The cultural revolution which overran the Western world in the 1960s, attacking and undermining Judeo-Christian values, had a particularly devastating impact on the long-term health and cohesion of Australian society, as social scientist Dr Lucy Sullivan documents in her new book, False Promises: Sixties Philosophy Against the Church.
The following article is an extract from this path-breaking study, which is available for purchase from News Weekly Books.
The pattern that emerges across the period of a century is that trends in the second half of the 20th century undermined the social improvements that occurred in the first, and so left the people of Australia, despite great economic, material and medical advances, in an inferior condition in fundamental ways at its ending than at its beginning, let alone at mid-century.
If ideology and policy have any pragmatic reality and effect, then these outcomes indict the ideology of the sixties and resultant policies as causing the disturbing social declines documented in the statistics, and demand our retrospective attention.
Is there a causal relationship between some of the changes observed? For example, could the increase in domestic violence and child abuse be at least partially an outcome of falling marriage and rising ex-nuptial birth rates, or of increased alcohol consumption? Several of these striking changes are even more striking in that trends were in the opposite direction for the first half of the 20th century.
For over three decades, as the scope of these changes unfolded, the “academic” voice of our society, with the aid of a complicit media, massaged the public into an acceptance of high rates of divorce, illegitimacy, sole parenthood, working mothers, and childcare as changes of no great moment, indeed, as desirable rather than the reverse — signs of a liberal society. High immigration rates and multiculturalism were included in their panacea of the good society.
The arguments of academic experts, and their assertions that all was well, failed, to their chagrin, to persuade the general population. There remained a niggling suspicion in the public mind that the first group of changes (high divorce rates separating fathers from their children, etc) did matter and were not life-enhancing, while the perception persisted that the second group (crime, etc) had a far from innocuous and far greater prevalence than previously.
During the last quarter of the 20th century all these phenomena, both as individual cases and as statistics, made regular and contested appearances in the headlines of our newspapers, on talkback radio, and in social affairs broadcasts. Ordinary people were usually alarmed and unhappy, the experts always dismissive.
Why did the papers continue to run with these issues if in fact they were non-issues? Undoubtedly they recognised a level of public concern which ensured sales. But at the same time the broadsheet papers always gave space for authoritative comment that denied their validity.
There was surely something defensive in the denial by academics, against the very evidence, statistical and epidemiological, for which they were responsible, of the reality of the rises in crime and in family pathology they were recording. Their ideological and policy commitment was to the socially “progressive” changes which they had promised would result in the exact opposite of what in fact ensued — less crime, less violence against women, happier children.
Did they fear that the rise in crime and violence would be associated with the progressive policies they still supported? If this was their conscious motive, it was highly unprofessional, even corrupt conduct, in those claiming the expertise to direct public policy. In effect, they assured the public that the statistics, not their hypotheses, were wrong.
While statistical evidence of increases was discounted, at the same time the actual presence of disturbing levels of social pathology could not be ignored and were grist to the mill of academic research. The explanations offered were “social injustice”, or “poverty”, and a resultant “social exclusion”.
The possibility that the increases in poverty and in social exclusion which occurred over the decades of the seventies and eighties were themselves an outcome of the progressive policies which preceded and accompanied them was never seriously examined.
Well before the end of the 20th century, the social injustice thesis was obviously untenable. Welfare policy had created parity between average earned family incomes and welfare incomes, the result being a burgeoning welfare-dependent population still deemed to be deprived. Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s promise of “No child in poverty by 1990” proved unfulfillable by welfare means, for poverty was behavioural, not financial.
The extreme changes in the domestic structure and functioning of Australian society over the last three decades of the 20th century did not simply come about as a serendipitous natural evolution. They were the deliberate and willed achievement of a mid-20th century left-wing, first-generation-educated elite, who lacked roots in our more sober intellectual traditions and commitment to the productive, economic functioning of society.
Their theories were proselytised in both the arts and politics, as promising a happier, more benign society. They became government policy, not transparently and democratically as a party platform prior to election, but oligarchically, once power was achieved. Their support by the media (which was largely participant in the same movement) was presumed to ratify their status as the will of the people.
The so-called “greening” of society in the late 1960s was, in fact, a temper tantrum of adolescence which was allowed to burgeon by an adult world partly in sympathy, partly exceptionally tolerant and trusting, and suffering to boot from conscience over the conscription of young men for the Vietnam War.
Although couched in moral and high-minded political language, the program for liberation was, at the personal level, self-serving and self-indulgent.
The subsequent radical changes, and the psychological and sociological theory which supported them, had all the characteristics, in Freudian terms, of freeing the id from the repressive control of the superego which represents the constraints of morality necessary to civilisation. Indeed, they were conceived in those terms. The id represents those primitive drives that serve the individual in ignorance of social context — the drives for food, sex, pleasure of any kind — and their gratification has immediate appeal.
To the kindly nurtured adolescent and nouveau academic it was not immediately obvious that constraints are necessary for the maintenance of a productive and civilised society, and the demands of the superego, correctly identified with Christian morality or, as I shall hereafter identify it, with Christianity’s social theory of the good society, appeared merely spurious and kill-joy.
Antonio Gramsci, that favourite political philosopher of 1960s Marxist youth, advocated gaining control of the bureaucracy as the way forward for communism in countries where full-scale political revolution seemed unachievable, and this indeed was the method of that generation — but not, it turned out, in pursuance of a socialist state.
Their long march was directed towards achieving the adolescent dreams of Dionysian irresponsibility with which they became intoxicated in the heady days of the late 1960s. That aberrant dream became a prescriptive sociology, whose hypotheses were treated as proven and were translated directly into policy, without trial or test.
In the expostulations of the sixties generation, as they achieved positions of power in the universities, social theory degenerated into a promotion of the virtues of the id rampant. Hypothesis was treated as fact, and research findings were selectively admitted for publication or teaching as gauged by this perverted measure.
Changes made to the system of government funding of research in the universities in the 1970s and 1980s allowed left-wing social scientists to construct an hermetically-sealed world in which none of their dogmas could be challenged by data or argument.
In place of funding on the basis of academic position, the new government research grants now explicitly favoured research in areas of progressive social theory and policy, and their early proponents became the “experts” in these fields.
As grant applications and scientific papers were now referred to them, they were able to block the funding of research and the publication of papers that challenged their views.
This they did regardless of principle and without compunction. It soon became well-nigh impossible to publish research in the social sciences in Australia unless it conformed to the laws of outcome to which they adhered. Although this development was common to the English-speaking countries, and to a lesser degree to most of Western Europe, it was more absolute in Australia than elsewhere owing to the paucity of independent foundations supporting research and scholarship in this country, and hence our reliance on government funding for all academic activity.
The dysfunctional morality of the id rampant, which in future I shall refer to as liberation social theory, was increasingly fed into government policy in the last three decades of the 20th century, over which a range of social ills appeared at a level of intensity that could not be ignored although their increase was denied.
Adherents of liberation social theory would not countenance the possibility that the development of sickening social problems (such as violent crime, homelessness, youth suicide and child abuse) was attributable to the policies it had spawned.
As the predicted utopia receded, Christian institutions and Christian morality were ever more vehemently indicted for the very evils liberation social policy was itself producing, and the only acceptable solution was more of the same. In place of reparative policy, there was an endless succession of task forces, commissions, conferences, pilot studies, projects and reports that avoided the real issues.
The advice of social scientists, which became the government’s chief resource for social policy in the latter 20th century, has been ineffectual in arresting, let alone reversing, the slide into violence and psychological disarray seen most vividly in the underclass, but to some extent at all levels of society.
In my book, using the demographic statistics, I document the growing conformity to Christian social ethics achieved through their implementation by government policy in the first half of the 20th century, and then the decline from the high watershed of achievement in the 1950s, as social policies turned the other way.