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February 17, 2003

Authoritarian logic

Australian citizens are now marching against John Howard's war with Iraqi. The rainbow expressions of the carnival have been counterposed to the authoritarian logic of the US war machine.

The Prime Minister rejects the claim that it is his war. He was quoted on Radio National this morning as saying that he still does not believe those citizens who marched represent the majority view.

Mr Howard's account of the events, as has told Channel 9's 60 Minutes is that most Australians realise the need to deal with Iraq. In this interview John Howard says:

"The one constant in all the polls is that people think that Saddam Hussein has got dangerous weapons. They don't believe him and they think something ought to be done," he said.

"I don't think the mob, to use that vernacular, has quite made up its mind on this issue and it can't really make up its mind until we know what all the alternatives are."

The 'mob' Prime Minister? A Freudian slip? Democracy as the mob? That conservative language sits up a collision between the Australian government and Australian citizens. John Howard reinforces this when he adds that, "If my critics are listened to, the world will turn its back on the problem."

Really? Aren't the critics saying that the UN inspectors should be given more time and resources to do their work?

And those nation-states who are not convinced of the need for war by Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5 presentation to the National Security Council? What are they? Appeasers?

The Prime Minister says that we have to act on our obligations under the Anzus alliance even though the US is not attack. Why? Because 'there is only one country that can help with us to guarantee our security and that is the US.'

Prime Minister, are you saying that we ought to go to war with Iraq for the sake of a special (insurance) relationship between Australia and the US?.

I thought that we go to war when Australia's security threatened? Now it is threatened by the threat of violence and terror that is borderless. But how does Iraq fit into this?

It is based on a series of risks---what ifs---says the Prime Minister:

"....when you know that a country has chemical and biological weapons and wants nuclear ones, when you know it is like Iraq, when you know that, if they are not disarmed, others will aspire to do the same, and when you know that the more they have them, the more likely it is that terrorists will get hold of those weapons, you've got to do something and, if you don't, I think you could end up paying a much greater price further down the track."

This is authoritarian logic. That is why there is only a faint hope for peace in this mantra. It is the sheer mediocrity of the arguments that is what is most amazing. And the evidence presented is unconvincing according to the standards of presenting evidence in a court of law.

Why? Why the poor script?

Howard has locked himself into the trajectory of the war machine and he has no control over it. He has little choice now. So he is forced to ride the groundswell of public opinion and confront it with the closed universe of an authoritarian logic. That logic now sounds like a crazy parody in the hands of some of our media commentators. In contrast, the D'hage report's 'View from Istanbul' has its feet grounded in a conversation in civil society.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 17, 2003 10:59 AM


I totally agree with you. Paul Sheehan's logic is completely perverted. It is instructive of how weak his argument is that he resorts to asking futile questions that could so easily be reversed to attack his POV. Eg. What was PS doing when SH invaded Iraq/gassed the Kurds?
All debate has been poisoned since GWB came out with his most infamous Cowboyism: "You are either with US, or you are against US" Not much room for argument left is there? No wonder JWH and the conga line of suckholes (extending beyond the Liberal Party into the opinion pages and warblogs) are so infatuated with the man.

Posted by: Mark Worthington at February 17, 2003 02:47 PM

>>Aren't the critics saying that the UN inspectors should be given more time and resources to do their work? Of course that is what we are saying. It really irritates me that people like Howard and Blair equate a nonviolent solution -- which is almost always the better solution -- with passivity. Like Ganhdi or MLK II or Gene Sharp never existed. It's as if Howard doesn't think progress is being made until people are dying and bullets are flying. He is yesterday's man, proposing a re-run of the 20th century dictum "power comes from the barrel of the gun" , when Australians know very well that war in the Middle East will create more long term problems for us, while (perhaps) solving a few immediate issues that are peripheral to Australia's own national interest, like who runs Iraq next.

Posted by: ausyankee at February 17, 2003 02:49 PM

The 'mob' Prime Minister? A Freudian slip?

The "mob" was Wooley's words, as anyone who read the transcript or watched the show would know very well. Like you, for example.

Posted by: Yobbo at February 17, 2003 06:12 PM

not so fast. I linked the transcript for all to see.

It indicates that Wooley first introduce the word 'mob'. He says:

Sure, but, for a leader of a democracy to go against the tide of public opinoin is stilla considerable thing to do and it is true, to use the kind of vernacular that you use, "the mob don't like".

The transcript then indicates Howard responding --his words are what is what quoted in the public opinion weblog.

My interpretation of this is that John Howard accepts, and is commfortable with, the word 'mob' as a description of those citizens protesting going to war by marching.

If he thought it was a distortion of his position he would said so--that is his usual style in interviews.

What is intersting and why it is a freudial slip is because there is a slide from the protesting marchers to the silent majority. Howard claim that they have not made their mind up on this issue.
Howard cannot be referring to the protestors because they have made their mind up--that is why they are marching.

The slip is a little opening to how Howard views liberal democracy--its the elite version where democracy is run by a wise professional political.

Howard is normally more careful than this--- he has been burned so many times by indiscrete remarks. He is either under a lot of stress or is feeling quite confident.

Of course, he won't be hammered for the slip because most commentators and politicians work with that elite conception of democracy.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 17, 2003 09:12 PM

Must be just me, but there's nothing offensive to the use of the word 'mob' - I would refer to 'my mob' vs 'your mob'.

Posted by: Scott Wickstein at February 17, 2003 11:21 PM

G'day Scott,

Meaning is dependent on context, mate. There's 'my mob', which is syntactically the same 'mob' as your 'mob'. And there is *the* mob, which more closely approximates 'the Great Unwashed', the unruly peasants/plebs/hordes/scum whose atavistic essence definitively disqualifies them from self-rule and policy deliberation. Whatever Howard's view (and thirty years on the front bench is more than long enough to commend the latter definition to even the most virtuous of souls), his political antennae should've picked up Woolley's mischief even if he shared the implied view of the polity.

Posted by: Rob Schaap at February 18, 2003 07:55 AM

Acouple of questions: 1) since when has this country been run --in reality-- by public opinion. We are a representative democracy. For instance the popular opinion is that capital punishment is OK. All political parties by contrast do not agree. We *need* leadership, even when we disagree.

2) What will your position be in OBL manages another major strike soon.?

Posted by: Alan McCallum at February 18, 2003 08:38 AM

Hi Alan,
Public opinion has not ruled the country historically nor can it in a liberal democracy.

Liberal democracy depends upon a healthy but conflict-ridden relationship between the executive, parliament and publc opinion. That relationship has always been structured around the ethos of dialogue, debate and argument--ie., a public reason--- as well as power.

'Mob'says the people rule, that they are irrational and they driven by the politics of envy and resentment. The elite response is that we cannot have that, as it would send the country to rack and ruin.

What Howard's use of 'mob' is doing is emphasising the elite liberal bit at the expense of democratic bit. Another word for this return to democratic rule by an elite gropup of professional managers is leadership. Kennett in Victoria is a good example.

Yes, but he was eventually thrown out by the public (country voters) I hear you say.

True, but he had undermined, and did try to straightjacket, the various democratic institutions in civil society and political life.

So what we have in all this is a debate about the sort of democracy we reckon we need-- a debate that has been going for for over 100 years in Australia.

Q2---I cannot respond. I don't understand your 'OBL and managing another major strike' reference. So I can only make a general abstract point: strikes are one of the battlefields for the contesting views of democracy in Australia.They are about how we understand right, civil liberties,freedom, order and political authority.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 18, 2003 09:20 AM

more like "bully" than "ally" if you ask me...

Posted by: gianna at February 18, 2003 12:03 PM

IMHO, also, "mob" definitely was pejorative in that context. *
Alan--the position "if" OBL strikes again is that everyone will try and get mileage out of it. The Right: "See?! That's why we must bomb Iraq!". The Left: "See?! That's what comes of going around bombing people!".
OBL is getting mileage out of Iraq, and he's practically guaranteed to strike again whether the US bombs Iraq or not. (If the US bombs Iraq, it's a jihad. If the US doesn't bomb Iraq, it's still a jihad.)

Posted by: gianna at February 18, 2003 12:13 PM

I've just read Gianni's comments--OBL is Osma Ben Laden!Silly me. I thought it was an oblique reference to the practices of corrrupt building unions.

If OBL strikes big time--takes out Parliament in Canberra, the Sydney Opera House and BHP House?---you mean. Then take him out.

I thought that's what the war on terror was about anyhow. Its got sidetracked to attack Iraq now with some smoke and mirrors.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 18, 2003 01:26 PM

Seeing as how email was the driving force behind last weekend's rallies, literally organised in the space of about 4 weeks, what we are seeing with antiwar is the emergence of the "smart mob" -- www.smartmobs.com

Posted by: ausyankee at February 18, 2003 01:30 PM

(BTW gary, it's "gianna" not "gianni"....cheers,)

Posted by: gianna at February 19, 2003 09:52 AM

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