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What Will and Kate can do for Australia?

By Denis Dragovic - posted Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Once the Queen passes so too will our attachment to the monarchy; at least so goes the combined wisdom within the Australian republican movement. An endearing relic of history, but hardly relevant to the challenges faced by a modern Australia. What could a King William and Queen Kate offer Australia? A similar question would have been heard forty or fifty years ago, but then it would have been Christianity that was on the way out not tradition. The risk that comes in our hurry to be rid of these institutions, one after another, is that we are quickly running out of alternatives to replace them with.

The reason being left without one could become problematic is that religion and tradition are common sources of what has been referred to as "higher law", an ephemeral concept, but one that nevertheless serves a critical role-it is the source against which laws are judged to be just and fair. Without a widely embraced source of overarching values our society is reduced to individual emotivism that leads to a cacophony of opinions but no way of judging between them. This demise of a societal more is reflected in our opinion pages, radio talk back programs and even in parliament.

Opinions about the morality of issues, be they the right response to asylum seekers, free speech, global warming or gay marriage, are conveyed as indisputable truths. But asking why a particular position is right ends the conversation quite quickly after a brief barrage of 'I believe that…' or 'my opinion is…' Although in some way admirable, possibly at an individual level, for a country it is problematic.

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Rather than building our nation upon the shoulders of giants by embracing some, any, set of tried and tested source of higher values, be they from Enlightenment philosophers, great religions or historical narratives, we seem to have chosen to regress by dispensing with them all, believing in the eternal superiority of each generation.

But with increasingly divergent sources of values among our population the fabric of our nation is being stretched in many directions risking what Emile Durkheim called anomie, a society in which there is a feeling of alienation, disconnect and mismatched social mores that can undermine stability and the rule of law.

Losing a sense of belonging to a community may sound inconsequential to some but it has repercussions that reach beyond the individual's personal despair. Being an outsider weakens any desire to remain a member of the community and so a community's norms are no longer their norms. Such a societal shift is common in multicultural and urban centres.

In such circumstances the community, as the main restraint upon unsocial behaviour, is replaced by the state and its power to enforce compliance (which incidentally comes at an increased cost to taxpayers).

The unsocial behaviour that may result isn't just restricted to what has become an area of concern within Australia-random drunken attacks or race tinged brawls-but extends to white collar criminals, a group who tend to play dumb with any understanding of the spirit of the law (underlying values) yet expertly navigate the boundaries of the letter of the law.

A slow withering of a singular source of higher values is inevitable, especially in Australia, a continually urbanizing and increasingly multicultural society. But this inevitable crowding out of the community by the state isn't preferable and should not be left untethered. Instead, efforts should be made to mitigate the pace of change and the associated negative impact.

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To begin with Australia needs to engage in a discussion of what are the commonly held higher values that bind us together in the twenty-first century as without them we are no more than a menagerie of mismatched communities sharing a common land and dependent upon the state to enforce civility.

What are Australia's Values?

In the 1971 census 86 per cent of Australians were Christian. Every Sunday Christian values would be spread from the pulpit to worshippers. Maybe there wasn't a conscious acknowledgement of Christianity influencing people's decisions, but knowing and being reminded of only one structure of values meant at the very least a subconscious inculcation into a particular world view.

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About the Author

Denis Dragovic is a specialist in the processes of state building with experience in East Timor, South Sudan and Iraq. He is currently completing a doctorate on the role of religion in international state building at the University of St Andrews. He can be contacted at denis_dragovic@yahoo.com.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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