The Left and National Identity

by on 1 May, 2014

Virad Mathur explores why it is that so-called progressives around the world are never comfortable in their own skin when it comes to national identity.

 The two keys to understanding leftist thought are deconstruction and anti-establishmentarianism. What conservatives tend to call the natural order is to the Left merely an outcome that deconstruction can show to have occurred due to oppression by the establishment. The status quo and the history that led to it are undesirable and need to be challenged. The establishment that is responsible for it needs to be opposed. Its supposedly racist, sexist, homophobic traditional culture needs to be repudiated.


This anti-establishmentarianism manifests itself in a strange way in the expression of national identity. Around the world, leftists repudiate their natural historical identities and wring their hands over what should fill the void. For conservatives, it is a strange sight. The obvious choice for a national identity is consistently spurned in search of a fictitious identity.

In Britain, the leftist elites rarely celebrate the country’s heritage of industry, empire and royalty, which are environmentally unfriendly, racist and elitist. If they cannot have a republic, they insist on making politically correct changes to the monarchy such as removing male primogeniture from succession laws. They are drawn to a post-modern European identity and support shifting decision-making powers to Brussels.

In Germany, the European identity is manufactured to fill the void of German patriotism which remains taboo even half a century after World War II. India’s socialist founding fathers overlooked the country’s obvious Hindu heritage and instead largely based the symbols of the new nation on a historically remote Buddhist king Ashoka. They made the symbols of the government and constitution militantly secular with scarcely a hint of the Hindu heritage that the vast majority of its population belongs to.

Redesigns of the Australian flag try to remove our cultural heritage.

In Australia, the cultural elite is determined to reject its British heritage. They wish to remove the union flag from the Australian flag, become a republic, and loudly protested the restoration of knighthoods to the honours system. To fill the void, they like to toy with the idea that by dint of geography, we should be Asians.

To a real Asian, such posturings must be amusing. While Asians in any case don’t see white Australians as Asians, the irony is that leftist Australians are the least Asian of all Australians.

In the real Asia, most people would stare at you in disbelief if you told them our highest marginal tax rate is 46.5 percent. Or that our minimum wage is $16 an hour, a sum that will pay for a nice middle-class family outing in India. Their pupils will dilate at the idea of an unemployment benefit. Most of them will find the idea of gay marriage odd or even blasphemous. They are generally too poor or too aspirational to be concerned enough about climate change to consider carbon pricing. Having been decolonised relatively recently, they are proud of their military strength and will not relate to the arguments of disarmament. Real Asians are often incredulous to hear that many Australian employees enjoy a culture of beer and wine at work on Friday evenings, even if they don’t work at a bar.

A simple test of whether a symbol reflects a nation’s culture is its recognisability.

A simple test of whether a symbol reflects a nation’s culture is its recognisability. No ordinary Australian on the street understands the meaning of the different grades of Order of Australia, which are awarded as merit, companion and ordinary. In contrast, everyone recognises the status of a Sir or Dame. Similarly, few Indians would recognise the significance of the Ashokan lions on Indian government seals and passports. Nor would the flag of the European Union evoke any emotion in the Germans or French compared to their respective tricolours.

At home, leftists are very anxious to promote multiculturalism and diversity and ensure every minority group has a strong voice. Yet they are strongly in favour of mammoth supranational authorities where smaller countries have little say. Whether it is the European Union or the ‘World Government’ fantasy of Bob Brown, such supranational affiliations help fill the identity void with affiliations to bigger but more meaningless groups. Yet for most of us, Earthian can never be as emotive as Australian.

It is time to reclaim our traditional identities, and embrace the fact that we are heirs to a rich heritage. Our ancestors were not perfect, and neither are we. It is part of the human condition to keep discovering and perfecting our morality. To paraphrase John Howard, a conservative is someone who does not believe he is morally superior to his ancestors.

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