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

The Australian's conservatism « Previous | |Next »
February 14, 2009

The Australian's continual and unrelenting attacks on environmentalists and the Greens in the name of conservatism indicates a particular political viewpoint. But what does Australian conservatism stand for? It sure isn't Burke's organic unity that replenishes and fortifies civil society by adjusting to changing conditions.

Though the conservatives grouped around The Australian do acknowledge that land use, agriculture, fishing, tourism, health, forestry, environment, infrastructure and climate change are linked, they remain deeply opposed to an integrated policy in these areas and is not willing to make a realistic adjustment to the changed conditions. Or more accurately, though the conservatives around The Australian do acknowledge the interconnections, or relationships, between the natural world (its resources and its health) and people (their social needs and health) and economic activity (its sustainability), they consistently place the economic interest (reduced to the short-term profit-seeking economic interest) above the social and environmental.

Economics in the form of wealth creation rules over the wellbeing of the population. This gives rise to an understanding of policy making which assumes that the social, environmental and economic are competitive with one another, if not in opposition.

In attacking different forms of policy making in the name of the culture wars, this movement conservatism largely defines itself by what it seeks to destroy:----- "statist" social programs; "socialized medicine" or public health care ; "big labor"; "activist" High Court Judges , the " liberal left bias of the media elite"; "tenured radicals" on university faculties; "experts" in and out of government; and the new class. This populist attack is rooted in cultural hostility, it is conducted in terms of a civil war and its language is that of "friends" and "enemies." This civil warfare conducted by movement conservatism undermines rather than replenishes civil society.

Though it is clear what Australian conservatism is against is clear, it is not clear what it stands for apart from the blind faith in a deregulated, Wall Street-centric market. The core positive appears to be the free market, by which is meant undoing the welfare state and returning to pre-1930 market liberalism. It stands for a return to the past; a counterrevolution, since welfare state capitalism has been the bipartisan basis for governing Australia for over 50 years.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:00 PM | | Comments (18)


From the little I heard of him on RN it sounds like the world according to Chairman Rupert.

Conservatives in general aren't 'for' anything at all, in the sense of wanting anyone to take any initiatives to change the status quo. They are for social order, respect for tradition, the rule of an elite which may be privileged but is also bound by duty to the public interest, and the superiority of collective tacit wisdom over technocratic expertise.

News Ltd journos and their cheer squads aren't conservatives in any meaningful sense of the word. They're opportunistic spivs who in your words 'consistently place the economic interest (reduced to the short-term profit-seeking economic interest) above the social and environmental.' True conservatives despise them, and rightfully so.

"The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. Not the other way around".
Source: some US politician, forget who.

Sadly, I'm not at all surprised to see letter-writers in the local fishwrap blaming the "greenies" for the terrible Victorian bushfires.

It has become so predictable...

"respect for tradition,"

You would think that conservation would appeal to conservatives. Aren't they into preserving stuff? Aren't gum trees traditional?

How are they going to ramble through the countryside in their tweeds and brogues if there's no countryside?

you are right. The historical strand of the conservative tradition that you mention--and it includes adaption to change when warranted or necessary in terms of the governance of the nation state --is not one that Australian conservatism is much interested in.

It is being nurtured as a movement conservatism based on the politics of civil warfare and a tacit backward looking program.

As you have mentioned elsewhere it is clone of the US Republican movement conservatism.

or ecology is the life-support of the economy Destroy the ecology of a region and you destroy the economy--as many of the communities based around irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin are discovering too late.

they are against the greens for locking away the bush. So what are they for? More controlled burning in national parks. Fuel reduction burns in native forests could have reduced the severity of Victoria’s bushfires but that's only part of the solution

Fuel reduction burns is not the full story. A two-kilometre stretch of power line in Kilmore East snapped during strong winds and record heat last Saturday. Within minutes a nearby pine forest was ablaze. Within six hours the fire had destroyed nearly every building in the towns in its path.

You could argue--as the forestry industry does--- that tree plantations are not the main fire risk in the state, as generally the understorey in plantations is sparse and given a 15 odd year rotation there is little opportunity for fuel to accumulate. But it happened and the forestry industry bears responsibility.

the free market voices calling for the current economic crisis to be seen as as very good opportunity for the self-regulating market to "clear out its dead wood" and promote its capacity for "creative destruction" are rather muted.

So much for the plausibility of a return to pre welfare state capitalism.

Sorry for wandering off-topic, but...

I really do NOT believe that these all pervasive "greenies" get to dictate what various government departments do with the bush. Seriously, how is it that they have so much influence over fuel reduction and are virtually dismissed the rest of the time?

Many conservatives claim to honor Burke, but don't want to know about his..
(1) acceptance of change with good evidence it will make things better
(2) adherence to primary and enduring values/outcomes rather than the mutable means that might achieve them. They are very VERY quiet about his "treasonous disloyalty" to the British war efforts against the rebellious Americans, as outlined in "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol", which condemns the whole approach of the "Conservative" line on the prosecution of the war on abstract nouns such as Terror.

I've never had a problem with self-styled conservatives who aren't hypocritical. It's the self-styled ones with attachment to secondary rather than primary values that have always been the problem.

The movement conservatives are in a pickle now that the Coalition has lost power for some time as they had have little time for basic principles to help keep conservatism viable in a time of dynamic upheaval.

The financial and economic crisis Plus climate change indicates the need for an an activist government that guards the interests and needs of the entire population.

If we're talking about public figures who call themselves conservative, I'd argue that narcissism rusted away any principles they may have had during their ascendancy over the Howard years.

They don't actually represent anything except themselves.

Gary, My favourite philosopher points out that there is a psychotic split in the mind and heart of humankind altogether, but especially, and to an "advanced" degree, in Western man.

I would argue that just about everybody on the "right" side of the culture wars is a fully paid up true believer and participant in this cultural psychosis. And that they loudly champion this psychosis too. This includes right wing religionists.

A quote:

"The entire pattern and trend of current human culture---including scientific materialism,and everything relating to the current domain of ego-based consumer politics, social egoity, competitive social systems, tribal national systems, un-regulated economics, and conventional religiosity---is about death."

He further points out that all of the above has now converged to the point where human culture has been all but destroyed, and that we are at the point of the destruction of the human species, and of Earth-kind altogether.

This is what "conservatives" champion, while pretending otherwise.

the conservative resentments have surfaced around the Victorian bush fires. The deep hatred of the values of environmentalism and greenies is there for all to see. The right wing "narrative" is that bushfires are caused by the folk devils called urban greenies. The conservatives even go so far to blame environmentalists for the deaths that have occurred--eg., by that trash journalist, Miranda Devine.

underlying the conservative's narrative around the bush fires is the assumption that nature (the bush) can be controlled and conquered by technology---ie., controlled burning. Its the old assumption of the domination of nature--the bush like the desert can be tamed by human kind.

Is that conservative resentment or right wing political resentment?

Or is it just the first opportunity they've had in a while to let go some of the rage they've been bottling up?

John Howard in his speech to the Menzies Research Centre says:

The Liberal Party of Australia is not a party of the hard Right, nor does it occupy the soft centre of Australian politics. It is a party of the centre Right. It is the custodian of two great traditions in Australia's political experience. It represents both the classical liberal tradition and the conservative tradition.

Put another way, it is the party of both John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke. Ours is a party which rejects extremes. We should not, however, be a party that constantly seeks the mid point between opposing arguments. Liberals should always retain their strong belief in the fundamental force of the market.