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

Downer's intellectual bankruptcy « Previous | |Next »
May 2, 2006

No doubt you have read Alexander Downers' recent intervention into the history wars in todays Australian and the various comments in the Australian blogosphere, and you've made up your minds about what's going.

Downer's op ed. is even worse than I 'd thought. Downer is not interested in taking a knife to ALP mythology. He is attempting to rewrite, nay distort, the historical record to paint the ALP as the party of pacifism, appeasement and little Australia. Try this for starters:

Curtin's view was that Australian soldiers should never be engaged in Europe under any circumstances. It was a view based on a blind commitment to pacifism and underpinned by the notion that Australia was "but a minor power, a small nation remote from the great centres" and incapable of playing any substantial role in the international fights against tyranny
.
The historical fact is that it was John Curtin who stood up to Churchill's attempt to reinforce the imperial Burmese force with Australian troops (without air support or sea control) , and he successfully fought to bring Australian troops home to defend Australia from the Japanese threat in 1942. (See the comments in this post.) What Downer should have done--if he was intellectually honest---is undercut the myth of Curtin as a great war lord saving Australia from the Japanese on the grounds that the Battle of Australia never took place.

What we have is this--the main thust of the op.ed:

The Labor Party has continued the Curtin policy of pacifism and isolationism to this day. When it comes to great international challenges, be it Nazism or global terror, the Labor Party has adopted the position that Australia is a tiny, isolated backwater that has no responsibility to do any of the heavy lifting. Labor has lacked the courage to combat evil. It clings to the vain hope that by shrinking and hiding Australia may avoid the firing line of tyrannical regimes and terrorists.

Downer makes no mention of the ALP's historical commitment to a liberal internationalism, that is mixed into Labor's acknowledgement of Australia's reliance for its security on the British or the Americans. This mix cashes out through Gough Whitlam as placing a greater emphasis on a more independent Australian stance in international affairs.
And then Downer says this:
Kim Beazley sits squarely in this Labor tradition of weakness. Whereas Curtin said that it didn't matter if Germany was run by Nazis, Beazley thought that we should have left Saddam Hussein in power; we were wrong to help our allies get rid of him. "We are a small country in a world of giants," Beazley says. Can you hear Curtin's echo?

No I can't. What I hear is the fact that it was the deeply entrenched tradition of liberal internationalism that informed the ALP's decision to oppose a war against Iraq without an unambiguous UN mandate.

More can be found at Polemica

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:49 PM | | Comments (11)
Comments

Comments

Gary.You just had to do it Downer!Who cares what Downer thinks?In fact his own party doessn't care what he thinks.The question is does Downer think at all?Im sorry Im going out to shoot myself end of transmission-------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------
Phill.

Phill,
the op.ed will disappear from the public domain in a couple of days--so much for Murdoch's commitment to the internet, public debate and the public sphere.

I want the words to stay ought there for people to read.

Foreign policy is one of the interesting areas where there are several different policies that have been used and are competing for mindshare.

We have had Evatt style international liberalism, Menzies/Curtin/Howard style great and powerful friends doctrine and Keating's Engagement.

Downer's article makes no mention of any of them - it is useless as meaningful political discourse.

He could have made an argument for the GAPF, but he didn't.

Cameron,
me thinks it has more to do with the partisan warfare conception of politics.

Schmitt is referring to the classical partisan ie; the deeply rooted localism of the classical partisan fighter, the original backwoods Spanish guerrilleros who were the anti-Napoleonic freedom fighters.

I reckon the concept of the partisan has been picked up. and applied to contemporary politics by the Republicans. The backwards-looking partisans fight in the name of tradition, seek the reestablishment of customary law, and wage a defensive battle against modernizing political and social forces.

The foe is liberalism which postulates a false universalism.The Republican partisan sees liberal as the other, the stranger who is existentially something different and alien.They are the public enemy.

A commentary on Schmitt's piece by William E. Scheuerman who wrote a book on Schmitt in the 1990s.

Gary.
seriously,At the risk of getting off topic, one of the reasons the Labor Party is finding it hard to get traction against the Howard government is because (and considering your thoughts as usual which I agree with) the main stream media lets the commentary of full blown wing nuttery go to press, be it spread sheet, electronic with never ever any in depth analysis of an contrary view. Unfortunately the people who listen to the likes of e.g. Philip Adams are already converted.

When one looks at pompous nuff nuffs like Downer, one must consider who he really represents in society.Even an liberal member of say a seat like Fremantle (perish the thought) wouldn't have the unmitigated gaul to re-write history as Downer has done.Downer knows how to get up the noses of the old king makers in the Labor Party, go to a Labor Party piss up and mock Curtin,chances are you may escape just tarred and feathered. Downer has achieved the responce as expected.He is trying to dilute the real issues at hand.

But the real method in his madness, is this is about justifying the total abject failure of our foriegn policy visa vie Iraq and the possible attack on Iran that for mine I believe is in the pipeline.Only this time my guess is we may be going it alone with the U.S...words like appeasment (how Churchillian I want to throw up) combat evil, how base!

A grade seven drop out like me can see through this sophistry.

Gary, Interesting. I will have to go through it in more detail later.

It is sad that the level of discourse is this base. As there could be some ding-dong debates over foreign policy with examples being given of what works, and why.

This would require it not devolving into partisan or celebrity (PM?) sniping. Which I dont see happening. The citizen commenteriat discusses these things with with better accuracy and quality than the parties or media does.

These articles popped up on metafilter today, which you might be interested in; Mind Games and Truth from the Podia of which there are six pdfs.

I suspect Downer's flamebaiting looks to those practices for inspiration too.

Cameron
it is pretty well acccepted that the 'citizen commenteriat discusses these things with with better accuracy and quality than the parties or media does' isn't it?

What you call 'Downer's flamebaiting' can be see as a characterstic of the mentality of the partisan. Schmitt said that the partisan can be defined as possessing four main attributes.The fourth is of interest: For Schmitt, the partisan is fundamentally a defensive creature, with an
intimate relationship to a concrete locality and, typically, the soil, engaged in life-or-death battles with regular armies having universalistic aspirations. The partisan is concerned chiefly with driving an overreaching imperialistic enemy from his home territory.

For the partisan, the political foe is an absolute enemy whose physical elimination is justified: they understand themselves as the only true representatives of authentic customs and traditions which their political enemies
are simply unable to express or share. In their eyes, the enemy is truly an 'existentially alien other.'

This is what Downer is trying to manufacture or create with the help of Murdoch.

Gary, It is odd too, you can watch a reasonable article devolve in the comments section in the space of five comments. One of the hardest things to do is not reply. I have been on the internet long enough to know when I am being trolled or flamed but it is hard. One of my favourite sites has the motto "step away from the keyboard" - basically you are being trolled.

The media has a whole economic model based on trolling and flamebaiting their audience. It is a powerful mechanism for gaining attention - unfortunately it brings about inferior results in all other aspects of public life.

It also never ceases to amaze me how a small but persistent minority can disrupt to the point of pure noise. This is the same dynamic as the insurgents in Iraq. At last count IIRC, they were about 15,000 disrupting a paralyzing a nation of 25 million! That is two orders of magnitude difference.

I suspect this is why a political party can publish into media like The Australian and completely disrupt meaningful discourse on the subject.

The fourth characteristic of Schmitt's you pointed out has mimiced itself in media segmentation; in both mass media and new media. Sites like dailykos, freerepublic, littlegreenfootballs etc are just massive echo chambers of large numbers of people violently agreeing with each other.

Fox News is following the same segmented model. It is providing an uncritical and unchallenging outlet for its audience. At the moment it happens to be statist and highly partisan, I suspect though if the audience moves or dominishes, Fox News will rapidly change to the new audience. It is money making first and foremost.

Fox News is providing an echo chamber for its audience, but - that is what their audience wants! Many internet sites are supplying the same experience for their users.


Cameron,
you write:

We have had Evatt style international liberalism, Menzies/Curtin/Howard style great and powerful friends doctrine and Keating's Engagement.Downer's article makes no mention of any of them - it is useless as meaningful political discourse.He could have made an argument for the GAPF, but he didn't.

Well,he did in a way. Downer rejected a small Australia,isolationism, continental defence, an independent foreign policy and liberal internationalism.

And he puts something new on the table.

He is arguing for Australia as a powerful big nation to use its weight on the world stage as a deputy sheriff for the US engaging in pre-emptive strikes. We should be proud of who we are and use our muscle to shape the world against evil and bad nations.We should be in the Middle East because the world is our stage.

I'm suprised Downer isn't out there bashing Iran and the UN for failing to get tough on Iran. I presume he is on a lesh.


Cameron,
Gardiner is surely right about the pattern of misinformation fed to the broadsheet press around the Iraqi war; and that the war was handled like a political campaign in which the emphasis was not on the truth but on 'being on the message.'

You could see that in the way Canberra echoed Washington as the message changed. It was an information war based on mass deception. Information warriors is such a good term,as it highlights the way the military makes the media 'a battlefield tool.'

This gives rise to contest over the framing of reality, and the world does become a hall of mirrors for the press.What is seen in the mirrors needs decoding and this was largely performed by the liberal/lefty bloggers.

The Murdoch media do see their role as a weapon in an information war that seems destined to go on for decades. They are busily engaged in framing reality in the war on terror on behalf of Washington, Canberra and London.

Thanks for leaving the post available. I've been having an anti Downer/Murdoch day. The thoughts feed my seething anger nicely.