Those enlightened Europeans

Rocco Buttiglione believes that homosexuality is a sin, that the EU risks being swamped by asylum seekers, and that supporters of free markets should not form alliances with libertines.

Activists like to portray Australia as a uniquely racist nation. They tell us that the civilized world looks on in horror at our government’s policies on asylum seekers and our disregard for basic human rights. In their cartoon version of the world we have to choose between the ignorant rednecked conservatism of Bush’s America and the civilized social democracies of Europe.

Rocco Buttiglione’s nomination as commissioner for justice, freedom, and security in the European Commission shows that things are a little more complicated. Buttiglione is a devout Catholic and friend of Pope Jean Paul II. He believes that homosexuality is a sin and that “the family exists to allow women to have children and be protected by their husbands.” He has also argued that the EU risks being "swamped" and that "People seeking asylum for economic reasons is a growing problem. It’s a time-bomb." (See notes on his testimony to the European Parliament here.)

And rather than opposing capitalism as a threat to civilization Buttiglione embraces it. In his essay on Pope John Paul II encyclical Centesimus Annus Buttiglione argues for a combination of markets and Catholic morality:

In our societies there is a certain alliance between markets and libertinism. This alliance is called in the encyclical consumerism: market values are the only values which are socially considered and everything is considered as a commodity, even things (like sex, the human body, human dignity, truth, culture, and religion) which according to their very essence are not and may not become merchandise.

In criticizing consumerism the encyclical makes it clear that this connection between market and libertinism is not essential. It does not arise necessarily out of the nature of the market: it is rather a consequence of a certain historical development. For this reason it is possible to work to substitute this alliance with another one: between free markets and an adequate philosophy of man.

The encyclical even goes so far as to suggest that the alliance between the market and libertinism cannot, in the long run, work. Free market society needs not only consumers but also responsible individuals, capable of hard work and creative action. It does not need consumers who are willing to consume without working. Strong, responsible, and reliable individuals are not produced, for example, by sexual revolution, but rather are born and educated in morally healthy families. It seems, then, that the alliance between an adequate philosophy of man and a free market economy corresponds more to the true essence of a market economy than does an alliance with libertinism.

Buttiglione isn’t some ignorant Mediterranean populist (pdf). He has been a member of parliament, a university professor, and is fluent in several European languages. He has ties with the Acton Institute and the American Enterprise Institute in the US (both prominent right wing think tanks) as well as sitting on the Senate of the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein.

In Australia it is easy to fall into the habit of dismissing social conservatives as populist bigots or religious nutters. Australia has few intellectually serious conservatives. But in Europe and the United States conservatives often back their positions with well developed philosophical arguments. Australian leftists need to learn how to take these arguments seriously.

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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Moreover, the caricatured picture of Austraia as uniquely racist compared with Europe is grossly inaccurate on a systemic level as well as on individual manifestations like Buttiglione. The acceptance rate for asylum seekers right across Europe averages around 15% and sometimes less. Australia’s long-term acceptance rate for asylum seekers is over 30%, and the acceptance rate for Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers in recent years has been more like 70-80% (much more generous than the UK and Europe).

And, although we lock up illegal arrival asylum seekers in unpleasant conditions, European countries play “pass the parcel” with them under the Dublin and Schengen Conventions. Which set of practices is more inhumane? Hard to say, but Australia isn’t clearly worse by any means. And look at current French actions of banning Muslim women from wearing head scarves to schools and universities. That would be unthinkable in Australia.

goetz von berlichingen
goetz von berlichingen
2022 years ago

Have a look at this web site for some figures on current acceptance of refugees – based on UN data:
http://www.icar.org.uk/res/nav/ng005/ng005-06.html

By my calculations, on a population basis, Australia is far more accepting than any European country, US or Canada.

Guido
2022 years ago

As someone who is fluent in Italian and regularly follows Italian current affairs Buttiglione’s nomination has been already rejected, albeit in a non-binding vote exactly because of his opinions described above. And he had to Retract his statements

You’re absolutely right that many opinions expressed by many Europeans are much more immigrant unfriendly than in Australia. For instance, recently a referendum in Switzerland rejected the proposal of granting automatic citizenship to people who were born in Switzerland from foreign parents.

In Italy, the Lega Nord Party is pushing for a referendum on the admission of Turkey to the EU because it is seen as ‘non-christian’ and therefore not European.

But I am not so sure about the refugees. As you can read from article from Peter Mares statistics can be deceitful. As he states:

Sweden appears at first glance to be extremely tough, accepting less than 3 per cent of all asylum seekers as Convention refugees. However, Sweden allows around 40 per cent of all applicants to stay on humanitarian grounds and in the year 2000, 80 per cent of Iraqi applicants and 75 per cent of Afghan asylum seekers were allowed to stay in the country.

Unlike Australia’s all-or-nothing system, most European countries have this kind of fallback humanitarian category. In Britain it is called “exceptional leave to remain” and last year the number of asylum applicants allowed to stay in Britain on that basis was greater than the number given recognition as refugees. While stepping up its efforts to remove failed asylum seekers from its shores, the British government has said explicitly that it will not seek to remove Afghans, in recognition of the appalling situation that exists in the country at this time

Also I believe that the practice of placing whole families (or even worse, part of families) locked up behind high security wire would be quite abhorrent in most of Europe.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Activists like to portray Australia as a uniquely racist nation.

Is this true? Must say, I’d be surprised Don. Do you have any examples? I for one (am I the only one?)never thought this was an argument based on international moral relativism.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I was very interested in Don’s last sentence:

Australian leftists need to learn how to take these arguments seriously.

Before leftists can take any arguement seriously, I think, if I may be permitted a generalisation, that they need to learn how to listen.

One reason I find writing about public affairs so frustrating is that on the whole, it is a tremendously frustrating exercise trying to debate with people who simply will not listen.

Gary Sauer-Thomson, for example, frequently makes rhetorical noises about wanting to ‘engage’ with an argument, but from what I have seen, I have never seen any indication that he might accept that the other fellow has a legitimate point of view. It is particularly difficult with Gary because he insists on using such a obscure academic version of the English language. But the main problem is the point-blank refusal to even consider someone else’s point.

The net result of that is that I am extremely reluctant to put the effort into writing about a serious issue. If I do that, conservatives may or may not agree with me on tribal lines, and lefties will simply ignore me, on similar grounds. This is why I mostly stick to cricket writing.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I think Don might be referring to the “Green Left Weekly” sort of activist.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

This is rather highjacking Don’s comment thread, but I should note that I agree with Guido’s points on asylum seekers. Many European countries DO have “exceptional leave to remain” or similar provisions. Thus, although their formal acceptance rates for asylum seekers (where they grant them some form of temporary or permanent residency visa) are much lower than Australia’s, they allow many of them to remain on an informal and insecure basis while their country remains in chaos. The net result is often quite similar to the Australian situation in terms of the proportion of applicants who remain in the country of asylum on whatever basis, albeit that Australian applicants at least have the partial security of a 3 year temporary protection visa which might be renewed and might even eventually be converted into a permanent one.

As for Australia’s harsh universal detention regime (which I think should be significantly modified), it’s certainly true that it doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe AFAIK. OTO we don’t have Europe’s “pass the parcel” system, which causes considerable uncertainty and distress for many asylum seekers as they’re shunted from country to country.

John
John
2022 years ago

To summarise the discussion so far, Australia is not a uniquely racist country (and no-one of note has said it is), but the combination of mandatory detention and the “Pacific solution” is a uniquely cruel policy.

chico o'farrill
chico o'farrill
2022 years ago

Scott,

If it’s any of any use at all, I guess if I had to use an absolutist term, I would be cast as leftist (certainly by comparison with a rightist).

But if there is one single aspect I value most from reading blogs, it is the enjoyment of reading alternative points of view, well-expressed. In this category, I hold Currency Lad & yourself as two of the better examples. Cricket is great, but so is politico-social-opinion-making. Keep ’em coming….

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Actually, both left and right need to learn to communicate better. The right has something of an advantage on this issue, which is why Libs govern federally, and ALP state govts are so ‘right wing’. I will do a post on my ideas on this issue sometime today.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

… [Australia’s] “Pacific solution”

Don
Don
2022 years ago

Scott charitably says that I “might be referring to the ‘Green Left Weekly’ sort of activist” when I say that activists depict Australia as a uniquely racist country.

In defense of GLW I should quote from an article by Sarah Stephen:

“This resurgence of racism is not unique to Australia. It is not a peculiar policy of the Howard government. It is a trend mirrored in nearly every wealthy country around the world, from Britain and Canada to New Zealand and France. First World governments are using racism and Islamaphobia to win support for attacks on working people’s civil liberties and for boosting police powers of surveillance and detention.”

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/589/589p9.htm

I guess what I’m worried about is a debating technique where disapproval by the UN or human rights lawyers is portrayed as if the whole world is looking on at Australia and condemning us as inhumane and barbarous.

Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers often IS inhumane and barbarous. But I don’t think the cause of this is that Australians are more xenophobic than people who live in European nations with more reasonable policies. There’s racism in Sweden and Norway too. And not everyone who favors tougher immigration policies is a racist.

The asylum seeker issue is only going to grow in importance. If you don’t approve of harsh and inhuman policies you need to do more than go to protests and shout slogans. You can’t win the debate just by being morally outraged.

Unless you understand why your opponents think the way they do, you can’t argue with them.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I agree Don. Moral outrage is not only insufficient, but counter-productive. The more relative the morality, the more so. Still, it is morality that is outraged here.

Couple years ago, I was walking a friend’s dog in Cooper Park, Woollarah. Ruling class territory. I fell in, as one does, with the local park dog party. Amid the breed, age, adventures, isn’t she clever, what a big boy, dog chat, I caught three women working out their refugees-to-dinner weekend rosters.

Bourgeois as buggery, fair enough. But seriously sincere, all the same. My sense is that this morality, a morality of hospitality and empathy toward the other, because we recognise our common humanity, would be replicated to a large degree in all classes in this country, each in its own ways.

This is why citizens who claim a superior title to the moral argument are so annoying. It pisses a people off, who by and large pride themselves on their fairness and un-specialness. This, in a sense, should be a given as a mark of respect, with the remainder the contested area.

My own unremarkable position is that asylum seekers should be treated exactly how we would like to be treated in the same circumstances. This has no regard to wider relativities. I would like to expect a civil reception, but would not think I had a permanent claim without reasons.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

This whole discussion reminds me of a speech Bruce Ruxton gave some years ago in an assembly, back when I was in school. Someone asked him (rhetorically) whether or not he thought that his views mightn’t appear racist outside of Australia. Anyway, he got a bit hot under the collar and started reeling off what he thought were comparatively “more” racist policies and views in Asian countries. At the end of each statement he’d bark “racism is RIFE!” into the mike, but he did it with such vigour and aggression that the feedback and the static made it sound as though, by all accounts, he was saying “racism is RIGHT!”. There was quite a cufuffle in the time between a confused Bruce being dragged from the lectern and an embarrassed organiser finally offering clarification. The irony lingers though…

As to the Europe- from speaking with friends and family there, I do think the underlying xenophobia is stronger than here. Maybe it’s for this reason that responsible governments try to temper rather than fuel it, lest they cause social unrest. Also, given how easily the Howard government was able to manipulate paranoia about Australia, an island country, being swamped by asylum seekers, it’s perhaps understandable that in Europe, where national borders are far more vulnerable, the capacity for fear may be higher.

tipper
tipper
2022 years ago

Oh dear!
Wot ’bout this then?

tipper
tipper
2022 years ago

Forgot to mention that those stats are based on a report put out by that fundi religious group, Jesuit Refugee Service Europe.
Wonder what their take on homosexuality is?

trackback
2022 years ago

Faith and ideas

Don Arthur has had an interesting series of posts on religion and politics, including reference to Rocco Buttiglione, a candidate for the EU commission who has come under fire for his anti-gay views, which reflect his Catholic religious faith. As…

trackback
2022 years ago

The Rocco Buttiglione affair

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