What is Australian Republicanism?

Given the discussion on liberty and liberalism below, it might be a good time to revisit what Australian Republicanism is. Unfortunately most current perceptions of republicanism have been defined by the ‘minimal’ campaign run before the 1999 referendum which ended up promoting republicanism as being no deeper than a name change. This disconnected the movement from the doctrines, philosophies and historical basis of Australian Republicanism.

Australian Republicanism is guided by the core belief that prosperity is impossible without maximum liberty. Prosperity in this context means the moral, ethical, social, cultural, economic and democratic advance of the individual and humanity. The Australian strand of republicanism believes that this progress will lead to the obsolesence of politics; for instance, Charles Harpur wrote that war would eventually become morally impossible.

In terms of social organisation, Australian Republicans are aware that maximum liberty cannot occur while tyranny exists in either absolute or insidious forms. This is the technologist side of republicanism which is geared toward structuring government in such a way that tyranny and arbitrary governance is eradicated from government function.

The Americans added the constitutional innovation of explicit rights. These were seen to be an intrinsic component of being an individual. For Dan Deniehy, natural rights were divined from the progress of humanity toward perfectability, of which tyranny was the greatest inhibitor. For the republican technologist rights are better termed constitutional exclusions which act to create liberties that the executive, legislative and judicial cannot intrude upon. It also becomes a simple mechanism by which a government advancing toward tyranny is easily spotted.

This maybe one of the few areas that Republicanism comes into conflict with the doctrine of responsible government, non-rights based liberalism and conservatism. These see a roll for government in maintaining social and cultural cohesion. Republicanism sees that cohesion stemming from greater liberty, consequently, restricting liberties or rights becomes self-defeating and a selfish governmental device to entrench its own power. This is why republicans do not trust the executive, legislative or judicial beyond strict constitutional limits.

The individual is the dominant political entity in republicanism. It recognizes the nation-state as a useful tool for collective decision making, but makes no requirement on the nation-state beyond that. It does not see the nation-state, nor nationalism, as having intrinsic value beyond the goal of prosperity and maximum liberty. Republicanism does not deny, however, the emergent value of such attachments, but ultimately the nation-state and nationalism are merely technological devices toward prosperity and can be replaced if a better technology is found.

Republicanism has as long a history in Australia as liberalism and conservatism but has ebbed and flowed in popular support. One of the main problems being any permanent form of organisation. The Australian strand of republicanism has added to the philosophy and doctrines of the world repository of republicanism. Australian Republicanism is a powerful philosophy which is too often left untapped.

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4 Responses to What is Australian Republicanism?

  1. Jason Soon says:

    This Australian republicanism sounds like a nice idea. Too bad the ARM doesn’t espouse it…

  2. timboy says:

    Sounds great, where do I sign up.

    Seems like you have a slightly different view of the individual freedom/liberty thing than the Quadrant crowd the other night. If Liberalism it must be, I’d rather it looked like this.

    nice post

  3. cam says:

    Jason, Republicanism’s history is both its strength and weakness. In terms of weakness there are what would be called factions in other political movements.

    The ARM falls into the identity category. It is a minimalist form, remove the Queen and give Australia constitutional independence. It leads back to the 1960s and Geoffrey Dutton. Keating and Turnball embraced it in the 90s.

    The other factions are probably the Harpurians and the technologists (maximallists, ie elected executive, separation of powers, etc).

  4. Graham Bell says:

    We have a de-facto republic already (despite lip-service to Mrs Windsor); it’s Howard’s very own Soviet Australia.

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