Friday, January 2, 2009: 1:40 PM
Sutton North (Hilton New York)
Australia’s first generation of historians and philosophers imported much of the spirit of their work from British New Idealists. British Idealism, in turn, was shaped by German thought, in particular that of Hegel. History was for them ‘the art of making human beings ethical’, of showing people how they might be ‘reborn’ into a life in which they helped themselves and others to see the unfolding of ‘Mind’ in the world. That induction would best occur, both British and Australian New Idealist thinkers maintained, through progressive association in ever-growing communities, and thus the practice of history was connected with the narration of past, present and future community formation. 1915, John Morrow has argued, heralded the decline of New Idealism. Critics such as L.T. Hobhouse publicly denounced its ‘German’, authoritarian theory of the state. The argument developed in this paper is that the changes described by Morrow may be specific to Britain. It will be argued that a distinctive Australian form of New Idealist historiography emerged by Australian Federation in 1901, and that it can be distinguished from British Idealist historiography by an interest in ‘empire’, ‘humanity’ and ‘the international order’, rather than the ‘state’, as analytical categories. This parting of ways is significant, for it meant that Australian New Idealists did not attract the same criticisms about the Germanic roots of their views of the state. Further, and more radically, some writers such as G. V. Portus, talked openly about the role that Germany would play in the international community after the cessation of hostilities. This paper narrates the divergence of world histories written in Britain and Australia during the period 1915–45, arguing that Hegelian historiography was used to navigate the changing world order during and between the two world wars.