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

it needed to be said « Previous | |Next »
October 26, 2009

In the 2009 Alfred Deakin Lecture Senator George Brandis defends the Deakinite Liberal tradition and its relevance to the Liberal Party. What does that tradition mean when many economic liberals are raging against what they see as the new green industrial state and arguing against health paternalism.

Brandis states that the liberal tradition is about individual liberty and he argues that the role of the Liberal Party is that of the custodian of Australian liberalism. He says:

Opposition is about re-engineering a party’s thinking to address old problems with a fresh mind, as well as addressing new challenges unencumbered by the weight of old prejudices and certitudes. But essential to that is maintaining fidelity to our fundamental beliefs. As we go through that period of introspection, we must never forget one of the most important lessons of political history: that every Australian government is fundamentally different from those of its own political persuasion which went before...So if we are to be faithful to our legacy then what we should be defending is not merely the achievements of the most recent Liberal government – though defend them, of course, we should - but the entire legacy transmitted to us through the whole of the Australian liberal tradition, from its inception to its most recent expression.

Brandis makes it clear that the most important single thing the Liberal Party must do is to renew:
our commitment to the freedom of the individual, and restore that commitment to the very centre of our political value system: not one among several competing values, but the core value, from which our world view ultimately derives.

In doing so he argues against Howard's two traditions theory --that the Liberal Party was as much a conservative party as a liberal party---which blends two different political value systems with different philosophical antecedents.

Brandis is quite explicit, as he says:

The “two traditions” theory was a specific contribution of John Howard’s. In diminishing the centrality of liberalism to the Liberal Party’s belief system, and balancing it against conservatism; in qualifying the Liberal Party’s commitment to the freedom of the individual as its core value, and weighing it against what he often called social cohesion, Howard made a profound departure from the tradition of Deakin and Menzies. Not only did he formalize the Liberal Party’s adoption of conservatism as a philosophical source, he even allocated areas of public policy between conservatism and liberalism: he was an “economic liberal” but a “social conservative”...

The highlights that points of tension occur when the rights of individuals or minorities come into conflict with existing laws and prevailing social customs. Brandis rightly says that when this occurs the task for liberals is to stand between the individual and society and to assert the rights of the individual whenever the pressures, demands or prejudices of the social mainstream would diminish them. That is liberalism’s historic role.

Three questions. What is meant by personal freedom here--is it negative (freedom from regulation ) or positive (freedom for self-realization). Secondly, the ALP is also informed by liberalism, in that its economic reforms to free up the Australian economy by Hawke and Keating were the product of the liberal economic tradition, whilst the progressive cultural reforms of the 1970s were based on positive freedom. Thirdly, what is Australian liberalism, when it is broader than the Liberal Party, liberals differ on the proper scope of government vis-vis individual liberty, and there are differences within economic liberalism?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:04 AM | | Comments (5)


The Liberals are going to spend a long time in exile unless they can recapture the imagination and confidence of the electorate. I'm not sure that placing an emphasis on individual freedom versus social cohesion/traditional values will do the trick.

Will the Liberals stand against Conroy's firewall censorship of the internet? That would really put them offside with all religious and social conservative community groups defending the wholesome home against the evil internet. Those groups are a core part of the Liberal's base.

re the tradition of Australian liberalism that Brandis appeals to.

Liberal values do not necessarily correspond with the policies of parties that have identified themselves as 'Liberal'. Parties and individuals from across the political spectrum have often expressed liberal principles in contesting the claims of their opponents.

The core value of liberalism is freedom of the individual. The primary responsibility of government is understood as the promotion of conditions in which individuals can enjoy freedom.

In Liberalism in Australian National Politics Glenn Worthington says that liberals support:

---the recognition of freedom of association and expression
---the importance of the ownership of private property in securing individual freedom and curtailing government power
---a democratic polity as a recognition that individuals are served by government and not vice versa
---the rule of law, and
---a system of constitutional checks and balances on government power.-

John Howard’s four-term prime-ministership was quite deliberately modelled on a homegrown variant of American conservatism. Giving the 2008 Irving Kristol Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, Howard described his ‘proud record’ in unambiguously fusionist terms:

The former Australian government, which I led, was accused of many things, but never of betraying its essentially Centre-Right credo. We pursued a blend of economic liberalism—in the classical sense of that term connoting as it does a faith in market forces—and social conserv­atism. Far from being in conflict, the one reinforced the other.

George Brandis states the need for commitment to the individual as a core value & which I totally agree but he has a conflicting imagination on many occasions & the exact context of which our "world totally derives"n needs to be confessed with clarity.

I guess that George Brandis' will be remembered as the man who made an extensive comparison of the Green Party with the Nazis under parliamentary privilege.