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

markets, morality, politics « Previous | |Next »
January 11, 2007

David Burchill has an op-ed in the Australian Financial Review that picks up on Kevin Rudd's recent talk about the market fundamentalism of the Howard Government. Rudd, to his credit, has made an effort to articulate his fundamental ethical commitments that we deploy to explain and justify to ourselves and to others what we value, and we we do so. Rudd recognizes the extent to which politics is ethically informed and the way the ALP has been struggling for over the "moral values thing. It's version of social democracy has an ethical deficit.

Burchill acknowledges that Rudd's charge of market fundamentalism is misplaced as the Howard Government has been economically pragmatic rather market fundamentalist. He then adds that Rudd's claim has less to do with economic policy than political imagination. Burchill says that Rudd's:

...key claim is not that the government is too market minded, but rather that its market-minded vision involves it in refusing to accept the reality of other political signals such as conscience and morality. ...This is a pregnant political theme. It speaks to the anxieties of many parents in recent years, that the traditional space of morals and values has been evacuated in the rush to personal success of recent decades.

Maybe. Isn't the Howard government strong on morals as well? Defending heterosexual families, pushing welfare to work reform for single mothers and self-responsibility is being strong on morals. This appeals to the individualist values of the protestant moral middle class, does it not?

Burchill's argument is the ALP needs to talk the morality talk in order to win over the electorate. He goes on to say that:

Rudd is calling for a loose pragmatic coalition of post-1960s radicals and old style conservatives, against what both commonly view as the amoral economic liberalism of of the contemporary right...Rudd is still feeling his way...He's clearly searching for positions that will allow Labor to build a winning social coalition, by prising elements of the conservatives successful coalition away from them.

That is what returning to the centre means. So who is Rudd going to prise off the coalition's base with his religious based moral discourse of compassion? Why none other than 'Labor's blue-collar supporters?' Supporters? Aren't these the Tory working class that went over to Howard because of their social conservatism? Why would they return to the ALP?

What is forgotten by Burchill is the way that the ALP has trouble articulating with clarity and conviction the vision of economic justice that underlies its social and economic policies; and second, even a strong argument for economic or social justice does not, by itself, constitute a governing moral/political vision. What he doesn't seem to recognize is that liberalism has become an enfeebled public philosophy that's lost its capacity to inspire. The ALP's straining to connect with questions of moral values hasn't carried conviction up to now.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:52 PM |