John_Anderson_at_Newstead

Reflections on John Anderson’s Inaugural Tim Fischer Oration

8 September 2022

6.7 MINS

The inaugural Tim Fischer Oration was delivered last month by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, one of the finest and most decent people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

This is also one of the greatest orations I have come across in modern times. Not for him, though, the use of towering and inspiring rhetoric like a Churchill or Lincoln, but how well he covers the issues outlining the serious situations we face, not least being the debasing of Western culture and its achievements!

But unlike many who merely bewail the situation, or throw rhetorical rocks at the culprits on the Left, he calmly outlines what the apostle Paul might have acknowledged as a “still better way”.

In true Conservative fashion, which has stood the test of time, proven true again and again, he makes the point that:

“In order to understand the future, one must begin with a solid understanding of the past.”

Postwar Malaise

After a brief summation of our remarkable achievements in World War I, he then outlines the general apathy in relation to war, as well as the gradual drift away from respect for the cultural achievements of the West in the 1930s. As an example, he cites:

“The famous Oxford pledge in February 1933, a debate at the Oxford Union Society in England, saw the motion that ‘this house will under no circumstances fight for its King and country’ passed by 275 votes against 153.”

And it is here that Anderson draws a parallel with our own age and cultural shift:

“Winston Churchill always maintained that the so-called Oxford Pledge, encouraged Hitler to believe that the West was becoming soft and degenerate, and that its young people no longer believed that their culture and its values were worth defending.

He wrote later that year that any society which failed to pass on to its young the story of their culture — its heroes, its religion — was in effect saying that that culture was null and void, thus leaving its young people without direction and meaning and purpose in life, and open to Karl Marx’s dictum that a people deprived of their history are easily persuaded.

Churchill perceived that there were massive external forces which were being aided and abetted by the internal forces that were opposed to the leadership of the free world — in fact at war with its underlying values and precepts, and determined to overcome them.

Today, Walter Russell Mead powerfully makes the point that both Russia and China now believe that the West is so internally divided and degenerate that it is collapsing.

By contrast, Churchill believed that Britain still had moral fibre, when in his 1940 ‘Battle of Britain’ address he predicted a British victory because, in his words, “we are the most united of all the nations…and because we have been nurtured in freedom and individual responsibility and are the products, not of totalitarian uniformity but of tolerance and variety…

… unity, freedom, individual responsibility, tolerance, and variety: these, for Churchill, would crush the head of Nazism. Indeed, they did. But 80 years on and Western society appears to be losing the very strengths that Churchill praised, and at a time when new geo-political forces of evil are rising.”

He then outlines five significant factors which together explain how we have arrived at our own cultural “tipping point”, what he describes as “our fractured present”:

  1. A shift in our moral centre of gravity after WWII;
  2. A lack of emphasis in our educational system not just on civic understanding — how our political society works — but on civic appreciation;
  3. Our historical amnesia coupled with a ruthless focus on the darker moments of our history, with no attempt to explain the positive achievements;
  4. The growing generational and economic divide leading to intergenerational injustice;
  5. The rise of neo-Marxist and postmodern ideology — often called “wokeness”.

Solutions

Then, like the true Conservative that he is, he unpacks a number of plausible scenarios as well as what we should do in response. In general, he says that it comes from the courage to tell the truth, to speak truth — “courage culture is the only effective weapon against woke cancel culture”.

But he then goes one important step further:

“Cancel culture thrives when those who have the power to stop bullies don’t speak out. To speak out, of course, we have to turn up.”

When I reflect on the number of those who display that courage, a number of them represented in the pages of the Daily Declaration, I’m encouraged that a turn of the tide is possible. I’m equally encouraged by the number of high-profile left-of-centre liberal intellectuals, like James Lindsay and Douglas Murray, among others whom Anderson has interviewed on his Conversations podcasts who use their profiles to battle against the “Woke Uprising” and its attendant “cancel culture”.

Anderson continues:

“It will not just be a matter of telling the truth that forms part of the resistance. We live in an age of astonishing disengagement by far too many good citizens in the life of our nation. I suspect that without compulsory voting we’d have up to half the electorate not bothering to vote at all. I constantly meet disillusioned citizens who have belonged to political parties in the past that now say they do not want to be involved.

Former Supreme Court Judge in the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sumption, whom I recently had the honour of interviewing on my “Conversations” podcast, made the observation that in the 1950s and 60s the British Labor Party had over a million members, whilst the Conservatives had almost two million. Today, the Royal Bird Watchers Society of the United Kingdom has more members than both political parties combined.”

I think it’s notable that Anderson here mentions British Labor and Conservative parties in the same breath. I truly believe that it’s precisely the kind of disillusionment that’s accelerated this lack of engagement over the years that has only encouraged the divide we see between the Right and Left. This is the root cause of the ever-increasing power of faceless factional operatives in both. So we need to see both sides of politics revitalised from within, from the roots upward.

We should also remember that in their genesis, both parties were more Centrist than oppositionally Left and Right. As I mentioned here once before, “…we should remember that, in both Britain and Australia, the Labor parties of both nations were founded through the efforts of evangelical and Catholic Christians…”.

But Anderson doesn’t leave the issue there. He makes the point that merely turning up for the purpose of bringing about positive change is a waste if we are not prepared to change our own mindset and actions:

“If we are to have our say, we will only be credible when we remember that freedom also demands from us responsibility: the responsibility — the duty — to live in such a way that our actions don’t result in the social problems that become a pretext for the state to expand into all areas of our lives to “save” us from ourselves.

In other words, freedom cannot simply be doing what we want. It cannot even merely be defined as doing whatever we like as long as we don’t harm others, because we have an almost infinite capacity to convince ourselves that our actions are harmless, when in fact they are not.”

It’s important here to note that these responsibilities hold for all of us, whether we see ourselves as “culture warriors”, like those authors here that I referred to, or just ordinary Christians doing their best to swim against the tide.

Necessary Faith

In his conclusion, he reaches the summit of his oration, as well as identifying the basis for everything that underpins his worldview:

“Any critical assessment of the West will be found profoundly inadequate without acknowledgment of the crucial influence of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He continues:

“History reveals the boons of the West – prosperity, democracy, science, mass literacy, modern freedom, commitment to humility and service of others – emerged from Christianity. Indeed, Sir Robert Menzies said that “democracy is more than a machine; it is a spirit. It is based upon the Christian conception that there is in every human soul a spark of the divine.”

For Menzies, democracy could work only if we remember that “with all their inequalities of mind and body, the souls of men stand equal in the sight of God”.

And so we must ask: Can the best of Western civilisation survive without its spiritual nourishment any more than a flower plucked from its soil?

In the case of the West, including Australia in particular, the God that inspired many of our great feats of architecture, the rise of modern human rights and modern democracy, was no philosopher’s God.

He was the personal, redemptive God of Abraham, who became flesh in Jesus Christ.

Properly understood, the cross is the ultimate action of extraordinary love and service. Christianity demands of us the humility to use power only for the betterment of others, not for ourselves. Much as the demonstration of the cross was in stark contrast to the lust for domination that characterised the Roman Empire in the first century, so it still stands in stark contrast to the grasping for power that so marks our modern life.

How many aspirants to our nation’s highest political office would even know that the term “Prime Minister” actually means “first servant”: ‘minister’ – from the Latin meaning ‘inferior’ or ‘servant’?

It was through millions of people turning to Jesus that Western civilisation as we know it was achieved. And yet Jesus did not come to save civilisations, all of which he assured us would ultimately fade away, but to save individuals through faith in Him. May none of us miss this ultimate point.

It was in this Christian milieu that character and service prevailed to give us what we now so enjoy, but tend to take for granted… It is in this context that I stress the need for courage, truth, and engagement if we are to survive, as free people, the challenges of our age.”

I can only add that it takes a man of exemplary character, who truly served as a “minister”, a “servant of the people”, who has both publicly and privately personified those character traits, “courage, truth, and engagement”, who is able to deliver such a truly inspired and inspiring oration.

John Anderson for me typifies the greatness of true Christian Conservatism.

___

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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4 Comments

  1. Kaylene Emery 8 September 2022 at 6:47 am - Reply

    Amen and Amen.
    Your article is a service , to me personally because you have given the time to teach.
    Thank you .

    • Kim Beazley 8 September 2022 at 9:03 am - Reply

      Thank you, Kaylene, I really appreciate that.

  2. Kaylene Emery 8 September 2022 at 11:31 am - Reply

    I’m back and have only this moment recognised who is in, your cover photograph !
    Like you I admire John A and benefit from the non stop educational and really diverse opportunities on his web site.
    As a recovering leftist I must say…..never thought I’de see the day when I am nourished by the Word , by His people and the spiritual warfare involved.
    Thank you. again.

    • Kim Beazley 8 September 2022 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      Yes, you might say that I’m the “other Kim Beazley”.

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