Repost: An unpleasant surprise

[Part of a celebration of Airminded's 10th anniversary; originally posted on 22 December 2005. Some people liked it, but Andy suggested that 'Your a prat who likes to distort history and I bet you wear sandels Brainwashed little moron'.]

I was in the bowels of the ERC library at Melbourne Uni the other day, scavenging for primary sources, when a book called The Peril of the White caught my eye - not because it has anything to do with my topic, but because of the author, who has one of the most splendidly silly names in modern British history: Sir Leo Chiozza Money.The silliest name, of course, belongs to Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, whose other claim to fame was leading the diplomatic mission to the USSR in August 1939 to see if Stalin was interested in an alliance with Britain. (He wasn't.) Sir Leo was a Liberal and then Labour politician who is unfortunately mostly remembered for having been caught in a park late at night with a young lady, while in the middle of giving her what he claimed was 'career advice' (apparently not intended as a euphemism). Anyway, he was also a writer, and his The Peril of the White was published in 1925. The 'peril' of the title is that of race suicide, due to the slowing birth-rate of European and European-descended peoples. More particularly, his worry was that this would place European control of the rest of the world's peoples in doubt, since their birth-rate remained high:

It is for ever true that we must renew or die. The European stock cannot presume to hold magnificent areas indefinitely, even while it refuses to people them, and to deny their use and cultivation to races that sorely need them.Leo Chiozza Money, The Peril of the White (London: W. Collins Sons & Co, 1925), 159.

He graphically illustrated the problem with this colour plate in the frontispiece (click to see larger version):

The Peril of the White

Pretty standard stuff for the time, I think. But it's interesting that Chiozza Money ends on a plea for racial tolerance, arguing strongly against any kind of slavery, formal or economic: 'Every private act and every act of legislation which denies respect to mankind of whatever race will have to be paid for a hundredfold'.Ibid, 168. Though of course, his ultimate reason for being nice to the natives was to keep them happy and therefore quiet.

Now, all of the above is interesting, but it's not why I am writing this. I found a slip of paper in between the pages of the book. Normally I love this kind of "found history" - it's a glimpse into and a connection with a previous reader's life. Things like tram tickets, pieces of paper with notes scribbled on them, newspaper clippings, ex libris stamps and bookplates, gift inscriptions: for me, it's part of the pleasure of old books. But this was rather less pleasurable: it was a little leaflet entitled 'White and Proud!', calling for 'white pride' and apparently issued by a group called the White Student Union (with a PO Box in West Heidelberg). Somebody had obviously stuck it in The Peril of the White thinking that anyone interested in Chiozza Money's ideas might be receptive to an updated version. And indeed there are similarities: both list cultural and scientific achievements attributed to the 'White Race', and argue that its members need to remember these and thereby develop racial self-respect. But surely most people who go to the trouble to look up this obscure book are likely to be scholars who want to research Chiozza Money's ideas, not revive them!

But even that isn't really why I'm writing this. My initial reaction to the leaflet is why. The leaflet looks fairly old - pre-laser printer days, anyway: part of it even looks to be typed (you know, on a typewriter), and from "internal evidence" I would guess it was written some time during the 1980s. (It looks like the book itself may not have been borrowed since at least 1988, so it's possible that the leaflet could have lain there undisturbed since then.) When I first saw the leaflet, my first instinct was to put it back in the book and leave it there - because it's an historical artefact, a kind of primary text on racism in Australian universities in the 1980s, and as an historian I have no right to tamper with it! But then I thought, that's stupid. This was less than two weeks after the shameful race riots in Sydney, after which our esteemed Prime Minister had stated that 'I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country.' Well, here's some underlying racism right here, and I'm not leaving this filth lying around to possibly influence some impressionable young mind, as remote as that possibility may be. So I borrowed the book, and took the leaflet, and when the book gets returned, the leaflet won't.

Now, my initial reaction was pretty silly. It's not like libraries are in the business of preserving things that people stick in their books, and nor is it likely that some future PhD student will go trawling the library shelves in search of such found history for their thesis. So I'm under no obligation to leave the leaflet there. But it does raise the question of what's history and what isn't. Even as I wrote this post, I had no problems quoting and scanning parts of Chiozza Money's racialist (if not overtly racist) tract, but I can't bring myself to do the same for the White Student Union leaflet. It just feels wrong, somehow, even though they both express much the same ideas, and the leaflet carefully refrains from denigrating non-whites. I guess it's just too close to home, both in time and space. My rule of thumb is generally that if something happened in my lifetime, then it's not history, since it's that much harder to be objective about it. And on top of that, here's somebody perverting MY university's library system to disseminate their racist propaganda. As a scholar, I try to be disinterested about the things I study, but I should not be disinterested in important contemporary issues. My act was a completely trivial one, but after Cronulla, it's the least that I could do.

Anyway, it turns out that in 1931 Sir Leo wrote another book, called Can War be Averted?, which does in fact sound possibly relevant to my topic. So I'm off to the ERC to check it out - hopefully without an unpleasant surprise this time ...

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5 thoughts on “Repost: An unpleasant surprise

  1. Alan Allport

    Well, this is all well and good. But almost ten years have passed, and you still haven't told us if you wear sandels.

  2. Another wonderful name relevant to your interests: Sir Aylmer Firebrace, Regional Fire Officer for London during the Blitz of 1940–41.

  3. Erik Lund

    I can't help looking at that overstock chart and thinking that someone's going to be in trouble for ordering so many British at the next inventory. Don't they have a bet before date?

  4. Erik Lund

    And if this is going to be a competition: "Admiral Sir Manley Power." Though a real opportunity was missed when his parents went with "Laurence" as the middle name, instead of "Lancelot."

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