May 5

Flag of convenience

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This was the title of an essay by the ABC’s David Rutledge in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend on 14-15 April, 2007.  He opens by saying that it has been a while since we had a good “stoush” over the Australian flag.  He says the last time was “around the time of the republic referendum in 1999”. This is something republicans now try to gloss over.  In this they have been unsuccessful.  Some have declared themselves totally converted to the flag; others now claim the flag and republic are unrelated.  The Age made the republican position clear in its editorial on 20 March 2004.  It asked whether anyone really believes that Australia is likely to become a republic without also changing its flag.

 

 

Mr. Rutledge says the days when patriotism meant duty to God, King and Country are gone and that patriotism is now a secular phenomenon.  But he says flag and faith are not complete strangers.   He cites an American authority who says that the three crosses on the Union Jack “aptly symbolise the quasi-religious nature of all patriotic attachment”. The American, Professor Carolyn Marvin, continues: “Nationalism always has a religious quality because it explains death offered in service, and gives meaning to it.  Nationalism says you have a duty to your country, which may include your own sacrifice. The flag and the Christian cross both function as evidence of life willingly offered for the greater good”.

 

 

David Rutledge thinks this at least in part explains the “sacred” status of the flag with, say, the RSL.  Others challenge this, saying Australians are different from Americans.  He also argues that patriotism does not sit well with modern internationalists, whom he concedes tend to belong to a privileged class.  (They sound very much like the inner-city elites who voted for the politicians’ republic in 1999.  Of course many of those who voted ‘yes’ did not belong to this elite.  Let us never forget the massive media propaganda juggernaut that the republicans had on tap in the nineties). 

 

 

David Rutledge believes flag changers tend to be people “who have had the opportunity to pursue an education, perhaps to have learned a foreign language or two and spent extended periods of time abroad, to have found jobs that offer a broader horizon than simply next week's pay packet”. They are not without their own contradictions: “But, ironically, they can also be people who admire the traditional, close-knit affiliations of foreign cultures while deploring tribalism on the home front”.

 

 

He sees the patriot through a very much inner city prism:  “Perhaps patriotism – famously defined by Samuel Johnson as "the last refuge of a scoundrel" – is today the refuge of a new kind of sceptic, one who lacks job security, who sees the fruits of 21st-century capitalism chiefly in the emergence of a super­rich plutocracy, who likes Japanese food but finds it hard to swallow Japanese ownership of large swaths of coastal Queensland. For such unbelievers, the flag is more a shield than a weapon”.

 

 

Well that is his view.  The overwhelming majority of Australians clearly love our flag, and are relaxed and comfortable about our constitutional system.  Nor are they lying awake at night, wondering who their Head of State is.


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