ADELAIDE - It is a guilty pleasure to read a Marxist analysis of Michael Somare's contribution to Papua New Guinea’s history.
The pleasure lies in its character as a useful antidote to the fawning hagiography which characterised many of the Grand Chief’s obituaries.
It takes me back to my student days when I was studying philosophy under Professor Brian Medlin, a renowned Marxist and leader of the Moratorium Movement against Australia's participation in the Vietnam War.
At one point he was imprisoned for his participation in a Moratorium march. This hugely increased both his profile and notoriety amongst the students at Flinders University, hence my desire to study under his tutelage.
Anyway, Professor Medlin taught his students that there is more than one way of seeing the world and that this usually is done through the prism of culture.
All philosophy is an expression of culture in some way: there is no purely objective way for humans to see and understand the world.
Professor Medlin strove to at least diminish the distortions such prisms caused amongst his students although not with much success in the case of most of them.
Indeed, his impact upon my thinking came long after I ceased being his student.
I mention this because I believe that, fundamentally, modern PNG is a product of its prevailing cultural norms
Somare and others were almost certainly doomed from the start in their efforts to create a Melanesian version of a liberal democracy.
The sheer weight of PNG's ancient cultures, notably the pattern of life based upon mutual reciprocity and familial and tribal communalism, was always likely to make it very hard indeed to create a political system in which the power of the wantok was muted.
Like many kiaps, I recognised this potential problem early on, but the great and the good were certainly not listening to the kiaps or even the people as Pax Australiana ploughed on towards independence.
Another major mistake at the time was to assume that PNG was and would be easy to govern.
After all, it was probably thought, if a comparative handful of kiaps and police scattered around the country could exert effective control over such a diverse and untamed population, surely an indigenous Melanesian government could do even better?
While I think that Michael Somare was, on balance, a positive force in PNG history he was hardly without his flaws.
In particular, he succumbed to the enormous pressures exerted by the cultures he was a part of and the added pressures arising from having to engage with the voracious neo-liberal capitalism that had always been lurking in wait for the day when PNG's colonial masters and protectors departed.
PNG is still struggling with these same stresses and seems likely to do so for the foreseeable future.
It has the added pressure of having to deal with the rise of a new imperial power in the east.
China is no less self-interested and determined to assert its dominance than were the European imperial powers of the last century.
It is not inconceivable that PNG will once again find itself caught up in conflict between the world's great powers just as it was between 1942, when Japanese imperial forces invaded, and 1945.
What form that conflict will take is an open question but that it will occur seems certain.