Saturday, January 21, 2006


Post lifted from Mark Richardson

There was yet another article in The Age yesterday by a feminist academic writing about family and fertility.

This one, though, turned out to be a bit different. Usually, feminists argue that the reason there aren't enough babies is that women want to do paid work and they won't have babies unless governments provide more childcare places and paid maternity leave.

Dr Ceridwen Spark, though, took a different line. She wants it to be possible for women to care for their own children at home. She confesses that she feels ill when it comes time for her daughter to go to childcare and she admits also that her career is not the most important thing in her life. She herself puts this as follows:

"Despite being a feminist who loves working part-time, it is not my career that concerns me primarily. Like more and more people in Australia, I am part of the slow-turning tide against the idea that work provides answers to the meaning of life."

What solutions does Dr Spark propose? In part, she wants better funded and therefore higher quality childcare, which is hardly a radical proposal for a feminist to make.

However, she does go beyond this to suggest that parents be given "a real choice between working full-time and not working at all". She proposes that parents be allowed to choose between "a decent parenting allowance and a child-care place".

Now, it's encouraging to find a feminist who really does believe that women should have the option of staying home to look after their children. However, there is a major flaw in Dr Spark's arguments.

Throughout her article, Dr Spark refers to France and Sweden in glowing terms. She calls them "our enlightened friends across the globe" and she asserts that,

"In Sweden and France they don't just profess to care about families and fertility. They actually legislate to improve family life and, as Leslie Cannold and Anne Manne have pointed out in their recent books, women have voted with their ovaries and begun to have more children."

It should be said that it's not surprising for an Australian academic to build up the image of France and Sweden in this way. These are the leading social democratic (left-liberal) countries, and academics generally support the left.

But there are two major problems with Dr Spark's claims about Sweden and France. First, what she writes about the birth rates in these countries is factually wrong. The US has a birth rate of 14.5 per 1000 women. France has only 12.8 (only slightly higher than Australia on 12.3) and Sweden has only 10.3, well below the Australian birth rate.

As it happens, the French and Swedish birth rates have fallen over the last 25 years. The birth rate for France between 1975-1980 was 14 compared to 12.8 between 2000-2005, and Sweden's was 11.7 compared to 10.3. So we should not be seeking to follow French and Swedish family policies in the hopes of increasing our birth rate.

Furthermore, the family policies enacted in France and Sweden make it more difficult, not less, for women to opt out of the workforce. The high levels of taxation necessary to pay for Sweden's social programmes means that two incomes are necessary to support a family. So while it's true that women get a period of paid maternity leave, few women are wealthy enough to stay home after the period of leave is over.

It should also be said that the social democratic model, by making the state a provider rather than the family, has led to a faster and more extensive breakdown in family life in Sweden than elsewhere (low rates of marriage and high rates of divorce). How can you praise Swedish family policies when Sweden has managed in some years to suffer a 60% divorce rate?

So whilst it's encouraging that Dr Spark wants women to have the choice to be full-time mothers, she is wrong to place her faith in the family policies of the European social democratic countries, especially those of Sweden, which has such a dismal record for low birth rates, poor family formation, high levels of divorce and excessive taxation.

We can't deny the deniers: Austria's action in locking up David Irving, the extremist historian, is offensive to free speech

An article from The Times showing that the traditional English respect for free speech is not dead yet

Irving's views are repulsive and wrong. He is a deeply offensive crank, and a litigious one, who has tried to use the libel laws to silence his critics. Five years ago, he sued the American historian, Deborah Lipstadt, after she described him as a Holocaust denier, and lost. In a withering 333-page judgment, Mr Justice Charles Gray described him as an anti-Semite, a racist and a neo-Nazi sympathiser who had "persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence".

Irving's opinions are indefensible; his right to hold them, however, must be defended. For reasons of both principle and expediency, he should go free. Freedom of speech includes the right to be hopelessly, demonstrably and repeatedly wrong. It is not to be applied selectively, depending on the nature of the speech in question, but universally and consistently. The UN Declaration of Human Rights is unequivocal: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression."

To defend free speech when we happen to share the speaker's opinion is an easy task. Take Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who is facing trial for saying, in defiance of the official Turkish view of history, that his compatriots carried out the genocide of Armenians during the First World War. Many writers (including this one) have defended his right to do so. Far harder, but just as essential, is the defence of speech that we find morally disgusting and intellectually bankrupt. When a conference in Turkey on the Armenian question was cancelled under state pressure, the liberal West was outraged; when Iran recently announced a conference to question the authenticity of the Holocaust, the West was, once again, outraged. But in the case of both Irving and Pamuk, the issue should be settled in the court of public discussion, not the law courts; so long as speech does not directly incite racial hatred, it must remain free.

In 1947, when the Austrian law against minimising Third Reich atrocities was promulgated the fear of resurgent Nazism was real. But should it still apply today, when Holocaust denial has been so thoroughly exposed for the malicious nonsense it is? There should never be an official version of history that cannot be questioned. History will often fall into the wrong hands, where it may be twisted to suit a preconceived prejudice, but that is a lesser evil than undermining freedom of speech.

Lipstadt herself, after a career spent destroying the arguments of Nazi apologists, believes that Holocaust denial should not be a crime, and that keeping Irving in Josefstadt prison is counter-productive. The trial of Irving, due to start next month, risks saving him from the intellectual oblivion he and his views so richly deserve. Before the Austrian police arrested him, he was a fringe academic addressing a group of loopy far-right radicals wearing silly hats in a basement in Vienna. Now there is a real danger that he will become a martyr for the extreme Right. After his humiliation in the High Court, Irving all but vanished from the world's attention; his arrest has generated headlines around the world, and by putting his views on trial, they will gain a credibility that they simply do not merit.

For Austria, beset by the rise of the far Right in the unpleasant shape of Joerg Haider, Irving has appeared at a politically opportune moment. Sticking the "revisionist" in prison for something that he said 16 years ago, based on a law nearly 60 years old, is a neat way for Austria to demonstrate its liberal bona fides. Of the nine countries with laws banning Holocaust denial, Austria is the strictest. Yet the country has too often shied away from admitting its Nazi past. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre estimates that some 40 Nazi suspects are still living in Austria, and accuses Austria of a lamentable record in apprehending war criminals.

Irving is in prison for writing about the Holocaust, in a country where people who took part in the Holocaust are still at liberty. Irving would be able to argue that the people who operated the gas chambers should be prosecuted before people who make speeches about them, except that he is on record as saying that the gas chambers never existed. Ironies don't come much more savoury than that.

Irving and his like have caused deep anguish to survivors of the genocide and their families. But the vast majority of people know that the Holocaust happened, that Hitler caused it, and that those who argue otherwise are not interested in the truth. We should not need laws to enforce that knowledge. The way to arrest the pernicious myth of Holocaust denial is not through the police, but with rigorous analysis, followed by disdain. When the deniers assemble in Tehran for their "scientific" conference on the Holocaust, their claims should be listened to attentively, demolished scientifically, and then laughed off the stage and forgotten. They should not be arrested.

Let Irving go. In Lipstadt's words, "let him fade from everyone's radar screens". He is a blip, a tiny spot beyond the outer edges of rational debate that has attracted unwarranted attention. He has a right to be wrong; and once he is at liberty, we can all exercise our own inalienable right to ignore him.

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