This is a full transcript of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s remarks at an event hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies in December 2023
At the start of 2020, for most people in most places, life had never been more free, more fair, more safe, and more rich.
It might not have been the broad sunlit uplands of the end of history, but it was the best of times – made possible by a long Anglo-American ascendancy protecting freer speech, freer trade and freer politics.
Then, for the best part of two years, much of the world lived under a virtual health dictatorship, often with a form of house arrest, in order to protect people from a disease that those under 70 had a 99.9% chance of surviving.
It was an almost uniquely spirit-sapping time, at least in countries thought to be free.
Then, in the first major war in Europe for 70 years, Russia unleashed a brutal and entirely unprovoked assault on Ukraine.
And just now, in a reminder of how seriously Islamist movements take ‘death to the infidel’, Hamas unleashed an almost bestial attack on Israel, the worst atrocity against Jews since the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, the Beijing regime has completely crushed the liberties of Hong Kong, bullied all China’s neighbours, even India; intensified its belligerence against Taiwan; and entirely dropped the ‘hide your strength and bide your time’ tactic of the past 30 years, to create a new Cold War, that’s far more challenging than the old one.
Because unlike the old Soviet Union, China is a first rate economic power, now with a military to match, fully enmeshed in the world economy, and with a global diaspora; with all its businesses, plus all ethnic Chinese, in the CCP’s eyes, bound to advance its party-state objectives.
Suddenly, it’s a darker world, that’s unlikely to lighten, any time soon.
It’s true that Western countries, led by the United States and Britain, rushed sufficient anti-tank weapons to Ukraine to enable the initial Russian assault on Kyiv to be repulsed, humiliatingly; and sufficient air defences to see off the initial bombardment of Ukrainian cities, away from the frontline; plus last summer, with stunning elan, the Ukrainians recaptured much of their lost territory in the east.
But from the beginning, America has stressed that it shouldn’t and wouldn’t ‘provoke’ Russia; so to no one’s surprise, Russia has duly threatened nuclear escalation, while furiously preparing defensive lines, and the West has duly dribbled-in the weapons needed for the Ukrainians not-to-lose, but not those needed to win.
So now Russian industry is mobilised for total war, Ukraine’s manpower is depleted, and there’s no commensurate industrial or military build-up in the West, except for Poland.
And in the grip of a new isolationism, a Republican House of Representatives may well cut-off further funding, on the grounds that the Ukrainians can’t ultimately win, so must negotiate.
Even though any negotiated settlement, that didn’t immediately admit rump Ukraine into NATO, would reward aggression, and invite more of it.
If it were one thing to abandon the Afghans, who wouldn’t fight for themselves; what would it be to abandon the Ukrainians who have fought with dauntless valour, an unequal struggle for their national freedom?
If friend and foe alike regarded the scuttle from Kabul as a sign of weakness, what would they make of any scuttle from Kyiv?
If America and its allies won’t further help the Ukrainians, who are fighting for everyone’s freedom, not just their own, the question must arise: how much stomach is there for any sustained resistance to a nuclear-armed dictator, with a messianic sense of mission, in Europe, or indeed in Asia, convinced that the decadent West is in terminal decline?
Likewise in the Middle East.
The US is now telling Israel that it can’t continue its assault on Gaza more than a few weeks longer, because Hamas is using its own people as human shields, and blaming Israel for their deaths.
So the more morally depraved this death cult’s actions, the more likely it is to survive, more grievance-filled than ever, in order to re-prosecute its campaign to eliminate every Jew ‘from the river to the sea’.
And ultimately, to work with other apocalyptic Islamist movements to create a universal caliphate, where the fate of all unbelievers would be almost unimaginably grim.
Naturally, that hasn’t stopped ‘gays for Palestine’ and such like, marching in their tens of thousands, week after week, in dozens of Western cities, but especially here in London, calling for what would amount to a new Holocaust.
Shamefully, this moral derangement was on peak display in my own country, with exultant mobs chanting slogans too disgusting to repeat, within 24 hours of the Hamas atrocity – which, remember, had Hamas fighters calling their parents to boast about how many defenceless Jewish families they’d slaughtered.
And now the UN, by heavy majority, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has demanded a ceasefire that pitches Israel as the real aggressor.
We are about to note the anniversary of the birth of a Jew, two millennia back, in what’s now regarded as Palestine – yet somehow it’s the Jews, who are the supposed interlopers: “colonialist oppressors” of the Palestinians; who prior to 1948, were never really thought of as a people separate from the other Arabs, who refused to take them in.
Coincidentally, in the past fortnight, at the COP28 climate jamboree in Dubai, all the main Western countries, including the US, Britain and Australia, have pledged to transition away from fossil fuels, despite the astronomical cost, despite the move to renewable power making us even more dependent on China, which makes nearly all the solar panels and the wind turbines on which our increasingly expensive and erratic power supply would therefore depend; and despite no such commitment from our strategic competitors, so global emissions will keep rising anyway.
To all the main Western delegates, the big planetary threat was not Russian imperialism, communist China’s ambitions for global hegemony by 2050, or Islamism’s drive to impose a repressive universal caliphate; but a speculative rise in temperature, decades hence, even though the planet has previously been much hotter, and much colder, without any contribution from human CO2.
To say that the democratic West has not been in such peril since the late 1930s is almost an understatement.
What’s become apparent is that the Western world might never have been more materially rich; but we’ve also rarely been more spiritually bereft; it’s not just that we’ve collectively lost faith in a transcendent being, but we’ve largely lost faith in our countries too.
How is it that Britain is regarded – by many Britons – as uniquely responsible for slavery, even though it was the Royal Navy, at vast cost in lives and treasure, that stamped out the trans-Atlantic slave trade; and it was Lord Justice Mansfield who reputedly said in the 1770s that the air of England is too pure for any slave to breath?
How is it that large sections of a chronically declinist and defeatist British establishment are still re-moaning about Brexit, as if the country that gave the world the mother of parliaments, the Industrial Revolution, the emancipation of minorities, and everyone’s common language is somehow uniquely incapable of standing on its own two feet?
How is that the United States is regarded – by many Americans – as somehow founded in slavery when its first settlers aimed to create ‘a shining city on a hill’, and when it waged what was until then history’s most destructive war to end it, so that ‘government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth’.
And how is it that in my own country, the flag of some of us is routinely flown co-equally with the flag of all of us, and that official speeches invariably acknowledge that it’s the country of some of us rather than all of us – from misplaced guilt over a settlement 200 years ago that can’t be undone?
The truth is that our societies have never been less racist, and more colourblind, as shown by the eagerness of tens of millions of people, whether that’s Africans and Middle Easterners seeking a better life, or Chinese who don’t trust their own government, to flee to us, not from us.
Yet we’re plagued by past mistakes; and oblivious to present strengths.
So many policy issues flow from this collective national self-doubt: a reluctance to control immigration because what gives us the right to do so; education systems shorn of the great books of the western canon because their authors were the wrong race or gender; a ‘something for nothing’ mindset in the delivery of services and benefits; and an unwillingness to ask any sacrifice at all of our own people.
Yet there is inspiration to be had: from the near universal commitment to the protection of the Jewish state, the survival of the Jewish people, and the preservation of the Jewish faith and culture, from Israelis who wouldn’t agree on anything else; and from the Ukrainians, so ferocious in defending a national freedom they’ve known for-but-30 of the past 300 years.
Their faith in themselves is a reminder of what we once had, have now lost, but might find again.
As is Australians recent resounding rejection of a race-based body in our constitution despite the moral bullying of much of the political class, most of the media, and the whole of the business, cultural and even sporting establishment.
Churchill’s greatest speech is not amongst his wartime morale boosters, but the one he gave after Munich, in anticipation of the great existential struggle of the West.
Munich was, he said, but ‘the first foretaste of a bitter cup that will be proffered to us year by year unless, by a supreme recovery of our moral health and martial vigour’ – note that, moral health and martial vigour – ‘we take our stand for freedom as in the olden time’.
As then, I fear that we are sleep-walking through lotus land, and pray that it’s not a great catastrophe that wakes us up.
What’s needed, now as then, is a clearer sense of right and wrong; stronger instincts about what’s good for our countries; and more will, individually and collectively, to be our best selves.
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