Australia's New Class Structure
The gun debate
is not only an American issue; it swirls around a cultural divide throughout
Western countries. Each country has its own variations, but the core of the
issue is in the conflicts in Western societies.
as in the United States, there is a vaguely-defined class conflict in progress.
Essentially, competing groups struggle
because they have conflicting core values. The
classes have been called the ‘Cosmopolitans’ and the ‘Parochials’ (eg Betts
1999, Luna 2002).
(the 'New Class') are the
late 20th century ‘middle-class’; they are generally
and articulate but otherwise diverse. Overwhelmingly the people involved in the
government, media, health and education sectors come from this class. They
have core values that transcend the
historic left-right, black-white or even
values include belief in the importance of education, social moderation of behaviour
and attitudes, preventing violence, acting for non-discrimination and
empowering the oppressed. Cosmopolitans commonly have travelled and
approve multiculturalism. The values reflect the development of Western
society from a dominantly Christian and capitalist-colonialist social ethic,
incorporation of Marxist and socialist values in academic culture, to
the current liberal consensus which sees key values shared by the left and right
This class framework helps us understand the division
between the 'chardonnay socialists' (the academic left and public service class)
and the working-class people ('aspirational Australians') they despise as
racist and unthinking.
tagged ‘bedrock Americans’ or ‘ordinary Australians’. Their core values are
generally traditional; they approve conventional gender roles and attribute
violence and social dysfunction to individual choices
than social forces. Their values are more family-oriented and
in some cases
Christian-influenced. In general,
less time in education and stronger identification with peers means they are
unlikely to adopt beliefs that are
fashionable among academics and
as 'rednecks' or 'racist' - that is,
identifying themselves and their peers by distinguishing from the ‘other’,
whether on the basis of ideas, behaviour or race.
This stereotype in
is part of
For instance, cosmopolitans were desperately critical of
ordinary Australians' quiet support of the Australian Government's response to
the 'asylum seekers' after Tampa, interpreting it as evidence of irredeemable
racism in 'ordinary Australians'.
uses attitudes to race, gender, religion, abortion and gun control as ‘status
markers’ to define and diminish the ‘other’. Emotive labels are used:
‘champagne socialist’, ‘abortionist baby killer’,
'politically correct apparatchik',
‘gun nut’ or ‘redneck’.
‘Redneck’ had no Australian derivation, but is used in Australia to denigrate
parochials, even in Parliament (eg Crean 2002).
This derogatory import shows how the new class conflict in Australia is based in
cosmopolitan values, shaped in public discourse
spanning the English-speaking world.
discussion on marker issues like gun control is not expected. Moral value is
assigned to the speaker’s opinions by the use of emotionally-charged language.
Win-win solutions are not possible because the terms of debate, set by activists
of the cosmopolitan class, are defined in contempt for those who disagree (Kates
1992). In Australia, the cosmopolitan value system almost exclusively qualifies
entry to public discourse. In the United States the marker issues are not as
closed, at least in the public forum.
As in other
kinds of discrimination, the dominant social group projects or ‘sees’
unacceptable values onto the out-group. They represent them as morally
contaminated. They pass legislative sanctions to validate the dominant group’s
moral position. In this kind of politics, symbolic action is approved in
contemptuous disregard for evidence.
historic examples are America’s Prohibition, Western Australia’s mandatory
sentencing law, and the Australian anti-Chinese immigration laws that evolved
into the White Australia Policy. These well-known examples of legislative
sanction are founded in moral status display.
Betts, Katharine, 1999. The
Great Divide: The Politics of Immigration. Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney.
Crean, S 2002.
Govt 'appeasing redneck MPs'.
The Government was adding qualifications to
its decision to ratify International Criminal Court (ICC) membership as a sop to
back bench rednecks, Opposition Leader Simon Crean said. The Australian, 20
Kates, D. 1992. Bigotry Symbolism and
Ideology in the Battle over Gun Control.
PUBLIC INTEREST LAW REVIEW.
Luna, E 2002. The .22 calibre Rorschach test.
Houston Law Review 39, 59-131.