THE AMERICAN POLITICAL scientist Ronald Inglehart argues that ‘the basic value priorities of western publics’ shift in affluent times ‘from giving top priority to physical sustenance and safety, toward heavier emphasis on belonging, self-expression and the quality of life’. Inglehart calls this shift in values ‘post-materialism’. It’s an idea that can be traced at least to the mid-1960s, and perhaps even to the pre-Depression ‘flaming youth’ of the 1920s, though it was the late 1960s – the period I call Aquarian liberalism – that saw the most significant shift away from the old politics of base materialism and toward the new progressivism of human rights, environment and community.
Public sentiment about the individual’s relationship with the state has fluctuated like fashions since the nineteenth century. Following the depression of the 1890s, Australians – so often cast as rugged individualists, models of pioneer self-reliance – came to embrace a vigorous union movement, progressive political organisations such as the Protectionists and the Australian Labor Party, and a federalist political structure that would protect them from womb to tomb. Conservative policymakers from Prime Minister Stanley Bruce down later warned against excessive welfare, for fear of transforming Australia into a ‘nation of mendicants’. But the 1950s saw a return to a bipartisan commitment to what Paul Kelly has labelled the Australian Settlement and, in particular, the welfare state. State paternalism was mandated by both citizen and government.
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