The Push and Critical Drinkers
Ch. 5 of Corrupting the Youth: A History of Australian Philosophy , by James Franklin
According to some, including many former members, the Sydney Push was a drunken gang of logorrhoeac poseurs, that no-one could take seriously — in Barry Humphries’ words, `a fraternity of middle-class desperates, journalists, drop-out academics, gamblers and poets manqués, and their doxies’. Feminists of various schools have been keen to say what a lot of sexist bastards they were. Undoubtedly it is all close to the truth. But if the queue to bag them is so long, surely they must have had something going for them? The reason why they are still of more interest than the many other cliques of Bohemian loudmouths that have infested Sydney pubs since the Rum Corps is that they have some claim to a role in bringing about `the Sixties’. If it is pointed out that the Sixties happened all over the world, and could not have been caused by a minute group at the bottom end of the planet, that of course must be admitted; still, certain essential aspects of the Sixties, even overseas, were in part the creation of two late hangers-on of the Push, Richard Neville and Germaine Greer.
The reason for interest in them in a history of philosophy is that the Push really was, up to a point, a realisation of Anderson's ideas. The particular Andersonian production to which their activities most closely related was not any of his published work, but a paper handed around in typescript to those considered ready for it from 1940. The title was ‘Obscenity’. It breezily asserted, in the combination of `objectivity’ and sex for which the Push was to become famous:
It is noteworthy that the use of obscene words is comparatively rare among women; and this is connected with the anti-feminine tendency (the contemptuous or sadistic attitude towards women) in obscenity. Thus the commonest or, at least, the "most obscene" of obscene words, the words for the sexual act and for the feminine organ [there follow several obscene words, the printing of which here would simply advance Andersonian interests] ... this is more so in English than in other languages ... Is there here something typical of the English character – is English energy, English "empiricism" (their prosaic outlook, their mechanical way of doing things) connected with an obsessional attitude to sex?
There follow a few pages of Freudian speculation, and a suggestion that the alternative to sentimental or brutal sex is `comic copulation’.
The origin of the Push as a movement distinct from Andersonianism is usually dated to the split in Freethinking circles occasioned by Anderson’s support for most of the Menzies Government’s anti-Communist policies. One must distinguish four entities: the Freethought Society, the Anti-Conscription Committee, the Libertarian Society, and the Push. Each grew out of the preceding one, and the first three were largely run by philosophers; the Push was a wider movement of which the Libertarian Society was a core and source of ideology. The Freethought Society, as we saw, was a vehicle for Anderson’s talks to students, already some twenty years old in 1950. Its members were surprised when Anderson supported Chifley’s use of troops to break the coal strike in 1949, and the last straw came in 1950, when the Korean War led to conscription proposals, and students formed the Anti-Conscription Committee. The president was David Stove, and prominent members were David Armstrong and Eric Dowling, all later philosophers. Opposition from the University authorities, allegedly because the University’s donors in the business community would be displeased, was not unexpected. Nor was opposition from more conservative students; law student William Deane (later Governor-General), for example, argued `identical principles underlie compulsory taxation and conscription, whereas if they were to oppose the former they would be working merely for the economic ruin of their country instead of for the much more disastrous consequences which would probably follow if, by any wild freak of fate, their present campaign were to be successful.’ What hurt was the opposition of Anderson himself. At a meeting of the Freethought Society on 2 August 1950, attended by over 250 students, Anderson said that freethought was not against compulsion as such. `To be political is to have the power of deciding on what front we are going to fight – to have a sense for what is an immediate and important issue.’ The largest issue being the threat of Russia, anti-conscription was in comparison a slight matter. Not one speaker supported him. Armstrong suggested that the role of social adjuster was a new one for Anderson, Stove that he had sold out on the task of criticism. For freethinkers, Anderson’s thesis that criticism had to be restricted to certain subjects was unacceptable. `This was news to old freethinkers, who had always taken it to be a feature of freethought to fight on all fronts at once, not to look for allies, but to criticize superstitions, illusions and encroachments on liberty wherever they were found.’ Finally — and it had taken a long time —Anderson was subjected to criticism.
As long-term president of the Freethought Society, Anderson claimed a right to veto anything he did not like, and that Society died. The left wing of the opposition constituted itself as the Libertarian Society at Sydney University. The first meeting was chaired by Jim Baker, lecturer in philosophy, who stated that `the aim of the society was to conduct an inquiry into the fields of political, sexual and religious authoritarianism.’ In distinction from normal Bohemian movements, papers were given regularly from 1956, in the Philosophy Room after Anderson’s retirement in 1958. In summary:
The libertarian standpoint is that of opposition, in every field of human activity, to authoritarian forces and to their social and political demands. Concurrent with this is support for non-servile, co-operative and free activities. On this basis, libertarians are found to be atheists, supporters of sexual freedom and opponents of repressive institutions, particularly that great destroyer of independence and initiative, the political State.
The Sydney Libertarians and their associates thereafter constituted a recognisable entity in the Sydney scene until the late Sixties. Anderson himself entirely repudiated their opinions. But two leading members, Baker and George Molnar, were at various times lecturers in philosophy at Sydney University, and philosophical issues maintained a presence in their newsheet, the Sydney Libertarians Broadsheet. One of the issues they debated was whether it was necessary to take up Anderson’s philosophical ideas in order to be a true Libertarian. Molnar held that strictly speaking it was not, but that it certainly helped. In any case, it is clear that those who felt any need to justify libertarian behaviour intellectually looked directly to Anderson’s thought:
Not only were we rid of theism but of any sense of obligation inherited from family or society. There is nothing whose nature it is to be obeyed, and the categorical imperative is a fraud of moralism unless it can be spelt out in hypothetical terms, indicating the hidden assumption (e.g., ‘if you wish to please God, you should go to church’ rather than, ‘You should go to church’), an assumption which can then be challenged as not reflecting your interests (‘But I do not wish to please God’).
Apart from the general Andersonian emphasis on criticism, the Push’s most distinctive philosophical position was an opposition to `moralism’. Baker and others took the Andersonian view that moral opinions are projections of interests and preferences, dressed up as `Thou shalt’s. Molnar’s article, ‘The nature of moralism’, attributed it more to a dogmatising search for universally true rules, an `itch for generalisation’:
The moralist is full of shibboleth. As a rule he is attached to principles which he is seldom shy of waving about for everybody to hear. By principles the moralist means universal moral truths; strict, potent measures of all conduct ...The falsity of the moralist’s principles is simply the falsity of universal propositions which are subject to exception: as if someone were to say `All men are Caucasian.’ I think we can, sometimes at least, make definite sense out of what someone intends when he says that intercourse between young people is always bad. Perhaps he means that it always has certain debilitating effects on character or on human relations. So understood, the proposition is just not true. One knows of very many cases of promiscuity which fall outside the principle, which falsify it. Moralists are typically lightminded in their disregard of evidence which tells against them. Think here of the dogmatic ease with which it is said that obscene publications, or the depiction of violence on the screen, lead to certain effects. Or when it is asserted, with a confidence proportional to the absence of evidence, that certain beliefs are the foundations of our society and any questioning of them will lead to our mutual ruin.
The reason for the moralist’s cavalier attitude towards the facts is that he has a false picture of the nature of moral thought. He thinks that universally valid principles are needed for any moral judgement to stand up. Because of this he is committed to seeking principles, and he finds them where there are none. His itch for generalisation is powerful..
Molnar drew the conclusion that Orr should have insisted on his right to sexual freedom, unconstrained by the persecution of moralists.
In one way Molnar’s account is unfair to those who hold an objective theory of morals, since it is hardly central to any such theory whether rules are exceptionless or not. If there are conflicting objective values, then one would expect the conflict to show itself as exceptions to rules: a rule attempting to implement one value would have an exception because some other value conflicted with it. On the other hand, actually existing morality, circa 1960, did tend to express itself as a set of rules, often unaccompanied by the reasoning behind them, and was vulnerable to the criticism the Libertarians made. Why exactly traditional moralists explained themselves so badly is a question worth speculating on, but is beyond the scope of what can be attempted here. If blame must be distributed, some must go to parents and teachers without plans for talented students, or an understanding of moral values sufficient to explain them.
Descended from Anderson’s promotion of `permanent criticism’ was the Libertarians’ lack of `activism’ in the sense of the later Sixties. While they were against the State, they had no intention of provoking it, or working towards its downfall. Much less did they expect it to change. Demonstrating in the streets or organising for political action was regarded as succumbing to illusions. Their opposition to `morality’ expressed itself in their own lifestyles rather than in proselytising. The Sydney Libertarians Broadsheet, for example, was distributed to those who asked, but there was never any suggestion that it might appear on newstands to alarm the citizenry. That was all to change with the younger Push generation. By the mid-Sixties there was a certain amount of activity in support of causes especially concerned with freedom, such as the Council for Civil Liberties – founded after the police broke into a bedroom being used by George Molnar – hiding draft resisters, and anti-psychiatry. More visible activities were to come later.
An ASIO assessment of them resulted from an agent’s interview with Jim Baker in 1959. After a brief outline of Libertarian Society history, the report says their general philosophical line is controlled by ex-Communist Party members like Molnar, and adds Baker’s assertion that they include `a few anarchists who wouldn’t hesitate to drop a bomb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge or de-rail a train’. The source comments:
At first meeting with these people one is inclined to regard them as an offshoot of the "beatniks", but after knowing them a short while it becomes obvious that they are well above the average "beatnik" intellectually. Their knowledge of Marxism is surprising and their ability to discuss this subject on levels not encountered in the C. P. of A. is both stimulating and educational.
With the exception of Jim BAKER, the Libertarians have absolutely no standard of ethics. Their behaviour and conversation in mixed company would be regarded as `shocking’ even in `modern’ society.
They have no respect for property and live entirely within their own periphery of standards, which can only be described as obscure ... The Libertarians should not be underestimated despite their base outlook.
Publicity was not sought, and was unwelcome in the only case where it was seriously threatened. Before the `We’re all Libertarians now’ position truly took hold, the public had one last chance to salivate over lurid revelations of the doings of intellectual folk. And it wasn’t students. On New Year’s Eve, 1962, CSIRO technician Geoffrey Chandler and his wife Margaret attended a party. As befitted a fringe Push member, Chandler, `unable to accept the petty rules and regulations of society’, in his own words, approved of `open’ marriages. He had given his wife to understand that she was free to have an affair with Gilbert Bogle, who was also to attend the party. Bogle was a leading young CSIRO research physicist, working on the new field of masers and lasers. Chandler and his girlfriend, a secretary in the Sydney University Psychology Department, went on to a Push party. The bodies of Bogle and Mrs Chandler were found the next morning beside the Lane Cove River. The cause of death was never definitively established, though an LSD overdose is the leading theory. The mystery surrounding the deaths and the connections of those involved made it one of Australia’s best-known murder cases. Reporters invaded the Royal George Hotel but the Push in general refused to speak to them. Chandler was grateful to a number of Push people who hid him from the pack.
Why did the youth fall for any of this simplistic and self-serving tripe? It is a fair question. Answering it casts a good deal of light on a period whose sudden changes are still poorly understood.
The first source of the Push’s appeal was simply that it was an island of excitement in a sea of dullness. By the time the 1950s were well under way, the moralists had been so successful they had created a landscape of cultural deprivation. As a measure of its strength, one may recall that Federal Cabinet decided to retain the ban on Lady Chatterley’s Lover as late as 1965. For some, it was almost impossible to breathe.
In these circumstances, the Push had appeal simply because there was something going on. A first year pharmacy student ventured into the Royal George in 1962: `I spoke to no-one all evening and no-one spoke to me until just before closing time when I went outside ... and two policemen seized me. I was flung into the back of a Black Maria and driven to the back of Darling Harbour ... They tipped me out into the cold night air and gave me a lecture: "Look, son, don’t you go near that pub again – it’s full of loose women, social diseases and drugs." I thought "Terrific!" and was back there next night.’ How it looked to one not admitted to the circle is evoked by Bob Ellis in one of his longest sentences: `To an outsider, and many of us were outside the Push, unable because of our tentative personalities to break through the strong, royal curtain into their loving affections, they loomed as homeric giants, whose life was one long bland adventure, night after night, party after party, race meeting after poker session and tragic love after tragic love, following only the minute’s need or desire, following it for its own sake, with no ulterior goal in view, following their own soul’s odyssey through all its incarnations with granite amusement, delivering their papers on sex and death and Reich and Christ and Phar Lap, arguing and drinking far into the night, taking round the hat for incidental abortions, offering no rebuff to anyone who showed up at midnight and wanted to sleep on the floor, but calmly putting up with him for as long as he wanted to stay, conducting their ritual contests, inventing their savage games, and having their parties, parties, parties, all the parties I missed.’
What this doesn’t evoke was how boring afternoons in pubs could be. Some of the later phrases do call attention to another source of the Push’s appeal, especially for some of its more central and outrageous members. It was a kind of substitute family for some quite disturbed people. Many of them had lost their fathers in one way or another —through broken homes, mental illness or death. For them, the friendship, often practical, was all that was on offer in place of family. `The Push looked after its own. They visited the hospital or passed the hat ...’ The significance of friendship in the Push is the source of the central idea in one of the few books on philosophy to come out of the Push, Morality and Modernity, by Ross Poole, a lecturer in philosophy at Macquarie University. He laments in familiar terms the fragmenting effect of modern life, and argues in good Libertarian fashion that any external standard of duty is a voice outside us that cannot give us any reason why we should obey it. As a partial solution, it recommends attention to the meaning of friendship. `We seek and often achieve recognition from others whose independence we recognise ...the demands of those friendships are not external: the needs of our friends are our needs, and the reason of friendship is our reason ...If we enter into a relationship with another just in order to gain certain pleasures, the relationship is not one of friendship, and whatever we get out of it, we do not obtain the specific pleasures of friendship.’
The urge for youthful rebellion that provided some of the motivation for seeking out the Push would in earlier years have been satisfied by joining the Communist Party. But the demise of Communism in splits and its discrediting after Hungary and Khrushchev’s speech on the horrors of Stalinism meant that by the early 1960s there was little appeal in traditional left-wing politics. With the Communists marginalised and Labor split, the Push to some extent filled an ideological vacuum. Compared to the `grubby Marxist leaflets and hand-me-down rhetoric’ of the Old Left’s aging Leninists, it was at least colourful.
Worth considering too are some of the reasons given by the right for the general phenomenon of the `youth revolution of the Sixties’. ASIO’s theory was that the whole thing was just another Communist front, like the youth and women’s organisations of the Thirties and Forties, and the peace movement of the Fifties. There was, they thought, a worldwide Soviet-led plot to undermine the West by corrupting its youth. Perhaps it was not an altogether ridiculous theory, but intense efforts failed to turn up much evidence. Technological developments had more to do with it. Modern pharmacology produced the penicillin that cured VD, and the Pill, which removed the most obvious reasons for not behaving like the Push. Chemical wizardry also produced a choice of drugs. B. A. Santamaria mentions another invention in his 1973 article, ‘Philosophies in collision’. He sees three major philosophies in competition for the soul of West: Christianity broadly understood, Soviet Communism, and secular humanism or libertarianism, meaning the assertion that anyone can do what they like. Television, he thinks, as well as the Pill, has given the latter philosophy the edge, since it beams the value structure of advertising and `anything goes’ right into homes. Santamaria gamely went on the Box himself, not without success, but few of those who agreed with him had the ability to make argument into memorable television.
Last but not least, the strictly intellectual appeal of the Push, as a group that actually took ideas and argument seriously, should not be underestimated. In theory, of course, academic life introduces the student to teachers who love and share ideas. In practice, over and above the strategies academics have to adopt to cope with the flood of students, and their simple fatigue, there is an inevitable cognitive mismatch between the young and the old brain. Youth interested in ideas must always find one another.
Robert Hughes, a fringe member, wrote, `I certainly heard the basic message of Sydney libertarianism loud and clear — that you should never believe anything someone says merely because he/she is saying it. This has been of fundamental value to me as a writer. It was not, of course, invented in Sydney in the late 1940s, but in Athens about 2300 years before that. Nevertheless I first encountered it in Sydney through the medium of the Push.’ Clive James too recognised the significance of theory in the Push, though he was less high-minded about its effects. `Endorsing Pareto’s analysis of sexual guilt as a repressive social mechanism, the Libertarians freely helped themselves to each other’s girlfriends.’
Hanging around the Push could be a training in how to speak and write, as well as how to think. Germaine Greer said, `Australians speak over-emphatically. Just listen to any of them: listen to Barry Humphries, listen to Clive James, listen to Robert Hughes, they all have this "over the top" rhetorical power. It’s one of the ways Australian language is spoken. I actually like it; I think it’s rather good stuff.’ But it isn’t Australians in general who speak or write like this –or if it is, it is only a small group who have got the knack of packaging it for print. Besides those just named, and at her best, Germaine herself, one could name David Stove, and perhaps a few later humourists like Patrick Cook and Mike Carlton. Where the style came from, and why it arose at the fringes of the Sydney Push, remains a mystery, but the reading and viewing public in Australia and elsewhere has been vastly entertained by it.
Germaine Greer arrived from Melbourne in 1959, and immediately acquired a central position in the Push. Though she soon moved on to other circles, Libertarian philosophising had an important place in her education. `When I first encountered the dingy back room of the Royal George, I was a clever, undisciplined, pedantic show-off. My conversation was all effect – entertaining enough, I dare say – but emotional and impressionistic. In the flabby intellectual atmosphere of the Melbourne Drift, I had been encouraged to refrain from ungainly insistence upon logic and the connection of ideas, to be instead witty, joking together heterogeneous notions ... In Sydney, I found myself driven back, again and again, to basic premises, demonstrable facts. The scrupulosity that I had missed in my irreligious life was now a part of my everyday behaviour ... If ever, of anyone, I desired a good report, I desire it of them, my guides, philosophers and friends, the Sydney Libertarians.’ `I found out that in Sydney there were at least intellectually rigorous people and that they could teach me something. At least they could teach me about the way I already thought. I was already an anarchist. I just didn’t know why I was an anarchist. They put me in touch with the basic texts and I found out what the internal logic was about how I felt and thought.’
It did not take her long to learn how to write in the required style herself. In the 1961 Libertarians Broadsheet, she responded to an attack on libertarian attitudes with:
Libertarians are not bound together by an all-consuming interest in freedom of inquiry, but are also interested in political, social and sexual freedom, with varying intensity and emphasis, based on a common philosophical background of realism and determinism ... [libertarians] are not committed to beer-drinking; there is no a priori reason why libertarian women should be a null class.
Andersonian jargon has been got in the right order there.
Using argument to `expose illusions’, in the Andersonian sense, is an exact description of The Female Eunuch. It is set apart from the mainstream of feminist writing by its libertarian line. Most of it is criticism, and the positive suggestions in the last two pages are also of an distinctly Andersonian cast, with the sole addition that women are mentioned specifically. `The surest guide to the correctness of the path that women take is joy in the struggle.’ `Joy’ means not so much a simple emotion, as a concatenation of Andersonian keywords: `it does mean the purposive employment of energy in a self-chosen enterprise. It does mean pride and confidence. It does mean communication and cooperation with others.’ It does not mean organising or reforming – `meliorism’ in Anderson’s jargon. `Privileged women will pluck at your sleeve and seek to enlist you in the ‘fight’ for reforms, but reforms are retrogressive.’ Anne Coombs writes in her book on the Push, `The Libertarian legacy shines through The Female Eunuch – revolutionary but not utopian, smashing icons but not erecting new ones, self-reliant without being self-blaming, attacking the conventional family while not opposing motherhood or sexuality or men.’ Reformist American feminism never forgave Greer for her opposition to equal rights amendments, for her love of argument for its own sake, for the counter-suggestibility that had her praising earth mothers and trashing women poets when the Sisterhood was still `consolidating gains’, for her refusal to belong to any school of theoreticians. `When I have to explain where I’m coming from to the English, who see that I’m not a proper Marxist, or a proper Marcusian, or a proper Freudian or a proper anything else, then I have to invoke that kind of ad hoc training that used to be meted out to me in the beer-stained purlieus of the Royal George.’ And as to morality, she was against the existing set of rules, but also against replacing them with any other set.
The backwaters of history are full of `movements’ which thought they were going to change the world, and made no impression whatever. The Push never expected to change anything, and even had a theory about why it couldn’t. Then it found the world changing to its values overnight. One Push member, isolated for some years in Peru, wrote: `When, in September 1968, I went to the US as a grad student at the University of Illinois, you can imagine my reaction — Shit, the bloody Push has extended over the whole world ... the late 1960s and early 1970s were like a Libertarian dream come true: we are gonna change the world!’ The hard-core Push were not so impressed by the spread of `Utopian illusions’, but the younger crowd began to be gripped by a wild surmise that real change might be possible.
The degree to which the Push itself was responsible for `the Sixties’ is hard to gauge. George Molnar’s opinion was, not at all. Of course, the influence of overseas gurus like Marcuse, Reich, Kinsey and so on was important, as was the impact of the Vietnam War. A lot of the Sixties was, obviously, an American (and British, and European) production, swallowed whole in their Australasian colonies. Still, there were two Australian exports that had great international impact, at the libertarian end of the Sixties spectrum. One was Greer’s The Female Eunuch. The other was Richard Neville’s London magazine, Oz.
Sydney Oz magazine and its London successor were the creation of the colourful offshoot of the Libertarians at the University of New South Wales. Richard Neville took his cue from Eric Dowling — in Neville’s memoirs `the bonking philosophy professor’, later the author of a book on the philosophy of love with preface by Blanche D’Alpuget. Neville was impressed also by the Push economics lecturer Paddy McGuinness (a `professional antagonist’, dirty in appearance but extremely intelligent and shrewd, according to ASIO ) and the Libertarians Broadsheet. Unlike the Broadsheet, Oz had pictures, and was sold to the public. Oz number 6 contained, among other items designed to offend the class of persons usually offended by such items, a fictional first-person narrative of a gang rape. An enraged magistrate handed out sentences of six months hard labour. The editors were luckier in their appeal case before the more liberal Judge Levine, which produced one of those learned discussions of philosophical points the law does so well. Heavyweights appearing on Neville’s side included the Andersonians John Kerr as counsel for Neville, James McAuley, who testified to Oz’s literary merit, and the leading psychiatrist John Ellard, who gave his opinion that one of the classes of persons who would allegedly tend to be depraved and corrupted by Oz, `persons of weakened personality structures’, were typically unaffected by what they read. Levine was disposed to quash the convictions, but before doing so referred the case to the Supreme Court for guidance on a number of legal points, notably one concerning the kind of evidence that should be admitted to prove that a publication `tended to deprave and corrupt’. The general question of what evidence is relevant to showing the existence of a tendency or disposition is recognised in philosophy as a difficult enough one, but there are special complications in the case at hand. Levine’s view involved some subtleties concerning both st engths of tendencies and the class in which the tendency occurs: `whilst the prosecution does not bear the burden of proving that any particular person has been depraved, and need only prove that the publication charged as obscene has a tendency to do so, it does carry the burden of establishing not some mere theoretical, nebulous or fanciful tendency, but a real and practical tendency to deprave not a theoretical group of unidentified persons but persons or groups whom the court in judgement can refer to as those likely to be affected.’
The learned judges of the Supreme Court held that this was quite wrong. No identifiable class of persons need be named, and expert opinion is not in any case relevant. `ordinary human nature, that of people at large, is not a subject of proof by evidence, whether supposedly expert or not’, but instead something that judges are presumed to know. It by no means follows, however, that if the judges find themselves uncorrupted by the literature in question, they should conclude that it has no tendency to corrupt others. `The court will be entitled to look in a broad way at the whole of the community, recognizing that there are people of varying degrees of intelligence and moral fibre ... it would be sufficient if the court took the view that the publication had a tendency to corrupt those who were susceptible to corruption or to deprave those who were receptive to wicked influences.’ With these distinctions made, the matter was sent back to Levine, who again decided that the convictions should be quashed.
Soon after, Neville took the show to London, founding London Oz. It was more of the same: all hippie, all psychedelic, all obscene, all radical. But its radicalism did not have the edge of violence associated with the American revolutionary left. `I was and still am a liberal’, Neville says. `Sometimes then I was a bit embarrassed by it, because I thought I ought to be a little more revolutionary, but I’ve always completely loathed violence and bloodshed and everytime I dived into Marxism all I could think of was Lenin shooting the anarchists. I could never come to terms with the Big Idea. I come from libertarianism.’
The trial of London Oz was the last great media censorship battle in England, which only ten years earlier had given the world the classic of the genre, the trial of Lady Chatterley. The Sixties began, on one reckoning, on 20 Oct 1960, when counsel for the prosecution asked an English jury, `Is it a book that you would even want your wife or servants to read?’ and the jury laughed. By 1971, the censorship battle was nearly over, but not quite. ‘Schoolkids Oz’, an issue mostly edited by a group of schoolchidren, had its turn at the Old Bailey. The trial was said to have provoked more letters to The Times than the Suez crisis.
No-one will have trouble guessing which dead philosopher made an appearance. John Mortimer QC concluded his opening speech, `Members of the Jury, those of you familiar with history may have heard of the Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates also stood trial and his trial resulted in his death. And the charge on his indictment was that he had corrupted the morals of young persons. And the reason he was so charged, was his unfortunate habit of continually asking why. And we who defend in this case believe that we do so in the interests of everyone, whatever age or sex or class or education, to question and ask, why.’ Dead philosophers are much safer in court than live ones, but the Australian Rhodes Scholar co-ordinating the defence, Geoffrey Robertson, conceived the idea that there was no precedent that prevented philosophers being called as expert witnesses. He took the risk of calling two living members of the profession. Among the last witnesses, along with the comedian Marty Feldman, the Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, Ronald Dworkin, faced the court. He explained that his work dealt with the relation between private and public morality. Neville asked whether he thought Oz did, in fact, debauch or corrupt public morality. The Professor distinguished at some length between two senses in which one might tend to corrupt public morality, and was in the process of giving his opinion that in neither sense did Oz do so, when the judge interrupted, `This is not a lecture theatre.’ After a pause, Dworkin gave his further opinion that the prosecution was, in his second sense, a corruption of public morals, and added that the prosecution would be unconstitutional in the United States in virtue of the First Amendment. The last witness for the defence was Richard Wollheim, Grote Professor of Mind and Logic at the University of London, and author of The Nature of Law and The Limits of State Action. Wollheim praised the quality of moral argument in Oz, and asserted that the prosecution of Oz was a grave attack on `the morality of toleration which is a large part of the morality of a society like ours’, and was in danger of leading to the polarisation of society.
The judge believed the Oz three were a front for a worldwide conspiracy of pornographers, and that his armed guard was very necessary. In his summing up, he made clear his views of `so-called experts’. The jury found the defendants guilty of publishing obscenity, though not guilty of the more serious charge of conspiracy to corrupt the morals of the public. The judge handed down severe gaol sentences — fifteen months for Neville, with a recommendation for deportation, since he was an Australian. After a unpleasant week in Wormwood Scrubs, the three were released pending appeal. Judging the appeal, the Lord Chief Justice held that the judge in the lower court had seriously misdirected the jury in not calling attention to defence counsel’s `aversion defence’ — that the drawings and prose were so disgusting as to turn the reader off the practices represented. The English were thereupon free to print more or less whatever they wanted.
In any case, Rupert Murdoch had already bought the London Sun, and declared that the `permissive society’ was no longer an opinion but a fact and that `Anyone – from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Mick Jagger — is entitled to put forward his own moral code.’ Not many column inches were actually allocated to Mick, the Archbishop or anyone else to expound their views on ethics. It wasn’t philosophies the Sun’s page three girls put forward.
Back in Australia, there was one round still to go. The most spectacular action in pursuit of Libertarian ends was undertaken by one of the last women to join the Push before it lost its identity, Wendy Bacon. Like Greer, she had come from Melbourne, and noticed a difference in the intellectual air. She too learned something about how to think from the Libertarian philosophers, especially Baker. `As an analytical person libertarianism was appealing – it made sense. It was clear-thinking, expressed in simple language. I liked the way it critiqued notions of morality, the ‘should’. That’s what I had grown up with — a fairly heavy load of Presbyterianism. The Libertarians gave me a framework.’ She welcomed the decay of assumptions underlying notions of `depravity’ and `corruption’, now that `more people recognised that moral views are connected to social movements and must be seen in that context; that no one set of views is inherently preferable to another. Seen in this light, depravity and corruptions cease to have any meaning.’
Molnar and a number of other older Libertarians helped with the production of the 1970 issues of the University of New South Wales student newspaper Tharunka, edited by Wendy Bacon and two others. Its best-known issue printed the words of the old sex fantasy ballad, ‘Eskimo Nell’, along with a piece by George Molnar on ‘Drugs and freedom’, and a reprint of Anderson’s 1943 address on ‘Religion and education’. Summonses started arriving. A substantial demonstration was arranged for the court hearing, including women in nun’s habits distributing copies of the offending material, and a gorilla with trainer. Wendy Bacon displayed on her habit the slogan, `I have been fucked by God’s steel prick.’ The obscenities that Anderson had quietly circulated in typescript, and sung at parties, were flaunted in the open. It remained to be discovered whether the perpetrators would get away with it.
Bacon was arrested and charged with exhibiting an obscene publication, viz, the slogan. She based her defence on the contention that obscenity is not a real quality in a text, but exists only in the eye of the beholder. In court she attempted to argue the point with reference to Socrates’ dialogue Euthyphro. In the dialogue, Socrates, himself leaving court, poses the problem: do the Gods love what is pious because it is pious, or does something become pious when the Gods love it? Bacon began to elaborate on the parallel between piety and obscenity — does the average man object to a publication because it is obscene, or does it become obscene because the average man objects to it? Unfortunately the judge (Levine again) ruled that philosophy had no place in the trial: `The comments of Socrates are not relevant to New South Wales law.’ A jury of average persons returned a verdict of guilty. Bacon spent a week in prison on remand.
After leaving the editorship of Tharunka, Bacon was involved in the production of the similar but freelance Thorunka, with even more rude pictures. Bacon conducted her own defence at the ensuing trial, to make it a `confrontation’ free of legal niceties. George Molnar appeared, Germaine Greer testified to Thorunka’s literary merits, and was told by the judge, `You are not on a platform now’, a nice example of a self-refuting statement. Bacon was sentenced to a fine and bond. On appeal to the Supreme Court of New South Wales, presided over by Chief Justice John Kerr, the convictions were overturned. The Court had to consider a number of conceptual issues. Counsel for Bacon argued that Thorunka was neither a book, a magazine nor a periodical, as it was a newspaper-like entity with only a single issue. The Court dismissed this with the loosely Wittgensteinian reasoning that an item need not possess quite all of the features of a definition to be in the relevant class. `A publication which has all the other features of a magazine will be called a magazine in New South Wales despite the fact that it has, and is intended to have, only one single issue.’ But the Court did agree that the judge had seriously misdirected the jury in telling them that a publication obscene in a part was obscene as a whole. A new trial was ordered, but the authorities had had enough.
`Liberation seems to me to have come much more fully to the male, our wandering Casanovas, who no longer need fear the "shotgun wedding" or the maintenance order. They are now entitled to expect that their more-or-less willing victim will have got the Pill on the National Health. If she was silly enough to be "careless", to use their jargon, they can refer her to a newly-legal abortion clinic. She is not "liberated" from the inconveniences of the Pill, or the traumas of abortion. But who can deny that his "liberation" is complete?’ This particular way of expressing things is by Santamaria, a writer not much read in libertarian circles, but many of the women in the Push were coming to substantially the same conclusion by themselves. Most of the published writing on the Push has been by women some thirty or forty years later. The substance of it has been that Push men were beasts. Some maintained that, as women, they lacked a language to complain about it. Whatever the truth, Push women found their voice quickly when Women’s Liberation did arrive, and were the core of at least the second wave of Sydney feminism. In London, some of the Australian women who had answered the phones, poured the tea and rolled the joints on London Oz set up Spare Rib, the leading English women’s liberation magazine of the Seventies.
Total victory is pleasant, but the winners always face an alliance between the defeated party and those among themselves unhappy with the actual outcome.
Among the first and most coherent to have second thoughts was the old Andersonian Peter Coleman. He had written a largely historical book on censorship, Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition, in 1960, which argued along Andersonian lines for the meaninglessness of these terms, and for the abolition of censorship. But no sooner was it published than he began to disagree with it. By the 1970s, he was a leading supporter of some form of censorship of pornography. Like many others, he saw pornography, on the scale then being produced, as `the racism or anti-semitism of the male chauvinist’, degrading especially to women, and tending to coarsen, de-individualise and degrade human relationships. It had political significance, he believed, since `the pornographic life-style is the rejection of restraint, reticence, and what it might call "false shame", and the espousal of a view of human nature most appropriate to dictatorship. It is part of the advanced guard of the politics of servitude.’ At a deeper level, he complained that pornography is an attack on sexual privacy, or reticence.
The poverty of Push philosophy is shown by the fact that it cannot even understand the terms in which Coleman is speaking. It can do nothing except dismiss them as more `moralising’.