(A shorter version of this review, omitting discussion of how the American experience influenced Australian politics to the mid-19th century, is cross-posted at Goodreads.)
This book is the first in David Kemp’s five-volume history of liberalism in Australia. The series, three volumes out to date, will cover 1788 to 2019. This first book takes us from European settlement in 1788 to 1860, when the colonies had achieved a substantial level of democratic self-government. It is principally a political history with special reference to liberalism; it focuses on major players and their involvement in big debates and events, not on the philosophical views of long-forgotten writers and activists.
To disclose my biases, I have known David Kemp for decades, including working for and with him, and share his interest in and concern for the Australian liberal tradition, with its ups and downs over 200 or so years in Australia. Some years ago I read a manuscript that turned into the first two volumes of this series.
In 1788, when British settlers arrived in the place that became Sydney, there was not yet such a thing as liberalism. The period covered by this first volume is the early decades of both Australia (that name is post-1788 too, but for convenience I’ll use it for the colonies collectively) and liberalism.
Although 1788 was before liberalism, many of the institutions and ideas that were later joined under the label ‘liberal’ were forming. Liberalism came in part from the creative linking between and expansion of existing ideas, institutions and issues.
Continue reading “The rise of liberalism in colonial Australia (a review of the first volume of David Kemp’s history of Australian liberalism)”
Yesterday’s Essential Research poll asked about the fastest growing religion between 1996 and 2006. I would have guessed Buddhism, most people thought Islam, but Essential says the correct answer is Hinduism. Actually I think I am right – Hinduism grew more quickly than Buddhism in percentage terms, but Buddhism grew more in absolute terms.
Questions in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 show that Buddhists are the second most popular religious group in the country, after Christians. Consistent with comments on today’s thread, not many people have negative views of Hindu people, with the largest number having neither positive nor negative views. Predictably, Muslims are the least popular group.
Continue reading “Buddhists second most popular religious group”
An Essential Research poll asked about attitudes to Muslim migration, and found 25% support for excluding Muslims from the migrant intake:
That’s 11% lower than a Morgan Poll this time last year, with the proportion supporting Muslim migration the same on 55%.
As is often the case with soft opinion, polling methods rather than opinion shifts probably explain the difference. Essential does its surveys online, so people can see the ‘Don’t know’ option and easily choose it, while with telephone polls there is a stronger pressure to give an answer. When pressed, it seems people tend to go to negative on this issue.
A more abstract Essential question on whether migrants should be rejected on the basis of religion found only 19% in favour of doing so.
Ross Gittins thinks that subsidising private schools means subsidising wasteful status competition.
A persistent line of social criticism argues that status competition is wasteful when people pay a premium for something that is not functionally superior but confers greater social status. Gittins uses the example of a a BMW versus a ‘perfectly satisfactory’ Toyota.
The public school lobby endlessly obsesses over a fairly small number of genuinely high-status schools – Sydney Grammar, MLC, Scotch, Ascham etc. Perhaps trying to get your kid into one of these is ‘status competition’ – though it could be just ensuring your kids get the same high standard of facilities at school that they get at home. Ross has a history of being over-confident in inferring motives from behaviour. Continue reading “Schools and status competition”
My CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham has a new paper out today on the rise of religious schools, written up in the Fairfax broadsheets.
It’s full of useful statistics on enrolments over time and surveys the literature and arguments surrounding religious schools, many of which have also been discussed over the years at this blog (I was originally going to be a co-author of this one, but could never make the time).
It finds the evidence against religious schools on sectarianism, intolerance etc to be lacking. This is my reading of the Australian evidence too.
However, while private schools definitely out-perform non-selective government schools on academic performance even after controlling for family characteristics, we can’t yet confidently make such a claim on the religious/values questions that influence some parents in sending their kids to religious schools.
We are not even sure whether religious schools make their students more religious in the long term – the limited and dated evidence suggests not, after controlling for the fact that religious families are more likely to send their kids to religious schools. I am one of the many atheist products of Christian schooling (not that the school influenced this either way).
Surely having LESS complicated hurdles to pass over would help secular private schools and surely encouraging the private sector would help secular private schools, too?
– commenter Shem Bennett, 21 February.
One curious feature of Australian school education is that it has a very large private sector, but few non-government schools are secular. The Independent Schools Association says that 84% of independent schools have a religious affiliation, but this overstates the size of the entirely secular non-government system open to parents wanting a ‘mainstream’ private education.
About half the schools in the no religious affiliation group are Steiner or Montessori schools. Take out ‘special schools, international schools, Indigenous schools’ – descriptions of the content of the ‘other’ category – and it looks like government schools have the general secular market almost to themselves. My analysis of census figures shows that only just over 10% of children whose parents say they are atheists, agnostics or have no religion are attending non-government schools, less than a third of the general rate of private school attendance. Continue reading “Why are there so few secular private schools?”
We have finished the year with worries about the border between religion and politics – the Fairfax feature, Charles Richardson’s warning that Rodney Smith is too sanguine about the influence of ‘fundamentalists’, and Ross Fitzgerald’s why-oh-why piece on the fate of ‘secular democracy’. Implicit in these critiques seems to be a quasi-constitutional belief that religion has no place in the public sphere.
Ross Fitzgerald, for example, seems to be particuarly upset about the millions spent on World Catholic Youth Day. But why is this different from the numerous sporting and other major events that get state sponsorship? As Chris Berg argued during the week, the benefits of these events are typically fictitious. But given politicians like sponsoring international events, are the Catholics illegitimate in a way the petrol-heads who descend on Melbourne for car racing are not?
Fitzgerald and Charles are both concerned about religious influence on Stephen Conroy’s internet filtering plans. But given that there are also mundane secular reasons for this policy – such as Conroy says enforcing the existing censorship rules – does the fact that the Australian Christian Lobby is backing Conroy make the policy worse (especially as ACL is appealing not to religious values, but to the not-terribly-controversial view that children should not see pornography). Continue reading “When can religion influence politics? (or why a Christmas public holiday is OK)”
Today the Fairfax broadsheets turn from the religious beliefs of Australians to how they see the relationship between religion and politics.
Their Nielsen poll had however been scooped by Pollytics blog, which reported during the week that most Australians think that religion and politics should be separate
Even among religious believers, 80% agree with the proposition that religion and politics should be separate. But religion appeared more popular when the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked about whether politicians should follow Christian values in making decisions. Even among those with no religion, 10% thought politicians should follow Christian values, along with nearly 40% of people with a religion. Continue reading “The public’s view of religion and politics”
Most Australians believe in God, but is that a politically significant fact?
Earlier in the year, I argued that while churchgoers have a consistent bias towards Coalition voting, a dwindling number of Australians were attending church. I was sceptical of the electoral impact of churches like Hillsong.
The Age this morning draws attention to an Australian Journal of Political Science article by University of Sydney academic Rodney Smith which argues more generally against the electoral influence of the churches, at least for the 2007 election.
Smith examined electoral statements from religious groups and found considerable variety in issues covered and perspectives taken. They tend to not specifically recommend a vote, though sometimes a preferred choice is implied. He notes that many church leaders would want to avoid alienating their supporters who do not share their political views. This is an important point I think. Religions are in a spiritual buyer’s market for both believers and attenders, which will tend to put a constraint on their politicking. Continue reading “Religion’s political influence (or lack thereof)”
The Fairfax broadsheets yesterday ran the results of an ACNielsen survey on Australian religious beliefs, along with views on astrology, ESP, UFOs and witches (a somewhat provocative collection of topics).
Just over two-thirds of us believe in God or a ‘universal spirit’, while 24% do not and 6% aren’t sure. The number of non-believers exceeds the census finding of 19% of us with ‘no religion’. While the ‘not stated’ census category (it’s an optional question) presumably hides atheists and agnostics, the Nielsen survey reports that 11% are non-believers who consider themselves ‘culturally Christian’. The ‘no religion’ response in the census is only a rough proxy for the number of non-believers.
A quarter of Christians believe that the Bible is literally true, while half the believers of other religions see their major text as literally true. Belief in miracles (63%) is stronger than belief in Heaven (56%) or – conveniently, for the nation’s sinners – Hell (38%). Continue reading “Australian belief in higher and other powers”