Tuesday, September 26, 2006

(Chapter 11 in: F.S. Stevens (Ed.) "Racism: The Australian Experience, volume 3". Sydney: ANZ Book Co., 1972)

Also reprinted as Chapter 14 in: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


John Ray

Among academics there is widespread criticism of Australia's immigration policies. 'White Australia' is definitely a dirty word among much of Australia's intelligentsia. The defences that one normally hears of Australia's policy generally come from politicians rather than from academics in the social sciences (see, for instance 'The evolution of a policy' by the Hon. Phillip Lynch, M.P.-- former Minister for Immigration). In this paper I wish, as both a social scientist and as a conservative, to rebut the usual criticisms made by academics and positively to argue for Australia's present policy.

Some of the criticism one reads, even in reputable academic journals, is so incoherent on the rational level as to be very difficult to answer at all. The article by the anthropologist, Ian Bedford, for instance, (in Politics of 1970, pp. 224-227) contains the bald assertion that: "If the Australian is not to make war on the Asian in Asia, he must live with him on his own soil" -- and a whole series of similar statements whose only support seems to be the moral rectitude of their writer. This writer indeed seems to be characterized by that very 'intolerance of ambiguity' for which the racially prejudiced person has long been slated (e.g. Adorno et al., 1950; Rokeach, 1960). He argues that Australia should allow much more Asian migration just so we will have another Rhodesia here. For the sake of showing white Australians clearly to belong in the 'Baddie' camp of Bedford's conceptual world, he is prepared to encourage all the suffering among, and injustice toward non-white races that he believes to have arisen in Rhodesia. He expects Australia to erupt in bloodshed and riot without the White Australia policy. And it is this that he advocates. It is this that he sees as desirable. For what gain? To show us up as what he believes we really are. This, then, is surely an example of, and a testimony to, the way in which moralism can distort our thinking into working against not only our own self-interest but also against moral ideals themselves.

Among the saner advocates of increased non-white immigration, however, different arguments are generally advanced. As far as I am able to summarize them, they seem to go as follows: 1. Australia is too culturally isolated and inward-looking; 2. Our policy angers other (Asian) nations; 3. We have a moral obligation to help the suffering humanity of Asia in every way we can; 4. Any form of discrimination on racial grounds is, in principle, morally offensive; 5. The gain to Australia would be greater than the loss even in purely material terms. 6. Racism is evil and we should force everybody to become non-racists. I will consider these arguments one by one.

The first is certainly the most superficial and easily refutable point. It is abundantly clear that, on the world scene, Australia has more cultural diversity than most. With several million migrants from all parts of Europe in its population, Australia has a wealth of cultural diversity that few societies in the world could equal. Roughly one fifth of Australia's population was not born in Australia. Is this true of India, of China, of the U.S.A. or of most countries Australia might be compared with? The great European cultures that have made the world in their image are all represented here in strength. Asia and Africa are falling over themselves to emulate the Coca-cola culture and successful materialism of the European world. Are we to weep that we are not being exposed to what Asia itself is rejecting? Being electronically open to and in communication with all the world, Australia is right in the main stream of the world's cultural and intellectual developments. The music of a new composer or the new social theories of a great thinker might reach Australia a few months after they have reached the U.S.A. but is this cause for self-castigation or derogatory comparison with someone such as the Asian peasant who is cut off entirely from the world's intellectual community? If Australia is indeed culturally isolated and inward-looking, then, on the same criteria, all but a tiny percentage of the world's population must be similarly condemned. Sydney and Melbourne are infinitely closer to the New Yorks and Londons of the world (or whatever other great cultural centres one has in mind) than are the Rangoons or Timbuctoos. When I go to the theatre in Sydney, I have a choice of plays that would not, in terms of number and variety, invite derogatory comparison with many other cities in the world. I can go to any number of Greek restaurants in Sydney (or for that matter Chinese, Indian, Italian, Lebanese or Yugoslav restaurants) and drink Greek wine while a roomful of Greeks around me drink Australian beer. In terms of cultural variety the comparison we need fear would be hard to draw. Paris? Perhaps. Peking? No. Even Tokyo, for all its commercialized (and Western) variety, hears fewer foreign accents than we. One may, of course, advocate that we be exposed to a different sort of variety, but variety per se we do have --- par excellence. I myself feel that I have more to learn from a refugee Romanian Jew than I have to learn from an Asian peasant whose one aspiration in life is to own a bicycle. So then, by any standard of objective comparison, I would like to claim that Australia is an intensely cosmopolitan and urban society centred around its two great metropolises -- highly advanced, taking the best that the world has to offer and itself contributing at least its fair share to the dominant world culture of which it forms a part. Personally, I might welcome greater immigration to Australia of educated Indians and Africans because of the refreshing skepticism and joie de vivre that these groups might respectively contribute to our culture, but so to say is to imply a consciousness that any society -- even the very best -- can be improved. It is not to say that the society we presently have is at all a bad one in the respect under discussion.

The second criticism listed above is that our policy angers Asian nations. This is an assertion about which it is hard for either side to be factual. Most nations of the world do have restrictive immigration policies and ours in fact would rate among the more liberal. Nearly all the Asian nations themselves forbid people other than those of their own race from settling and acquiring citizenship. Indeed, others of their own race might not even be welcome. The one country that has made public protest about our policy in recent times is Japan -- a country which itself is almost fanatically ethnocentric and oppressive towards its own small Korean minority. Their protest against our policy is, in fact, the protest of a country which forbids permanent immigration of foreigners against a country which will accept any number of Japanese applicants of sufficient educational standards. Unlike the U.S.A., there are no quota restrictions on Asian settlement in Australia. The only restrictions are educational. Our Immigration Department statistics regularly reveal, in fact, that of those Asians whose application to settle here is approved, not much more than half actually come. From 1966 to 1971 (inclusive), 7,000 applications to immigrate made by Asians were approved but only 3,200 actually arrived. Many Asian countries are in fact themselves most unwilling to allow their people to leave (Taiwan being perhaps the most extreme example), so our policy, in fact, ought to accord well with what they themselves want. In summary then, the only evidence we have for Asian irritation with our policies is the case of Japan. Given Japan's own policy, however, we cannot see this criticism as very deep-seated or defensible. A situation that would, of course, draw criticism from Asian nations would be if we did have here a substantial minority of their people and ill-treated them. Witness the criticisms of Britain by the Afro-Asian nations or of South Africa by the black African nations. Since it is most implausible to believe that Australians would he more tolerant than Britons, our present policy can be seen as one that ensures that we do not anger Asian nations.

The third criticism listed above is that we have a moral obligation to help the suffering humanity of Asia in every way we can. In answer to this I could well make here the usual observations about the relative efficacy of foreign aid versus immigrant intake and I am sure that an impressive case could be made for the claim that the best place to help Asians is in Asia. One could even argue that importing a tiny minority of the Asian population into our midst (into what is, for them, an alien society) would be counter-productive to the welfare of both the individuals concerned and of the countries concerned. What I want to do instead of this however, is to challenge the basic premise that we are under a moral obligation. I would contend that the entire conception of Right and Wrong here involved is faulty. The existence of a discoverable right and wrong is implied in the criticism. Against this we must put the commonplace among many educated people today that there is no such thing as an absolute Right and Wrong. At least since Nietzsche (1906) and Sorel (1915) the existence of moral properties has also been widely questioned among philosophers and social scientists. It is true that the two statements 'X is pink' and 'X is right' have the same grammatical form. While 'pink' does indeed describe a property of the object, 'right' would seem rather to describe our reaction to the object or action. The rightness of some action exists in our opinion of it -- not in the action itself. 'Rightness' attributed to some action is therefore a fraudulent attribution -- designed to provoke argument, discussion or consensus in a pseudo-objective form. It is a polite (but misleading) way of saying 'I favour X' -- or, at best, 'all men would favour X if they had proper consideration for their own long-term self-interest'. If the moralist claims that something other than self-interest is involved, he must at least show where his moral basis emanates from. How does he know whether a thing is an instance of the category 'a right action' ( or 'an action which we are morally obliged to perform')? If God is the source of our moral information one has to be a metaphysician to be a moralist. Since I am not a metaphysician I am not impressed. Even if I was a metaphysician how could I be sure that I was getting the correct account of what God's will is? Given the divisions among religious people on moral questions, it would seem that moral information is not only metaphysical information but metaphysical information of a particularly uncertain sort. The only possible non-metaphysical answer that a moralist can give for the source of his moral information is to say that what is morally right is what he likes, or what all men would like in some optimum situation. The moral information is not to be gained from the action itself. A moralist will see taking up sword (or whatever example of an action one has in mind) as right on one occasion but wrong on another. The action has not changed --only our response to it (a response that is, of course, dictated by circumstances). Applying this to the question in hand, we must translate the contention here at issue as: 'I would approve of us helping the starving millions of Asia in any way we can'. This, of course, deprives the original assertion of its original imperative force. The utterer wished not only to report his own feelings but also to influence us to act in accordance with those inclinations of his. He could have said, 'Thou shalt help ... etc.' but this would not have succeeded in influencing us unless he had direct power over us. He therefore resorted to the subterfuge of moralism and endeavoured to convince us that we were under an obligation similar to a contractual obligation. Once this subterfuge is perceived however we must immediately be interested to ask, 'What is the origin of this obligation? Contractual obligations arise when we exchange one service for another but no such exchange has been undertaken on the present occasion'. In answer to this, the moralist can only resort to the Deity or some other mystical or hypothetical source of obligation. Alternatively he can abandon morality altogether and argue that it would be in our best long term self-interest to act in the manner he advocates. If he does this, the burden of proving his new empirical assertion is thrown upon him. He must advance arguments such as the two considered first above in order to show us that it is, in fact, the case that acting as he advocates would further our long-term self-interest. He may, of course, resort to arguments of a more general sort than the ones considered above. He may say something like: 'It is always wise to be benevolent'. This however is a contentious statement and requires proof. If 'benevolent' is defined in some non-circular way, it can surely be shown that some benevolent acts might not lead to the long-term advantage of any party. One has in mind such adages as 'Sometimes you've got to be cruel to be kind'. Surely the European nations were being benevolent in allowing Hitler to remilitarize the Rhineland in the mid-1930s but it would be a brave spirit who would argue that this action was to our long-term self-advantage. Whether benevolence is wise also depends on what our goals are. If we enjoy aggression or the humiliation and suffering of others, then benevolence will obviously be less often wise than if we are otherwise motivated. Obviously then, general rules such as 'It is always wise to be benevolent' just will not work as such. At best they are guides to consider accepting when we have no other information as to the consequences of our actions or when such information as we do have leads to irresolvably conflicting conclusions. In all situations, our first preference must be to argue each case on its individual merits. It is this, then, that the advocate of change in our immigration policies has to do. He has to show that a change is to our advantage in this particular case. His primary reason for so arguing may not, of course, be that he believes a change would be to our advantage. While some advocates may be in this category, I believe that the greatest number would be people who have been conditioned in their upbringing to accepting as true, parental assertions that some acts are good or bad of themselves.

Little Johnny is told that it is bad to act in a certain way -- not that such an act is disliked by the parent (for whatever reason). Although it will not stand up to rational scrutiny, such children may often accept the inculcated belief that the act itself has this imputed property of 'badness' in some way intrinsic to it. The acceptance that certain acts have a property of 'badness' is also associated with (conditioned) negative affect towards such acts. Therefore, any acts that seem similar to acts that the child has accepted to have this property of 'badness' will suffer from generalization of negative affect. The adult feels (not necessarily consciously) that prohibiting unlimited Asian immigration is similar to acts that he was conditioned to avoid as a child. His advocacy of freer migration may therefore be dictated, not by rational considerations, but by generalized conditioned negative affect. Presumably, however, most of us would want to give more thought to our own long-term advantage in this particular situation than following our immediate emotional impulses. That the moralist's conditioned affect is a poor basis for action can also be appreciated if we reflect that others may not share that affect or even have conditioned affect of opposite effect. Where different people have opposite affective responses to the same actions, we cannot expect argument to alter the affect in any way but we might, if we are optimistic, hope that the policy actually adopted by the parties concerned would be decided on rational considerations of long-term self-interest. If this is to happen, debate on the likely outcomes of the alternative policies is essential before our estimation of the relative advantages to us can be made. Moralistic utterances cannot contribute to such a debate. This dismissal of moralistic utterances as nonsensical does then dispose of not only argument 3 above, but also of arguments 4 and 6. Argument 6, however, could be recast as: 'It would be in our interest to force people to become non-racists'. It is in this form that it will be considered below.

Before that, however, we will move on to argument 5 -- that the gain to Australia of freer Asian migration would be greater than the loss even in purely material terms. Such arguments generally turn on the economic advantages of immigration per se -- such as the elimination of upbringing expenses and the greater entrepreneurial motivation and rate of capital accumulation among migrants. It is proposed that the latter might be higher among Asian migrants and that we could be more selective of educational level etc. if we gave ourselves Asia to pick and choose from as well as Europe. Also falling under this general rubric, is the argument that we could correct the imbalance of the sexes in Australia by importing large numbers of Asian women.

Since Australia's per capita rate of capital accumulation is second only to Japan's and since the migrants we already get do have an average level of education higher than that of native Australians, it is evident that, even though it might in theory be possible to do better, we are certainly not doing at all badly already. Even if we were to make a concerted effort to get the cream of Asian society here, this would be at great cost to those societies and would certainly not be permitted by them. Because average educational levels are so much higher in Europe than in Asia, anxiety not to offend other nations by attempting to drain off their best talent would alone constitute sufficient reason to concentrate our immigrant-seeking activities on Europe. The loss of one professional man is an immeasurably greater loss to Asia than it is to Europe. The third proposal to correct the abnormal preponderance of men in Australia by importing Asian women is probably a rather facetious one. It has obvious difficulties associated with the acceptability of women from a vastly different culture to unwed Australian men and is also a policy unlikely to gain acceptance from the Asian nations concerned.

The sixth point listed above is not readily disputable in its revised form -- but it also has lost most of its impact in the revision. Obviously if all people were not racists this would solve a lot of problems. The point is, however, that bringing Asian migrants here is certainly not the way to achieve this. Britain's experience suggests in fact that this would lead to the emergence of racism. If we want people to become non-racists the only way is the slow sure way of more education.

Having now seen that the reasons why we should have more Asian migration do not stand up well to fuller consideration, we may ask: 'Are there any reasons why we should not have more Asian migration? The answers I want to suggest to this are, in general, so well known as to appear passe but the only answer the Left can generally produce to them takes the form of misapplying a psychiatric but clearly pejorative label such as 'paranoid'.

Let us face the fact that large numbers of even educated Australians do not like Jews or 'Wogs'. This is not concentration camp mentality. It is simply the perceptual discrimination of identifiably different characteristics in these people and the personal preference of not liking such characteristics. The concept of national characteristics stands in somewhat of a bad odour today but for all that it remains true that people who travel overseas have no difficulty in naming what those characteristics are (Cf. Madariaga, 1970). To say that Italians are more emotional is not at all to deny that some Italians are not emotional. It is simply to say that emotionality is more common among Italians than it is among us. We all have personal preferences about what we like in other people. If Italians are more emotional and we don't approve of emotionality -- (for us a cultural value), it makes perfect sense not to like Italians or any other group that is similarly characterized. Disliking Italians in this way is not even inconsistent with liking some individual Italians. I personally don't like marmalade jams but I have occasionally tasted a marmalade jam that I did like. In spite of the exceptions, when I go to the supermarket, I don't buy marmalade. Similarly I once knew even an ardent neo-Nazi who regarded the white race as the only one with a right to exist. One of his best friends and most constant associates was a Pakistani who was nearly as black as the proverbial ace of spades. Some exceptions don't necessarily disturb a rule. Following this line of reasoning through, if Australians like English migrants most and Asian migrants least, it is English migrants we should choose. This may be ethnocentric but it is not racist. The ethnocentric places a high value on those characteristics that are prominent in his own group. The racist actively persecutes members of other groups. Many superbly functioning and well-adjusted Australians I know will justly deny being racists and honestly deplore and condemn Hitler's concentration camps. Yet these same people will, among friends, exchange mocking misnomers for suburbs in which Jews have settled: Bellevue Hill becomes 'BelleJew Hill' and Rose Bay becomes 'Nose Bay'; Dover Heights becomes 'Jehovah Heights'. On the issue of admitting Jews to their exclusive schools and clubs, these WASPs will say: 'We let a few of them in-just to show we're not prejudiced'. If this feeling exists towards a group demonstrably not of inferior educational or cultural standards and which is not easily distinguished by something as salient as skin colour, how much more feeling must be expected against Asians? As happened with Great Britain, ethnocentrism could erupt into racism. Large numbers of Asians are readily accepted in our University communities but outside the sheltered world of academe things are different. We do have in Australia our own long-established Asian communities and we do have a continuing flow of Asian migrants. Pragmatic management has so far kept the proportion of Asians to a level where racism has not evolved. Let not moralists stampede us from this policy into something that can advantage no-one. The misguided compulsions of moralism offer us the prospect of transforming Sydney into another New York. Against this, I advocate enlightened self interest and an Australia not torn by racial tensions. At present I can walk alone at night through the streets of Sydney without fear. I would like to keep it that way.


ADORNO, T. W., FRENKEL-BRUNSWIK, ELSE, LEVINSON, D. J., & SANFORD, R. N. The authoritarian personality: Harper, N.Y., 1950.

BEDFORD, I. White Australia, the Fear of Others, Politics, 1970, 5, 224-227.

DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION Australia's Immigration policy: Government Printer, Canberra, 1910.

LYNCH, P. The evolution of a policy: Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1971.

MADARIAGA, S. De. Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards: An essay in comparative psychology 2nd. ed.: Pitman, London, 1970.

NIETZSCHE, F. Beyond good and evil (vol. 12 of The complete works. Ed.: O. LEVY) Foulis, Edinburgh, 1911.

ROKEACH, M. The open and closed mind: Basic Books, N.Y., 1960.

SOREL, G. Reflections on violence" (Trans. T. E. Hulme ) : Allen & Unwin, London, 1915.


1). I reproduce below a blog post I put up on Sept 30, 2004:


"I note that Keith Burgess-Jackson has a post up explaining why he has reversed his view of President Bush and why he no longer advocates liberalism in general. Heaps of conservative thinkers have at one time been Left-leaning (including Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill) so all of them must have had to do a lot of explaining at some stage. I am pleased that I have never had to do that but I am also pleased to say that I have been wrong in the past on some matters nonetheless. I am pleased to find that I was wrong because it shows that I have learned something.

The mistake I made which I most regret was to underestimate the good nature and tolerance of my fellow Australians. In an article I wrote in 1972, I expressed the view that admitting large numbers of ethnic Chinese immigrants to Australia could well cause racial strife—as indeed it actually did in the Australia of 100 years ago or more. In the last 30 years, however, Australia has admitted large numbers of ethnic Chinese immigrants so that they are now probably around 10% of the population—but there seems to have been no friction between them and other Australians whatever. Note however that it was my fellow Anglo-Australians that I doubted. I have never doubted the civilized qualities of the Chinese".

2). In the last half a dozen sentences of the article above, I was (as I said) envisaging what moralism could eventually lead to: No restrictions on immigration at all -- with its attendant problems.

3). My pessimism was shared by a much more eminent Australian than I and for much the same reasons:

As Opposition Leader in 1988, Mr Howard attacked Asian immigration.... His comment in August 1988 was: "I wouldn't like to see it (the rate of Asian immigration) greater. I'm not in favour of going back to a White Australia policy. I do believe that if it is in the eyes of some in the community that it's too great, it would be in our immediate-term interest and supporting of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so the capacity of the community to absorb it was greater."

Like me, Prime Minister Howard was delighted when he found that his fears had not been realized.

Click here for a list of all John Ray's comments on moral philosophy