This book focuses on three discrete historical moments in Australia's past read through the lens of Ashis Nandy, an Indian sociopolitical theorist, psychologist and contemporary cultural critic. This is not a historical enquiry as such, but rather a discussion to enable a critical and reflective line of thinking about how contemporary Australian public culture has been informed by an ongoing set of values and principles that come from its European Enlightenment legacy. We wish to draw attention to the limits of this legacy in order to help create a more just, equitable and reflective society where values and principles are drawn from all of its citizens.
Within a national context, values are never free floating. They are institutionalised, legitimated and expressed through the core institutions of a society, which include such important ‘truth’ makers such as the media, church, law and education. This serves a process of self-definition. As Edward Said has said:
Self-definition is one of the activities practised by all cultures: it has a rhetoric, a set of occasions, and authorities (national feasts, for example, times of crisis, founding fathers, basic texts and so on), and a familiarity all its own.
Values are thus normalised through ritual, story, politics and tradition. A nation comes to know itself through its values, and this produces the normative template for national knowing. Schooling and education, for example, though often very different projects, are both crucial domains in which values become respectively embedded and reproduced or examined and redefined.