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Madam, the charge is treason « Previous | |Next »
August 22, 2003

I have always suspected that the political unconscious of Australian conservatism equates criticism of the Howard Government with being the enemy within.

During the Iraqi war the enemy within was generally charged with anti-Americanism. At one level that meant the critics were only against the conservative America of George Bush. At another level in Australia it also signified the critics were anti the Anerican alliance. Thus it signified being on the side of those who challenged America's geopolitical interests.

The conservatives operate with a conception of politics based on the existential friend/enemy distinction. During the Iraqi war that conception of criticism came close to equating criticism of the US pre-emptive strike policy, and its desire to reshape the whole of the Midlde East, as siding with the external enemy. Siding with the enemy meant supporting Saddam Hussein.

It meant supporting totalitarianism. It meant supporting brutal repression of the Iraqi people. It meant being anti-democracy and opposed to freedom. It meant being anti-Australia. It meant supporting the threatening Other. That meant militant Islam and terrorists who were laying seige to Fortress Australia.

The "logic"---the emotional structure---of the political unconscious equates that with treason.

John Howard emotionally implied as much. He deployed his political code that addresses the political unconscious without ever actually saying as much in words.

But now the political unconscious has surfaced in a parliamentary debate over Telstra. A National Party hitter, De-Anne Kelly, has accused two NSW independents Peter Andren and Tony Windsor of supporting Saddam Hussein.

According to Radio National this morning both Andren and Windsor supported Australia going to war with Iraq under the UN flag.

You only see the political unconscious surfacing every now and aqain. But surface it did with de-Anne Kelly. The word treason is not mentioned. It doesn't need to be. The conservative political unconscious translates the accusation of supporting Saddam Hussein as treason.

How do we interpret what surfaced? For starters, we can say that conservative Australia is not unconsciously and compulsively wedded to liberal political values. It rejects these in relation to democracy. It is deeply suspicious of criticism; to the point of detesting political critique, even though it frequently launches a critique (political criticism ) of the activist High Court from Parliament in an attempt to undermine the independence of the judiciary and authority of the High Court.

And they have often done so without the conventions of restraint so that their "political criticism" amounts to a political attack. Conservatives have consciously broken the legitimate boundaries of debate and conduct between the judiciary and Parliament as defined by conventions of restraint by making the criticism personal and attacking the integrity of judges. The classic example is the attack on Justice Michael Kirby.

Domestically, conservatism is excessively frightened of ideological or political challenge, producing what can only be called 'McCarthyism'---hunting the enemies-of-the-people with the pretence that the enemy within is under the bed. De-Anne Kelly indicates that Australian conservatives are deeply and excessively threatened by ideological challenges. Their very identity as a people is at stake in them and they are unused to defending themselves ideologically.

Their conception of freedom in Australia is limited by a deep conformitarian ethos. This ethos is profoundly anti-individualistic, because the common standard is its core and deviations from that standard inspire it with an irrational fright.

We can see this with the reaction by conservative Australia to the challenge thrwon up by the neo-liberal mode of governance of the 1980s and 1990s. Conservatism asserts the preeminence of tradition in American life in opposition to an an anti-historical rationalism of economic liberalism. Australian conservative typically expressed the desire to preserve a valued way of life against disruptive and alienating changes. It characterized society as an organic whole, knit together by traditions and the institutions through which they are sustained. It regarded with deep skepticism, and latent hostility, the market liberal's proposals for sweeping transformations of social life.

So what is de Anne Kelly doing here? What is being bought into play is the special mission for an elite ---ie ., the National Party vis-a-vis the populist independents. As a member of this elite, De-Anne Kelly is acting not only as a guardian of cultural traditions and dominant institutions but also as the conscious bearer of tradition. She is acting as one of the elites chiefly responsible for initiating whatever modifications to our public institutions the altered circumstances of globalization seem to require.


| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:03 AM | | Comments (0)
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