catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Mises – the Australian connection

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It is not generally known that there was an Australian connection in the English translation of the Mises book On Socialism. The journalist and writer Brian Penton met a Hungarian economist named Jacques Kahane in London. They collaborated on the translation but only Kahane’s name appeared in the book. Kahane worked with a miller and he spent almost a year overseas in Argentina buying wheat while Penton pressed on with the translation.

Both Penton and his wife Olga dedicated their first books to Kahane. This was Penton’s novel “The Landtakers” which is one line with the Australian Gutenberg Project. Olga Penton’s first book A Rapid Latin Course was dedicated to Kahane with the inscription that she had “hoped that her first book would be a different one”. She was writing a novel while she worked as a Latin teacher to pay the rent.

Penton was a remarkable journalist and commentator and he was given full rein in the old Telegraph. It is hard to think of any modern figure who has a similar range.

“When Penton returned to Sydney towards the end of 1933 to take up a position on the pre-Packer Telegraph, his version of himself as a ‘stirrer’ could be articulated in very sophisticated terms. No mere populist muckraker, Penton saw himself as a serious social critic inheriting and carrying forward the values of two distinct intellectual traditions. One was the political tradition of ‘classical English liberalism’, from Locke through John Wilkes to Gladstone and Deakin; the other was the much older and more diverse literary tradition of libertine individualism, that included the likes of Petronius, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Sterne — and of course Lawrence, Huxley and Norman Lindsay in the modern era. The two traditions, while broadly congruent, have some key differences of emphasis, notably in relation to liberal conceptions of a ‘common good’ in society, a notion to which Penton was increasingly drawn.”

“In the early 1930s, though, it was the more insistent individualism of the literary tradition that dominated his journalistic style and his cultural preoccupations. These appeared very engagingly in the daily column he wrote for the Telegraph in 1934- 35, the Sydney Spy, in which he ranged across a wide spectrum of issues, on all of which he had definite opinions: censorship, religion, education, journalism, music, literature, popular culture, feminism, the Aborigines, nationality and nationalism, democracy, ethics, and the implications of relativity and quantum physics, to name the most frequent. The menu was surprisingly intellectual for the Sydney Telegraph as it then was — a cheerfully unpretentious broadsheet with a reputation for innovative graphic design and a strong interest in Hollywood and sport. Accordingly, Penton leavened the mix with occasional celebrity interviews — people like Krishnamurti, Jack Davey, Major Douglas and Harold Larwood.”

“From as early as 1943, Penton was beginning to frame his thinking about Australia and the world in more positive, ‘reconstructive’ terms. In his second, longer monograph Advance Australia — Where? (1943), written mainly for the British and American markets, he outlined a version of a new order somewhat different from the state-regulated model favoured by intellectuals associated with the ministry of post-war reconstruction such as ‘Nugget’ Coombs and Lloyd Ross.15 For Penton, as for some others on the moderate Right, the war had shown the desirability of closer co-operation between government and industry, but not at the price of economic and social isolation: ‘The only kind of new order that offers Australia any long future is a world of equalised opportunity — a world of freer trade, common currency, racial tolerance, and common aims.’”

“What Penton was proposing in 1943-44, ironically, was pretty close to what the Hawke/Keating governments tried to deliver some forty years later: a re-organisation of primary production on more cost-effective and less environmentally destructive lines, and a general lowering of tariffs and immigration barriers, aimed at integrating Australia into its geographic region. Some of the more radically alternative realities he envisaged — the peaceful and gradual ‘Asianisation’ of Australian society, and the elimination of State governments, for example — no longer look so far off. Others, like the relocation of Australia’s heavy industrial plant to Britain, where it could be better defended, look distinctly looney — but didn’t at the time; and there are surprisingly few in that category.”


Written by Admin

November 8, 2006 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Speaking of Austro-Anglo connections, Rafe, did you see this essay on Mises and John Bates Clark a few weeks ago?


    November 8, 2006 at 9:53 pm

  2. Yes I saw it without reading it right through. Cannan in Britain was mentioned with Bates as an important figure and I knew of him as the teacher of Bill Hutt before he went off to South Africa to become a teacher himself.

    Rafe Champion

    November 8, 2006 at 10:46 pm

  3. I’m unlikely to move beyond my criticism of ultra-libertarianism but I do find a lot of the Austrian essays ‘n stuff I read to be broadly compatible with my other values.


    November 9, 2006 at 12:28 am

  4. Near enough is good enough , CL.


    November 9, 2006 at 1:03 am

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