Friday, November 1, 2013

The unknown country

Which country is this?
  • First nation in modern history to secure full unification without killing anyone.
  • First major nation to have achieved independence and sovereignty without killing anyone.
  • First nation in modern history to appoint a Jew as commander of its armed forces,
  • Never had any form of slavery or serfdom.
The answer is below the cut.

The answer is, of course, Australia. [Though a commentor below suggests Canada also qualifies.] The list of attributes is taken from historian Claudio Veliz's article "The Infamous Omissions from Australian History" in the October 2013 issue of Quadrant. The burden of his comment is that the Australian achievement tends to be talked down, particularly in academic and "progressive" circles. This despite Australia is also the first English-speaking country to have a Labour PM, a pioneer in modern democratic governance, in unionism and in such things as the eight hour day.

Nor is this the case of being a country with a great future behind us, as folk say of Argentina. (Though that is not as cruelly dismissive as Henry Kissinger's description of Argentina as "a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica".) Credit Suisse recently released a report that Australians have the highest level of median wealth in the world. Though partly an artifact of exchange rates, what is not such an artifact is that Australia has one of the most even distributions of wealth among developed nations. Nor that income growth in the bottom decile has continued to be comparatively high. Lack of any recession since 1991 and persistently low unemployment helped with that, of course.

It is true that some indenturing was morally dubious, to say the least, though Veliz does consider the matter in his original article. And obviously the process of the settlement/invasion of Australia involved violence, repression and dispossession.

Nevertheless, the reality is that Australia is a remarkably successful country and has been for a long time. It has had its failures (don't get me started on land use regulation and what is laughably called "town planning") and less successful periods. But even a less successful period in Australian history would be a wonderful change for many other countries.

It is worth pausing occasionally and remembering. After all, if we do not acknowledge genuine success, how do we get any idea about how actually to improve the human lot?

[An earlier version was posted at Skepticlawyer.]


  1. The bit about no slavery is not true, or else squeaks through by the most sophistic of technicalities.

    I wonder that a historian would have forgotten that.

    1. And I know you mentioned it, but I really think that the wholesale kidnapping and transportation of people (who were bought and sold by the various enterprises involved) counts as slavery, even if it wasn't hereditary.

    2. The Wikipedia article overstates the negatives: the Queensland indentured labour system was highly regulated and a considerable amount of the indentured labour was voluntary. But even if one takes the worst cases, it was a terminating condition and the people involved were not property. if people are not property, they are not slaves. That is a very important distinction to make, otherwise one belittles the experience of real slavery.

      Human bondage is much wider than slavery---medieval serfdom was a form of human bondage, but also were not slaves. Not only were they not property, they could legally own property.

      Indentured labour is another step away, while still within the ambit of labour bondage, since it is a terminating, non-hereditary condition.

    3. Indentured servitude and slavery are not the same thing, because indentured servitude is normally voluntary and temporary. This does not make indentured servitude good, but not all bad things are equally bad.

  2. Doesn't Canada also qualify as having secured full unification without killing anyone, having achieved independence and sovereignty without killing anyone, and never having had any form of slavery or serfdom?

    Obviously, there was fighting in Canda in the Seven Years War, and fighting between Canada (as a British possesssion) and the US during the US War of Independence and during the War of 1812. But none of this fighting was over Canadian unity, independence or sovereignty, which was peacefully conferred by Britain in 1867 (I think).