it was better to test Islanders’ resolve with British money than with British blood. But it did not happen. Transnational investment was not the fashion in the 1970s, and the British economy could hardly afford hand-outs. Far from Whitehall pressuring the FIC, the company was a force behind the Falklands lobby. Instead, the FCO dreamed of ‘lease-back’, Argentine ownership with British tenancy, a curious example of the policy-making process stuck in a cul-de-sac. Decolonisation offered an elegant way of abdicating burdens. Lease-back would invert this, combining unwelcome responsibility with uncertain control. Argentina would eventually allege some violation of the lease and evict the administration in circumstances just as humiliating as 1982 but without possibility of redress. For Argentina was now ruled by a Junta: inflation was hitting the sky, and dissidents were falling from aeroplanes. ‘It would be a sorry business to give over British subjects of UK origin to the whims and changes of a South American dictatorship,’ wrote one minister (I, 104). As Freedman writes, ‘if there was no Argentine will to compromise what was the point of encouraging the islanders to embrace a specific proposal?’ (I, 123).
Without endorsing Callaghan’s view that it was a ‘whitewash’, Freedman dismisses the Franks Report verdict that nobody could have foreseen the invasion of 2 April 1982. True, the Junta only took the key decision the previous day, but warships and troops do not appear from nowhere. Thatcher’s defence cuts had sent the wrong message, while the approach of the 150th anniversary of British occupation made a crisis likely. Freedman criticises Britain’s response to the escapade of the Argentine scrap-metal dealers. ‘First steps in the South Georgia crisis were taken without thinking through what the second and third steps might be.’ (I, 224) Whitehall assumed the Junta would behave like a law-abiding democracy: they were ‘much too intelligent to do anything so silly,’ reported the Buenos Aires embassy (I, 167). Equally, the Junta assumed that Thatcher would respond like a rational dictator, and accept defeat over islands she did not want. So, after a brief skirmish, the world saw pictures of British marines lying face-down in surrender. However much Thatcher distinguished herself as a war leader, she remains the prime minister who lost the Falklands.
At this point, enter Sir Henry Leach ─ literally, bursting past a Westminster policeman join a crisis meeting of pole-axed ministers. With wartime service in the South Atlantic, the First Sea Lord declared that a Task Force could be sent, adding that it should be sent. It was, Freedman concludes, ‘a critical point in the whole Falklands story’ (I, 210). Thatcher could look parliament in the face; Britain could look the world in the eye. Everything flowed from that single decision. ‘At each stage of the campaign, going back was politically unthinkable, staying still logistically impractical, so the only option was to move on to the next stage, without any firm plan for the stage after that.’ (II, 445). The Task Force could not toss about in southern winter storms, so the troops had to land. The landing had to be on East Falkland, as far as possible from mainland airbases and the Stanley garrison. This meant a northerly sweep into Falkland Sound, which pointed to the sheltered beaches of San Carlos. Happily, British deception and Argentine immobility ensured that the landings were unopposed but, once ashore, British forces were virtually programmed to seize the Goose Green isthmus ─ and so on.
Battle narratives are notoriously muddled. Freedman’s robust style ensures that the fog of war does not vanish deeper into the fog of analysis. Volume Two is divided into sections that separate the military and the diplomatic, and the author is deft in his handling of the bulk of material. In a touch of genius, he captures the atmosphere of uncertainty by citing a horoscope sent, unasked, to Thatcher (who corrected the grammar). The Americans wrongly believed thought Britain’s cabinet was divided, Freedman dryly explains, thanks to Thatcher’s ‘normal forms of discourse’ with colleagues. Washington was split, equally dreading the Soviets in Buenos Aires and Michael Foot in Downing Street. Kirkpatrick at the UN was blatantly pro-Argentine, Haig and the State Department wobbled but, thankfully, Caspar Weinberger at the Pentagon was solidly pro-British. Argentine decision-making remained mysterious. ‘It is not clear who is in charge here’, Haig reported from Buenos Aires. (II, 165). The bellicose Navy quickly retreated inshore, leaving the unprepared Air Force to launch ‘near Kamikaze’ raids.
Like Waterloo, the Falklands campaign was a close-run thing. The precipitate despatch of the Task Force, the biggest long-distance operation since the Berlin airlift, meant that much equipment was incorrectly loaded, and had to be ‘cross-decked’ at sea. The loss of Atlantic Conveyor reduced helicopter reserves to a bare minimum. At the moment of victory, some British units were almost out of ammunition. Command structures were not always clear: at Fitzroy, there were five separate decision centres, stretching over seven thousand miles back to Fleet headquarters at Northwood. Communications, especially with submarines, were patchy ─ one excuse for tight control over the media ─ although one restive field commander thought them ‘too bloody good’ (II, 729). Intelligence was mixed, and Freedman discounts reports that the British used American satellite surveillance. It was good fortune that one officer collected information on the Argentine air force as a hobby, and that another had lived in Costa Rica and spoke Spanish. A psychological profile of the Argentine commander was based on the wrong General Menendez. The Task Force depth-charged whales and almost shot down a Brazilian airliner. Both sides fired on each their own troops and aircraft. Few British officers (and, presumably, hardly any Argentines) had battle experience. The Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Terence Lewin, who had served on both Malta and Russian convoys, bluntly warned that there was no point in having warships unless you were prepared to lose them. Combat proved a steep learning curve, as the disaster at Bluff Cove proved.
Despite his disclaimers, Freedman cannot avoid the implication of praise and blame. It seems invidious to select, but undoubtedly Sir Anthony Parsons, Britain’s UN ambassador, did a superb job ─ at one point playing for time by reprinting of resolution to include the term ‘Malvinas’. Freedman’s consistently unemotional tone effectively underlines the heroism of British troops. He regrets the most celebrated act of sacrifice, by Colonel ‘H’ Jones, although he acknowledges that combat troops are led from the front. Freedman twice cites doubts about the suitability for command of a named senior officer who gallantly led his men to Stanley. In the gung-ho moment of victory, this officer offered ‘to take out Guatemala on our way home and so solve the Belize problem’ (II, 656) but he is also the source of a sombre tribute to Argentine bravery. If the doubts were overcome, should they have been mentioned? Or is it implied that a nettle remained ungrasped? Either way, the allusions seem invidious.
British official histories now form part of the Whitehall History Project, published by Routledge. Unfortunately, the presentation here does not do justice to Freedman’s magisterial analysis. There are no photographs. The maps are uneven: some lack a scale, and several places mentioned in the text are omitted. A detailed map of East Falkland would have been useful. There is no mention of editorial support in Freedman’s punctilious acknowledgements. The text is hardly littered with errors, but there is a steady stream of infelicities in punctuation that editing should have eliminated: a senior scholar tackling so vast a project is entitled to such support. Freedman’s style is robust rather than elegant. Argentina can be both ‘they’ and ‘it’, the FCO and BBC ‘was’ and ‘were’, while soldiers are ‘who’ but prisoners are ‘which’. Thus: ‘the Navy was keener to keep Endurance running than they let on, and were preparing to argue [etc].’ Of the ship itself: ‘It carried two Whirlwind helicopters … but only had two 20mm guns of her own.’ (I, 61) Freedman also uses informal language, including ‘up the ante’, ‘blowing’ (for failure), ‘another go’ (for renewed attack), ‘leery’, ‘horrendous’. Nobody wants ponderous officialese, and some terms, such as ‘naval show’, convey the immediacy of service jargon, but more dignified terminology would have been preferable, especially as relatives of the dead are likely to read the book. Editing should have eliminated such glitches as ‘Public Records Office’ (I, 16), ‘Mr Neil Kinnock MP’ (II, 700) and ‘Privy Counsel’ (II, 716). William Whitelaw is inadvertently knighted (twice), while Vivian Fuchs undergoes gender realignment.
The Falklands have moved on. Investment projects ruled impossible before 1982 because of Argentine hostility became necessary afterwards for just that reason. But Buenos Aires remains stuck in what Falklanders term ‘auto-brainwashing’. In 2004, Argentina’s sovereign dignity expressed itself in blocking a Falklands team from playing cricket in Chile. Even under democracy, the ‘Malvinas’ fixation symbolises a country incapable of purging its self-destructive political culture. Over 300 British personnel and three Islanders were killed in the campaign: they are listed by name. Other lives were scarred. Freedman’s text stands as a monument to the precarious snatching of military triumph from the tragedy of an unnecessary war. Sadly, Whitehall History has fallen short of producing the monument that the conflict deserves.
A Three-Cornered Life: The Historian W.K. Hancock
Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2010, xvi + 608, ISBN 978-1-74223-126-6 (hardback).
I knew Hancock. I begin my review of Jim Davidson's outstanding biography of one of Australia's greatest historians with some saloon-bar bragging. Of course, applied to personal acquaintance, the verb "to know" has many layers of meaning, mostly shallow. A good biography will tell us how much we missed about somebody we thought we had summed up. Davidson's book goes further, for it leaves us wondering how far Hancock comprehended himself. For the egocentric record, I was a young academic in Cambridge in the early 'seventies when the Hancocks were sabbatical visitors and, greatly daring, I invited them to a memorable supper in my cottage donnery. Later I became a research fellow at the Australian National University (ANU) where he was a senior historian. Forty years later, I retain vivid recollections, giving me a fourth dimension to Davidson's three-cornered biography.
William Keith Hancock was born in Melbourne in 1898. An elder brother was killed on the Somme and his parents' refusal to sacrifice another son weighed with him, probably reinforcing his scholarly commitment to the Empire. After graduating from Melbourne, he briefly lectured in History at Western University's tiny university, before further study at Oxford where, in 1923, became the first Australian Fellow of All Souls. In 1926, the University of Adelaide made him the youngest professor in the British Empire. Another global leap wafted him to Birmingham in 1934. In 1941 he established a historical unit within the Cabinet Office to produce official histories of the non-military side of the war effort. Almost by the way, he added in 1944 the Chair of Economic History at Oxford. In 1949, he became the first Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London, and in 1957 similarly pioneered the Directorship of the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU. Hancock held seven academic posts, five of them Chairs.
His output was equally impressive. His first book, on the Risorgimento, published in 1926, was followed in 1930 by his Australia, an interpretative essay that dominated discussion of the country's identity for decades. In Birmingham he took on the Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, two volumes split into three tomes. The wartime Civil Histories project was even larger, generating 28 volumes, one of which he co-authored. Then, in 1951, he was commissioned to write the life of J.C. Smuts, a project that also involved assembling (and defending) a Smuts archive. The two-volume biography was completed in 1968. There were other wayside publications, but in 1972 Hancock rounded off his major output with Discovering Monaro, an environmental history of the Snowy Mountains.
Yet, as Davidson demonstrates, the impressive headlines do not tell the whole story. Moving to the Adelaide backwater was an eight-year mistake: notably, he showed no interest in South Australia's excellent archives, which had the potential to show how Victorian England had tried to create a local utopia. He saw the Birmingham job as a long-range stepping stone to Australia's most prestigious History Chair, at Melbourne University, but the vacancy occurred earlier than he had foreseen. Tied to the Survey, he joked that the appointment should go to somebody with a weak heart. In 1945 he failed to be elected Warden of All Souls. Worse humiliation soon followed. One of the four "maestros", distinguished antipodean exiles who advised on the establishment of ANU, Hancock hoped to launch its social sciences programme. His informal recruitment style alarmed the Canberra authorities and, worse still, few of the geniuses he called from the vasty deep of British academe would consider All Souls in the Bush. Hurtfully, his move to launch the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, very much a second-best, was interpreted as a hard-nosed decision to prefer a metropolitan opportunity. Hancock was stung into autobiography, his 1954 Country and Calling: Australia was his country, but History was his mistress, and the two had pulled him apart. Widely described as the longest job application is history, it angered some in Canberra but secured his appointment to ANU.
The three biggest components of Hancock's mighty output, the Survey, the Civil Histories and Smuts, were all commissioned projects. Only in his early years, writing about Italy, and at the end, when he discovered Monaro, did he choose his own topics. His project for a book on Machiavelli and the modern State never happened. He pre-eminently defined himself as a historian (a second volume of autobiography was called Professing History)
but he wrote mainly about events in his own lifetime. Even the exceptions were present-focused: his first book analysed Ricasoli, an authoritarian nationalist, through whom Hancock hoped to understand Mussolini. The Monaro project supported a contemporary conservationist agenda which culminated in Hancock's failed crusade against the building of a communications tower on Canberra's Black Mountain. The Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs retains its authority, but the Civil Histories entomb rather than enthral. The Smuts story begins as boys'-own adventure, but the hero becomes less appealing as he failed to confront South Africa's real "race" question, not the reconciliation of Briton and Boer lauded by his biographer but the role of the country's Black majority. Hancock's myopia is inexplicable since, in 1954, while working on Smuts, he had his own proconsular experience when he brokered a plan for keeping Buganda within a self-governing Uganda. There was a similar lacuna in Discovering Monaro which made worthy remarks about Aborigines but somehow never engaged with their removal from the high country. However, his massive output was not the result of sausage-machine productivity. He delighted in a riposte to a put-down dismissing one of his secondary works as only a short book. Yes, he had replied, he had had time to write a short book.
Hancock homed in on Smuts's attempt to reconcile Afrikaner nationalism with the wider British Commonwealth because it paralleled his own assimilation of Australian origins with a British academic career. I once asked a senior ANU colleague if, as a biographer, Sir Keith had effectively turned himself into Smuts. Definitely, came the reply, but harder to handle had been a phase when he studied Gandhi and took to sitting cross-legged on the floor. (Hancock was interested in the South African Gandhi: Commonwealth scholar though he was, he never tackled India.) Written as much to conceal as to reveal, Country and Calling posed a simple duality; Davidson's biography suggests greater complexity. Born in 1898 and the son of a clergyman, Hancock's Melbourne birth made him a Victorian in the geographical as well as the temporal sense but, although Hancock's father had an establishment job, he lacked the wealth of Victoria's powerful elite. Young Keith attended Melbourne Grammar in the uncomfortable role of scholarship boy: he did not revisit the school for forty years. Although the mildly conservative Hancock encountered Robert Menzies at Melbourne University, they were not close, even in the Canberra decade when the ANU grandee might have sought influence with the seemingly eternal prime minister. Alienated from the Melbourne power structure, Hancock conjured his Australian identity from a proclaimed idyllic childhood in Gippsland, but the family returned to the city before he was ten. (They moved to Moonee Ponds. In his eighties, he mildly indulged the cult woven by Edna Everage around that nondescript suburb but, unlike his fellow Canberra historian, Manning Clark, he never embraced the Barry Humphries cult. There was always more of lèse majesté than Les Patterson about Sir Keith Hancock.) Thus Hancock's Australian identity partly constructed, projected on to an idealised rural Victoria where lashing rain hammers the tin roofs. Western Australia was an offshoot of Victoria; Adelaide replicated Melbourne's Protestant elite on a smaller, stuffier scale. When Hancock left for his 23-year exile in 1934, he hardly knew New South Wales (and its northern extension, Queensland). His Australian identity was Victorian; his rural roots partly imagined.
The Hancock family came from Wiltshire. His mother's family were Scots, and there was an Ulster grandmother (he never knew her, nor that she died by suicide). In the British pole of his dual identity he showed no interest in these origins. Davidson shows that his English loyalty was an outward projection from three artificial institutions – Balliol and All Souls at Oxford and, in later years and thanks to Nicholas Mansergh, the Tipperary Irishman who also personified the Commonwealth, with St John's College Cambridge. Also important was the intellectual influence of the Round Table movement. Indeed, the Round Table was a rare source of informed comment on world affairs. Inevitably, All Souls brought Hancock into contact with Lionel Curtis, and we would not be surprised had he accommodated his own duality within the Round Table's evocation of Commonwealth. In fact, he steered his own course, breaking away altogether in the 1930s over Appeasement.
Knighted by both the British and Australian governments, Hancock roguishly dubbed himself a "surly" person. But he did not welcome enquiry into his internal boundaries. When a young ANU historian cheerfully told him that he had found a description of the early Hancock in the papers of a pioneer Australian intellectual, the atmosphere cooled: Sir Keith liked to be the custodian of his own persona. My colleague dropped the subject – the description had identified Hancock as an Englishman. Another vignette still leaves me puzzled. During the 1975 constitutional crisis, Hancock poured out his unease to me about the right-wing leader, Malcolm Fraser. Suddenly, he referred to Fraser's party as "the UAP", a curious allusion since Menzies had refashioned the United Australia Party into the Liberals thirty years earlier. It was not a deliberate archaism, nor (sympathetic though I now find myself to the possibility) did it seem a senior moment. Rather I felt I had glimpsed an expatriate who had never fully "re-assimilated" – his own term – to the country he had left in the 1930s.
Davidson's biographical insight sees Hancock not simply in terms of his Australian-British duality, but as living a "three-cornered life". Through Ricasoli, he fell in love with Tuscany, which remained his ideal landscape. Later, he transferred this affection to the western Cape, which somehow embodied the spirit of Smuts. Eventually he patriated the sentiment to Australia, explicitly likening the man-made Monaro environment to the terraces of Tuscany. His landscapes had their own life, transcending the mere people who swarmed over them. And that raises perhaps the ultimate issue: what role did real people play in Hancock's world?
His first marriage remains a no-go area. He barely mentioned his wife in Country and Calling, and even his donnish Oxford friends marvelled that they never met her – although knowledge of her abrasiveness contributed to their rejection of Hancock as Warden of All Souls. With supportive cross-referencing, Davidson has corralled the marriage into a discrete chapter. Hancock met Theaden Brocklebank at Melbourne University. Their courtship was carried on by correspondence, but she followed him to England where they married in 1925. An early (and unexplained) hysterectomy put paid to their hopes of children, and their rocky relationship probably ruled out adoption. The marriage was sometimes confrontational, with Theaden even sabotaging the husband's ambitions, for instance snubbing the vice-chancellor of ANU to block a move to Canberra. The couple made their peace as she lay dying from cancer in 1960. As Davidson relates, the story was widely told that Theaden counselled him that he would need a wife. She vetoed certain women thought to covet the role and nominated Marjorie Eyre, his secretary (in a loyal but entirely professional relationship) since Cabinet Office days, who had obeyed his summons to Canberra. They were married in 1961. The second Lady Hancock was a charming person, "ordinary" in the nicest sense of the word, and she undoubtedly humanised her husband.
A "difficult" person, no doubt, but Theaden had a cross to bear. Immersed in those remote third corners of his being, Hancock was frequently unreachable. His long-range career moves were paralleled by an odd refusal to out down local roots: at times, the Hancocks moved house almost annually. Twice in their British years, they bought a house, and Theaden channelled her creativity into planning a garden. Each time, some reason arose to sell the property within a couple of years. During that privileged evening in Cambridge, one incident shook me. Where books are concerned, I have always conflated ownership with scholarship, so I was chilled when Hancock casually announced that he had given away three personal libraries during his career. Intercontinental moves doubtless explained some of his divestments, but his last gift was to help establish Macquarie University, which was founded in 1964. I regard each published work as a provisional finding, which I may seek to revise in the future. Hancock, I suspect, published authoritatively, literally closing the book on each topic that he devoured. Even so, closing the book on a subject I can understand, but giving the books away still strikes me as bloodlessly Olympian.
Hancock once listed "kindness" among the necessary qualities for an academic. He acted on that principle, and I never felt that his kindness was artificial. It is often said that he founded no historical "school", but he did mentor the careers of younger colleagues and, creditably for his acculturation, several of them were women. Yet the impression remains that he was the ringmaster in his own circus. The spouse of one of his ANU protégés insisted that his patronage was manipulative. Hancock, the student of Machiavelli, would probably have responded that patronage was ever thus.
But we can move beyond the workaday interplay of mere human beings, for W.K. Hancock can be located in that ultimate confrontation of unadorned identity, the relationship between homo sapiens and cat. It was part of the Hancock mythology that he was a cat person. ANU legend, not cited by Davidson, related that Melbourne University's Trinity College had to relax its no-pets rule because the young student could not be separated from his companion. Yet we do not know whether his migrations chimed with feline life cycles, although Davidson reveals that his last cat bore the Trollopean name, "Planty Pal". And Davidson also validates one of my most memorable encounters with the great man.
At ANU, I taught an extra-mural course on South African history and my students were mostly young public servants. I invited them to a social evening at my brick-veneer bungalow, and easily persuaded the biographer of Smuts to meet them. The guest of honour arrived just as my large tabby stalked out of the gathering, rightly miffed that a Canberra bureaucrat had called him a fat cat. Greeting the beast, Sir Keith turned to me and asked, with a slight italicisation of the unfamiliar verb: "do you mind if I swinge your cat?" Intrigued, deferential and full of anticipation, I assented. Hancock placed a thumb firmly on the animal's backbone, hauled him up by his tail and dangled him in midair. Although bewildered, the creature felt no pain, but do not try this at home. How Hancock anaesthetised the spine, how indeed he had ever mastered the technique, I have no idea. Presumably there is a wealth of meaning in that episode but, if so, it eludes me still.
Jim Davidson's biography tells me that I no more "knew" Sir Keith than I have truly comprehended hundreds of other people who have orbited, through love, distaste or indifference, around my personal galaxy. In Hancock's case, failure of understanding may not have been wholly the fault of my own narcissistic conceit, for the man himself relied upon protective layers of myth which were perhaps aimed at himself as well as others. By revealing, biography tends also to diminish, but greatness is not the same as sainthood. Davidson's impressive biography reminds me that it was a privilege to have encountered Sir Keith Hancock, even if, half a lifetime later, it remains a challenge to penetrate his identity.
National University of Ireland Galway.