Sunday, August 26, 2007

History of Australian (and New Zealand?) Thought - musings

Yesterday almost in a fit of absent mindedness I created a new blog, called History of Australian Thought. Or should it be History of Australian and New Zealand Thought?

I need a new blog like a hole in the head. I am not maintaining all my current blogs properly, and even in trying to do this I am not doing other things that I should be doing. So any new blog could only proceed if it was to be a multiple contributor blog. But why all this?

So much that I write about is really an exploration of the way Australians' think, have thought, might think. In writing, I constantly come across things that I do not know.

This week I was looking at an interesting post by Stephen Downes on the culture wars and Canada.

My first thought was that Stephen's writing and the links would be of great interest to Neil and would indeed provide him with ammunition in our continuing discussions on multiculturalism or, to use my current term, polyculturalism (and here). Stephen's post followed some thinking that I had done on Sydney vs Melbourne and Australian identity, triggered in part by the experiences of Splau, a Melbourne university student currently on exchange in Montreal.

As I looked further at Stephen's posts and the links, I noticed two further things.

The first was the way in which the relations between Canada and the US continue to affect Canadian thinking about themselves. Something similar happens in New Zealand in the context of New Zealand Australian relations. The second was the continuing commonalities in thought patterns between Australia, New Zealand and at least Anglophone Canada. I do not understand enough about Francophone Canada to comment here, although I found Splau's discussion of her experiences very interesting.

At the same time, I wanted to write a piece on this blog about the death of Ted Wheelwright. I did not know Ted personally, but wanted to set his life in an intellectual and historical context because I thought that this was important.

For those who do not know who Ted was, he was an economist and an Associate Professor at Sydney University. A left wing radical, gifted teacher and something of a stormy petrel, Ted sat at the cusp of a change in Australian thought, politics and history. The disputes within Sydney University about the teaching of political economy were not just about about changes in the economics profession, itself an important story, but also about ideology and values.

I struggled in preparing the post because the information I needed to present Ted properly was simply not there or, more precisely, at least not easily accessible. Further, in looking at Ted's life I was struck again by the New Zealand influence on Australian intellectual life.

The two new economics professors at Sydney University appointed at the end of the 1960s - Warren Hogan and Colin Simkin - who were involved as protagonists in the other side of the political economy dispute were both New Zealand trained. They joined a long group of gifted New Zealand academics.

Pound for pound, New Zealand's contribution to at least Western intellectual life arguably dwarfs that of Australia. I am left wondering, as I have wondered before, what it was about this small community on the other side of the world that created so many leading academics.

In all this, I did some web searches on "history of Australian thought" and then on "history of New Zealand thought". I got two hits on the first, none on the second.

Is this important? I think so. It's not just that I am interested. In a very real sense we are what we think. So it's interesting to be able to set thoughts in a context, to understand what and why we think in the way we do.

Hence my idea of a new blog. But this will only work if we have a number of contributors. I say this for two reasons.

First, it makes the burden of posting easier. Good blogs require regular posts.

Secondly and more importantly, a blog of this type requires different perspectives if it is to work. Take Ted Wheelwright as an example.

I felt then and still feel now that some of his thinking was wrong-headed. I agree with some of his key points - the importance of values in economics and of institutional economics - but disagree with others.

So because I know something about economics and the economics profession I can put his work in one context. But I am not necessarily going to be able to talk about his role in the evolution of Australian left thought in a sensible and informed way.

Anyway, I would be very interested to learn if there is anyone else prepared to contribute to a blog dedicated to the history Australian (and New Zealand) thought.

1 comment:

Kim said...

This is a very nice post, and I want to see how others react to this.