I subscribe to the theory that there is a natural movement between conservatives and radicals. I am sure it is a generational thing. I was a radical, my parents and children are conservatives. I expect my grand-children to be radical.
Within that framework there is also a national psyche which reacts to the nation’s perceived place in the world. If there is a national uncertainty then nations pull in towards themselves and conservatism is the ruling passion. Isolationism becomes the underlying mantra. When a country is sure of its place in the world, it is a lot more expansive and more radical. In the past, both America and Australia have had a national “cringe”. That was when the young took obligatory voyages to the “Old World” to gain a cachet of sophistication as their own country was seen as backward. Everything produced within America or Australia was seen as second-rate and was compared unfavourably to European equivalents.
America had its “cringe” well before Australia and gained a confidence in itself during two world wars where it was able to see itself as the saviour of the Western World. Australia only began to lose its inferiority complex during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Now we are seeing the beginnings of a major shift in world perceptions in both countries.
America is beginning to fade as China grows in world importance. Oh, there will be posturing and resentment and possibly doomed pre-emptive strikes from those Americans who have not learnt the lessons of history. Yet it is certain that China will be the world leader soon. They already own most of the American Dollars in the world and the banker is the one who calls the tune.
The American psyche is moving back to an isolationist, self-centred and conservative position in response to the unformed sense of an impending fall from leadership. There is a thinning of the skins of Americans. They are subject to exaggerated responses to criticism. At the same time, America is in a moral decay which is evident within the great urban areas which are becoming increasingly run-down because there are not enough financial reserves left after a series of expensive foreign adventures to do the domestic housekeeping.
On the other hand, during the last quarter of the twentieth century the Australian psyche made its final release from what has been a dependency on British approval, exemplified by Sir Robert Menzies’ couplet on his relationship to the British Monarch;
“I did but see her passing by
And yet I love her till I die.”
That release was vocalised by Harold Holt and his “All the way with LBJ” during the Vietnam War. This, in its turn, led to a dependency on American approval most recently visible in John Howard’s devotion to George Bush jnr. and all his policies.
The change in national perception is easiest to see in the changes in Australian foreign policy For the first half of the last century, Australia sent its youth to fight for Britain. During the second half, they were sent to fight American wars.
Now Australia is full of a new-found self-confidence and is swinging onto an upward spiral because we are supplying many of the raw materials China needs to grow. This is leading to a prosperity and an optimism within the growing middle class.
The election of Kevin Rudd in Australia indicates that finally Australia is becoming its own self. No longer beholden to Britain or America, we are making it on our own. Our economy is in good shape because of the
demand from China, our arts are in a healthy state and our ingenuity and inventiveness is undeniable. With the educational emphasis coming from the new Government there is every chance that when the materials boom ends in several decades, we will have a strong and intelligent population ready to be mined for further prosperity.
Since the second world war, Australia’s political sense has swung in decade-long cycles. Kevin Rudd and his new, outward looking Government has around ten years to set a national agenda for the next century. With a growing Asian component to our population and an awareness that Australia is in the Asian region, we need to find ways to retain our Australian way of life while interacting with our neighbours.
While America begins to shrink back inside its borders, Australia is beginning to flex its wings.