Last year, "Inkling" ran a ticket to control the SRC newspaper at the University of Sydney, Honi Soit. They stated explicitly that they would censor or ignore any articles which did not conform to their leftist view of the world. It came as no surprise that they rejected the article below - but the message remains clear.
As Paul Keating - former Prime Minister of Australia - recently said, all we have here in the antipodean fringe is ideas. We do not have a large population. We don't have resources easily at hand. All we have to rise above our given circumstances are ideas, and yet the current Government refuses to seriously back education.
Some notes for American and British readers. The Liberal Party of Australia are more similar to the Tories in the UK or the Republicans in the USA. It was founded to "that light on the hill", a call to fight for and defend little-l liberalism, instead it has becomes Just Another Conservative Party. Hopefully the insights in this article will strike cords with many of you, not just fellow Australians.
THE GREAT EQUALIZER
Pseudo-Liberalism and Education's Demise.
Liberalism is mortally wounded. It lies by the superhighway of
Economic Rationalism, bleeding, near to death. Once the beating heart
of the Enlightenment Project, it has grown sick from the ideological
cancer of pseudo-liberalism.
In this article I'd like to talk about liberalism and education.
Liberalism ("small-l liberalism") is not the policies of the Liberal
Party of Australia. Instead it is a set of mutually-supporting
precepts and principles which give insights into how societies can be
run. And yes, economic rationalism - the idea that markets should be
the unrestricted, dominant form of economic allocation - is a part of
modern liberalism. But what I'd like to talk about is how this
rationalism - "neoliberalism", it is also called - has usurped the
very principles upon which liberalism was founded.
At the heart of liberalism is the idea that the individual is the
fundamental unit of human experience. Liberalism pessimistically
argues that minorities are bound to be oppressed, and that the
smallest minority is the individual. Hence liberalism sets about
identifying threats to the individual, trying to deflect or cancel
The next principle coming from this basic point is the fear of
concentrated power. Liberalism says that while power is itself morally
neutral, it tends to attract people who are not. Hence, while the
"enlightened despot" is the ideal society, the odds are that in time
concentrated power will be abused to the detriment of individuals and
society at large. Hence power must be checked, restrained and
The third principle I will call on is the idea of equality of
opportunity. Whereas socialism argues the case for equality of
outcomes, liberalism says that this will inevitably punish those who
have done something above-average, whilst rewarding those who haven't.
Hence liberalism says that the better, more realistic (but imperfect,
uncomfortable) option is to create equality of opportunity: make it
equally possible for everyone to get started, but after that, back
Taken together, we can see why liberalism supports free, high-quality
public education. American liberalism was explicit on the issue. In
Boston (where the American Revolution began), the inscription on the
public library reads: "The commonwealth requires the education of the
people as the safeguard of order and liberty". Education is "the great
equalizer". I can be Packer's daughter or a dirt-poor aboriginal son -
but so long as both of us can get the same education, the gap between
our opportunities is dramatically narrowed.
Less clear is the position on neoliberalism or economic rationalism.
Liberalism supports free trade on the basis that when one enters the
market to buy or sell, one should do so as one's choice, rather than
being coerced by a central planning mechanism. Some economists married
this ideological approval to a crusade to prove the total superiority
of markets in allocating resources. For the neoliberal, there is no
God but the Market, and Friedman is its Prophet.
There are two problems with this. The first is that markets are not
the be-all and end-all of economic organization. They have significant
flaws in their nature which pseudo-liberals are keen to ignore. The
other problem is that more and more often, the driving imperative of
unrestricted capital and commerce - profit - has come into direct
conflict with the interests of the individual. When anyone calling
themselves a "liberal" happily concedes dominance to the market and
corporations on these issues, they have ceased to be liberals, having
entirely whored away their belief system to the beguiling allure of
Pseudo-liberalism, a kind of rude child of the real thing, has
therefore felt guiltless in overriding the strictures laid down by its
parent. Part of this program has been to try and sell off education.
The justifications are twofold: first, that the free market will make
for a better standard of education; and second, that public education
costs too much public money - money which is extracted by force (ie,
But neither of these allegations of true. The US system of private
tertiary education is usually cited as a good example of why free
enterprise provides better education. Yet some of the USA's best
universities are proudly public. And as for the rich private
universities (Harvard and its ilk), their wealth comes most
substantially from their vast capital holdings and donations from
wealthy alumni. Student fees do not make up the majority of their
funding. And, of course, this system violates the precept of equality
of opportunity. A poor black man with the score as a rich white girl
is far less likely to be educated at Harvard. Hence we can dump the
assertion that markets will provide better - more liberal - education.
As for the "taxes are theft" argument, we must confront the fact that
liberalism is not so much a set of rules as it is a set of guidelines.
It is not unusual for certain things within the ideology to be in a
state of competitive tension. This is why we deploy liberal democracy
as the solution to these tensions.
As part of the democratic solution, liberalism espouses the need for
fundamental units of Government, and that these units should be
ultimately controlled, counterbalanced and overmatched by the
citizenry. In this approach education serves two central purposes: in
equalizing opportunity, and in providing an educated group who will
more effectively retard any Government's attempts to unduly expand or
abuse its powers.
Yet, for all of this, education is clearly failing to fulfil its role
as the great equalizer. Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves why this
The first and most immediate symptom is that access to a quality
education is becoming harder and harder to obtain. A series of raids
upon public education spending by the Liberal government has meant
that cash-starved Universities have had to kiss up to corporate
sponsors in a quest for cash. In doing so they have debased the idea
that Universities are seats of learning, rather than training. Somehow
- so we are told - the kissing corporate arses is going to be a
totally neutral activity. Going cap in hand to Cisco, Shell et al will
have no effect on course material.
Please. Get real. While I am usually pretty gung ho on the good
properties of market capitalism, I am not blind to its many deep and
ugly flaws. One of those is that in the war between Profit and The
Right Thing To Do, you just can't trust Profit to play nicely when
In a capitalist market, corporations are formed with the express
purpose of maximising profit. The pursuit of profit is the driving
soul for the firm, both in the spirit and the letter of the law.
Directors and executives who do not ruthlessly pursue this goal find
themselves in deep, smelly shit.
In and of itself, I believe that the motivation of seeking profit is
amoral. I say "amoral", meaning, "does not take morality into
account". Profit will go where the money is. If the money exists in
giving away teddy bears, teddy bears will be given away. If the money
exists in screwing students, students will be consequently raped. The
profit motive is blind to the moral and philosophical framework which
gave it form in the first place. In short, the modern corporation and
liberalism do not exist in happy coexistence. On an abstract level,
they are more often than not enemies, rather than chummy pals. This is
most especially true in the University.
Corporate involvement in Universities is not morally neutral. It has a
real, deleterious effect on the process of collecting, digesting and
disseminating knowledge. It has a more insidious effect on the
inculcation of critical thought, which is the first and last weapon in
the struggle for the individual. When Cisco or Shell endow a chair,
there is an implied prohibition placed upon the Professor to avoid
criticising that company. Do this often enough and you develop a kind
of intellectual club of "Untouchables". Liberalism flinches from this
subtle assault on freedom of thought and freedom of speech.
If we are honest with ourselves, the current assault on Universities
is simply the culmination of a process that has been underway ever
since compulsory schooling was made the law of the land in Prussia.
Prussia introduced compulsory school in order to create citizens who
were homogenized, unquestioning followers. Primary and highschools
were engineered to prize conformance over individuality, to produce
unthinking collectives before critical thinkers. Attempts by schools
and teachers to change this fact are hampered because they don't
understand that the system was engineered to produce drones.
Universities have long stood as centres where some people, at least,
could have this long process of boxing-in undone. The University - as
a platonic ideal - is famous for harbouring individuals. Although one
can cast one's eyes across endless conformant packets inside the
University (the political Right and Left, the religious, the various
faculty-bound), there nevertheless remained an open invitation to
transcend 10 to 13 years of grinding indoctrination and mental
suppression and become truly individual.
The corporate invasion changes that. Industry in Prussia were one of
the groups most in favour of compulsory schooling - it churned out
well-behaved, commoditized workers. Individuals are difficult to
organise, because they tend to want silly things like good working
conditions and a democratic voice. Likewise, modern corporatism
demands that there be less Chiefs and more Indians. Despite all the
advertising bunk about wanting innovators and visionaries and other
such persons, companies want as few of those as possible. So long as
you can be buzzword-compliant, so long as you conform to the image of
innovation, without actually being individual, you can come aboard.
Otherwise you are encouraged to go away.
Remember that earlier, I nominated the fear of power as a central
tenet of liberal theory. This fear arose in the context of monarchs,
and later, majoritarianism. At some point liberalism took a nap and
companies slipped through the net. Concentration of power is the same
in all its guises. It is likely to be abused unless checked by the
Liberalism must wake up and put the boot into the unacceptable traits
in this economic irrationalism that has gripped the Liberal Party.
Neoliberalism is little more than a kind of pseudo-liberalism which
pays lip-service to the fundamental axioms that the rights of
individuals should be protected, and that the citizenry - the people -
must be able to easily counterbalance the powerful. University is the
last remaining place where we can systematically, institutionally
encourage free-thinking individuals.
One way or the other, this century will see the end of the human race
as we understand it today. In the next 50 years will come changes so
utterly titanic that they defy everything you know. But one thing is
for sure: if we acquiesce now, if we bend backwards and say "Yes Sir
Mister Powerful Sir", and give away our individual rights and
freedoms, we will soon find that it will be too late to reclaim them.
Human rights defend humans, but only if humans defend human rights.
This is your last chance to believe. Time to do it.