Padraic P. McGuinness, “Not simply cricket,”
The Sydney Morning Herald, January 6, 1995, p. 10.
There are few pleasures as keen as reading an argument with which you totally or partially disagree, but which makes you question your own assumptions and beliefs. Thus I have gained enormous satisfaction from a little book of essays by the late David Stove, Cricket versus Republicanism, which has been published just over half a year since his death. Not that I find myself disagreeing with all of Stove’s ideas, even though I do disagree with him profoundly in his taste for cricket, and his belief that it is the essence of Britishness and hence an argument against republicanism. On the contrary, if cricket were the only thing between us and a republic, the monarchists would have little hope. A love of cricket is not at all incompatible with either republicanism or Marxism, as one of the best cricket writers of this century, the Jamaican Trotskyite C. L. R. James, long ago demonstrated.
Unfortunately, I never knew Stove — who was, until his retirement a few years ago, Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy at Sydney University — perhaps because years ago when I played in or umpired the Push versus Arties, or versus Psychology, cricket matches I never took it seriously. For Stove a disrespectful view of cricket was evidence of a frivolous view of life.
These essays will reduce most politically correct people to instant apoplexy — and not just them, for as Peter Coleman relates in his preface, when Stove offered his essay on “Racial and other antagonisms” to Quadrant, that supposedly right-wing magazine came under heavy pressure to suppress it. This is a denunciation of modern views of “racism” (Stove insists on the quotes); and there is a neat piece of logic to establish that racial antagonism is always justified. In brief, A hates and discriminates against B unjustifiably; B suffers and therefore hates and discriminates against A; A therefore justifiably begins to hate B. Every group is discriminated against by somebody.
“Since everyone knows that ‘racism’ is true, why is it that, in countries like ours, there are constant, belligerent, and almost universal declarations that it is false? I cannot explain this at all. It seems to be often believed that, if you admit truths of the kind which I listed above, consistency requires that you try to murder entire races of people. I do not know what one can say of a belief as ridiculous as this, except that it is extremely ridiculous.” What he is saying is that a recognition of racial differences, even of racial antagonisms, need not lead to either intolerance or maltreatment. But this is so clearly against the Zeitgeist that it was not published in Australia.
So too, his views on feminism, which he was opposed to on both practical and theoretical grounds. His essay on “The intellectual capacity of women” argues that if it were true that the distribution of intelligence in women were the same as men, and if women were not less intelligent on average than men, their performance would have shown this long ago since there have been many social forms and contexts in which women could have shown their ability. He neatly turns the arguments for equal intellectual capacity back on his critics by asking, “What would convince you of the inferior intellectual capacity of women?” This is a fair question, since the usual answer is “nothing” — but unless an advocate of equality can specify evidence that might invalidate belief in it, it is merely a religious conviction.
Of course the weakness of his argument, which is a mix of biological and historical generalisation, is that, until recently, there has been no society we know much about which has not had institutions clearly subordinating women to men. Nevertheless, when he points to the relative lack of intellectual activity in medieval nunneries by comparison with monasteries, he makes a point worth answering. Similarly, his attack on Darwinism (which is not an attack on the reality of evolution) rather misses the point, since he is attacking the pretensions of the sociobiologists who generalise from animal models to human society.
“A farewell to arts” which caused quite a stir when it appeared in Quadrant in May 1986 is an attack on the destruction of the arts faculty in Sydney University (and indeed most other universities) by the influences of Marxism, semiotics and (wimminist) feminism — much of which would these days be packaged as post-modernism. “Of all the departments in the faculty,” he writes, “the one which best exemplifies the three influences I have spoken of is the Department of General Philosophy. The Department of English may have more feminists, French may have semioticians still more impenetrable, Anthropology or Fine Arts may have even stupider Marxists, but you cannot go past General Philosophy for solid all-round disaster.
“Among the faculty membership at large, accordingly, no department enjoys a wider circle of friends and admirers than General Philosophy.” The two philosophy departments in Sydney University are of course a relic of post-Vietnam War politics, and real philosophy is taught only in the Traditional and Modern department. “What now remains of General Philosophy is not so much a philosophy department as a place of retreat, where the devotions prescribed by feminist or Marxist piety can be performed in peace, and under the direction of qualified priests. Around AD985, the pious or guilty rich would often richly endow monks or nuns for the singing of psalms. In 1985 the taxpayer richly endows the religious in General Philosophy for the daily recital of ritual curses on men, capitalism, ‘analytic philosophy’, etc etc.” The demise of Marxism has changed little.
His conclusion is very much to the point: “If even a quarter of the money which is at present wasted on Arts were to be diverted to scientific faculties, there would be great positive gains as well: gains to the nation, as well as to knowledge.” But he defends genuine philosophical work in universities, emphasising that there is always a role for those who carefully examine questions of ethics, the foundations of knowledge or the nature of science.
In “The Columbus argument” he presents an acute, and essentially conservative, critique of those who argue for innovation for innovation’s sake — “they all laughed at Christopher Columbus”. For every innovator who happened to be right, there were countless thousands who were wrong. The Columbus argument led to the argument “that is an outrageous proposal, but we’ll consider it”, and then to, “we must consider it because it is an outrageous proposal.” Despite his scepticism about the Enlightenment, David Stove never fell into the trap, which so many conservatives do nowadays in Australia, of equating dislike of the consequences of the Enlightenment with neo-romantic nonsense about opposition to rational and logical analysis.
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