The panda-demic virus originating in China infecting Australia represents a tipping point similar to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the decision by British voters to endorse Brexit at the 2019 election.
As noted by the eminent philosopher and public intellectual Roger Scruton, one of the most important political issues of our time relates to the tensions and conflict between national identity and sovereignty and the move to internationalism and global integration. When discussing the pressure placed on nation states to dissolve their borders, commit to free trade and embrace multiculturalism Scruton makes the telling observation that what politicians and cosmopolitan elites ignore is the need for patriotism and a national sense of identity and place.
One can also add concerns about economic and financial independence given the West’s reliance on China for manufacturing and producing essential goods and products, including pharmaceutical, medical, computer, communication and other such items. China’s soft diplomacy illustrated by its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative and its flagrant breach of international law in claiming and militarising atolls and reefs in the South China Sea also demonstrate the dangers faced by nations like Australia if we fail assist in halting China’s plans for global hegemony.
Scruton in his book Where We Are: The State of Britain Today writes in all the debates about globalisation what is ignored is ‘the question of identity: who we are, where we are, and what holds us together in a shared political order’.
When it comes to Australia, what the panda-demic is making obvious is how short sighted and inept governments of both political persuasions have been in embracing globalisation, closing local industries, increasing our dependence on overseas manufacturers and allowing our farms, real estate, primary producers and resource industries to be sold to overseas interests.
The fact that our economy is so dependent on China, that tertiary institutions like Melbourne and Sydney universities are reliant on overseas students for their financial survival and that we suffer shortages of essential items like baby milk formula, surgical masks, hand sanitisers and gloves in a time of most need illustrate the magnitude of the problem.
In cities across Australia at real estate auctions in addition to Chinese buyers it’s not unusual to see proceedings beamed back to China, such is the influence and power of overseas investment. For wealthy Chinese living under the totalitarian yoke of a communist dictatorship Australian real estate provides a secure and affordable investment. And unlike Asian countries where it is impossible for foreigners to buy real estate in Australia there are few, if any, restrictions. Unlike Australia, to establish a business in countries like China, Thailand or Vietnam often requires locals having majority control.
When detailing why Western nations including the UK, America, Australia and many in Europe have forsaken the ability to control their own destiny Scruton distinguishes between ‘oikophilia’ and ‘oikophobia’. The first involves love of one’s place and one’s country while the second repudiates home in favour of a global perspective where there are no borders or national allegiances. Those committed to oikophobia are ‘against some form of membership – against the family, the nation, indeed against anything that that makes a claim , however justified, on their loyalty’. The London bankers and financiers plus the politicians and intellectual elites willing to ignore the peoples’ vote to leave the EU exemplify this class.
Given the power of oikophilia it’s understandable why so many traditional Labour voters fearful about rates of immigration and a multicultural policy that denies the essential benefits of British civilisation and angry about ceding national sovereignty to European bureaucrats voted for Tory ‘toff’ Boris Johnson.
During the 2016 American presidential election the Democrat’s candidate Hillary Clinton provide another example of oikophobia when describing Trump supporters as ‘racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic’ and as a ‘basket of deplorables’. Her actions and policies built on globalisation and appeasing New York elites explain the power and resonance of Trump’s cry to ‘make America great again’ and his subsequent victory. Trump’s condemnation of China for its illegal trading practices, currency manipulation and its desire to impose Chinese hegemony on the rest of the world also resonated with voters. Similarly the current pandemic impacting on Australia is revealing a fault line between those committed to love of one’s country and the need to be sovereign and independent and those elites, politicians, business leaders and financiers committed to free trade and a reliance on overseas producers and manufacturers. Scruton describes oikophobes as seeing themselves as ‘defenders of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism’. Just witness the vitriol and attacks against John Howard and Tony Abbott, when each was prime ministers, for their campaigns to protect Australia’s borders by stopping the boats and the flood of illegal refugees.
The polling results of the last election won by Scott Morrison provide additional evidence of this fault line between those committed to globalisation and those committed to love of one’s country. While cosmopolitan, privileged voters in wealthy electorates in Sydney and Melbourne voted for the ALP, working class and rural voters, especially in northern Queensland, backed centre-right, conservative candidates. And for those arguing that Australian businesses and manufacturers do not have the resources and ability to innovate, just witness how quickly many have responded to the current panda-demic by retooling to produce face masks and other essential items.
As with all tipping points, once the panda-demic passes life in Australia will have been irrevocably changed. No longer will citizens accept that governments be complicit in allowing overseas countries and transnationals, especially China, to dominate and control our economy, our resources and our way of life.
The opportunity will be there for Australia to rediscover the ingenuity, resourcefulness and wherewithal to be independent and sovereign that for most of the immediate post-second world war period contributed to our prosperity, optimism and growth.
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Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of A Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide (available at kevindonnelly.com.au)
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