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Orb and Sceptre: Studies on British Imperialism and its Legacies, in Honour of Norman Etherington



Tim Dymond


Both the Duke of Wellington and wartime prime minister Winston Churchill have occupied the post of Britain’s Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a position created in the thirteenth century to recognise the military and economic significance of sea-borne trade.1 So when Australian prime minister Robert Menzies (1949–66) lobbied hard for the post upon retirement, his enthusiasm seemed puzzling, not least to the man originally nominated, former British Labour prime minister Clement Atlee. Nevertheless, Menzies (who had harboured ambitions of becoming Britain’s wartime prime minister in 1940) felt entitled to be considered for such a post through his identification as an imperial subject.2

The boundaries of Great Britain, Menzies wrote in 1948, ‘are not on the Kentish coast but at Cape York and Invercargill’. His imagery of Empire, with its ties of blood and race, asserted continuities. Australians, he believed, were Britons in another part of the world, connected by a crimson line of kinship. While standing in Westminster Hall in the House of Commons in 1940, Menzies insisted that the Empire and England were ‘my empire, not merely yours … my England, not merely yours’. On taking up the Cinque Ports post in 1966, he remarked in his acceptance speech that he was the first appointment ‘from the outer Commonwealth’. So far Menzies is the only such appointment. He remained Lord Warden until his death in 1978. The post was then given to the Queen Mother, who held it until her death in 2005.3 Tempting though it is to see Menzies’s statement as a nostalgic evocation of an outdated and irrelevant world view, his underlying notion that Australia is intimately part of a broader international civilisation – previously the Empire and now called ‘the West’ – still has currency. This chapter explores how Australian conservatives accommodated a relatively frictionless transfer of identity from British Empire to US hegemony through a common sense of Anglo Western Civilisation.

During the Cold War, and after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, conservatives in Britain, Australia and the United States have asserted their loyalty (and praised or condemned the loyalty of others) to a transnational notion of the West. The West’s history is sometimes presented as running ‘from Plato to NATO’.4 Loyalty has been mixed with fears that particular nations’ membership of Western Civilisation might turn out to be unreliable. For example, the American neoconservative Samuel Huntington was concerned in his controversial Clash of Civilisations (1996) that Australia might ‘delink’ from the West and ‘defect’ to Asia under its Labor prime minister Paul Keating (1991–96).5 While reports of a Keating defection were greatly exaggerated, the conservative Liberal prime minister John Howard (1996–2007) rhetorically emphasised Australia’s place in the Western camp led by the United States (although he continued to pursue ties with North Asia).6


That Menzies received an honorary harbour appointment underscored Britain and Australia’s common experience of being separated from potential foreign dangers by bodies of water, an experience also shared by the United States. Comparing Australian and US ‘cultures of liberalism’, Michael Wesley argues that Australia’s transition from Britain to the United States was smoother than that of other former British colonies because all three share this separation experience. Viewing international politics as separate and distinct from domestic politics (an experience not shared by continental European nations) encourages the assumption that international relations should reflect national values. Wesley argues that because Australia’s history as a colony and a state has unfolded under two Anglo-Saxon world orders, Australians tend to see an American world order as ‘inevitable, natural, and inherently justifiable’.7

The longstanding Anglo friendliness between Britain and the United States can be overstated. In 1895, President Grover Cleveland declared that America was prepared to go to war with Britain over the placement of Venezuela’s borders. In that clash between the Monroe doctrine and British Empire, it was Britain that blinked – concluding that it was simply not worth having a fight when the Americans saw their vital interests at stake.8 The logical endpoint of this policy was demonstrated most dramatically, and humiliatingly, during the Egyptian Suez Canal crisis in 1956. Britain’s last independent venture to keep control of an imperial asset failed when it became clear that no British military operation could succeed without US approval – which the Eisenhower administration angrily refused to provide. Robert Menzies suffered his own humiliation by attempting to mediate (in the British interest) between Britain and Egypt in the conflict, and was reminded of just how insignificant Australia had become. In the pre World War II world controlled by European empires, Australia had achieved a certain prominence through being one of the few self-governing non-European states. In a world where former colonies were becoming independent, Australia’s status was inevitably diminished.

Although the first concrete steps aligning Britain and Australia with the United States came from socialist governments (Australia’s John Curtin appealing to the USA in 1941; Britain’s Attlee signing the original NATO treaty in 1949), conservatives in both nations embraced the resulting alliances as ‘their’ political commitment. British and Australian conservatives clearly understood that the long-term aim of the rising US power was to dismantle the British Empire. Winston Churchill never saw this outcome as inevitable, but his political successors, such as Harold Macmillan, felt that the best response would be to assume that ‘These Americans represent the new Roman Empire and we Britons, like the Greeks of old, must teach them how to make it go’. This rather self-serving (for both sides) historical comparison obscures the real nature of the relationship, which was, as Christopher Hitchens observes, between two Romes – one rising and one declining.9 Australia’s post-war political leaders, according to David McLean, echoed British doubts about America’s suitability for its new role in the world. ‘It was common’, writes McLean, ‘for the political leaders who oversaw the development of Australia’s post-war relations with the US to see themselves as heirs to the accumulated experience and wisdom of the British Commonwealth’.10

After the Suez Crisis, and in response to Australia’s concern that India was displacing it as the senior Commonwealth nation, Macmillan and Menzies conducted a correspondence over the legacy of Empire. Macmillan outlined an Anglo-centric version of the Western Civilisation story that reflected his classical education: starting with the Greeks, civilisation spread through the Roman Empire to Britain, and had now been spread by the British to the outermost parts of the earth. With the Cold War challenge of Soviet communism and the rise of independent post-colonial states, civilisation would need new champions. Both conservative leaders agreed that the United States would fulfil Britain’s former role of defending the West.11

Despite Macmillan’s assurances that what was happening was all for the best, the paradoxical result was that British conservative politicians took the Empire away from Australian conservatives after World War II. They declined to fight decolonisation, and were the original advocates of Britain entering the European Common Market.


The best-known argument for considering Australia part of the Anglo-American world is Louis Hartz’s idea that Australia was ‘born modern’, with even less of a feudal heritage than the United States. He wrote in 1964 that the settler societies of Australia, Canada and the United States constituted ‘fragments’ of the brand of liberalism advocated by Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, unburdened by Britain’s aristocratic Toryism.12 The founding fathers of the Australian federation were exemplars of British middle-class liberal propriety and respectability – Britons to outdo the British. Historian Stuart Macintyre calls their outlook ‘colonial liberalism’, a doctrine that had to be creative in a land the colonists viewed as a blank slate. Australia had no hereditary peerage or established Western religion. In constructing a new British order in Australia, liberals had nothing to fight and conservatives had nothing to conserve. Australian conservatives therefore emphasised their imperial identity, reflected in Menzies’s argument that the Empire belonged to him as an ‘independent Australian Briton’.13 Australian conservatives tended to follow British conservatism, who emphasised tradition, state authority, and Edmund Burke’s warnings against revolutionaries, who had ‘nothing of the tender, parental solicitude, which fears to cut up the infant for the sake of an experiment’.14

For most of the twentieth century (during which Britain had mainly Tory governments) British conservatism was arguably pragmatic and untheorised. Writing in 1968, Perry Anderson described British conservatism as ‘an instinctive, ad hoc affair’. It was ‘a style, not a method’. Anderson linked this rejection of theory to what he called the ‘absent centre’ of British intellectual life: the lack of a continental-style sociological tradition. ‘Nothing is so familiar’, he wrote, ‘as the absence of an English Durkheim, Pareto or Weber’. Australian conservatism had this ‘absent centre’ in common with the British. Nevertheless, Anderson argued in his essay ‘Components of a national culture’ that the situation in Britain had been changing, at least since World War II. The source of change was the Central European influence on British life. Exiles such as Lewis Namier, Isaiah Berlin, Ernst Gombrich and Friedrich Hayek assumed prominent roles across diverse fields including history, political philosophy and economics. Often Jewish, and fleeing the lethal continental conflicts with fascism, Nazism and communism, they were attracted to the apparent social and political stability of the Anglo world. Using their continental intellectual frameworks, they set about investigating the Anglo rejection of theory and ideology, and the intellectual outlook derived from it. Anderson argued that expatriate impact on this cultural system was paradoxical: ‘In effect, they for the first time systematised the refusal of system’.15

Australian conservatism, and Australian liberalism, had a comparable experience after World War II. The postwar migration boom brought exiles to Australia who had similar life experiences and intellectual outlooks to those who escaped from Europe to Britain (and often moved on to the United States). The émigrés arrived at an important time for Australian conservatives, who were engaged in early home-grown efforts to systematise the refusal of system, in response to the Chifley Labor Government’s policies for postwar reconstruction. The founding ideas of the Institute of Public Affairs, a research organisation, and the new Liberal Party of Australia exemplified the intellectual and political styles of these local efforts.


The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) was founded in 1943 in the belief that business needed better quality ideas if it was to resist regulation and socialism. As its founder, Sir Herbert Gepp of Australian Paper Manufacturers, wrote in Rydges, the Australian journal for directors, in 1941: ‘there must be some permanent organisation which has no other concern than to take the broad view and to study the trend or nature of economic development’. Gepp, along with Sir Walter Massey-Greene of the Collins House group of industries, Sir Leslie McConnan of the National Bank and Geoffrey Grimwade of Drug Houses of Australia Ltd, was convinced that the approach of business and government had to change in the postwar environment. For the ‘task of continuous detailed and impartial investigation’, Gepp believed that new government and political machinery was necessary:

I therefore hope to see after the war the addition to the present constitutional structure [of] a body of experts comprising representatives from all spheres of national life, to assist the Commonwealth Government in the formation of national policy, and in the balanced development of the nation. [An] Economic General Staff of this nature should soon attain a position of such respect and importance in the community that its published conclusions would not be lightly disregarded by Parliaments.16

J R Hay writes that the IPA came into existence during the ‘peculiar circumstances’ of the 1943 election victory for the Australian Labor Party and the collapse of the conservative United Australian Party (UAP) soon afterwards. Gepp was one of the most important single influences on the IPA. His personal assistant and economic advisor, C D Kemp, acted as a go-between when the idea to create the institute was floated within the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures.17 As the first director of the Victorian IPA, Kemp recalled its sense of purpose: ‘it was clearly the task of all those who supported the free enterprise system to show that full employment, social security and a “new deal” in industrial relationships could be achieved within the framework of the traditional business system and without resort to the extreme measures proposed by the socialists’.18

When the UAP’s replacement, the Liberal Party of Australia, was founded in 1944, it was encouraged by the IPA to formulate a new business ideology of welfare conservatism and national development. Liberal leader Robert Menzies, careful to distance himself and the new party from big business, famously appealed to a broader electorate he called the ‘forgotten people’. Sociologist R W Connell has described this group as ‘non-unionised middle income earners and the declining group of the self-employed’.19 Judith Brett, however, has argued for a more expansive view. She sees the forgotten people as providing the Liberal Party with images ‘with which to recreate and enlarge its constituency’.20 In the 1942 radio broadcast where he first used the term as his title, Menzies insisted that in Australia ‘We don’t have classes here as in England’:

But if we are to talk of classes, then the time has come to say something of the forgotten class – The Middle Class – those people who are in constant danger of being ground between the upper and the nether millstones of the false class war; the middle class who, properly regarded, represent the backbone of this country.21

In addressing the family listening around the radio, Brett argues that Menzies tried ‘to persuade its members to make their private and domestic experiences the basis of their political identification, rather than their experiences as workers or as members of an economically defined class’.22 Menzies was keen to avoid being labelled conservative. He explicitly rejected ‘the old and selfish notions of laissez faire’, and insisted that ‘There will be more law, not less; more control, not less’. In order to identify the Liberals with a mass base rather than with big business, Menzies specifically directed his appeal to women, whom Brett describes as ‘the organisational mainstay of non-labour parties’ in both Australia and Britain.23

The more intellectual IPA directed its message to the educated and professional classes. Its publication, the IPA Review, identified the IPA’s version of the forgotten people in a 1948 article entitled ‘The vanishing race’. They were the ‘large and important section of the middle-income groups’ who had ‘undergone an ominous deterioration’ since 1939. They were ‘the professional and expert skill and intellectual talent of the state – teachers, university professors, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, scientists, engineers, architects, salaried executives and administrators’. The IPA Review criticised Australian business for being ‘slow to realise the potentialities of the highly educated man, slower to reward him generously, and reluctant to grant him that status to which he is entitled by virtue of his knowledge and talents’:

[Business] is paying for this neglect. In recent years, not a small part of the appeal of socialism for the university trained man has sprung from that fact that the Labour Party has been prepared to find satisfactory opportunities in public service for people highly educated in the social sciences, when the avenues elsewhere have been virtually closed.24

The early IPA criticised business for not adequately addressing what drove such people away from the capitalist system. This plea for business to recognise the role of the ‘highly educated’ could be interpreted as a plea to accept the role of the IPA itself. While it did not become an ‘economic general staff’ of the kind Gepp envisaged, the IPA clearly saw itself as a source of expertise for policymakers and parliaments of an economic rationality that was above politics. It was not an overtly ideological free market think tank, in today’s understanding– rather it advocated liberal pragmatism in a mixed economy.

Neither the IPA’s ‘educated and professional classes’ nor the Liberal Party’s ‘forgotten’ middle class were being offered a system or a theory that would liberate them from oppression. The new Australian Liberal Party’s aims were framed modestly – employment, prosperity, a home of one’s own along with stability in politics and (especially) the economy within the British Empire, now Commonwealth. These aims fitted with Donald Horne’s sardonic view in God is an Englishman (1969) that the purpose of the Empire was to make the world ‘cosy’ for the British – including Australian Britons.25 However, the new arrivals from war-ravaged Europe would make the case that cosiness and safety were not the same thing with the Empire declining and communism on the march.


The experiences of émigré intellectuals from Central Europe gave the Anglo world’s liberalism and conservatism a more cosmopolitan outlook, and a sense that the accepted order of civilisation was far more vulnerable than first appearances might suggest. After fleeing Hitler and Stalin, as well as war and social collapse, people like Hannah Arendt, Karl Mannheim, Friedrich Hayek, Arthur Koestler and Richard Krygier found refuge in Britain, the United States and Australia. Many were Jewish, with families destroyed in the Holocaust. Their ideas were shaped by their lived experience of a dying world.

While the Mitteleuropean exiles and their ideas broadened the parochial outlook of the Anglo elites, living in the Anglo West in turn influenced those exiles. They were grateful for the refuge provided by the Anglo world, but feared its liberal institutions might turn out to be as fragile as those of Europe, notwithstanding the victory over Nazism. During the Cold War the collapse of the liberal social order and its institutions seemed a real possibility. The exiles had seen it happen before.

Pondering the ruins of Europe from the unconquered Anglo countries, many exiles concluded that the ‘barbarians’ could not have brought about that destruction by themselves, but must have been abetted by something within the enlightened societies. As intellectuals, the exiles were inclined to see people like themselves as central players. And the corrosive force inside liberalism – horrible to contemplate – might have been intellectualism itself, which gnawed away at the liberal order’s foundations until society could no longer defend itself. So intellectuals were both victims and perpetrators of the undermining of liberal society. Their attraction to nationalism, which became fascism, and to revolution, which became communism, arose out of their fascination with abstraction, which in politics became utopianism. Certainly, specific events, wider social and economic developments, and pure power politics might have induced the initial chaos and instability. But it was the intellectuals, those who should have been staunchly defending liberalism, who delivered the coup de grace against the society that had produced and nurtured them.

The Anglo intellectual world was attractive to people seeking refuge from the destructive consequences of utopianism. The pragmatic, empirical and non-theoretical aspects of British, American and Australian philosophising seemed to focus on what the world actually was, rather than on changing it to what a theory said it ought to be. This non-theoretical pragmatism seemed to secure liberalism far better than had abstract ideology in Europe. The need to fortify the West in the face of Cold War challenges led these intellectuals to give the non-theoretical the strength of theory. To justify rallying around the banner of the West, the description of what was became a description of what ought to be. The liberal order had to be fought for, not just left to its own devices.

These anxieties about the opinions of intellectuals in the postwar world were not confined to marginal academics and writers; they were shared by US policymakers, particularly those connected to the new Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). To win intellectuals over to the West, ‘the Agency’ set up an international organisation called the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) in 1948.26 At its height, this body promoted conferences, publications and platforms for a muscular anti-communist liberalism that rejected the fellow-travelling with communism that supposedly was rife among intellectuals during the interwar years. The aim of the CCF was not to turn leftists to the right-wing, but to ensure a strong presence for the non-communist left within the intellectual world. It encouraged cultural rather than political radicalism.

The director of the CCF’s Paris office (effectively the world headquarters) was Michael Josselson. His family were Estonian Jewish refugees from the Bolshevik revolution. After becoming a US citizen he served in the Psychological Warfare Division of Army Intelligence before joining the CIA.27 An example of the funding arrangements provided for CCF affiliates were those of the Australian Committee for Cultural Freedom (ACCF, sometimes called ‘the Association’ or AACF). According to the driving force behind the establishment of the Australian branch, Richard Krygier, ACCF financing came from the Ford, Rockefeller and Fairfield foundations, and from the American labour union peak body, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).28

Krygier was a Polish Jewish exile who had been drawn to ‘popular front’ politics during the 1930s, and had admired the USSR after reading John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World. After the Nazis attacked Poland in the wake of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, he and his wife fled to Wilno in northern Poland. After being accused, one night, by his communist friends of peddling ‘Trotskyist trash’ by claiming the USSR would hand Wilno to Lithuania, they woke up the next day to find they were indeed Lithuanian subjects.29 Stalin’s subsequent take-over of Lithuania in 1940 gave Krygier an ‘interesting lesson [in] how the Soviet Union takes over a country’. He was particularly struck by how local left-wing ‘dupes’ had lulled people into believing that no such take-over would occur.30

A subsequent trip across the USSR to reach Japan (which was accepting Polish refugees at the time) also left a lasting impression. The visa security man, Comrade Skoblin, remarked with a smile as he gave the Krygiers their passports: ‘I do not know why you are in such a hurry to get there. We will get there, never fear’.31 In Japan, and later in Australia, Krygier still considered himself a socialist and maintained his links with the Polish Socialist Party in exile. Nevertheless, he seriously questioned his old beliefs. He met the American novelist John Dos Passos during the war in the Philippines, where Dos Passos was a Life correspondent. The writer had been a prominent prewar radical pacifist but, according to Krygier, ‘I said I was a Left-wing and a Socialist. He said, “Well forget it. The Left-wing has been destroyed by the Communists, all over the world”’.32

Krygier became the Sydney correspondent for the American anti-communist, social democratic weekly, the New Leader, whose editors and writers included the future neoconservatives Daniel Bell and Irving Kristol. At war’s end, antagonised by the policies of the Australian Labor Foreign Minister H V Evatt, Krygier broke with socialism altogether and joined with federal Liberal parliamentarian William Wentworth to create the Political Research Society,33 which aimed to combat communist propaganda among intellectuals. Stan Keon, an anti-communist Catholic Labor politician, told him, ‘What is needed here is somebody like you [to] keep the Soviet, the Communist names before the eyes of the intelligentsia – but without any party commitment’. Krygier concluded:

if I have to do a proper job, of anti-communist propaganda among intellectuals, I must have some backing. I didn’t think I could expect to collect money locally – Wentworth didn’t do well. So I thought I must do it in connection with some organisation doing it.34

‘Some organisation’ was suggested in 1951 by visiting E C Dyason lecturer Salvador de Madariaga – a former Spanish delegate to the League of Nations, exiled since 1937. Madariaga told Krygier about the CCF, and Krygier wrote to Josselson in Paris asking for information about setting up an Australian group. He succeeded in attracting names such as orchestral conductor Eugene Goossens (to maintain the cultural emphasis) and former federal politician and High Court judge Sir John Latham.35 In 1954 he launched the ACCF newsletter Free Spirit – a self-consciously international publication that reprinted CCF writers such as François Bondy, Denis Healey and Stephen Spender. While the Paris office wanted to provide a space for the non-communist left to exercise their cultural interests away from political temptation, Krygier was more enthused about the political battle with communists and ‘neutralist’ liberals, which clearly pushed him to the right of Australian politics. Humphrey McQueen describes correspondence from the Paris office in May 1957 that complained about Free Spirit being ‘too political’.36 Another early ACCF participant, Donald Horne, recalled that ‘Almost everything about the Congress throughout the world seemed liberal, apart from the hardliners in the Australian Association’.37

Krygier was particularly concerned with the influence of Meanjin, a literary journal founded in 1940 and edited by poet Clem Christesen.38 Meanjin sought to promote a national cultural tradition, which until World War II had been claimed by left nationalists and Communist Party intellectuals as their territory. Australian conservatives traditionally had a British cultural focus, which made the contemporary anti-communist European and American orientation of a soon-to-appear ACCF journal, Quadrant, very distinctive.39 At a party in New York, Krygier met with American CCF luminaries Sidney Hook, Max Eastman, Lionel Trilling and Irving Kristol. Kristol had heard about Meanjin’s attack on the British magazine Encounter, which he edited with Stephen Spender, and suggested to Krygier that he should ‘start a magazine’. Kristol was particularly concerned with the need to provide disillusioned leftists with a forum where they could display their intellectual mea culpas. In this regard, Krygier recalled that the ‘main approach … would be, in my mind at least, the approach that Irving Kristol expressed when he advised me to try and make a magazine: he said “You need an alternative. On a cultural scene, when you have only one pole of attraction, the least you can do is create an alternative”’.40

From this conversation came Quadrant, the Australian representative in the CCF’s worldwide stable of ‘little magazines’ – which included Encounter, Survey, Quest and Commentary (published by the American Jewish Committee). Quadrant’s foundation editor, the poet James McAuley, argued that:

The magazine should give the appearance of a genuine home-grown product. [To] take this attitude is not to evince a parochial spirit of cultural nationalism but an elementary rule of prudence in dispelling such resistance as may lurk in people’s minds to a magazine supported by international funds.41

Quadrant survived the exposure of CIA sponsorship in the late 1960s that sank a number of other CCF magazines, and its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1981–82 attracted a host of prominent figures from across the globe. Greetings and congratulations were received from Zbigniew Brzezinski, B A Santamaria, Irving Kristol, Robert Conquest (Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Palo Alto, California), Sir John Kerr, Sir Ian McLennan (chairman of BHP) and Richard Pipes (Harvard historian and staff member of the US National Security Council). The anniversary dinner attracted Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and media proprietors Rupert Murdoch and James Fairfax. During the numerous speeches, Quadrant chairman Clyde Packer (brother of media proprietor Kerry Packer) joked about the CIA connection, thanked Richard Krygier and acknowledged the presence of Midge Decter (a writer married to Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz):

It is appropriate tonight to have a member of the Commentary family here because it is very much part of our genealogical tree. Commentary was started in 1945 in New York by the American Jewish Committee and later gave much aid and succour to Encounter, and without these two magazines I don’t think that Quadrant would have taken quite the shape it did.42

While the British Empire had certainly emphasised the taking up of the white man’s burden, in the postwar world that idea no longer worked for conservatives in Australia. Quadrant helped lead Australian conservatism away from parochial reliance on Britain and its declining Empire as a source of intellectual succour. Although not intended at the outset to be a conservative publication, Quadrant was an important bridge between Australian and American liberal, conservative and later, neoconservative writers. Richard Krygier shared a common experience and cultural outlook with fellow exiles and ex-leftists who saw the Cold War as a fight for the ideas of Western Civilisation and the liberal order that was its finest achievement. This emphasis on ideas and values was considered a substitute for the lack of things to conserve in Australia – a characteristic it had in common with the United States more than with Britain. At any rate, Britain seemed to have less worth conserving every day.


In the 1970s the narrative of economic decline entered both Australian and British political discourse. In both nations it was primarily a discussion about economic performance, and was usually framed around the need for business to become more competitive and citizens less dependent on the state. In Britain, the end of Empire gave debates about decline a sharper edge. Writing about the British experience, Andrew Gamble points out that decline has ‘no single meaning’ and depends upon ‘seeing the world and Britain’s place in it in a particular way’.43 Critics can point to a genuine decline in Britain’s influence and prestige as a global economic and political power. Decline in this context can also mean a reversion to Britain’s normal position as a European middle power. The shrinking importance of the Commonwealth, and the increasing importance of the European Economic Community to the British state, meant that Australian conservatives had even less reason to feel that the crimson tide of kinship had any concrete value. The decline of British prestige highlighted the decline in Australian prestige that had already occurred within the Commonwealth. In 1961, Menzies had complained to the British Government through the Australian High Commissioner in London that compared to the ‘brown’ Commonwealth countries, Australia did not ‘count for a row of beans’.44

Australian conservatives began to see Britain mainly as an example of what not to do with your economy and society. Commentators such as Samuel Brittan blamed Britain’s poor economic performance on the lack of a liberal entrepreneurial spirit and the stifling effect of collective institutions such as trade unions.45 The deadening effect of collectivism also became an article of faith for Australia’s anti-union H R Nicholls Society,46 and was the economic assumption underpinning the Howard Government’s ‘WorkChoices’ legislation (2006) on industrial relations. The United States, with its individualist, entrepreneurial economy and lack of an obvious collectivist culture, seemed to offer a superior, more dynamic model. The American ‘New Frontier’ and ‘Great Society’ reforms of the 1960s did provide plenty of policies for conservatives in both the United States and Australia to criticise, such as anti-poverty and affirmative-action measures. Despite this, a younger generation of Australian conservatives were still more inclined to look towards American (and American based) conservative thinkers for their ideas.


In 1971, a young Australian named David Kemp returned from postgraduate study in political science at Yale University. He wrote for the IPA Review about Edward C Banfield’s criticism of US urban social policies in The Unheavenly City. Banfield argued that the resulting welfare state advanced the interests of bureaucrats instead of the poor.47 Kemp agreed with Banfield’s concerns about the perverse results of government ‘doing good’. American cities such as New Haven, Connecticut, which had ‘a nation-wide reputation for progressive reform’, had been unable to solve its social problems by wealth alone, despite its success in gaining federal funds. Kemp saw the potential lessons for reform in Australia, and stressed the counter-intuitive results: ‘Good intentions, enormous energy, and large resources have not, in themselves, proved sufficient for effective reform, and in some cases have actually produced great harm. Instead there must be humility and realism in assessing the implications of any projected change’.48

Kemp prefigured what would become the standard criticism of the Whitlam Labor Government’s reforms between 1972 and 1975. David Kemp was the son of IPA director C D Kemp, and became a federal minister after the Liberals were elected to government in 1996. David and his brother Rod (also a future Liberal minister) were keen to take the IPA in more contemporary directions, particularly those of a reinvigorated, classical free market liberalism. Their father, C D Kemp, was far more wary of the damage that unregulated markets might do to community morality. ‘Extreme market philosophies’, he eventually wrote in 1991, ‘enthrone profit, greed and self interest’.49 Younger members of the Liberal Party, by contrast, had become more interested in the economics of Friedrich Hayek. Another Jewish Central European exile, Hayek wrote his classic Road to Serfdom (1944) to argue that collectivism and central planning, even if motivated by the best of intentions, must inevitably lead to totalitarian outcomes.50 According to David Kemp, Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (1960) was actively discussed among students in the Melbourne University Liberal Club in the mid-1960s.51

David Kemp later argued that while the ‘Whitlam government in 1972 seemed to be expressing views that crossed party boundaries, by 1975 it had contributed to a crisis that shattered the consensus’. Whitlamism had ‘exposed the tensions in Australian liberal thought in an unmistakable manner’. After 1975, Australian liberalism entered its new ‘radical’ phase, support for which came from the new Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Fraser believed it was important for business to fund the development of new ideas and international contacts. He met intellectuals such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Norman Podhoretz and Henry Kissinger to discuss the ‘appropriate policies to achieve liberal values in the context of the times’.52 One of Fraser’s advisers, former Quadrant associate Owen Harries, later moved to the United States to edit the neoconservative journal, the National Interest.53

American conservatism was arguably a better fit for Australia, as it could accommodate liberal (and even populist) ideas. Furthermore, as American neoconservatism was more ideologically combative, it was better suited to an environment where conservatives could no longer rely on the assumed authority of established institutions. In 1982, IPA Review began to discuss social and cultural issues, and argued for a more expansive ‘new philosophy’ of personal responsibility. Free markets would not function ‘unless people generally behave responsibly within the market context: unless, that is, there are the right attitudes’.54 The new IPA director Rod Kemp explained journal’s ‘new look’. It would now cover more topics, such as ‘Education and Unemployment, Free Enterprise and the Churches’. IPA Review declared itself opposed to the growth of ‘highly active lobby groups which promote “Big Government” and often anti-free enterprise views’.55 The new look marked the beginning of the ‘New Right’ in Australia – a term that came out of the ‘Reagan Revolution’ in the United States.


Although there is no US equivalent of the position of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports to which to appoint a retired Australian prime minister, it is easy enough for the United States to flatter Australia by referring to it as a ‘crucial ally’. At one level, Australian conservatives were able easily to shift their loyalties from Britain to the United States, because there was no shift involved at all. The common experience of being English-speaking nations girt by sea meant that the three nations had sufficiently similar world views to require very little change in basic assumptions. Conservatives had insisted that Australia was an offshoot of British civilisation – they were independent Australian Britons with a special relationship to the imperial centre. Shifting the focus to Western Civilisation and becoming a partner with the United States in a great world struggle was quite straightforward. The obvious decline of British power made the practical need for Australian conservatives of a great and powerful friend all the more obvious. While they did not claim that the American west coast was between Perth and Carnarvon, the commonality between the British, US and Australian political cultures meant that the transition from the old imperial to the new hegemonic world was relatively smooth.

Nevertheless, there were differences between the older British pragmatic conservative style and the harder systematised, or ideological, style brought by the European émigrés and later US neoconservatism. The new American Rome was a better fit for contemporary Australia than the old British Rome, because neither Australia nor America were Burkean nations. They had too little of the accumulated wisdom of previous generations to conserve.

The importance of the Australian link to Britain had been bolstered by Britain’s prestige as the centre of a global empire. Australia’s standing in the world was now no longer being enhanced by the crimson thread linking it to a middle-ranked member of the European Union. The alliance with the United States helped bolster the self-regard of Australian elites in general, and conservatives in particular, by clearly making Australia part of the West. In that sense, the alliance serves a similar function to Australia’s earlier membership of the British Empire. It may also mask a sense of uncertainty about Australia’s status in the Asian region as a Western nation. Paul Keating’s relatively mild tilt towards Asia produced anxiety both inside and outside Australia that the nation was going to ‘defect’ from the West. Such anxiety suggests that the debate about Australia’s Western status might yet reopen.


1     For the Cinque Ports, see Accessed 2 June 2007.

2     Judith Brett. 1992. Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People. Sydney: Macmillan: 267–269.

3     Brett, Menzies’ Forgotten People: 242, 152;

4     See David Gress. 1995. From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and its Opponents. New York: Free Press; Brian Redhead. 1995. Plato to NATO: Studies in Political Thought. London: Penguin.

5     Samuel P Huntington. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster: 138–139, 153.

6     Michael Wesley. 2007. The Howard Paradox: Australian Diplomacy in Asia, 1996–2006. Sydney: ABC Books.

7     Michael Wesley. 2001. ‘The Australian–American alliance and the cultures of liberalism’. In 2001. The United States–Australian Alliance in an East Asian Context: Conference Proceedings. Sydney: University of Sydney: 87, 89–90.

8     Christopher Hitchens. 2006. Blood, Class and Empire. London: Atlantic Books: 170–171.

9     Hitchens, Blood, Class and Empire: 22, 26–27.

10    David McLean. 2006. ‘From British colony to American satellite?: Australia and the USA during the Cold War’. Australian Journal of Politics & History 52 (1): 64–79, 74.

11    Chris Waters. 2002. ‘Macmillan, Menzies, history and Empire’. Australian Historical Studies 119: 93–107.

12    Louis Hartz et al. 1964. The Founding of New Societies: Studies in the History of Latin America, South Africa, Canada, and Australia. New York: Harcourt, Brace; A W Martin. 1973. ‘Australia and the Hartz thesis’. and G C Bolton. 1973. ‘Louis Hartz’. Australian Economic History Review 13 (2); J B Hirst. 1984. ‘Keeping colonial history colonial: The Hartz thesis revisited’. Historical Studies 21 (82).

13    Stuart Macintyre. 1991. A Colonial Liberalism: The Lost World of Three Victorian Visionaries. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

14    E Burke. 1910 [1790]. Reflections on the Revolution in France. London: Dent: 162.

15    Perry Anderson. 1968. ‘Components of the national culture’. New Left Review 50 (July–August): 7, 19.

16    Herbert Gepp. 1943. When Peace Comes. Melbourne: Robertson & Mullins: 71–72.

17    J R Hay. 1982. ‘The Institute of Public Affairs and social policy in World War II’. Historical Studies 20 (79): 198.

18    C D Kemp. 1964. Big Businessmen. Melbourne: Institute of Public Affairs: 169.

19    R W Connell and T H Irving. 1982. Class Structure in Australian History. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press: 289–292.

20    Brett, Menzies’ Forgotten People: 3–4.

21    The speech is reprinted in Brett, Menzies’ Forgotten People: 5, 7.

22    Brett, Menzies’ Forgotten People, 33.

23    Brett, Menzies’ Forgotten People: 14, 53, 55–56.

24    1948. ‘The vanishing race’. IPA Review (October): 127, 130.

25    Donald Horne. 1969. God Is an Englishman. Sydney: Penguin.

26    For two contrasting histories of the CCF see F S Saunders. 2000. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York: New Press; Peter Coleman. 1989. The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Post-war Europe. New York: Free Press.

27    Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: 11–12.

28    Interview with Henry Richard Krygier by J D B Miller, 10–13 January 1984, oral history program, TRC 1572/1-9, National Library of Australia.

29    Richard Krygier. 1984. ‘The making of a cold warrior’. Quadrant (June): 13–14.

30    Krygier interview.

31    Krygier, ‘The making of a cold warrior’: 15.

32    Krygier interview; J P Diggins. 1975. Up from Communism. New York: Harpers: 437, 449.

33    Krygier, ‘The making of a cold warrior’: 17.

34    Krygier interview.

35    Cassandra Pybus. 1999. The Devil and James McAuley. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press: 142–143.

36    Humphrey McQueen. 1984. Gallipoli to Petrov. Sydney: Allen & Unwin: 183.

37    Donald Horne. 2000. Into the Open. Sydney: Harper Collins: 124.

38    Pybus, The Devil and James McAuley: 143.

39    Geoffrey Serle. 1973. From the Deserts Prophets Come: The Creative Spirit in Australia 1788–1972. Melbourne: Heinemann: 143, 177–178.

40    Serle, From the Deserts Prophets Come. For Kristol’s influence, see also Owen Harries. 1996. ‘The Australian connection’. In William Kristol and Christopher Demuth, editors. The Neoconservative Imagination. Washington: AEI: 40; Peter Coleman. 1994. Memoirs of a Slow Learner. Sydney: Angus and Robertson: 134.

41    McQueen, Gallipoli to Petrov: 184; Serle, From the Deserts Prophets Come.

42    Quadrant (November 1981), 25th Anniversary Supplement: 2–9.

43    Andrew Gamble. 2000. ‘Explanations of economic decline’. In Richard English and Richard Kenny, editors. Rethinking British Decline. Basingstoke: Macmillan: 1.

44    Waters, ‘Macmillan, Menzies, history and Empire’: 95.

45    See English and Kenny, Rethinking British Decline.

46    H R Nicholls Society. 1986. Arbitration in Contempt. Proceedings of the inaugural seminar of the H R Nicholls Society, Melbourne, 28 February – March.

47    Edward C Banfield. 1968. The Unheavenly City: The Nature and Future of our Urban Crisis. Boston: Little Brown.

48    D A Kemp. 1972. ‘The American discontent: The crisis of American liberalism’. IPA Review (January/March): 18–19, 24.

49    C D Kemp. 1991. ‘Those 80 terrible years?’. Quadrant (November): 17–22.

50    Friedrich Hayek. 1944. The Road to Serfdom. London: Routledge.

51    David Kemp. 1988. ‘Liberalism and conservatism in Australia since 1944’. In Brian Head and James Walter, editors. Intellectual Movements and Australian Society. Melbourne: Oxford University Press: 337.

52    Kemp, ‘Liberalism and conservatism’: 340–341.

53    See Harries, ‘The Australian Connection’: 43–44.

54    1982. ‘A new philosophy of politics needed’. IPA Review (April/June): 34–35.

55    Rod Kemp. 1982–83. ‘To our readers’. IPA Review (summer): 87.



Interview with Richard Krygier by J D B Miller, 1984, TRC 1572/1-9.


Burke, Edmund. 1910 [1790]. Reflections on the Revolution in France. London: Dent.

Gepp, Sir Herbert. 1943. When Peace Comes. Melbourne: Robertson and Mullins.

H R Nicholls Society. 1986. Arbitration in Contempt. Proceedings of the inaugural seminar of the H R Nicholls Society, Melbourne, 28 February–2 March.

IPA Review, 1948, 1972, 1982, 1982–83.

Quadrant, 1981, 1984, 1991.


Anderson, Perry. 1968. ‘Components of the national culture’. New Left Review 50 (July–August).

Banfield, Edward C. 1968. The Unheavenly City: The Nature and Future of our Urban Crisis. Boston: Little Brown.

Bolton, G C. 1973. ‘Louis Hartz’. Australian Economic History Review 13 (2): 168–176.

Brett, Judith. 1992. Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People. Sydney: Macmillan.

Coleman, Peter. 1994. Memoirs of a Slow Learner. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Coleman, Peter. 1989. The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Post-war Europe. New York: Free Press.

Connell, R W and T H Irving. 1982. Class Structure in Australian History. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Diggins, John Patrick. 1975. Up from Communism. New York: Harpers.

Gamble, Andrew. 2000. ‘Explanations of economic decline’. In Richard English and Richard Kenny, editors. Rethinking British Decline. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Gress, David. 1995. From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and its Opponents. New York: Free Press.

Harries, Owen. 1996. ‘The Australian connection’. In William Kristol and Christopher Demuth, editors. The Neoconservative Imagination. Washington: AEI.

Hartz, Louis et al. 1964. The Founding of New Societies: Studies in the History of Latin America, South Africa, Canada, and Australia. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Hay, J R. 1982. ‘The Institute of Public Affairs and social policy in World War II’. Historical Studies 20 (79): 198–216.

Hayek, Friedrich. 1944. The Road to Serfdom. London: Routledge.

Hirst, J B. 1984. ‘Keeping colonial history colonial: The Hartz thesis revisited’. Historical Studies 21 (82): 85–104.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2006. Blood, Class and Empire. London: Atlantic Books.

Horne, Donald. 2000. Into the Open. Sydney: Harper Collins.

Horne, Donald. 1969. God Is an Englishman. Sydney: Penguin.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Kemp, C D. 1964. Big Businessmen. Melbourne: Institute of Public Affairs.

Kemp, David. 1988. ‘Liberalism and conservatism in Australia since 1944’. In Brian Head and James Walter, editors. Intellectual Movements and Australian Society. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Stuart Macintyre. 1991. A Colonial Liberalism: The Lost World of Three Victorian Visionaries. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

McLean, David. 2006. ‘From British colony to American satellite?: Australia and the USA during the Cold War’. Australian Journal of Politics & History 52 (1): 64–79.

McQueen, Humphrey. 1984. Gallipoli to Petrov. Sydney: George Allen & Unwin.

Martin, A W. 1973. ‘Australia and the Hartz “Fragment” thesis’, Australian Economic History Review 13 (2): 131–147.

Pybus, Cassandra. 1999. The Devil and James McAuley. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.

Redhead, Brian. 1995. Plato to NATO: Studies in Political Thought. London: Penguin.

Serle, Geoffrey. 1973. From the Deserts Prophets Come: The Creative Spirit in Australia 1788–1972. Melbourne: Heinemann.

Stonor Saunders, Frances. 2000. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York: New Press.

Waters, Chris. 2002. ‘Macmillan, Menzies, history and Empire’. Australian Historical Studies 119: 93–107.

Wesley, Michael. 2007. The Howard Paradox: Australian Diplomacy in Asia, 1996–2006. Sydney: ABC Books.

Wesley, Michael. 2001. ‘The Australian–American alliance and the cultures of liberalism’. In The United States–Australian Alliance in an East Asian Context: Conference Proceedings. Sydney: University of Sydney.

Cite this chapter as: Dymond, Tim. 2008. ‘“My empire, not merely yours”: Australian conservatives and their imperial worlds’. Orb and Sceptre: Studies on British Imperialism and its Legacies, in Honour of Norman Etherington, edited by Limb, Peter. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 11.1 to 11.15.

© Copyright 2008 Tim Dymond
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Orb and Sceptre: Studies on British Imperialism and its Legacies, in Honour of Norman Etherington

   by Peter Limb