Melbourne University Publishing

It is now approaching eighty-five years since Freud published his seminal book, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). A foundational work of psychoanalytic cultural criticism, Freud’s focus was repression and its cultural consequences. He argued that sexual repression, and its associated guilt, had become the fundamental problem of modern societies. Freud understood society as a kind of trade-off: unfettered sexual pleasure is sacrificed for a sense of collective security. Freedom of the self is limited in the name of social order. ‘Civilization,’ Freud wrote, ‘is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity.’

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Dangerous Allies by Malcolm Fraser, with Cain Roberts

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June–July 2014, no. 362

Coinciding with the World War I anniversaries, Malcolm Fraser’s book will polarise Australian opinion on a fundamental issue. It has never been raised in this way, for Australian leaders have not discussed decisions to go to war in public, nor sought popular approval of Australia’s alliances. Yet successive generations of young Australians have fought in British and American wars to support our allies and to ensure that they would defend us. In Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the enemy were people who did not threaten Australia. But, as Fraser is not the first to observe, cowed countries do as great powers demand, while in return great powers do what suits their own interests.

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Reports about the Mossad often have the unfortunate trait of reading like a John le Carré novel. We hear of spies assuming false identities and injecting poison into the ears of Israel’s enemies, or of a Mossad director beginning his weekly meetings with the question, ‘Who are we going to assassinate today?’ Unfortunately, most of these stories are true. As well as enhancing the agency’s notoriety, the Mossad’s outlandish methods serve to distract from their less exciting but more consequential activities. They also obscure the more worrying truth about intelligence agencies: they are run by ordinary people, and ordinary people make mistakes.

A number of such mistakes are evident in the story of Ben Zygier, the Australian–Israeli man who recently died in an Israeli jail under mysterious circumstances. Zygier grew up in Melbourne, found Zionism, and moved to Israel to work for the Mossad. A few years into his career, however, he was arrested on unknown charges and secretly held in isolation in an Israeli prison, where he committed suicide on 15 December 2010.

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The current issue of Meanjin is a forthright one. In her editorial, Sally Heath singles out the contributions of Marcia Langton and Darren Siwes, and with good reason: their work typifies the issue. Siwes has given the journal its cover, and his choice of image – a coin depicting an Indigenous head of state in the year 2041 – makes its point. The cornerstone of the issue is, however, ‘Reading the Constitution out Loud’, a thorough and level-headed essay by Langton on Julia Gillard’s promise to hold a referendum on the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. Langton, a member of the government’s inquiry panel, whose matter-of-fact style leads the way for the rest of theissue, asks, ‘how can we sustain the opportunity for a referendum […] in circumstances that are not riven by “dog whistle” issues in the racialist Australian politics that arise with each electoral season?’ The question cannot be ignored, nor easily answered.

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Against The Grain celebrates two iconoclastic Australian historians: Manning Clark and Brian Fitzpatrick. Comprising papers from a 2006 conference organised by two of their daughters, both distinguished academics, Against the Grain offers critical thoughts and reminiscences of family members, friends, colleagues, students and academic successors of the two men.

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It is rare in Australia for a literary biographer, even one of distinction, to write at book length about her intellectual formation and biographical pursuits. A country so demonstrably forgetful of its best poetry and fiction is unlikely to foster a literature of this burgeoning genre, still emerging from its decorous constraints. Elsewhere, we have Richard Holmes’s seminal Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic biographer (1995) and Leon Edel’s Bloomsbury: A house of lions (1979), but Australian examples are few. So it is good to have Brenda Niall’s lucid account of her gradual transformation from academic to biographer.

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When I started reading My Israel Question, the Israel Defence Force Chief of Staff had just vowed to ‘turn back the clock in Lebanon by twenty years’; and the demolition was underway. Beirut’s airport, major roads, bridges, power generation facilities and other civilian infrastructure had been bombed, and villages and densely populated suburbs were being reduced to rubble. In a report some weeks later (August 23), Amnesty estimated that 1183 Lebanese had been killed, mostly civilian, about one-third of them children. The injured numbered 4054, and 970,000 people were displaced; 30,000 houses, 120 bridges, 94 roads, 25 fuel stations and 900 businesses were destroyed. Israel lost 118 soldiers and 41 civilians, and up to 300,000 people in northern Israel were driven into bomb shelters. Israel estimates that Hezbollah, the putative object of its wrath, lost about 500 fighters.

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Although you might not guess it from media comment, The Latham Diaries (MUP, $39.95 hb, 429 pp, 0522852157) is the most important book yet published on Labor’s wilderness years. It provides a pungent characterisation of Labor’s post-1996 history; conveys a profound understanding of the challenges facing a social democratic party in contemporary Australia ... 

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If it is the case that we can no longer avoid the effects of living under conditions of globalisation, then increasingly that spatial dimension governs our lives. Look not, therefore, deep into the history of our individual nations or localities to explain what is going on, but lift your eyes to the horizon, and beyond, where a devastated city may be smouldering. Within minutes, a local politician will be warning us that we may be next.

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The History Wars by Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark & Whitewash edited by Robert Manne

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October 2003, no. 255

Towards the end of his informative introduction, Robert Manne, the editor of Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s fabrication of Aboriginal history, outlines the collective intention of the book’s nineteen contributors. He refers to Windschuttle’s The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), a revisionist text dealing with early colonial history and violence in nineteenth-century Tasmania, as ‘so ignorant, so polemical and so pitiless a book’ ... 

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