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

wither the Liberals? « Previous | |Next »
October 10, 2007

If Liberals have a political philosophy that centres on the primacy of individual, individual freedom, and small government, then why all the emphasis on a strong leader who is marketed as a president? Why do they have a strong and ruthless leader who concentrates all power in his office with a powerless backbench?

Bill Leak

Does this turn to the autocratic Man of Steel mean that the Liberals are no longer small l-liberal. That they have become Conservatives?

Mungo MacCallum outlines and explores the strong leadership theme in The Monthly along the lines of Thatcher's advice: never admit you are wrong and give you enemies nothing. This gives rise to the purge of moderates --small-l liberals---in the Liberal Party and the turn to autocracy. MacCallum then argues that the Man of Steel is going into the election as lameduck--the Leader can no longer lead.

He has no interest in the shifts in political philosophy embodied in Nation, economy and strategic national interest ; or to what extent the Howard Liberals have embraced conservatism or what kind of conservatism: a Burkean one; a one nation British-centric version of Australian nationalism one ; or one based on the authority of the state?

What appears to happen in the political discourse by the commentariat is that the differences are minimized in favour of similarity, even though John Howard, as an ideologically driven prime minister, has fostered and facilitated a combative Right based on the politics of conflict and division as well as fear and loathing.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:45 AM | | Comments (10)


the correspondence section of the latest Quarterly Essay picks up themes from David Marr's His Masters Voice. Waleed Aly's piece addresses the issue of conservatism by taaking up Tony Abbott's argument that there has been a "rehabilitation of conservatism in Australia" during the Howard ascendancy.

He argues that the classical cultural conservatives have gone to be replaced by neo-conservatives:

The hallmarks of neo-conservsatissm are present: the belief in a strong activist state, the alliance with big-business interests, the nostalgic celebration of family values and the threat to promote them through censorship...and the promotion of mass culture.

Additional hallmarks of neo-conservatism are patriotism, a strong military, an expansionist foreign policy and a consensus of submission.

Paul Kelly in his Time for a Rethink article in the Australian Literary Review argued that the moral vanity of Australia's lefty intellectual class has led it into a political dead end.

But neo-conservatism has also introduced moralism into political discourse---their moral landscape is one of good and evil as in the "elemental struggle about the values that will shape our future", the straw dog attacks on moral relativism, the view that dissent is bad, "moral clarity" in dealing with regimes that stand in the way of America's universal purpose and see themselves as champions of "virtue." etc.

Kelly does not see the formation of neo-conservatism over the last decade, or its moral rhetoric, because he is part of it.

You have to ask? The neo-conservatives have destroyed the Liberal party. What we are now seeing is the last round where the electorate wake up and give them the thrashing they deserve.

Very unfortunate for our democracy because we do need a viable opposition.

MacCallum's article was interesting. Basically, the way Menzies set up the Liberal Party they have no choice but to invest total power in their leader. I hadn't understood before why so many commentators have said that without Howard the Libs will implode. But leadership in the Liberal Party relies on the absence of alternative leaders. Bugger.

They may not now be and, perhaps never really have been, small-l liberals.
However I don't think Conservatives is an apt description either for the contemporary Liberal Party.
Under Howard this political party has been steadily moving nearer the classic definition of fascism.

neoconservatism as a political philosophy emerged as a rejection of liberalism and the New Left counter-culture of the 1960s.

Peter S
yes you're right. Check this abstract

The increasingly widespread invocation of moral values, far from empty rhetoric, is key to understanding the rejection of realist restraints and objectives for an interventionism uninhibited by norms, treaties, multilateral institutions or law.

Real men go to Tehran not Baghdad

if so, then they have a problem. As Leak observes.

I'm not so sure about the destruction nightmare. My take on the neo-conservative dream is that it was about a one party system --the Coalition-- and beneath it a raging, capitalism that generated enormous amounts of wealth that is accumulated by a few people at the top of the system. To keep this going they needed an authoritarian structure and so they mobilized an hierarchical morality that legitimated the hierarchal imposition of order.

by small-l liberals I mean social liberals. Central to this form of liberalism is:

... 'the ethical state', committed to the 'substantive goal of equal opportunity for its citizens.'.. By equal opportunity, Sawer does not mean the competitive ideal currently in vogue in which each individual is free to compete with all others on a level playing field to reap their own rewards from the market. Rather, by equal opportunity Sawer refers to the social liberal ideal derived from the work of English political philosopher T.H. Green. Here, equal opportunity means enabling all individuals to realise their full potential and develop their skills and talents through 'wisely directed state action'.... aimed at correcting the injustices and inequalities that an unchecked market creates.

A key idea is that negative freedom, defined as "absence of coercion", did not meet the needs of the modern age, and Green extended the idea to "a positive power or capacity of doing something".Hence the idea of positive freedom I would argue that Green's political philosophy underpins the welfare state.

The underpinnings are a belief in a common good, which could unite the interests of different individuals; the support for equality of opportunity, to help create a less class-ridden society; a positive view of liberty, meaning more than simply freedom from interference; and the belief in the role of the state as more than a ‘policeman’, but as the representative of the whole community and able to help shape social conditions for the better.

It is these features which distinguished Green's work from traditional (laissez-faire) liberalism, and these elements which provide a justification for social democracy.