Article Title

Modernity’s Discontents: Esmonde Higgins and James Rawling as Labour Intellectuals


Terry Irving


In the first half of the twentieth century, two young men from different backgrounds broke with the ruling culture in Australia and became labour intellectuals.2 Why did this happen? Was there some disruptive element in their early engaement with ruling ideas – perhaps in their family life – that made their defection possible? And how did the break occur? Was it due perhaps to a moment of intellectual enlightenment, in which powerful new ideas captured the mind, or did it also involve a coming together of history and biography, a moment of concentrated exposure to modernity’s discontents at the same time as disorienting personal crises? Further, in their commitment to communism, how did they understand their political practice as intellectuals? And how should we understand it? Did it draw on their previous training and experiences? As intellectuals they were ‘modern’ men, but what kind of modernists were they?