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

conservatives + democracy « Previous | |Next »
October 5, 2008

Niall Lucy and Steve Mickler's The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press identifies Australia's conservative movement as seeking to comprehensively replace the notion of 'democracy as social progress' (with inherent safeguards for minority groups) with an understanding of 'democracy' as mere representation of the will of the majority. For Australian conservatives, they argue, democracy is not about protecting all within the social body; it is about protecting a variously defined 'majority'. Thus, a democracy is not government by will of the people, but government by will of the majority.

So conservatives see Prime Minister John Howard as a democratic leader, not because he gives expression to the rights and interests of the least powerful individuals and groups in a society, but rather because he represents the will of the majority.

Protecting a variously defined 'majority' is a "repressive liberalism", particularly in relation to immigrants in Australia. When Australian conservatives seek to justify anti-immigrant policies, they no longer invoke nationally-distinctive myths, identities or narratives, but rather invoke Australian values, and argue that immigrants are a threat to these Australian values.

Current conservative opinion writers argue that Australian politics and culture continues to be infiltrated and dominated by left-wing ideologues, ‘Marxists’ and ‘extremists’ who are at odds with the honest conservatives who see themselves as representing the interests of ‘ordinary’ Australians against 'the left'. The latter are intent on imposing their undemocratic views on the media, schools, universities and other public institutions and cultural practices.

Update: 5 October
My own interest in this is less the media commentariat than the conservative discourse. It is marked by aggressive rage towards their revolving door of enemies coupled to a sense of being the victim because their enemies oppress them, despite the conservatives being in power for a decade or more. Glenn Greenward's comments about the mentality of the American conservatives apply to Australian conservatives:

The objective, as always, is to believe that they are weak and hapless victims being stomped on by some Evil, Unfair Force, and that self-pitying worldview can then explain away every last one of their failings. That is the mentality that lies at the heart of today's right-wing ideologue; more or less, it's all there is..

Not only have the Australian patriotic conservatives played the victim; they’ve used this perceived victimhood to fuel their dominance, as their “everyone’s against us” attitude bolsters their rage in attacking their opponents.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:34 PM | | Comments (11)


With the benefit of hindsight, L and M's arguments were heavily context-dependent. Without Howard the columnists they looked at are much reduced and kind of aimless without the culture wars to justify their existence.

For mine, it would be more productive to consider the commentariat as a whole. Neither side is terribly good at accommodating what they both like to call dissent. Neither is prepared to accept their failings. Both can be said to have extremist views considering the average.

You read a lot about this culture war and the left and the right. Could someone enlighten me, what is the war is about. There has to be something that somebody is fighting for, I keep hearing about this "culture war", surly somebody knows what it is about.

Hey, nice blog! - I thought you might be interested in the libertarian philosophy show Freedomain Radio.... :)

it's a conflict about values--well that is how I understand it.

Those on the left of centre are more likely to accept the legitmacy of Senate than those on the right of centre. For many on the Right the House of Representatives rules supreme.

Nan, it's another one of those terms everybody uses assuming everybody's talking about the same thing, when they're probably not.

For mine, it's about the politicisation of things that shouldn't be politicised, like history, education, lifestyles, religion. We associate these things with what seem to be a coherent set of values, but at the end of the day, it's actually about politics.

Steve Fielding comes to mind.

It is interesting too that to see the effect of the American style of conservatism on Australian opinion writers. Many have abandoned (or have been encouraged to abandon) sensible conservative positions to be replaced by simple arguments backed up by indignation and rage. Writers in the Australian are clearly following American trends I'm not sure how sustainable it is though.

The hopes and defnitions attached to 'democracy', what ever they may be, are one thing. The concrete mechanism of it is another.

When it comes down to the important decisions, regarding legislation etc, it's simply what the 'majority' on polling day decide.

Control the above mentioned mass and you can do what you want. Any social 'common good', like protecting the vulnerable, is contingent.

Any values that may be attached to democracy or society generally are contingent upon the mechanism of democracy (one vote per person, votes are all equal) - that is unless you would want to restrict who can vote or make some votes count more than others ;)

The conservatives and the will of the majority thing is not entirely right. The majority want something done about climate change, are pro-choice, pro-euthanasia, bothered by the Exclusive Brethren, pro-capital punishment, are none too fussed about same sex marriage and turfed Howard.

It has always struck me as ironic that elections are one of the most asocial civic activities. Those of you interested in exploring democracy as a construct should read John Dewey. He articulately clarifies that democracy is much more than the mechanical aggregation of votes. Elections are just the apex of a much larger and organic structure, which aims to empower all citizens, give them a 'voice' and the ability to control how their communities are organised beyond deciding a popularity contest every few years. He stressed the importance of education in fostering a civil society where citizens communicate with one another. Democracy is also partly about ensuring a level playing field in citizens' claims to resources - economic democracy.

Yes, the majority view is, of course, the view of elitist conservatives and vested interests like Frank Lowey: it's just that we haven't woken up to the shining virtue what Murdoch, Shannahan and the like know. ( If you can't actually answer those inconvenient bits dreamed up by a perverse left, just censor them out!!).

Charles, the "Culture Wars" are never -ending wars of words sometimes but not usually related to ideas.
Tongue in cheek; hot air.
Take the Vietnam war as a battle field for the Culture Wars, for example.
One side will have it that it was about Communism, another about resistance to exploitationary colonialism.
Now, if historians and intellectuals can PROVE that it was more about a communist plot, then the lefties look ridiculous and we get rid of Rudd and put Howard back for another ten years.
If events prove that the US was not inVietnam for the reasons it said it was, then the neocons every where are given the boot, we worry about Iraq, and we put in lefty governments sympathetic to aid increases to poor countries, etc.
Beyond that, we move to " meta" or underlying issues involving meta (beyond)physics; things that philosophers like Kant realised we might never know the final answer to. That is, about what is ultimately true or can be known about the universe and its structure including humanbeings, that could reveal value and meaning and give a clue as to what we should do in life (eg help the poor, or just have a good time, seek power or undermine power).
You have probably guessed I am slightly to the left: you should regard my comments as to Vietnam not as a literal descriptionof the actual truth of Vietnam but as a mere hypothetical description of a culture wars/history wars scenario.