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

Hocus pocus « Previous | |Next »
August 25, 2003

I sort of knew that the script about elites versus the mainstream circulated through the public sphere. And that it was a weapon used by the warriors of the right as an exercise to gird their loins before they went off to fight the culture wars, attack the ALP and prove themselves to be heroes for the damsels back home in Toorak or Sydney's North Shore.

I accepted that this script for political theatre was something along the lines of mythmaking because we all need to be clothed. This was the conservative's current set of clothing. I didn't go for the mythological fashion myself, but, hey, we all need something to protect our naked bodies in public. So what if the Liberal/National Party attacked Menzie's old moral middle class as the chattering classes, the chardonnay set and the elites.

I never seriously thought that the polemics was taken seriously when used by the likes of Andrew Bolt. I thought they understood that their polemics was all a bit of smoke and mirrors to entertain the readers. You know, infotainment to keep the circulation going up.

Then I read this junk by David Flint. My God, I thought. The conservatives actually believe what they have been peddling for the last decade.

Flint starts off alright:


"In his book, The Revolt of the Elites, US author Christopher Lasch describes as elite the opinions of the typical upper-middle-class small-l liberal left wing on social and cultural issues. In Australia, the media, the university humanities faculties and the arts are replete with elite opinion."

Fine. Lasch is engaging with cosmopolatian lefty liberalism (not socialism) that turned its back on the nation. He writes from within a populism that is wary and suspicious of professional politics of Canberra. And the populists had good reason to be suspicions. As Flint observes it was because so much of the elite agenda [eg., deregulatory market reform] "was achieved during the past three decades without the consent of the people and even against their wishes." He is pretty on that. You have have to remember Pauline Hanson's populist account of why the country had gone downhill under the Hawke/Keating Labor Partyand the demonizing of economic rationalism in the regions.

Then Flint makes two crucial moves that are necessary for his politics. Two moves that take him down the greasy slope to the land of hocus pocus.

The first move is this:


"The so-called elites are the modern equivalent of the guardians in Plato's Republic who, because of their self-assumed superior knowledge, intelligence and morality are entitled, indeed destined, to guide the ship of state."

Flint is right in his interpretation of Plato's account of the guardians but wrong to equate left liberals in the academy with Plato's guardians. Why? Because the latter are the real rulers of the polis. They have real political power and they ran the ship of state. Lefty academics do not have that political power. Canberra does in Australia. Or Murdoch and Packer, if you prefer. Not the philosophers in academia. Flint is living in cloud cuckoo land.

The second move Flint makes is this:


"Meanwhile, the mainstream, while accepting gradual change, remains attached to our traditional beliefs and institutions. Along with Edmund Burke, they believe that society is a partnership, a partnership between those who are alive today, those who have gone before us and those yet to be born."

Nope the mainstream of Australia lives with the house of liberalism. It is elites such as Flint, Tony Abbott and John Howard who live in the old house of Burkean conservatism.

And it gets worse as we continue to slide down the slippery slope. Flint says:


"So those who dare present the traditional views of most Australians are inevitably branded as conservative, or worse. But members of the elite commentariat are presented to the public as if they are mainstream which of course they are not. If you believe in cultural relativism, or that crime should not be followed by punishment, or that our borders should be thrown open in sum if you oppose traditional institutions and values you are hardly in the mainstream. "

The concern with tradition, traditional institutions and values is a part of what constitutes conservatism. And I thought that the cultural left commentariat attacked the liberal mainstream for being soft on racism when Pauline Hanson was making her big performance. It was the old script about enlightened knowedge versus prejudice and ignorance from memory. And, surely it is only the libertarians who favour open borders.

And so it goes, all the way down the slippery slope to cloud cuckoo land. This is a dishonest and self-delusionary conservatism. Conservatism has enabled the LIberal Party fo Australia to talk about something more than dr market economics and to reconnect with ordinary with our everyday Australian experience in our common life. Hence Howard's conservative talk about egalitarianism fair go and mateship.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:41 PM | | Comments (0)
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