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

conservative eh? « Previous | |Next »
October 26, 2007

There's a smidgeon of hypocrisy going on when a publication devoted to guarding the free market from the ravages of communism relies on funding other than profit from sales for its continued survival. Unlike that hotbed of postmodern, self-loathing, communist, Labor-voting maniacs bunkered down at The Monthly, Quadrant magazine is not entirely subject to the laws of supply and demand.

Be that as it may, Guy Rundle at Crikey thinks that the appointment of Keith Windschuttle as Editor heralds the dementia years for the grand old girl. Gold-leafed erections aside, the bigger story is the death throes of the culture wars. Windschuttle is just too, well, Windschuttle to sustain any pretence at reasonable.

Greg Sheridan has been lamenting the demise of the conservative worldview before the body's even cold, blaming Howard for failing to sufficiently squish the ABC, pulverise the public service or cut those infamous elitists in our universities off at the knees.

So after 12 years of Howard Government, the Australia Day committee gives us a rank agitator such as Tim Flannery as Australian of the Year.


The Left is full of energy. The most lively small publication is the left-wing magazine The Monthly.

Damn their eyes. Even the lethal combination of common sense and market forces can't prevent the relentless march of polluting progressive thought. We'll all be rooned.

Griffith Review is apparently yet another example of putrescence seeping unchecked across our glorious land of bounty, fortitude and convention. Chipping away at the conservative mothballs valiantly repelling voracious and wanton leftist moths from our green and gold cardigans.

It keeps popping up around here, but the Australian Election Study [pdf] gathers a bunch of interesting things about 'we the people' into one place. Contrary to what we've been told about ourselves for what seems like several lifetimes, Australia is not conservative in the culture wars sense. If any. We know plenty of stuff about ourselves that our representatives in politics and media don't seem ready to accept.

We don't automatically equate abortion with murder, we don't think euthanasia is abomination regardless of circumstances and we got used to the idea of same-sex couples way back in the 1970s when Don and Dudley on Number 96 led lives as ordinary as the rest of us. Taxpayers are taxpayers after all. Somewhere along the line the spokespeople of our society seem to have got us mixed up with some other country.

Bill Bowtell brings some of this into a political perspective. We're not as conservative as our election results over the past century suggest because our system doesn't reflect majority opinion.

This absurd contraption of single member electorates locks up and effectively disenfranchises millions of Australians in safe electorates, while showering largesse on a small number of voters in marginal seats.

Over time, this has created a massively distorted imbalance in the national distribution of services and subsidies.

This has counted against safe seat voters on both sides of the political spectrum – and especially voters in most rural and regional seats and the inner cities.

The historical dominance of conservative government has more to do with arbitrary distribution than representativeness. Small comfort for the time being, but it's nice to know we're not as backward a nation as Windschuttle, Sheridan and our electoral system would have us believe.

| Posted by Lyn at 8:23 PM | | Comments (19)


Rather strange because as you recently pointed out, the editor of the OZ had a lead article in this months Quadrant re how the "conservatives" were winning the culture wars.

I loved Guy Rundles humour. Isnt the said wind-bags offense at phallus's on the opera stage akin to the outrage at Janet Jackson's exposed breast on USA TV a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile wasnt/isnt one of Wagner's great themes the politics of the phallus. Which is also one of the poles around which most great works of art are woven.

Meanwhile the phallo-centric sex paranoid puritans are waging "holy" war all over the planet. Even Noel Pearson came out in support of that project in todays Oz.

a similar post at that links the present to the past.

Re Bowtell, There IS a difference between conservatism and liberalism, and mindless reaction. The factor is "rationality".
Discoursing on factors related to the above in the Age, 27/10, Sean Carney observes that the government's problems come not from "Ideology", apart from W.........s, as he (Carney) sees it. Rather the problems lie with the Coalition's long term"... insistence that everything must be exploited for political advantage".
Carney notes that:

"In the Hicks and Haneef cases, the government treated the freedoms of both individuals as playthings. The reputations of both men counted for nothing; they were mere abstractions who provided political opportunities for the Coalition.

The genuine liberals and conservatives grasped quite early that things like dumbing down media and debate and legislating various terrorism/ sedition laws was a more an actual threat to democracy. The threat came from "within", in fact at the core, rather than from bogus exogenous straw-man issues like terrorism and said so often quite loudly.

That's why the likes of Manne, Hewson, Marr, Valder, Fred Cheney and Fraser are palpably not non-plussed at recent developments- quite the opposite- as the reactionaries are. Quite the opposite. Plainly, many of these sorts of people argued long and hard against Howardist tendencies from early days, often when mainstream politicians were too timid to open their mouths ( and, witnessing what happened to Latham for example, who could blame the mainstreamers! ).

The polls indicate the uniting of the rational small conservatives and small liberals with the centre-left, out of alarm at the worst of Howardist irrationalism and opportunism clumsily mascara-ed under a few ideological catchcalls from Strauss and Hayek. What fitting metaphorical icons for Howardism Janet Howard, Fiorrevanti-Wells, Albrechtsen and Devine, Draper, the Bishop "sisters", Dee-Ann Kelly and surmounting all; Helen Coonan are, when you think about it.
Gary lingered on the reason for the current hysterics as deriving of panic setting in concerning the op polls in the thread in the "surf's up" thread. And doesn't the garbage emanating from two of Australia's most unconcernedly callous and shameless charlatans, Windprattle and Sheridan, bear this out?

In truth, they are all that's left of the Howardist intellectual artillery, not that there was ever that much of it, and op columns in the press are now swamped with calls for change from all quarters.\Significantly, the lost ground of (neo) conservative viewpoint is not ascribed to failure concerning inadequate marshalling of facts and employment of persuasive rational debate on issues, though. Rather we have angry grumbles about lack of censorship and repression. Stunning!
And its even more breathtaking when this is turning up in national media and press for consumption by a literate electorate. The writer includes here mention of Hockey's latest nonsenses, btw.

Only neocon and neolib ideologues dismayed at their collapsing ideological systems, and opportunist dogs on the fringe of business and the tabloid press are really alarmed at the thought of a move away from the authoritarian Right and that's only out of perceived self-interest rather than anything relating to intellectual or moral qualms.

The rest sense that only rational thinking and compassion can antidote the greed and hate that threatens ALL real people.

Shaun Carney's observations in Saturday's Age are spot on:

....pretty much everything has been viewed, especially by the Prime Minister, as raw political meat. In the Hicks and Haneef cases, the Government treated the freedoms of both individuals as political playthings. The reputations of both men counted for nothing; they were mere abstractions who provided political opportunities for the Coalition. It wasn't enough for Hicks and Haneef to be held, charged and dealt with by courts. They had to be traduced, to be convicted by ministers at press conferences on the basis of "confidential information".

He adds that since neither Hicks nor Haneef was a popular cause with the public, the best course for the Government in both cases would have been to observe the proprieties and say nothing about their guilt or innocence. But neither Foreign Minister Alexander Downer nor Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews could ever help himself.

I didn't know about the ABC's Unleashed space. Interesting.

Bill Bowtel's Undelivered Democracy piece on the ABC is another example of people contesting the conservative frame:

When, from time to time, the Australian electorate disposes of a conservative administration, the hall monitors of Australian reaction – the shock jocks, political commentators, think tanks and religious politicians – stand ready to bully, wheedle and cajole their flock back to the straight and narrow path from which they have only temporarily strayed.

But as they prepare yet again to return to the battle-front of the interminably dreary culture wars, this hardy band of conservative true believers is comforted by their indomitable conviction that only they speak for "mainstream" Australia that hardly ever votes for change over the status quo.

It's good to see the ABC giving online space to political commentary. It was getting pretty thin for a while with the often ddubious offerings by the Canberra Press gallery.

Sheridan's piece needs to be read as a response to Tom Switzer's earlier one. Switzer argues that the conservatives now winning or at the very least not losing the culture wars. The Left still controls the commanding heights of Australian culture, but conservatives are beginning to threaten its grip on them.

Sheridan, in response, says that:

the Howard Government... has been a predominantly weak government that has governed with occasional tactical brilliance from a politically weak position.

It has governed against the relentless opposition of the big institutions in our society: the media, particularly the ABC, the public service and the universities. It has at times out-manoeuvred these institutions; it has not reformed them. The Howard Government has comprehensively lost the culture wars. It has on occasion been clever at arousing a popular backlash against elite opinion on this or that subject. But it has not changed elite opinion. And in the end it appears that it is impossible to govern permanently against elite opinion. Elite opinion shapes popular opinion. Far from ferociously waging the culture wars, the Howard Government has been mostly missing in action.

Only three cabinet members - Howard, Downer and Abbott - have made any consistent, serious effort to contest the Left's broad interpretation of Australian history and society.
Other ministers will argue the toss on a given policy initiative within their portfolio, but they lack the competence, commitment or courage to make a sustained effort to argue a conservative world view.
Conservatives are basically arguing amongst themselves about what they have achieved in the last decade.

I had a look at the ABC's Unleashed space.I came across peter Coleman's response to Sheridan. He spells out the conservaive's battle plan in the culture wars:

But even when commentators acknowledge these conservative advances in the Culture Wars, a certain caution is sensible. Some disappointed firebrands always underestimated how hard it is to turn around deep-seated prejudices. They liked the idea of shock therapy. They expected the government to go on a rampage purging and sacking all the politically correct fuddy-duddies in everything from the public service to the ABC and all the quangos.

That is not how free societies operate. You have to work hard, patiently and slowly at changing established public opinion. It's no use shaking an iron fist.
They have little sense of a debate or a dialogue. It's war.

Mike Carlton wades in as well. This is what I saw in the Lateline interview with, was it Paul Kelly and Robert Manne? that annoyed me so much. Half of the conservative set are screaming louder than ever and the other half are busy trying to claim Rudd as their man - no need to worry, he's really one of us.

I wonder how they feel about Labor, the Greens and the Democrats joining forces over the senate?


Does not the entire Australian conservative ethos revolve around the masculine? It must be a pretty vulnerable masculinity I guess.


You have to suspect that the power of our conservative mouthpieces has rested more in our belief in their power than in their actual influence. Hopefully their shrill rantings will shrill them into acknowledged irrelevance, as opposed to the suspected relevance they've enjoyed for the past decade.

The thing that fascinates me about all of this is how dependent they've all been, how much they've invested, in John Howard. A mere mortal who their pragmatic common sense should have told them couldn't last forever has been such a powerful symbol of their ideology that without him they collapse. It must be a very fragile ideology if it can't outlast a single prime minister.


Unleashed is one of the better things to come out of this election. It gives space to some of the old familiar voices, but also some fresh young ones. Our public space is in need of some new blood with some idea of what life is actually like.

"Conservatives are basically arguing amongst themselves about what they have achieved in the last decade." They're smelling that same death stench Nan has described. It's like watching the relatives of a wealthy deceased. Disturbing, but fascinating in a ghoulish sort of way.


"They have little sense of a debate or a dialogue. It's war." You're right about that. Funnily enough, these champions of the 'mainstream' have been so busy conducting their war they failed to notice that the mainstream was off elsewhere, being far less extreme.

Loved the last line about conservatives "arguing amongst themselves about what they have acheived in the last decade".
Gary actually suceeded in framing Sheridan's stuff in the most sympathetic way possible. We see that, of course, the orthodoxy of political correctness is stifling. What's the bet that Joe MacDonald's case is proven by history not to be anomolous, for example. We shall see. Meanwhile, what Sheridan and his ilk can't grasp is that he and his side practice it, too. Intellectual laziness and conformity has become as much a feature of the Howard decade as anything thrown up during the previous Labor decade. Just seems to be something our system generates as a consequence of the rest. But as "Dateline" made clear in its segment on the encroachment of the EC in the Pacific due to the region's alienation from Aiustralia because of Downerist gunboat diplomacy, the consequences forlazy thinking can be more tangible than folk like the Great Oracle Sheridan would like to contemplate.
So what, btw, is a "conservative world view". Something some one like Manne would explicate upon, or only something that Sheridan and his employer thinks is right, but needs no further explication for no better reason than Sheridan/Murdoch said it?
Where is his evidence for claiming intellectual kudos for Downer Howard and Abbott, for example?
Not much "slow patience" employed in the changing of public opinion when it reverts from discussion to command. And as to the world view of people like Sheridan, all the Platonic hot air in the world won't make a silk purse out of the sow's ear of mindless, naked authoritarianism. Not after the last decade, anyway.


Switzer, like Kelly, seems to have confused our economy with our public culture. He makes the same arguments - the economy is booming and everybody is much better off, so that means we've all become culturally conservative. And somehow being proud to be Australian is conservative, something lefties are incapable of feeling.

Switzer's not stupid, but he should probably stop drinking his own bathwater.

the economic reality is that the media market treats commentary as just one more commodity, whilst the prevailing conditions often result in consumers (i.e., the public) being swindled.

Academic professionalization has gone into overdrive. Professionalization leads to privatization or depoliticization, a withdrawal of intellectual energy from a larger domain to a narrower discipline.

here's a scenario for you.the Coalition Party has forged a new “dominant political coalition” by attracting working-class white voters on the basis of “class animus” and “cultural wedge issues like Australian values and refugess. Culture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern.

1.white voters without university degrees have become significantly less Labor;

2.the trend mostly confined to Queensland, where Labor support was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the rigged franchise and the Bjelke Peterson era of legalized racial segregation.

3.better-educated white voters in Brisbane Queensland--those with university degrees-- favour the Coalition in economics as it stands for wealth creation, which they give a high priority to.


Agreed on the coalition dominance on the basis of a class/culture alignment. Howard has said that anyone who can get what we used to call the working class onside can win. WorkChoices wasn't a very good idea on that score.

Commentators like Kelly and Switzer don't link the two, they just talk about both on the same page. Linking the two involves acknowledging the dog whistle and they seem reluctant to do that.

On 1. I guess that is explained via the class/culture alignment and perceptions that the elite left has abandoned their roots. In some cases that's a fair call in my opinion.

On 2. Queensland is not the same demographic it was in the Bjelke-Petersen days. Huge numbers of people have come from Vic and NSW. I haven't seen any data on where they've come from to give us an idea of their politics, so there's no knowing. Self funded retirees and young families could mean anything. SEQ is no longer safe redneck territory.

On 3. I don't go for that at all. Just about everything I've seen suggests that higher education is in some way correlated with left wing cultural values, which is a problem for the culture/economics alignment. It may be the case with the sons and daughters of the white shoe brigade who attend Bond.

I agree with Lyn.
Let's salute these hardy missionary pioneering souls from the South, headed North in recent times enduring hardships undreamed of to civilise the Heathen. Whither to now?
New Zealand?
( worse still ) Tasmania?
"Oh brave new world
with creatures such as these in't"


Apparently Kiwis have made a substantial contribution to the population growth of SEQ. South Africans are another big chunk.

As SEQ becomes more cosmopolitan, what's the bet that it will be old style Queenslanders moving to Tasmania or WA?

The above dicussion is interesting againt the background of having just scanned through the Lowy Institute poll 2007 a survey of Australin public opinion on foreign policy and global affairs. The things Australians think are immportant, in my interpretation, on balance line up with much of the policy material on the left of Australian politics rather than the conservatives. The results were released in August and I doubt the last few weeks will have changed many peoples attitudes.But as Bill Bowtell points out distribution of voters can have strange consequences!


The Lowy Institute research has been consistent for years now, so it's no surprise that the August report confirms what we've known for a long time. Unfortunately, what the majority thinks doesn't always reflect what the minority in marginal seats think. Because of distributions we end up with the policies a tiny handful of people think are the right ones. This is not democracy as we tend to think of it, where the majority influences the direction the country takes.

Lyn, judging by recent polls WA does look a sound bet.


True. The polls have been consistent all year and WA has been consistently in favour of the coalition. Seats-wise, Labor has enough support in SA and Qld alone to win at this point.