Final editorial by Tom Fitzgerald from Nation, 22 July 1972

Flourish, Nation Review

The liberal and radical strains in Australian intellectual life, though substantial in numbers, are always struggling to have a vehicle of communication. That it is a greater problem than in other places may be as much a result of accidents of personality in the publishing business as of the inherent difficulties for publications which do not have commercial motivation in a country so vast and thinly populated. Whatever the reasons, they are persistent, and liberals and radicals, without sinking their differences, must love one another or die as an articulate force in this country. There are occasions when the means of intercommunication are apt to snuff out altogether. Such was nearly the case in 1958 when Nation came into existence. After the closing down of Allan Fraser’s Observer and Harold Levien’s Voice, there remained Helen Palmer’s Outlook, but each of several new periodicals coming on the scene was of right-wing orientation. They were precisely what was not required when the weight of the Press was already so conservative; the imbalance meant that the forces of reaction could have a long succession of field days of opportunity ahead of them.

It was indeed a time when the assumptions handed on by Keynes and others to the effect that the conservatives were naturally the stupid party had to be revised and qualified. Many of their opponents on the left had become guilty of avoiding the unfolding realities, and blind to the reasons why public opinion was swinging away from them. After Hungary and the 20th Party Congress in Moscow, the bankruptcy of communism was plain to anybody who had waited so long to be convinced. It had been pronounced long before by men who had been and remained progressively liberal and idealistic – Keynes himself, Orwell, Edmund Wilson (Marxism at the end of the thirties) and R. H. S. Crossman (The God that Failed). They were the kind of men from whom Nation drew encouragement. If heavily committed people, the so-called 'tired old lefties', were incapable of making adjustments (though this was certainly not so in all cases), it would be necessary for others who had no political affiliations of any kind to do what was possible to resist excesses and the enduringly obtuse, though influential, strain among conservatives. Sir Robert Menzies had shrewdly reared a banner with the name 'Liberalism' to characterise his forces. Sir Robert has always been a man of parts, but his fatal reactionary tendencies had been shown in the Suez affair and in his government’s attitudes on China and Indonesia. They were shortly to be shown again over Sharpeville, and later in the Vietnam commitment.

Idealistic ardours have to be tempered by hard observation of fact. The mixed-economy type of capitalist democracy, as it had evolved in the 1950s, though falling short of aspirations, was unquestionably superior to existing alternatives. It gave scope for freedom of expression and upheld individual rights. Financial constraints still abridge these liberties in practice, and there have been difficulties in the capitalist performance from place to place. To a generation that was conscious of the margin by which it had escaped Hitler and Hirohito and had seen countries engulfed by Stalinism, there was no place for the Marcuse line of easy chiliasm. Progress would have to be gradual and in specific areas, at best. White Australia, both as slogan and concept, had to be erased. The monopolistic nature of much Australian industry and business needed correction. The lack of a distinctive stance in foreign policy had to be exposed again and again, the thesis being that this was a country able to afford robust, straightforward and purposeful approaches to international affairs, with a chance of giving some lead to others who are less well placed. The passage of time has helped to make many of these objectives conventionally acceptable, but the actual circumstances have not changed so very materially. In Vietnam and China, the initiative has been left to the United States right to the end to get the message and transmit it to us, and Vietnam has naturally brought new sharpness to the outlook of a younger generation. Nevertheless, after all the atrocities and waste of life, the moral and intellectual victory has been theirs. The pragmatic, argued approach remains the only available one for social change, and it is interesting to find Dr Max Teichmann giving powerful expression to a viewpoint not inconsistent with this in the latest issue (July 15) of the Review, with which Nation is about to merge. Experience shows what an enormous task this is, calling for every bit of spirit and talent that can be mustered. With all the attention given to the pragmatics of particular issues, one had a continual feeling over fourteen years that many of the fortnightly preoccupations were a flight from a consideration of the most important reality, namely the existence of mass poverty and suffering outside this country in an age when advanced transport and telecommunications made these conditions as immediately relevant as if they were happening in the house next door. It was a mad dream to go on as though this was not first in the order of priorities. To the degree that this problem is solvable, the job is a complex one which we have scarcely begun to consider. The first necessity was to affect the general consciousness by gradual, intermittent suggestion, but a younger generation may take up impatiently from where the older ones have left off.

The combination of the Review and Nation holds out the prospect of a new dimension in resources, energy and organisation for independent journalism in a setting where the qualities are desperately needed. Thanks to the men and women who helped Nation, sometimes at considerable cost to themselves, to come this far. Flourish, Nation Review.