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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

a little fissure « Previous | |Next »
June 7, 2003

One of the least remarked aspects of the Costello/Howard fallout by the Canberra Press Gallery is the differences between them suggested by Costello's deliberate use of 'tolerance.' Few have connected the liberal notion of a tolerant Australia to the conservative populism of the national security state as articulated by John Howard. That was encapsulated by a strong Australia. Some acknowledge that tolerance signifies Costello starting to sing his own song but they then more or less leave it at that.

In using this classic liberal word, Costello has marked a rupture with Howard's embrace of the old One Nation Party and Howard's exploitation of the fears and resentments of the One Nation electorate through an appeal to national belonging. Thus we have John Howard marketed as the traditional Anglo-Australian conservative with the white picket fence and the traditional family all drapped in the national flag.

Both Costello/Howard concur that Australia can only become prosperous through the free market, and that the state should be strong in terms of defending its borders and fighting international terrorism. But Costello's use of tolerance indicates a rupture with Howard's strong state defending the common cultural heritage against the non-white refugees desiring to become Australian citizens. A strong state protects its own Anglo-Australian culture from the aliens within and without in the name of Australia First. It says NO.

The conservative culture of the national security state is exclusionary and its strategy is to exploit the fears of the alien others now marked by Islam and Muslem. Some (cosmopolitan liberals) call it a xenophobic populism ie., the people against the elites, outsiders and scapegoats, with the nation defined in terms of ethnic nationalism. The 'We are all Australians' (Anzacs) populism is an appeal to Old Australia and its idea of assimilation, even if this appeal is also coupled to a strong dose of neo-liberalism and economic reform.

Costello's shift is a little fissure: a shift from ethnic to civic nationalism and thus to a more liberal nationalism. But tolerance is a big code word within the Liberal Party. It will have multiple meanings to those living within this culture. It will resonate with reconcilation and immigration issues.

From the outside looking in, tolerance stands for liberalism not conservatism; a way to achieve social cohesion within the national security state. It says that the way to an open, tolerant liberal society is through a civic nationalism. It holds things together to counteract the way market reform pulls things apart by creating winners and losers.

Update

So what does a tolerant liberal society mean apart from evoking warm fuzzy feelings? Try this:

"Well, according to him neo-conservatism asserts some people are better than others, while socialism asserts that everybody is the same. He says both are untrue because people do manifestly differ from one another, but those differences cannot be judged by anyone, so they must be tolerated if society is to exist at all. Thus, liberal tolerance is the only virtue that matters, perhaps the only virtue in existence...Liberal tolerance teaches that it is all right to disagree with the views or beliefs of another as long as you don't act on those beliefs to restrict the freedom of action and belief of others."

Liberal tolerance has its limits:

"....in the liberal version of tolerance you daren't disagree with their favourite causes or you're exorciated as a bigot, a fool, an exploiter of the poor, or a 'phobe' of some kind. That's exactly my point. Entertain a dissenting opinion, and you cross the limits of their fake tolerance on the spot."

So we wonder. What does Costello's appeal to tolerance stand for? Maybe we should question the the scope of tolerance. For instance, we should not be tolerate of those actions and beliefs that make people suffer through living damaged lives.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:38 PM | | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (2)
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Comments

Comments

Where is this xenophobic populism Gary? I live in the inner west of Sydney, where the thriving urban streetscape incorporates more Greek and Vietnamese signage than it does english and the people passing by are more likely to be Ghanaian, Samoan, Tongan, Lebanese, Chinese etc than they are to be identifiably Lawsonian "Australian". One third of Sydney's 4 million+ people were born outside Australia.

We're one of a handful of nation states that is pledged to a "land of immigrants" reality. Some 100,000 arrived last year - around 12,000 of them refugees.

The constant conflation of 'border protection' with 'migration policy' in order to create the illusion of a Fortress Anglo Australia is fundamentally dishonest and totally untrue.

I believe that we could - and should - increase our migrant/refugee intake but some of the strongest objections to so doing come from the Conservationist Left which believes that we're already over-populated against a reasoned sustainability matrix. Wonder why that's never read as misanthropic xenophobia.....?

Geoff,
What I'm trying to do with this post is articulate the kind of nationalism that John Howard stands for and which Peter Costello is distancing him from through Costello's use of 'tolerance.'

Clearly tolerance means something significant within the culture of the Liberal Party----a big code word if you like.

I do not know the code. So I'm having a go at interpreting it from the outside in terms of the national security state ----not in terms of immigration policy or even reconciliation.

The point you raise is significant----ie., the multicultural reality of contemporary Australia. Tolerance would accept that reality and it respect the different ethnic cultures.

Tolerance implies intolerance as its opposite. That means Howard stands for intolerance---the code. That implies an unwillingness to respect a multicultural Australia. What I am suggesting is that it means Fortress Anglo Australia given Howard's incoporation of Hansonite populism in the late 1990s.

Am I reading Howard as seen through the eyes fo Costello wrong?

What I am not doing by using these words is imposing them on reality. I'm responding to, and picking up on, what is going in the culture of the Liberal Party.

I'm more than happy for others to spell the meaning of the code signified by for Costello's use of tolerance. I'm just trying to open it up for discussion.

And as for the conservative side of the Labor Party, well, Costello is not speaking to them. They are not going to vote for him as a leader of the Liberal Party.Though they might at a federal election if and when he becomes leader of the Liberal Party.

Maybe the question you pose hangs more on what frames as the opposite to "tolerance" in the Liberal Party sense. I agree with your assessment of the touchstones Costello is attempting to define himself against with "tolerance" - multiculturalism, immigration, accepting an undefined (but sort of acknowledged nonetheless) range of diverse lived realities etc. But then you look at say, a Tim Fischer - who would probably be more a Howardite than a Costello follower in Coalition terms - and his lived political reality. It's well to the "tolerant" left of where Costello (a buttoned up Melbourne Tory after all) would lay claim to be. What of Marise Payne's understanding of tolerance? Hers would be a much more communitarian take than Costello's intrinsically individualist focus.

But then. what's the evidence for Howard himself being "intolerant" - and in terms of what criteria and whose agenda? He has no religiosity axe to grind - Australia is a remarkably secularist society and there's nothing like - for instance - the fundamentalist religious Right lobby that bedevils US politics. Does he really have a vision of a white picket fence Anglo-Celtic suburban Oz stuck in the 1950's? His three kids show all the signs of being mature well-balanced habitues of the inner Sydney multicultural millenium scene - no picket fences there. Is he with the Wilson Tuckey's, the Heffernan's, the Peter Slippers' or does their very "stand-out" nature in the politics of the Centre Right actually begin to define three - rather than two - poles to the theory?

Geoff,
I concur that Costello's tolerance is a very individualistic liberal one.

No doubt the use of tolerance is designed to act as a magnet for the diverse lived political realities of those social & rights-based liberals in the Liberal Party who are uncomfortable with Howardite conservatism, but are obliged to hold their tongue.

There may well be lots of different threads here which Costello is trying to pull his way. Tolerance is the key word that makes sense of their diverse political realities.

The implied intolerance charge is Costello's agenda not mine;and it is according to his criteria not mine.

(I evaluate them all in terms of sustainability and it is notably missing in Costello's image of a prosperous,strong and tolerant Australia.They are going to dam all to save the River Murray.)

I'm not charging Howard with intolerance. I am arguing that Howard's nationalism is an ethnic one (Anglo-British & assimilation to achieve social cohesion) whilst Costello's is a civic nationalism.

Costello's choice of 'tolerance' as his triangular wedge between Genghis Howard and the ALP is redolent of GW's short-lived creed of 'compassionate conservatism' and should be taken with just as much salt. He may have been near the front of the queue when the brains were being handed out, but he was nearer the rear for heart.