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

conservatives rewrite history « Previous | |Next »
February 19, 2008

It is interesting to watch the conservatives--politicians and media---trying to find their feet in the new political order to ensure their political credibility. How many changes in their position are they going to make? How much dogma will they retain? How much adjustment will need to be made? How much of the conservative Howard legacy will be retained? How many will just man the barricades and hurl thunderbolts like Andrew Bolt? How many will rediscover, and make the shift to liberalism?

The dispirited Liberal Party politicians are struggling to find their feet in parliament as economic modernists and they have embraced the confessional mode as a way to break with the Howard heritage. Outside Parliament, one way tactic being deployed is to rewrite the history of the last decade.The Australian is doing contortions on this with its call for It's time to restore civility to the national discourse. The Australian says that it now embraces the open society, civic debate and fostering democracy through enlightened public discourse. It is the leftists who are unreasonable, spit and engage in terror as they dance on Howard's grave.

You can see the rewriting in Gerald Henderson's op-ed in todays Sydney Morning Herald, where he writes:

The likes of Rundle and Faine seem to believe that, following Howard's defeat, the conservatives have been routed in the culture wars and that reparations are now due. In fact, the culture wars were very much an invention of the left intelligentsia which was concerned that, finally in Australia, its hegemony was being challenged.

Henderson then gives the game away with on his cultural wars tribunal run by the left when he says that if Howard was waging a culture war against the ABC, he suffered a significant defeat: the organisation is effectively run by much the same types as was the case in March 1996 when Keating was defeated. Oh dear. Henderson cannot stay on message.

Some rewriting of history is needed if only to realize that many on the right are not liberals, in the sense that their conservatism has meant adopting illiberal positions, and that there is a big gap between The Liberal Party and the liberalism of free markets, open society, lower taxes, individual responsibility, and small government despite all the rhetoric of economic growth. The Liberal Party embraced statism, whilst the authority of the state was the touchstone, not the free market or the open society.

However, it is likely that libertarianism and its Nanny State rhetoric will continue remain a minor current, faction, or strand, within the Conservative Liberal Party despite the efforts of the IPA. And their confusions about the contradictory mix of classical liberalism, social conservatism, and neo-conservatism mix will continue to dog them.

Maybe they will follow Jennifer Marohasy and the IPA and cover up the contradictions with a reworking of their old chestnut of environmentalism being the religion of urban atheists who are anti-development and anti-industry. Others, such as John Roskam cover over the contradictions by saying say that only political science aficionados care about the precise definition of "liberal" and "conservative".

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:40 AM | | Comments (6)


None of these conservative culture warriors understand (or perhaps they just won't admit) that the nature of the debate they engaged in was possible because Howard took an active role in it. Their side had the active support of a PM with the power and willingness to legislate their views. Without Howard they would have been just another bunch of opinions doing the rounds, as they claim to be when they argue for the right to state their opinions.

Rudd has sent a couple of signals suggesting that he won't be engaging in the culture wars, which means that neither side will have the leverage people like Henderson have enjoyed for so long.

How the hell can he claim the Left started it all with a straight face when so much of the rhetoric was lifted directly from the American version, which was a deliberate strategy to undermine the Left - a Left which didn't see it coming and had no answer for such a long time?

The Australian has a well deserved reputation as the broadsheet flagship of the fire and brimstone right. Even if they do adopt a code of civility it will take a long time before anyone is convinced. For the time being they're catering to a shrunk and shrinking market and clearly still don't know what to do with the blogosphere. Shame really.

maybe the conservatives can go on a retreat to stare at a dry-stone wall to contemplate the future of Conservatism? they could think about being concerned about quality of life, not just the quantity of money.

Maybe the Conservatives could also ask themselves whether there is such a thing as society.Their conception of society is still the market that is understood in terms of crude winner-takes-all, dog-eat-dog, social Darwinism

a dry stone wall. Interesting So what holds it together? The Liberals need to think about what holds themselves together as a party and what holds society together. It sure isn't making lots of money.

I'm waiting for the day when Brendon Nelson expands on the virtues of needing to encourage reciprocal altruism to the financial markets and business community. He could dump in a bit of sociobiology along the way to add to their canon of economists, such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek.

conservatism seems so tired these days because conservatives are still fighting the ghosts of the 60's-80s. Where are the signs of the new thinking from the Liberal Party? Or the conservative + free market think tanks?

Loise Staley from the IPA writes in the Jan issue of their Review magazine:

individuals have much greater freedom now than they did in their past; both in how they choose to live their lives and in their economic freedoms.The nature of what might be called the personal is, however, changing .... In the past, certain behaviours were seen as morally wrong, now new laws are passed ostensibly to protect others from our actions abd increasingly to protect us from ourselves.

She says that:
The religious basis for laws has given way to ever-increasing paternalism

Okay that's right about the conservatives on porn filters to protect hard working families, but it is wrong about the rolling back laws to give greater freedom for same sex couples.

The IPA is still going on about the Nanny state from the perspective of the free open society, with little understanding of how their neo-liberalism involves lots and lots regulation to coerce free subjects to become self-interested economic subjects in the deregulated market.

Howard's Workchoices legislation was 700 pages! How is that greater economic freedom?

would it be true to say that the worst problems with neoconservatism are the ways neoconservative policy is implemented? That's Fukuyama's argument, although he's talking about Bush's foreign policy.

In Australia's case it seems as though they've had to violate a lot of their own principles to make it look as if their ideas work. Middle class welfare, the contradictions in competition policy like propping up Quadrant while progressive publications are subject to market forces, monopolies are facilitated by legislation in media and communications.

On the other hand, the social conservatives conduct dubious negotiations with democratic culture and the separation of powers to support their views on things like the apology, abortion and same-sex relationships. Calling their views mainstream gives them the appearance of being democratic, but polls continually show they're a minority, albeit sometimes a chunky one.

That line "The religious basis for laws has given way to ever-increasing paternalism" is a classic. As if religion and paternalism are unrelated.