The unlucky country for intellectuals

Unforgivable historian

The unforgiven: Keith Windschuttle

If you are unhappy in Australia, writes Dalrymple,

you have to consider the possibility that the problem lies with you rather than with the conditions that surround you.

This

is a disagreeable thing, particularly for an intelligentsia, which is deprived by it of a providential role for itself. What does an intelligentsia do when a country is already as satisfactory in its political arrangements and social institutions as any country has ever been? Intelligentsias do not like the kind of small problems that day to day existence inevitably throws up, such as termites in the woodwork: they like to get their intellectual teeth into weightier, meatier problems.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 09.05.36What could be a weightier problem

than a prosperous, fortunate country that was founded upon genocide? Clearly, if it was so founded, an intelligentsia is urgently needed to help it emerge from the dark moral labyrinth in which it exists, hitherto blindly. For only an intelligentsia is sufficiently used to thinking in abstractions to be qualified to act as guide to the nation.

Yet Australia

has not cherished its intellectuals. It has not accorded them the respect to which they think they are naturally entitled. Indeed, until a couple of decades ago it was common practice for Australian intellectuals to flee their country and live elsewhere, so strong was the anti-intellectual atmosphere of their county. Australia was not a lucky country as far as intellectuals were concerned. Intellectuals in Australia are not taken as seriously by the public as they take themselves. Besides, there are now more of them, and competition for attention is therefore greater.

Some members of the philosophy faculty of the University of Woolloomooloo

Michael Baldwin, left, and the Bruces, philosophy faculty, Woolloomooloo University

Then Keith Windschuttle published The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, which destroyed the idea that there had been a genocide of Tasmanian aborigines carried out by the early European settlers of the island. The debate that followed publication proved that Windschuttle was right.

This was quite unforgivable of him.

There is nothing much more attention-grabbing

than the claim that your current happiness and good fortune is founded on a pile of bones. With a bit of luck, this claim will even turn people neurotic and increase the need for therapists. It is hardly surprising, then, that when someone came along and challenged the version of history on which intellectuals’ newfound importance in society was to be based, they threw their dolly out of the pram, as the prison wardens in the prison in which I worked used to put it to describe the actions of a prisoner who had lost his temper. The dispute was not just a matter of the interpretation of the contents of old newspapers in Hobart libraries: it went to the very heart of the intelligentsia’s self-conception as society’s conscience and natural leaders.

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