There is a battle that is raging down in Australia that may well have ramifications throughout academia. Academic, historian and author Keith Windschuttle is conducting a courageous one-man crusade against Australia’s academic establishment–and has them under siege.
In the 60s Windschuttle was a leftist student, in the 70s a university lecturer who subscribed to a Marxist theory of history. But unlike his colleagues, Windschuttle “got over that juvenilia”, and by the 80s was attacking the fashionable Marxist theories that dominated the humanities. By the 90s he had become a thorn in the side of the academic establishment, and its pariah. In 1997 he published “The Killing of History” a scholarly attack on postmodernist historians.
Windschuttle’s fiercest campaign to date was launched last month with the publication of the first volume of his latest book: “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History”. It was called by one petulant professor: “the most reactionary book to be taken seriously in [Australia] for very many years.”
The history of Australia makes good copy for a case-study of the methods and motivations of historians, because it is far less complicated than the history of other continents–basically 50,000 years of aboriginal stagnation on the pre-Neolithic, nomadic, hunter-gatherer level, followed by British colonization and settlement from 1788.
The first volume of “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History” overturned the “orthodox case” that the noble savages who populated Australia’s island state of Tasmania were wiped out by “a conscious policy of genocide”. After analyzing the evidence that has been quoted for decades in support of the genocide theory, and adding his own research, Windschuttle estimated that during the most violent 30 year period of white settlement, an average of four Tasmanian Aborigines per year out of a population of two thousand were killed by white settlers. He then presented a convincing case that the aborigines’ demise was due to their eagerness to sell their women to white settlers, and due to contamination from the settlers’ diseases.
While making his case Windschuttle landed what even one of his targets had to admit were “solid blows” that exposed the shoddy research, selective reporting, distorted analysis, defective logic, baseless speculation, and pure fabrication which characterized the methods of the “orthodox school” of historians bent on propagating their ideological agenda.
It didn’t take them long to man the battlements around the Ivory Tower and return a volley of invective. But so far, even with all the resources of Australia’s publicly funded institutions of learning at their disposal, the orthodox school has not been able to dent Windshchuttle’s scholarship. What they have done instead is fill the media with ad-hominem attacks, race-card emotionalism and patently absurd accusations of plagiarism.
The media has portrayed it as a battle over the content of history, i.e. as a battle to establish the truth about Australia’s past. But now and then the underlying battle over the nature of history and the methods proper to historians has shown through. For example a professor who articulated the “conscious policy of genocide” theory declared that: “two ‘truths’ are told.” ; and then asked: “is only one ‘truth’ correct?” Only one media commentator was old fashioned enough to answer: “Well, yes professor. There is only ever one truth. The rest are what we call false”.
Windschuttle’s campaign may help to exorcise “white man’s guilt” and restore pride in Western values, but his crusade has a more ambitious goal. Windschuttle’s ultimate goal is to rescue his beloved discipline of history from the Ivory Tower’s postmodernists, and restore it to its throne of objectivity so that it can once again take its place as the “Queen of the Humanities”.