And on Michael Duffy’s Counterpoint too. There they all were on the 18th September celebrating Quadrant’s 50th anniversary, and there was Martin, son of magazine founder Richard Krygier, along with the venerable Dame Leonie Kramer, P P McGuinness (the current editor) and of course the sometimes dippy Duffy, all bent on lauding John Howard’s favourite magazine, in what may also be John Howard’s favourite radio show, with the possible exception of Alan Jones at breakfast on 2GB of course. And it was all going swimmingly until the last few minutes:
Michael Duffy: Martin, can I ask you the same question? Before 1989 Quadrant had a neat role, if you like, a very specific role. What is or ought its role to be? Or does it still have a role?
Martin Krygier: Here I’d part company with my colleagues on the panel. I think it has a very clear and enormously important role until 1989. The end of communism meant the end of an overarching enemy which was relevant at every political level. That meant that you could die and it wasn’t an ignoble thing to do, and that’s what happened with Encounter, or you could do something interestingly and individually different in a more complicated situation, and I believe that under Robert Manne that was being done. I think that more recently, in a way which is not completely as a result of recent trends, but I think that as a result of the culture…we’re a political culture that hunts in packs and there was a tendency once you’re sort of pushed to one side in popular polemics for Quadrant people to actually quite like the role of pariah and being the anti-pack pack. I think that that has continued with a vengeance over the Aboriginal issue and many other things in recent years and it has dismayed me and it’s why I’m not associated with Quadrant now. And I think that it’s…where things are complicated, where it could be that the opposite of a proper position is a foolish one, but that there are many possibilities, many complexities which one could explore, Quadrant seems to me to be a sort of radical simplifier which always finds somebody on the other side, whether they be politically correct (to use the phrase), to be contrarian with. And then people find themselves (or at least I find myself) forced between a pack and the anti-pack and not feeling particularly attracted to either. I think this spirit of dichotomies (I think often false dichotomies) has become dominant and I regret it.
Michael Duffy: We’ll have to leave it there but clearly things got a lot more complicated after 1989. Thanks very much to all of you for coming on the program.
Amen, Martin. But then I admired your 1997 Boyer Lectures too, even if they seem to have disappeared from the Radio National website, except for an extract in Highlights 2: A Meaningful Democracy.
One antidote to narcissistic tendencies is to look around. Anyone can do it. Hybrids merely have a strong temptation and good access. They have the option close at hand, indeed, under the skin. That option allows reflection upon the deceptively simple question which I consider one of the most important of all for social understanding and evaluation. That question, in all its glory and complexity, is ‘Compared to what?’
I’ve participated in many discussions of the justice, decency, adequacy and so on of our, and other societies. Often I’ve been left wondering what other participants, so often firm in their frequently contradictory opinions, had in mind as standards of comparison. What counts and for what purposes? If these aren’t the standards, or not the only ones, against which we should compare everyday life, what are? These aren’t small questions, and these lectures will often return to them.
Of course the hybrid root to comparison isn’t the only one. There are other ways to get there. The greatest observer of the United States was a Frenchman, Alexis de Toqueville, a lesser but acute observer of Tsarist Russia was another Frenchman, the Marquis de Custine. Neither was a hybrid, though it’s significant that both viewed what they analysed from a cultural platform outside it.
Hybrids and foreigners are fortunate in having access to sources of comparison unearnt but built-in, but what they have by accident of birth, others can gain by choice. A strong historical sense is indispensable to any comparative consideration of human possibilities. Not all hybrids have it, nor all foreigners. And conversely, as many historians have shown, it can be obtained without moving from a well-stocked library. Also crucial is a political imagination open equally to catastrophes that must be avoided and to hopes that might be realised, whether or not they’ve been matters of local or immediate experience.
It seemed to me at the time that Krygier was onto a way of thinking that could transcend the dilemma of multiculturalism versus narrowly defined “Aussie values.” No wonder he is no longer inspired by the magazine his father founded. Such thinking is quite out of step these days.