Australia's New Class Structure

The gun debate is not only an American issue; it swirls around a cultural divide throughout Western countries.  Each country has its own variations, but the core of the issue is in the conflicts in Western societies

In Australia as in the United States, there is a vaguely-defined class conflict in progress.  Essentially, competing groups struggle because they have conflicting core values.  The classes have been called the ‘Cosmopolitans’ and the ‘Parochials’ (eg Betts 1999, Luna 2002). 

Cosmopolitans (the 'New Class') are the late 20th century ‘middle-class’; they are generally tertiary-educated and articulate but otherwise diverse. Overwhelmingly the people involved in the government, media, health and education sectors come from this class.  They have core values that transcend the historic left-right, black-white or even rich-poor divisions. 

Cosmopolitan values include belief in the importance of education, social moderation of behaviour and attitudes, preventing violence, acting for non-discrimination and empowering the oppressed.  Cosmopolitans commonly have travelled and approve multiculturalism.  The values reflect the development of Western society from a dominantly Christian and capitalist-colonialist social ethic, the incorporation of Marxist and socialist values in academic culture, to develop the current liberal consensus which sees key values shared by the left and right of politics. 

This class framework helps us understand the division between the 'chardonnay socialists' (the academic left and public service class) and the working-class  people ('aspirational Australians') they despise as racist and unthinking.

Parochials are tagged ‘bedrock Americans’ or ‘ordinary Australians’.  Their core values are generally traditional; they approve conventional gender roles and attribute violence and social dysfunction to individual choices more than social forces.  Their values are more family-oriented and in some cases Christian-influenced. In general, less time in education and stronger identification with peers means they are unlikely to adopt beliefs that are fashionable among academics and cosmopolitans. 

Cosmopolitan values stereotype Parochial people as 'rednecks' or 'racist' - that is, identifying themselves and their peers by distinguishing from the ‘other’, whether on the basis of ideas, behaviour or race. This stereotype in cosmopolitan values is part of the Cosmopolitan's own self-definition. 

For instance, cosmopolitans were desperately critical of  ordinary Australians' quiet support of the Australian Government's response to the 'asylum seekers' after Tampa, interpreting it as evidence of irredeemable racism in 'ordinary Australians'.

Each group uses attitudes to race, gender, religion, abortion and gun control as ‘status markers’ to define and diminish the ‘other’.  Emotive labels are used: ‘champagne socialist’, ‘abortionist baby killer’, 'politically correct apparatchik',  ‘gun nut’ or ‘redneck’.  ‘Redneck’ had no Australian derivation, but is used in Australia to denigrate parochials, even in Parliament (eg Crean 2002).  This derogatory import shows how the new class conflict in Australia is based in Western World cosmopolitan values, shaped in  public discourse spanning the English-speaking world

Rational discussion on marker issues like gun control is not expected.  Moral value is assigned to the speaker’s opinions by the use of emotionally-charged language.  Win-win solutions are not possible because the terms of debate, set by activists of the cosmopolitan class, are defined in contempt for those who disagree (Kates 1992).  In Australia, the cosmopolitan value system almost exclusively qualifies entry to public discourse.  In the United States the marker issues are not as closed, at least in the public forum.  

As in other kinds of discrimination, the dominant social group projects or ‘sees’ unacceptable values onto the out-group.  They represent them as morally contaminated.  They pass legislative sanctions to validate the dominant group’s moral position.  In this kind of politics, symbolic action is approved in contemptuous disregard for evidence.

The obvious historic examples are America’s Prohibition, Western Australia’s mandatory sentencing law, and the Australian anti-Chinese immigration laws that evolved into the White Australia Policy.  These well-known examples of legislative sanction are founded in moral status display.


Betts, Katharine, 1999.  The Great Divide: The Politics of Immigration. Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney.

Crean, S 2002. Govt 'appeasing redneck MPs'. The Government was adding qualifications to its decision to ratify International Criminal Court (ICC) membership as a sop to back bench rednecks, Opposition Leader Simon Crean said.  The Australian, 20 March 2002.

Kates, D. 1992. Bigotry Symbolism and Ideology in the Battle over Gun Control. PUBLIC INTEREST LAW REVIEW.  


Luna, E 2002.  The .22 calibre Rorschach test.  Houston Law Review 39, 59-131.