Prof Martha Nussbaum: JOHN BUTTON ORATION: CULTURAL PLURALISM IN A TIME OF FEAR
Posted on Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Following is a excerpt from Nussbaum’s lastest book ‘The New Religious Intolerance: overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age’, which gives an inviting introduction to her argument.
Religion: A Time of Anxiety and Suspicion
Once, not very long ago, Americans and Europeans prided themselves on their enlightened attitudes of religious tolera¬tion and understanding. Although everyone knew that the history of the West had been characterized by intense religious animosity and violence—including such bloody episodes as the Crusades and the Wars of Religion, but including, as well, the quieter violence of colonial religious domination by Europeans in many parts of the world, domestic anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, and culminat¬ing in the horrors of Nazism, which implicated not only Germany but also many other nations—Europe until very recently liked to think that these dark times were in the past. Religious violence was somewhere else—in societies more “primitive,” less characterized by a heritage of Christian values than were the modern social democ¬racies of Europe.
The United States has had a somewhat better record than the “Old World” from which its original settlers fled, many of them in search of religious liberty and equality. Outright violence in the name of religion was always a relatively rare phenomenon—endured by the allegedly “primitive” Native Americans and, more recently, by the new religious intolerance
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, dissident groups that the ma¬jority perceived as strange and threatening, but not by members of mainstream religious bodies. And the United States has always been somewhat more hospitable than Europe to nonhomogeneity in dress and lifestyle, which has proven helpful to religious minor¬ities who want to pursue their own conscientious commitments without assimilating to the culture of the majority. Still, no reason¬able person could deny that religious prejudice and fear, in the form of anti-Catholicism and “nativism,” anti-Semitism, and a host of other prejudices against “strange” minorities, have been a persistent blot on our society. We need only remember, for example, that not until the 1970s did “white-shoe” law firms begin to hire Jews in any significant numbers, and that only in very recent times could a majority of the Supreme Court be composed of Roman Catholics without public outrage, in order to feel humility about our own record as an allegedly tolerant and respectful culture. Still, the self-image of U.S. citizens in recent years has been that we are a welcom¬ing and diversity-friendly society that has outgrown the prejudices of the past.
Today we have many reasons to doubt this complacent self-assessment. Our situation calls urgently for searching critical self-examination, as we try to uncover the roots of ugly fears and suspi¬cions that currently disfigure all Western societies. At this time we badly need an approach inspired by ethical philosophy in the spirit of Socrates, an approach that combines three ingredients:
• Political principles expressing equal respect for all citizens, and an understanding of what these principles entail for today’s confrontations with religious difference. (These principles, in a time of anxiety and suspicion, are here in the political traditions of both Europe and, especially, the United States.)
• Rigorous critical thinking that ferrets out and criticizes in-consistencies, particularly those that take the form of making an exception for oneself, noting the “mote” in someone else’s eye while failing to note the large plank in one’s own eye.
• A systematic cultivation of the “inner eyes,” the imaginative capacity that makes it possible for us to see how the world looks from the point of view of a person different in religion or ethnicity.
These ethical virtues are always helpful in a complicated world. Why, however, are they needed with particular urgency at the pres¬ent time? Let’s take stock of some recent developments, focusing first on Europe and then on the United States.
Electronically reproduced by permission of the publisher from THE NEW RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE: OVERCOMING THE POLITICS OF FEAR IN AN ANXIOUS AGE by Martha C. Nussbaum, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of HarvardUniversity Press, Copyright © 2012 Martha C. Nussbaum.
The honorable Michael Kirby AC CMG
Posted on Monday, 5 September 2011
JOHN BUTTON AND AN OPTIMISTIC SPIRIT OF REFORM IN AUSTRALIA
I cannot abide memorial lecturers who are so obsessed with their own message that they forget the person whose name is supposed to inspire a memorial lecture. Death and its shadows are so long enduring and quickly embracing that we do not need to hasten the process. And John Button is one of those characters, who walked the stage of Australian politics and public life for a time and who is not so easily forgotten.
The basic facts are well known. He was born in Ballarat in 1933. He qualified in law and became an accomplished advocate, mainly in industrial relations cases. He joined the Australian Labor Party in the late 1950s when things were looking grim because of “the Great Split” over communism and the influence of church-led anti-communism (especially in Victoria). With John Cain, Barry Jones, Frank Costigan and others, he established the independent group of social democrats known as “the Participants”.
One-time Justice of the High Court of Australia. Inaugural Chairman of the Australian Law Reform
Commission. President of the International Commission of Jurists (1995-8). Member of the Eminent Persons Group on the Future of the Commonwealth of Nations (2010-11). with Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke that changed the landscape of Australian politics.
The Honorable Michael Kirby gave an edited version of this speech at the John Button Oration, as it wasn’t delivered word-for-word.
Read the full oration (PDF)
"Romance in Politics - the Public Good" - Bill Kelty's inaugural John Button Oration
Posted on Sunday, 4 September 2011
Romance in Politics – the Public Good
When Paul Keating encouraged me to accept your kind invitation, he told me, “They are a romantic lot, most of them are old lefties, their hearts are still in search of a better world”. He reminded me that Mahler was a social democrat at heart.
I can recall from my youth that our literary and artistic giants had a slight political bent – Frank Hardy, Katherine Susannah Pritchard, Mary Gilmore, Robbie Burns, Paul Robeson, Henry Lawson, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck.
However, as the Romantics might have their politics – so politics has its Romantics.
It is a great pleasure to give this lecture – the John Button Oration.
The essential case I seek to make out is the case for the Romantic in politics. There is no better banner to do so than under the name of John Button. The Romantic here is defined in the sense that it is applied to Keats, Byron and Shelley of “a belief in some positive ideal of good”. It was said of Keats that “He had the power of putting a spirit into life so that the world is not dead or so dull.”
In making out the case for the Romantic I would like to draw on the political life of John Button and the unfinished contribution of Laurie Carmichael and Paul Keating. John Button – the Labor Party Independent who became a Senator and Minister; Laurie Carmichael, the Communist who led one of the toughest unions, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and later became Assistant Secretary of the ACTU; and Paul Keating, the Treasurer, Prime Minister, and the source of one of Australia’s most brilliant home grown musicals – Keating the Musical.
Read the full oration (PDF)
Noel Pearson's 2010 John Button Oration - "Nights when I dream of a better world: Moving from the centre-left to the radical centre of Australian politics"
Posted on Friday, 2 September 2011
Since the late John Button delivered his devastating analysis of his beloved party in his 2002 Quarterly Essay, it is plain in 2010 that the Australian Labor Party never did step up to the challenge of renewing its purpose in Australian national politics. Which way forward indeed for those who dream of a better world?
John Button’s 2002 Quarterly Essay Beyond Belief laid out a devastating analysis of the state of the Australian Labor Party in the new century. It was required reading then, and – there being little evidence that it was ever heeded in the eight years since – is required reading today. Anyone seeking to work out how it has come to this in August 2010 is well advised to return to this essay. Let me say from the outset I am a Labor outsider. My father and his father before him drove cattle in Cape York Peninsula in the days before our citizenship: the picture of black stock-workers sitting out on the dark woodheap, looking through the kerosene lamp lit windows of the boss’s station house, dining on damper and black tea while the white fellas sit eating their corned beef, potatoes and white sauce, is an enduring metaphor of black rural and remote Australia.
I confess that whilst I have never stood with my nose pressed to the glass of the big house of Federal Labor, I have looked from the fireplace out back with some perhaps untoward and certainly unrequited feelings of desire, but for native Australians that door has never opened from the outside. I was obviously reflecting on my own embarrassed condition when, in my 200x essay for the Griffith Review, I referenced Robert Penn Warren’s machine politics saga based on Louisiana Governor Huey Long, All the King’s Men. Penn Warren’s nailing of the essential condition of that hayseed Willie Stark drove a six-inch bullet head unnervingly close to my own dyslexic heart:
Back in those days the Boss had been blundering and groping his unwitting way toward the discovery of himself, of his great gift, wearing his overalls that bagged down about the seat, or the blue serge suit with the tight, shiny pants, nursing some blind and undefined compulsion within him like fate or a disease.
Read the full oration (PDF)