Home > Oz Politics > A cultural shift to the right ?

A cultural shift to the right ?

October 18th, 2004

Quite a few commentators have argued that the leftward shift I have described on economic issues in Australia has been matched by a shift to the right on cultural issues. The strongest proponent of this claim has been Jack Strocchi, but the same point has been repeated here and elsewhere. The problem is that culture is a big field, and it’s not clear exactly what we are talking about. So I’ll try to discuss some more specific points.

I’ve previously discussed multiculturalism and republicanism and see no reason to change what I’ve written on these topics.

Next, as argued below, I don’t think we are seeing a great religious revival, particularly a fundamentalist[1] Christian revival. Still the census figures give marginal support to the idea of a shift to the right. By far the most significant development in Australia in this respect is the gradual shift away from nominal Christianity, represented by growing proportions of people declaring “no religion” at the census. After rising steadily until 1996, this proportion fell slightly in the 2001 Census, a fact recorded with some satisfaction by George Pell, who apparently sees Satanists as preferable to atheists (I guess there’s just a trivial change of sign involved).

fn1. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m not too concerned with theological distinctions here. I’m using “fundamentalist” as shorthand to refer to religious groups with a strong emphasis on traditional sexual morality, little concern with social justice, and a willingness to get involved in the conservative side of poltiics. If anyone can suggest a better one-word description, I’ll be happy to adopt it.

As far as sexual behavior, gender roles and so on are concerned, I don’t detect any significant shift to the right. Rather, it seems to me that the liberal program on these issues has been implemented almost completely at the political level. There are a few remaining issues like gay marriage and IVF, but it seems to me that attempts to use these as the basis of wedge politics have been unsuccessful. A lot of people are ambivalent about these issues but the basic liberal premise of letting people live their lives in their own way will, I think, prove too strong in the end. The same is true as regards legalised prostitution, censorship and so on.

On the other hand, there hasn’t been anything like the revolution that was hoped for by some in the 1960s and 1970s. Although most people now expect to have more than one partner, and not necessarily to undertake a formal marriage, the basic assumption that you should find one partner and (try to) stick with them hasn’t really changed, especially if children are involved. None of the alternatives to the nuclear family imagined in the 1960s have come to anything much.

And while the legal and social barriers to women’s participation in employment have been removed, it’s pretty clear that the modal preference of Australian families with children is for 1.5 incomes, with the man normally seeking to work full time and the woman part-time, while women do the majority of household work (and, I think, make the majority of household-level decisions).

Unlike economic rationalism/neoliberalism, though, the project of a radical transformation of the family never entered the mainstream political debate, and was never embraced by the policy elite on either side. So the fact that this transformation hasn’t happened doesn’t really help political conservatives.

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  1. Don
    October 18th, 2004 at 21:56 | #1

    I think something is going on.

    It’s not so much a change in the proportion of people who hold socially conservative views but in the way social conservatives have mobilized people sympathetic to their views.

    For example, it seems to me that the rise of the Greens spurred evangelicals to get involved in politics.

    It’s only anecdotal, but I’m hearing that at its grass roots the Liberal party is becoming more socially conservative. Some churches are becoming rallying points.

    These days ordinary people don’t bother with political parties. This leaves the way open for highly motivated groups with extreme opinions.

  2. October 18th, 2004 at 22:57 | #2

    culture also means nationality, tradition, law and order and values.

  3. Geoff Robinson
    October 19th, 2004 at 08:34 | #3

    Although left-liberal media commentators are obsessed with the image of Howard as a cultural conservative the evidence is different. Howard has supported multiculturalism (http://www.immi.gov.au/multicultural/australian/policy_maud1.htm) and presided over an immigration policy that favours Asian business migrants, this is a long way from the 1980s. We also need to look at peoples’ revealed preference: illegal drug usage and levels of sexual activity come to mind here. Has this declined? Richard Posner argues that American’s nominal religious beliefs seem to have little relation to their behaviour. Families First have attracted the same moral panic as Hanson did. Hanson polled much better in 1996-98 than FF recently and she was not a conventional moral conservative: One Nation blokes liked their porn videos. I had hoped that after this election the left would finally give up their obsession with cultural politics, but it is much easier to waffle on about this than the economy.

  4. Bill O’Slatter
    October 19th, 2004 at 10:37 | #4

    Geoffo Robbo quoth “I had hoped that after this election the left would finally give up their obsession with cultural politics, but it is much easier to waffle on about this than the economy.”
    There are very big assumptions in this statement. The statement that economics is hard science is provably false ; at best it is applications of game theory.Cultural politics has a deep interaction with the economy and is just as worthy of study as economics.

  5. October 19th, 2004 at 10:40 | #5

    The economy is encoded by culture.

  6. Homer Paxton
    October 19th, 2004 at 10:46 | #6

    I assume you are trying to make out that the FF movement is fundamentalist.

    firstly pray give that noun some definiton.

    Secondly as anyone could tell you since they are associated with the Assemblies of God one of the ways they see as evidence of ‘god’s gifts’ is the ability to talk in tongues.
    I shan’t go into biblical doctrine but this is patently unbiblical which I assume is contrary to a fundamentalist.

    Secondly judging from the last survey of christian churches I saw there is no jump at all.

  7. Richard Willoughby
    October 19th, 2004 at 10:56 | #7

    While worldwide there has been a shift towards a more spiritual society over the last 40 years.

    Throughout the third world traditional Christianity (especially the Pentecostal kind) has the been the main sign of this increasing spirituality.

    However in some areas of the world like Europe Australia and lesser degree North America. This increased spirituality is being expressed in all sorts of places like new age thought, eastern spirituality and Wicca.

    I would bet in Australia there are lot more people who hold the spiritual beliefs above, than are committed or fundamentalist Christians (people who take their faith seriously and attend church on a quite regular basis). The committed Christians are way better than in the New Age crowd in political organisation and their political influence is way beyond their numbers.

    Not to mention that fundamentalist Christians are a key voting bloc in the important marginal electorates in the outer suburban areas and provincial cities. The New Age crowd tend to be contracted in safe inner city Labor and Liberal held electorates.

  8. October 19th, 2004 at 11:05 | #8


    There is a tendency to think that fundamentalist= literalist. But it’s false – at least, it does not capture the views of the groups which are typically called fundamentalist. Islamic fundamentalists typically embrace some nineteenth century views, which are reinterpretations of the Koran, not a return to older views. Hindu fundamentalism is an even clearer example of a view that might as well be characterised as a heresy as a return to basics. Jewish fundamentalists are as much concerned with various medieval texts as they are with the bible. And no fundamentalist takes all the bible literally. Can’t be done: very difficult to act on contradictory injunctions. Instead, they choose the bits they want to quote, which (at least for the groups we dub fundamentalist) tend to fire and brimstone views, rather than turning the other cheek views (in the Islamic case, it is Mohammed at Medina v. at Mecca)

  9. Katz
    October 19th, 2004 at 12:07 | #9

    Those of us who remember the 1960s (no mean feat for a variety of reasons) may well recall that a potent guiding spirit for the cultural “left” was libertarianism.

    Libertarians were not especially exercised if our next door neighbours chose not to get up to the high-jinx Chez Hang Loose. Libertarians’ only complaint was when up-tightness generated a heavy load of prescription.

    Of course, as naive as many of us were, we didn’t quite understand that much of the state prescription of the era, most notably high tariff walls and industrial arbitration set the conditions for our charmingly self-indulgent life styles.

    Things are different now, but like JQ I don’t see much evidence, except on the margins, for a return to anything like the uptight moral prescriptiveness that characterised life until the last smoky wisps of the 60s.

    So chill out folks.

  10. Rob Graves
    October 19th, 2004 at 12:45 | #10

    The tendency towards social conservetism can be seen in the trend towards private education, almost all of which provides a commitment to at least nominal christianity and conservetive social attitudes. It would be interesting to know specifically what motivates people to leave public education for privite. How does economic aspiration and “old fashioned values” like school uniforms and discipline entwine in these decisions.

    The Pentecostal end of Australian Christianity is particularly interesting, as its syncretism with culture is defined explicitly along the lines of aspiration or attaining prosperity.

    Hillsong Pastor Brian Housten was challanges a few years back by Tim Costello on this front at the evangelical-left youth conference Black Stump. Costello took issue with Housten’s suggestion (in a book published by Hillsong) that the way to get a good house (ie a McMansion) was to find one that looked good and “claim” it via prayer. This alignment with material prosperity as the sign of blessing is the first distinctive of new wave Pentecostalism.

    Right-wing evangelicalism (both arminien and reformed),looks to pentecostalism for it’s church growth strategies, so you will see in medium to large evangelical churches things like four-wheel drive clubs – as ways of attracting interest in it’s communities.

    The second distinctive obviously is the theological demonisation of Islam as the true God’s enemy. Right wing spiritual rhetoric employes the imagery of militarism, cultural purity and conquest – in dealing with the spirit world. This lines the evangelical right with Howard on migration and security, creating a rhetoric of spiritual virtue around these policy areas. The power of this turn of language is just not comprehended by the progressive left for various reasons.

    So I would say the influence of the Pentecostal and evangelical right is underestimated (and mostly not comprehended) in terms of cultural formation in the ‘burbs. It is in the process of defining material aquisition, xenephobia, and mono-culturalism as virtuous and spiritual.

    For the ALP, and the Rudds and Lathams of this world, it is essensial in my opinion that they mine the so called third way’s origins in a small-state social vision of society.

    They need to articulate the social capital arguement, and economics in terms of a christian spiritual rhetoric.

    If the ALP does not engage the conservetives claim to spirituality and hence virtue at rhetorical level that works, it will not only lose the demographic that is reflected by Familiy First, but will also continue to fail to find traction with the suburbanites who resonate with conservetive theologocal rhetoric whilst remaining indifferent to churchgoing and god bothering – the ones who attend the four wheel drive club at McChurch, and secretly hopes that God (if he is up there) will protect them from cancer, Islam, and rising interest rates.

  11. alphacoward
    October 19th, 2004 at 13:08 | #11

    The belief that private schools are somehow more conservative then public schools really confuses me. I went to an expensive private school in brisbane for my high school years, and i ended up far more leftwing than the majority of public school students i know. I was constantly taught to objectvively anaylse the media, love the environment and respect all people including homosexuals. I loved my school even though it was an anglican school and i had to attend sermon once a week. But the belief that Private = Conservative is blatantly wrong. Sure most parents might believe thats the case buts its simply not. Numerous people in my schoool were caught with all varieties of drugs and nothing more than a slap on the wrist was given to them. At a public school they would have been expelled.

  12. paul2
    October 19th, 2004 at 14:38 | #12

    We wouldn’t be talking about this if Labor hadn’t lost the election. So we need to look at who changed their vote significantly, and why.

    Perhaps 10% of the electorate changed their vote from last time, from whatever to whatever. My guess is that two thirds of those changed to the nearest alternative and that only one third of them – ie 3% – jumped ship in a two-party preferred sense. That 3% included a mix of ex Labor voters, ex Democrat voters who used to preference Labor, plus the odd ex One Nation voter who used to preference Labor. Howard picked up that 3% for different reasons, but it’s obvious what the main factors are: a few more people think we are in better times, a few more people think Howard has acted the right way on border protection and defence. Does this translate to ‘growing cultural conservatism’? Hardly at all, I reckon.

    Looking within that minority who decide their vote on the classic progressive considerations of the environment, reconciliation, drug laws and gender politics, it’s hard to think that any more than a few of them would have jumped ship completely. And of the ‘soft progressive’ voters who have some sympathy for those causes but don’t let them decide their vote, my bet is that they still support them, just not actively. The outer suburban mortgage belt remain as disengaged from those causes as they always were, but even they have moved ever so gradually to the left over the years, and that won’t stop either.

    It is true to say that we have in Latham a leader who is socially conservative in some superficial ways, but remember, so was Keating. Let the neo-con journos like Sheehan and Cruella Devine have their spray of elation and think they can smell a change…

  13. paul2
    October 19th, 2004 at 14:45 | #13

    When I say the outer suburbans have moved ‘to the left’ I mean on those cultural progressive issues.
    More of them have had sex before marriage, got to know gay people, smoked dope, bought Yothu Yindi records, had body piercing. And are more tolerant for all that.

  14. Paul Norton
    October 19th, 2004 at 16:03 | #14

    As John Q has said, there are a number of aspects to this issue which need to be unpacked. I would add that we need to unpack different levels and foci of analysis.

    That recent Federal election results indicate an incremental growth in the aggregate vote for parties identifiable as culturally conservative, and a decline in the aggregate vote for parties identified as culturally progressive, is not in doubt. What is open to question is:

    (a) whether the cultural right/cultural left dynamic has caused this shift or whether it has occurred for other reasons; and

    (b) whether such a shift in electoral behaviour represents a deeper shift in culture.

    I have addressed (a) on another thread. As for (b), we can draw a parallel with the rise in environmentally concerned voting in the 1980s, which has largely persisted, at least as revealed in the most recent round of State elections. This has not been accompanied by a shift in people’s behaviour in more sustainable directions. To take one benchmark, private motor vehicle usage (and associated environmental impacts) continues to rise faster than the rate of population growth. I think a similar case can be made that, if people’s electoral behaviour is showing a shift towards preference for cultural conservatism in politics, it is not reflected in the substance of our culture. It may even represent a kind of symbolic homage to values which people know they are disregarding and will continue to disregard in their actual behaviour.

    To take one significant indicator (and to slightly contradict one of John Q’s points), I don’t think it is the case that the life choices of younger women about work-family balance have stabilised around a preference for the 1.5 income family, much less began flowing back to a more traditional pattern.

    I have recently mapped the changes in workforce participation, childbearing and family formation amongst women in the 25-34 group from 1979 to 2003, and found a consistent trend in the direction of greater participation in paid work (from 51% to 71%), reduced rates of childbearing (from 76% to 51%) and reduced percentages of full-time homemakers (44% to 19%) including reduced percentages of legally married full-time homemakers with children (42% to 17%). On the other hand the percentage of single homemakers with kids has risen from under 4% in 1979 to 6% in 2003.

    The significant thing about these trends is that they have continued more rapidly under the Howard Coalition government than they did under the Keating Labor government, despite Federal government policies on childcare, taxation and welfare which created a powerful economic disincentive for young mothers to return to the workforce.

  15. gordon
    October 19th, 2004 at 16:07 | #15

    We must be in the post-election silly season. OK, here goes. The cultural agenda is shifting to the right if abandonment of a sense of community in favour of individualistic enrichment at all costs counts as a cultural event. The so-called “aspirationals” are engaged in a race to the top in which all commitment to community, country, fellow man etc. is discarded as useless baggage.

    The “privatization of benefit, socialization of cost” paradigm underlying the sell-offs of publicly owned assets in the 1980s and after is a good economic indicator of this trend.

    The commitment to individual and (narrowly-defined) family enrichment at all costs that we see now exceeds anything since the 1945/6 social settlement in this country. A similar trend exists also, I think, in all English-speaking countries. Why the change? For my money, it’s the environment.

    An unanticipated outcome of environmental campaigns since the 1960s has been to panic people. Instead of coming together to solve environmental problems cooperatively, as environmentalists hoped they would, people have concluded that “The End Is Nigh”, and that the only possible course is to grab as much wealth as possible in order to escape the worst of the coming eco-disaster. This sort of scenario (“Mad Max”)was articulated by the ecologist Robert Costanza in his article Visions of Alternative (Unpredictable) Futures and Their Use in Policy Analysis (2000) in the free email journal “Conservation Ecology” (now retitled Ecology and Society) (http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol4/iss1/).

  16. paul2
    October 19th, 2004 at 18:20 | #16

    Re the first part of Gordon’s post, these times are perceived by the public as economic good times. In such a situation, those who are outspoken meliorists (those who believe government should intervene to ensure equality of opportunity and an acceptable standard of living for the disadvantaged) are always on the defensive. They are vulnerable to arguments that enough equality of opportunity exists already, and that the poor are poor because they are morally culpable in some way, and need negative incentives to get them moving.

    The fact that (even despite the decline in secondary industry and the size of government) private enterprise is currently delivering lots of jobs, is used to reinforce the line that governments only ever do things badly. By association, government schools cop even more of a flogging and private health insurance is made to look a wonderful thing (instead of a subsidised bolt hole for profiteers).

    All of this will change very quickly once the interest rates rise (qv BIS Shrapnel), jobs are cut in the service industries and the banks foreclose on the McMansions.

    I’m betting there will also be a creeping change over time as the growing number of twenty somethings who are working casual jobs at all hours to make a bare wage, get kicked out of home when they reach 30, or decide that shared renting is no longer cool.

  17. kyan gadac
    October 20th, 2004 at 00:49 | #17

    I think Gordon’s comment about “end is nigh” panic has a lot going for it as a motivation for theshift to the right. As well, there is also the concomitant growth of trash science, and a general loss of the centre and of any certainty. The militant spritual hubris that Rob Graves discusses above is part of a loss of civil discourse and a move to sloganeering.

    9/11 was a really interesting event in the way in which it made it exceptionally difficult to reconnect with the world outside( where the sun was still shining, the birds were singing etc. ) The Vietnam war was ended because of TV, the war on terrorism was started because of TV.

  18. October 20th, 2004 at 03:57 | #18

    “I think a similar case can be made that, if people’s electoral behaviour is showing a shift towards preference for cultural conservatism in politics, it is not reflected in the substance of our culture. It may even represent a kind of symbolic homage to values which people know they are disregarding and will continue to disregard in their actual behaviour.”

    I have long suspected this is the case too – but purely on anecodotal evidence and gut instinct (hey if it’s good enough for Bush…) so the trends Paul noted are interesting.

  19. October 20th, 2004 at 09:08 | #19

    Paul Norton writes:

    “I think a similar case can be made that, if people’s electoral behaviour is showing a shift towards preference for cultural conservatism in politics, it is not reflected in the substance of our culture. It may even represent a kind of symbolic homage to values which people know they are disregarding and will continue to disregard in their actual behaviour.”

    Two quick points.
    The substance of the national culture is now conservative in terms of nationality; law and order as a way to ensure stability and order;the rejection of the utopian liberal ideals; the affirmation of commonsense against academic knowledge;the apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil civilization and barbarism; family values; affirmation of tradition, denigration of democracy etc etc.

    Secondly, culture is not just a case of individual preferences of the political marketplace. It is also about identity and belonging of a people within the boundaries of a nation-state in an anarchic world.

    The liberal cosmopolitan vision has been pushed to one side. Australia is not the global city part of Sydney.

  20. Katz
    October 20th, 2004 at 13:26 | #20

    “The liberal cosmopolitan vision has been pushed to one side. Australia is not the global city part of Sydney.”

    Gary’s comment needs to be unpacked a bit.

    Let us consider the relationship between cosmopolitan culture and economic globalisation.

    It should be recognised that cosmopolitanism without liberal values is a contradiction in terms. Claims of cultural, racial, religious or cultural superiority can only weaken cosmopolitanism. Projects to impose hierarchies can only destroy cosmopolitanism.

    The US Neocon project for the New American Century seeks to create hegemony, but calls its ambitions cosmopolitan, as if that peculiar complex of ideas and fixations called American values were universal ideas and fixations. First indications are that the Neocons have plunged the United States into a disastrous misadventure.

    Since the 1920s, beginning with Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce, the United States has actively promoted US “soft power” abroad. Successive US governments didn’t have to try very hard because consumers worldwide have gobbled it up, imbibing and elaborately transforming many different versions of American culture. Cosompolitan culture, as a result, contains a larger component of American culture than any other influence.

    The projection of US “hard power” since the advent of Bush and especially since 9/11 has suffered early reverses which I believe can only get worse. The United States ahs proven itself incapable of achieving Pax Americana by force of arms. Moreover, this failing attempt has thrown into sharper relief just how peculiar are American ideas and fixations. There is now worldwide rejection of values identified as American, and this rejection is stronger than at any time since the Vietnam War era. This rejection has had the effect of blunting US “soft power”.

    However, worldwide rejection of US pretensions has so far, as Gary suggests, failed to revivify more multi-polar, multi-cultural interpretations of cosmopolitianism. Religious, ethnic and cultural particularisms therefore hold sway in the popular mind.

    Meanwhile, economic globalisation continues under the aegis of laws and institutions increasingly dominated by US interests. The evolution of intellectual property laws and the unequal application of WTA regulations are powerful examples of this trend.

    The most interesting question for me is if and when cultural particularism noticed by Gary might inspire rebellion against US corporate hegemony.

  21. October 20th, 2004 at 14:08 | #21

    Pr Q has completely ignored my psephologic evidence and gone off on a tangent. He spends most of his blog talking about the social, sexual and sacral tendencies in the electorate. When did I mention these things?
    The “Decline of the Wets” thesis does not argue, or rely on the fact, that Australia’s general social culture has shifted to the conservative (moralist, nationalist, aspirationalist) direction. Perhaps it has, but thats another argument.
    Some clarification is in order. I am talking about policitco-cultural, not socio-cultural, tendencies. I believe that top-dog politcal states follow the pattern in grass-roots civil society.
    Since Whitlam crashed through, all Australians have been Civic Liberals, of either dogmatic elitist-progressive or pragmatic populist-conservative shade. That is not going to change.
    That means that outright implementations of illiberal racist, sexist, militarist, sexualist and religionist policies are unacceptable to all parties. Coded appeals to illiberal political constitutencies or sentiments may occur in times of crisis, but they will generally subside.
    For most of the post-Whitlam period the dogmatic progressive-liberal view held the political initiative. I now believe that this view is on the ebb. This is mainly a reaction to the the empirical failure of the more extreme social experiments.
    In short, over the past two decades the elites changed much more than the populus. They became much more progressive and took part of both major parties constituencies with them ie DEMs took LIB voters and GREENs took LAB voters.
    This progressive elite political momentum has now stopped and is reversing. The ideological gap (“wedge”) on cultural issues between the progressive-liberal elites and the conservative-liberal populus is now closing – towards the consevative-liberal viewpoint.
    The elites have been dragged kicking and screaming back into the latter part of the third quarter of the twentieth century, which is where the Neighbours-watching populus more or less stayed.
    This is now having a partisan political effect. Some of these progressive grass-roots constituencies, particularly the DEMs, are becoming less progressive and are drifting back to a major party: the LIBs. The GREENs are too extreme to compensate for the progressive losses.
    The DoW theis is not just right-wing blowhardines. There is hard evidence that, over the latter half of the nineties, there has been a secular trend towards conservative ideological valency in political culture, as measured by voter alignments to conservative parties, personalities, policies, politics and philosophies. The evidence for this, which Pr Q completely ignore, is manifest:
    partisan alignment: the progressive minor parties have lost 30% of their share of the primary vote in the SEN, from 14% in 1996 to 9.5& in 2004. The DEMS have lurched back to the LIBs and the GREENs have underperformed as their association with the anti-capitalist Left has scared the centrists. The rise of the Christian conservative parties simply underscores this;
    personality appeal: progressive leaders of the major parties in the early nineties (Keating and Hewson) are on the nose. The conservative leaders in the major parties (Latham and Howard) clearly have more general popular appeal;
    political campaigns: At least two campaigns have been dominated, and won, by appeals to conservative tendencies in the electorate – the 1996 anti-pee-cee special interests and the 2001 anti-asylum seekers and anti-terrorist elections. The 2004 election completely ignored Howards political crimes and misdemeanours, a situation unthinkable a decade ago;
    policy implementation: headline progressive agendas from the mid-seventies on have failed the test of political popularity and policy practicality eg unconditional welfare, Republic aristocrats, Reconciliation symbolism; Asian Appeasement; Multicultural seperatism.
    philosophical paradigms: Socio-progressive culturalist (ie pee-cee po-mo) theories are now an object of open derision, eg Sokal hoax. Bio-conservative naturalist (ie Darwinian) theories of human difference now get a respectful hearing in scholarly and popular press.
    The general cultural reasons underlying this are complex but can boil down to two basic factors:
    the failure of many fashionable cultural policies supported by dogmatic progressive-liberal elites;
    the aging, and wising up, of Australia’s incorrigibly pragmatic conservative-liberal populus
    A strong test of the DoW thesis will be the ideological valency of Peter Costello cultural policies when he inherits the LIB party leadership. This politician has been prominently identified as a Social Wet.
    I am willing to bet that he will only make token gestures towards progressive issues and concentrate on his one true love which is tax-cutting for high income earners. He will stay with conservative-liberalism because this is where the votes are.
    I predict that Costello will not relax border-protection, end mandatory detention, weaken the US alliance, revive ATSIC, run hard on the Republic or decriminalise drugs. He might legalise gay marriage.
    Any takers?

  22. Homer Paxton
    October 20th, 2004 at 14:28 | #22

    Peter costello will never become PM because Howard will never let it go until he is defeated.

    If Churchill could still be PM and doc Evatt could be Oppo leader when they were the other side of being sensible then Howard will stay on as PM.

    What else could he do?

  23. Jason Soon
    October 20th, 2004 at 16:14 | #23

    “Socio-progressive culturalist (ie pee-cee po-mo) theories are now an object of open derision, eg Sokal hoax. Bio-conservative naturalist (ie Darwinian) theories of human difference now get a respectful hearing in scholarly and popular press.”

    Sokal was a leftist who taught in Nicaragua. Naturalism is a philosophical stance that the right has as much problem with as the left. What is your point, Jack? Or are you channeling Miranda Devine?

  24. Fyodor
    October 20th, 2004 at 17:00 | #24


    You think that’s weird? I just googled the phrases “Socio-progressive culturalist” and “Bio-conservative naturalist” and did not get a single hit on ANYTHING. Jack’s obviously way ahead of his time.

  25. October 20th, 2004 at 19:30 | #25

    Fyodor at October 20, 2004 05:00 PM strains to produce some laughter, that sounds rather hollow as it floats above the rim of the Dustbin of History:

    You think that’s weird? I just googled the phrases “Socio-progressive culturalist” and “Bio-conservative naturalist” and did not get a single hit on ANYTHING.

    Whoa. I guess that settles it. If it isn’t on google then it has no right to exist. A perfect recipe for the cyber-solipsism that Fyodor suffers from.
    On the subject of progressing knowledge, rather than “progressive” ideology, has Fyodor at least tried to come up with an theory that actually predicts events? Or is he more concerned with post-hoc apologetics designed to insulate a wounded ego from any more bruising clashs with reality?
    Meanwhile, back in the real world, crikey newsletter (not on-line but relayed through pollbludger) reports that Anthony Green’s initial psephologic analyses confirm a key proposition in the Decline of the Wets thesis: as I guessed, the majority of ex-DEM voters lurched to the Right to the LIBs, not Left to the LABs or GREENs.

    9. More Senate commentary
    A well-placed Liberal Party source writes:
    The Greens can whine as much as they like about Labor and others preferencing Family First above them but the key message was that former Democrat voters appear to have returned to voting Coalition rather than transfer to the Greens.

    Where have I heard that whiny tone before…I remember – Fyodor at October 14, 2004 08:20 AM predictably re-hashes the GREEN party line:

    a vastly more coherent explanation for the strength of the Coalition in the senate: the Democrats imploded and preferences were screwed up. ’nuff said.

    I still have not conclusively proved my case. It would have been nice to have exit polling interviews to quiz ex-DEM voters on their reasons for shifting to the LIBs. Its quite possible that the ex-DEMs preferred Howard for bourgeois-materialist, rather than conservative-moralist, reasons. Still that only shows that ex-DEM progressive-liberal sentiment was fairly weak, which proves my DoW point.
    As it happens this is the emerging consensus. Crikey has just posted a new article that appears to be based on the same data that I am looking at, and Fyodor prefers to ignore. Charles McPhedran has a quick and dirty populist analysis of the Federal election which broadly agrees with the Decline of the Wets thesis:

    while [Fukuyama] is right about capitalism appeal to most Western voters, he’s wrong about [progressive-] liberalism.
    Howard’s New Liberals have almost completely crunched liberalism, which is all about cultural and economic rationalism, and a small state.
    They’ve effectively become right-wing populists, like American Republicans. Only less religious.

    Populism is the GUT of Howards post-Hanson/Timor political MO. I prefer populism as it covers both economic-statist and cultural-conservative areas.
    Thus Howard has been forced over to the populist Left on economics. He champions financial populism by tax breaks for home ownership and moms&dad share ownership. And fiscal populism with his statist handouts to geezers, breeders and battlers.
    And Latham has been forced over to the populist Right on Culture. He has ditched multiculturalism, symbolic Reconciliation and all the other pet-projects of the progressive-liberal elite. Exit Theophanous, ATSIC et al.
    This is what I call “the Great Convergence”.
    Lets see what Fyodor has contributed to the predictive analysis of out politcal system. By the magic of google we got this rather sad and solitary hit:

    I’m looking forward to a Rudd-Beazley combo finally achieving some security progress in our region.

    As Fyodor might gleefully put it: ’nuff said.

  26. John Quiggin
    October 20th, 2004 at 21:35 | #26

    “progressive leaders of the major parties in the early nineties (Keating and Hewson) are on the nose.”

    Hewson was never a progressive in any significant sense. He was, and is, a hardline economic rationalist with no particular views on cultural issues (I’ll admit he is a Howard-hater, but for personal rather than ideological reasons). Hewson’s unpopularity is entirely due to Fightback!

    Keating wasn’t viewed by anyone as a progressive until he reinvented himself after his 1993 win. But he was already well and truly on the nose by then, thanks to his stint as Treasurer. As I’ve said before, to the extent that Jack’s story has any substance at all it’s in the fact that Keating transferred his own unpopularity to the issues he espoused

  27. October 20th, 2004 at 23:37 | #27

    John Quiggin at October 20, 2004 09:35 PM produces a dubious interpretation of AUS Major Party political leadership & partisan effects as they panned out in the nineties.
    Pr Q takes Paul Keating’s caricature of John Hewson at face-value:

    Hewson was never a progressive in any significant sense. He was, and is, a hardline economic rationalist with no particular views on cultural issues.

    This is not how Hewson describes himself:

    People might sometimes find it hard to pick Hewson’s politics today. Just as another formerly hardline Liberal, Malcolm Fraser, now comes over almost as a social progressive, he appears to identify more with Keating now than with his former colleagues.
    He is pro-refugee, reconciliation, republic and Kyoto-type protocols on the environment. He is against the war in Iraq and believes Howard “manipulated prejudice” over the Tampa affair.

    Maxine McKew managed to prise out the kinder, gentler side of Hewson, perhaps obscured by Keating’s vicious political attacks:

    A social progressive with a modern marriage…Hewson is pro-republic, pro-Asia and pro-Kyoto. But consider what happened in the campaign of 1993.
    It was Keating who re-badged Hewson. Keating successfully portrayed him as a zealot: an economic extremist who would turn the country upside down.

    Pr Q post-dates Keating’s progressive-liberal re-invention:

    Keating wasn’t viewed by anyone as a progressive until he reinvented himself after his 1993 win

    In fact Keating had been studiously re-inventing himself as a progressive-liberal since his period on the back-bench. The Redfern Reconcliation Speech was given in 1992, which pre-dates the 1993 “sweetest victory of them all” election.

    to the extent that Jack’s story has any substance at all it’s in the fact that Keating transferred his own unpopularity to the issues he espoused

    No. The data does not support Pr Q’s attribution to Mr Keating of a reverse-Midas Touch to the progressive-liberal cause. The actual SEN record shows that DEM/GREEN representation was stable at nine senators from 1984 through 1996. In the 1998 SEN elections, after Keating left office, the Wets actually increased their SEN rep. to ten senators. Although this was counter-balanced by the election of a certain very conservative-liberal O.N. Senator.
    The Wets continued to decline in the 2001 and 2004 elections, long after the memory of Mr Keating’s associations has faded. Or is Pr Q endowing the former PM with diabolical occult powers?
    Ockham’s Razor suggests a more plausible interpretation of nineties electoral history. The pragmatic populist electorate gave a series of Royal Orders of the Boot to two dogmatic elitist political ideologies because they failed to deliver benefits to the majority:
    1993: Hewson’s Economic Elitist Economic Rationalism
    1996: Keating’s Cultural Elitist Progressive Liberalism
    And now the renegade LIB party cultural constituencies are returning to the Centre-Right fold after a period in the unter-progressive (ex-DEM), and uber-conservative (ex-ON), minor party wilderness. Howard, the consumate politician, hung around long enough to scent the change in the politico-cultural wind and cleaned up.
    The ALP is still unable to reintegrate its wayward cultural base of uber-progressives (GREEN/bohemian ex-SL?), and unter-conservative (FF/proleterian ex-DLP?), into the Centre-Left fold. Hence its primary vote continues to be hostage to their fickle fortunes.
    This is the core of the ALP’s so-called identity problem, one that has beset social democratic parties since the days of Bernstein, Michels and Martov. The ALP will continue to struggle to regain federal office until it resolves this cultural identity crisis.
    (Or until Howards political coalition cracks-up owing to the stench of corruption, the bursting of the property bubble or the sheer weight of electoral-pendulum gravity.)

  28. kyan gadac
    October 20th, 2004 at 23:51 | #28

    Jack S reminds me of Frank Knopfelmacher(on a good day), his hard nosed analysis is couched in an inflammatory libertarian polemic – it makes for exciting reading, trying to figure out which bits I agree with and which bits are rubbish.

    The bit about dems not going to the greens is rubbish , certainly in my personal experience in Wilson Tuckey’s electorate. I could recognize them as I handed them the how to vote card. There self consciousness and their denim jackets was a dead give away.

    But I agree with the DoW theory, except that I think it’s been ongoing for quite sometime. It'[s effect this election was that the Green vote would have been static except for the Dem defectors.

    But take it as read, I’m as wet as they come and, at times, it’s noticeably lonely when I’m campaigning for local parks and Noongar gravesites etc. The bourgeious campaigners have disappeared because the gap between the rich and the poor has grown and falling off the gravy train has become are bigger issue.

    On the other hand, I can get taken seriously and get support in the most surprising places and the most suprising of ways, not because of any particular talent of mine, but because, to coin a phrase, the warriors no longer wear uniforms.

    And while the DoW may have been occuring for quite sometime their is a new liberalism and idealism arising out of the ashes of 9/11 an the Tampa. I’d nominate the rural based campaigns to suport refugees and TPV holders as a counterexample to the DoW theory. I’d suggest that the dialectic of solidarity still holds sway agains the power of the tyrant.

  29. Fyodor
    October 21st, 2004 at 08:09 | #29


    I didn’t make a prediction about the election. That’s why you didn’t find one on google. However, in your case the fact that I couldn’t google up a single reference to the phrases you used suggests that you’re the only person using them, probably because you made them up. Here’s a tip for your next creation: try using one adjective at a time.

    On your DoW thesis, you’re quite right: you “still have not conclusively proved” your case. And you can’t because, as others have told you, it’s unfalsifiable speculation.

    As for wounded egos, I would suggest your recent posts reveal very clearly who’s nursing the bigger bruise from “clashes with reality”.

  30. October 21st, 2004 at 13:04 | #30

    Fyodor at October 21, 2004 08:09 AM continues to adopt an absurd bluff posture, rather like a frog inflating itself before a man, in an attempt to bluster his way our of a tight spot:

    I didn’t make a prediction about the election.
    On your DoW thesis…others have told you, it’s unfalsifiable speculation.
    As for wounded egos, I would suggest your recent posts reveal very clearly who’s nursing the bigger bruise from “clashes with reality”.

    But Fyodor made something that looks like a psephologic prediction before the election:

    I’m looking forward to a Rudd-Beazley combo finally achieving some security progress in our region.

    I suppose this proposition was technically a delusion, rather than a falsifiable prediction. Still it doesnt say much for Fyodor’s grip on reality.
    Just to bring Fyodor up to speed on the philosophy of science: the DoW is a scientifically (negatively) falsifiable theory alright. Prior to the election I assumed that the Doctors Wives (DW) theory was true, and that the LN/P would experience a set-back in the SEN.
    But as the results flowed in from the SEN it was clear that DW theory was falsified. That led me to propose DoW theory. This theory is simply the inverse of DW. In logic, the inverse of a falsifiable theory is itself falsifiable. Therefore DoW theory is falsifiable. QED.
    I then checked the longtitudinal SEN record and noticed the secular decline in the aggregate Wet vote, which is implied by DoW. And now we have Anthony Green confirming the latitudinal details of DoW, given this elections swing of ex-DEMs onto the LIB column. This fact was implied by DoW.
    The longtitudinal and latitudinal predictions of DoW have been confirmed, yet continue to be evaded and obfuscated by the likes of Fyodor. One speculates that Fyodor’s ego is a little sensitive and cannot cope with the harsh facts of reality.
    I have, following scientific procedure, always acknowledged that DoW is not conclusively proven because we have no reliable exit poll data on ex-DEM votes. The problem is getting detailed positive evidence, since voter preferences are inherently subjective, complex and contradictory. It would help greatly if we could determine whether ex-DEMs voted LIB out of:
    temporary materialistic greed for Howard-LIB (or fear of Latham-ALP) economic policies or
    enduring moralistic love for Howard-LIB (or hate of H-h-Wets) cultural policies.
    I will, in the Popperian spirit, offer four further predictions implied by DoW:
    The DEMS will probably fold-up over the course of this Parlt. Most of the ex-DEM voters will return to the LIB fold, the rest will go GREEN;
    The GREENs – if they continue with Howard-hating, feral red-ragging and symbolic political styles – will struggle to get more than one million votes. I expect that the influx of more moderate ex-DEM voters will force them to be more pragmatic. They certainly dont want to get hit by another Howard pre-emptive strike;
    The ALP will edge further away from elitist progressive-liberal political styles in an attempt to win back more of its declining blue-collar battler base. They will definitely steer away from cosy ALP-GREEN deals, as the GREENs are now perceived as the ex-SL in exile;
    The LIBs, even under Wet Costello, will not revert to elitist progressive-liberalism. They will stick to their winning populist formula. Costello may make a few token gestures and nice sounding speeches to appease progressive sentiment.
    I really dont have the faintest idea of what FF are up to. They look more DLP/Harradine than ON to me, which implies economic populism and cultural conservatism. I think that you will see both ALP and LIBs angling for their vote.

    Now Fyodor, lets have some hard facts and revised theory instead of reality denials and stale apologetics. Can he please explain how come:
    Decline of the cultural elitists: progressive-liberal (DEM, GREEN) parties have lost 30% of their aggregate vote since 1996? And the Major Parties progressive-liberal leaders (Hewson, Keating) have been trounced;
    Rise of the cultural populists: conservative-liberal parties (FF, ON) have greatly improved their share of the vote? And now we have Major Parties are led by (Howard, Latham) conservative-liberals?
    Theories that rely on occult forces, ie attributing a reverse-Midas Touch to the diabolic shade of Paul Keating, will not be accepted.

  31. Fyodor
    October 21st, 2004 at 16:34 | #31


    As I’ve noted before, yours is the talent for self-inflation. You’ve proven me guilty of nothing more than optimism.

    This debate has been played out enough times. Simply restating the same position over and over again is not a statement of fact, it is simply a restatement of an unproven and, I would contend, weak argument. However, you seem to have calmed down now, with less reliance upon ad hominem attacks, so I’ll do you the same courtesy and attempt, once again, to demonstrate exactly where you are wrong.

    First off, for a guy who presumes to lecture others on epistemology, you’ve precious little grasp of it. A theory is only falsifiable if it can be proven wrong by empirical analysis. Your proposition, that the composition of the half-senate reveals a shift in the ideological mood of the populace is plainly NOT falsifiable, because the data (i.e. the reasons WHY people voted a certain way) is NOT available. You’ve admitted so yourself many times – why do you persist in arguing that your thesis is based on facts?

    On the data we DO have, I’m quite happy to regurgitate it again. ABC Online has a good analysis of the results, by someone we can both recognise as a superior psephologist, @ http://www.abc.net.au/elections/federal/2004/guide. As far as I can make out, the Senate seat changes went as follows:

    NSW: Coalition gains one at expense of Dems
    VIC: Family First gains one at expense of ALP
    QLD: Coalition gains two at the expense of Dems and One Nation.
    WA: Greens gain one at expense of Dems
    SA: ALP gains one at expense of Dems
    TAS: Familiy First may gain one from Greens
    ACT & NT: no changes

    Notice a pattern here? The Dems have collapsed.

    What does the actual voting say? The latest data @ http://www.aec.gov.au shows that the Dems national share of vote fell 5.18% to 2.07%. The next biggest loser was One Nation, which fell 3.84% to 1.70%. The biggest gainer was the Greens, who were up 3.13% to 7.51%. I contend that this data does not demonstrate any clear, decisive shift away from the cultural left, given that there was such a strong increase in support for the Greens. What it does suggest is the implosion of the Dems, and the scattering of their voter base to other parties. WHY this happened is the $64K question, and your contention that it was due to the focus of the “cultural left” on Iraq, culture etc. is weak, insofar as the campaign was not fought on these issues. That is not to say they were not raised, but that they were not central to the campaigns of any major party. It’s therefore not logical to argue that the election was a referendum on these issues alone.

    What I, and others, have argued, however, is that the implosion of the Dems is more to do with their failure as a political party than a symptom of broader ideological change. For this argument to hold water, we need only refer to the party’s recent history of leadership strife and lost direction.

    The Coalition’s rise to dominance in the senate thus appears to be due more to the failure of the Dems as a party than a broader ideological movement. I say “appears”, because this hypothesis is also unfalsifiable. I contend, however, that it is more logical and defensible than your position, which ignores the problems of that party, and attributes ALL of the change to some nebulous ideological shift.

    To address your two final questions:

    1) The combined Dem+Green vote declined because the Dems have collapsed as a party. Hewson never positioned himself as a Wet. Keating had all sorts of baggage on a variety of issues. Atributing his loss in 1996 to cultural issues alone is more unfalsifiable speculation.

    2) One Nation has been annihilated. Family First is a new party that played the preferences well. No conclusion about ideological import. If you take a broad enough view, both the ALP and Coalition have been led by “conservative-liberals” since Fraser, so I think the Latham-Howard contrast is bogus. They’re both centrists, which is what you would expect in a two-party system, most of the time.

  32. Gaby
    October 21st, 2004 at 17:54 | #32

    Fyodor, very good post.

    Without an “-ism”, other than “optimism”. Nor an “-ist”, other than “psephologist”. I think.

    I’m reminded of the “-ism” scene in “The Barbarian Invasions”. Very good film.

  33. October 21st, 2004 at 19:30 | #33

    Fyodor at October 21, 2004 04:34 PM is pretty clearly on the run and looking for some place to hide. He shows it by scurrying away to hide in a thicket of epistemological reservations.
    Before making mincemeat of Fyodor’s psephologic meanderings I will try to clear up his philosophical confusion. He starts off well enought when he acknowledges the crucial epistemological equivalence between potential and actual testability:

    A theory is only falsifiable if it can be proven wrong by empirical analysis.

    Thats good Fyodor, at last we agree on something. But then Fyodor blows it by implying that any theory which is merely potentially testable, that is not immediately actually obervable, must relinquish its claim to scientific status:

    Your proposition,…is plainly NOT falsifiable, because the data (i.e. the reasons WHY people voted a certain way) is NOT available….I say “appears”, because this hypothesis is also unfalsifiable.

    And BLAH X 3. Right about now we can say that Fyodor has lost the sci-philosophical plot.
    Einsteins theory of relativity was, by Fyodor’s impossible standard, not scientific for more than a decade because Eddington, and all those other lazy experimenters, had not yet got off their backside and gotten the data. Fyodor, with his new found puritanical philosphy of science, discredits both me and Einsten. Oh well, back to the drawing board!

  34. October 21st, 2004 at 19:57 | #34

    Fyodor at October 21, 2004 04:34 PM gets the psephologic answer precisely back to front and in doing so performs the JS Mill service of being wrong in a clear and unambiguous way:

    the implosion of the Dems is more to do with their failure as a political party than a symptom of broader ideological change. For this argument to hold water, we need only refer to the party’s recent history of leadership strife and lost direction.

    No. The DEMs converted what was a, run of the mill, series of partisan misadventures into a party meltdown because there was a conservative ideological sea-change in the community – despite the fact that they were run by fairly professional operators. They were, to use their favourite ecological metaphor, being sqeezed out of their ideological niche.
    Ms Hanson’s, by contrast, was able to walk into a major ideological nice left unoccupied by the free-market NFF’s emasulation of the Country Party apparat and conversion of it into the lame-duck National Party c. 1982 (auspicious date).
    Hansons’s ON, a knock-up rabble if ever there was one, was able to shake the Fed governments to its foundations, and force major changes in policy, because her party reflected the ideological sea-change – despite the fact that they were run by rank amateurs.
    The DoW is scientific because the data on shifts in Wet ideological valencies could, in principle, be available. DEM voters could, in principle, be polled on why they changed their vote. No harm in asking, is there? So DoW is scientificly falsifiable. And I have already suggested a number of tests for the theory.
    The DoW is also scientifically verifiable. There are also a number of positive observations already available. One suggestive bit of data, that Fyodor continues to ignore, is the secular trend. Doesn’t Fyodor find it a little bit suspicious that the Wet DEM vote has been sliding since 1996 (30% – still no sign that this has sunk in!), yet neither the GREENs, nor the ALP, have picked up those votes?
    Fyodor thinks that merely by chanting the mantra “the DEMs imploded – the votes have scattered to who knows where – no-one can say” that he can make the ideological trend disappear. He has a touching faith in the healing power solipsism.
    Straight algebra (not his strong point I gather) should tell him that the DEM vote must have gone somwwhere. Or does Fyodor think that the actual DEM voters, poor fellows, have imploded rather than voting for hateful-Howard?
    I guessed that there was a conservative secular trend underway, visible in the Minor Party contraction. I just wasn’t sure of the overall valency of the trend.
    This election has settled that question. SEN primary votes are flowing away from the Cultural Elitist progresive-liberal Left towards the Cultural Populist conservative-liberal Right. I guessed they went to the cultural Right, probably the LN/P.
    We now know, courtesy of Anthony Green, where the DEM vote went: it returned to the LIB fold, from whence it came. Or is Green another rotten unscientific metaphysician?
    There are a number of reasons why this conservative-liberal trend is underway. Perhaps DEMs got were sick of Howard-hatred. Or perhaps they got into a sustained arguments with, other wise bright, fellows like Fyodor who are suffering from some kind of post-traumatic electoral shock. This would be enough to turn any moderate into a foaming-at-the-mouth right-winger. Or maybe, like me, they noticed that there progressive-liberal Emperors clothes were looking a little threadbare and got fed up with going along with his charade.
    In any case, rightward ho! the Dems voters went. The LIBs are way to the Right of the DEMs on cultural matters. Ergo, the mainstream median liberal-progressive voters have lurched to the Right. That is the Decline of the Wets.
    Why is this rather obvious proposition such an incredibly bitter pill for Fyodor to take? I think it is because Dr Strocchi, that insufferable know-all, is administering it.
    So I now wheel out the Big Gun of punditry: Paul Kelly. Since Fyodor has an allergic reaction to anything I say, maybe he will find the Conventional Wiseguy more palatable:

    For most of the time since Malcolm Fraser lost control of the Senate in 1981, the Senate has been dominated by Left-Centre coalitions constituted from the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, the Australian Greens and independents..This was because the minor parties, led by the Democrats, were on the Left
    what has just happened – a Senate majority for forces of the Right in their own name won at the ballot box…is a historic event…As far as I am aware, nobody predicted this before the poll…
    For the Left coalition, election 2004 has been a setback – the Democrats are in demise, the total Democrats-Greens vote is down and the Greens now face a far tougher political climate .
    Malcolm Mackerras says: “At recent elections, on most occasions, states divide in effect 3-3 between the forces of the Right and Left. But in this election two states, Queensland and Victoria, have divided 4-2 in favour of the Right. So, in that sense, the 2004 election represents a significant move to the Right.
    This interpretation is reinforced by the shake-out within the minor parties. Central to this process is the demise of the Democrats. The Democrats, who floated between the Centre and the soft Left, have been discredited.
    Far to the Left of the Democrats are the Greens and another surprise story of the 2004 election is their poor result…It is likely that election 2004 signals the end of the long-running Greens honeymoon.
    In his analysis for New Matilda, ANOP’s Rod Cameron, the former Labor strategist, was scathing of the Greens and the compliant media they enjoy.
    “There is no significant move to the Greens. With the virtual disappearance of the Democrats and the significance of such emotive issues as Iraq, kids overboard and Howard’s lies, the Greens should be charging ahead.
    “For such a party to have won only a 7 per cent share of the reps vote in 2004 is a distinctly underwhelming result .”
    Brown is a liability for the environmental cause. Post-election, Howard knows he can undermine the Greens because of their extremist platform, while Labor reels from getting too close to the Greens on the forest issue, an act Cameron calls madness.

    So on Empirical Data the DoW can now thank Anthony Green, Malcolm Mackerras and Rod Cameron for their yeoman service.
    And on Grand Theory, in the Blue Corner, we have Mr CW himself, plus Paul Sheehan, Robert Manne, Greg Meleuish, Tony McCall and Kevin McDonald. And, in the Red Corner, we have… [drum roll]…the Black Knight of the Wets: Sir Fyodor!

  35. October 21st, 2004 at 20:02 | #35

    the Wet Wet vote has been sliding since 1996…yet neither the GREENs, nor the ALP, have picked up those votes?

    correction, should read:

    the Wet vote has been sliding since 1996…yet the ALP has not picked up those votes?

  36. John Quiggin
    October 22nd, 2004 at 08:25 | #36

    Jack, in relation to Hewson I withdraw the claim he doesn’t now have any particular views on social issues, but will restate the point that he either didn’t have them or kept them very quiet when he was leader of the opposition – Keating’s “feral abacus” line wouldn’t have worked against a known wet.

    As regards Keating, it may be that his self-reinvention as a cultural progressive can be pushed back from 1993 to 1992, but his extreme unpopularity can be firmly dated to the day in 1989 he said the words “recession we had to have”.

    The public’s rejection of Hewson, then Keating was overwhelmingly on the basis of their economic policies and performance.

  37. Fyodor
    October 22nd, 2004 at 08:27 | #37


    I’m not allergic to everything you say. I just happen to have pointed out the considerable number of mistakes you’ve made. I get the distinct impression you’re the one who can’t take criticism. Here’s another tip: if you don’t like to be embarassed in a public forum, don’t say stupid things.

    On to the subject at hand. I’ve presented yet again the facts and logic that undermine your case. Simply repeating over and over again that black is white is not a strong position for you to take. Wheeling in soundbite quotes from journos (other than Sheehan) who have not made the same assertion as you is frankly underwhelming and a little desperate. Personally, I’m bored with this issue and don’t see that we’re making any progress on it. I’ll let the audience be the judge.

    P.S. you got your epistemology wrong, then accused me of stating Einstein’s ToR was unscientific. I did no such thing. Nor is Falsificationism a “new found puritanical philosphy of science”, as you should know given your previous reference to Popper. Shame on you, you’re clearly not on top of your “sci-philosophy” today. Your intellectual veneer gets thinner every time I encounter your delightfully laboured prose.

  38. Paul Norton
    October 22nd, 2004 at 09:12 | #38

    As a Green, I continue to take heart from thse pundits like Paul Kelly who describe a roughly 50% gain in our primary vote, and a probable doubling in our Senate representation( now that below the line votes are helping Christine Milne), as a “poor result”. My only concern is whether my constitution will be strong enough to stand the euphoria of a satisfactory result.

  39. Paul Norton
    October 22nd, 2004 at 10:08 | #39

    Also, extrapolating the current Greens Senate vote of 783,420 with 84.17% of the vote counted, to what it can be expected to be with 100% counted, we come up with a final Greens vote of 930,649 – not a million votes, but not a million miles off it, either.

  40. October 22nd, 2004 at 11:31 | #40

    John Quiggin at October 22, 2004 08:25 AM makes a bit of a backdown on Hewson but then makes a dubious general assertion about Keating:

    The public’s rejection of…Keating was overwhelmingly on the basis of their economic policies and performance.

    In 1996 the public rejected Keatings economic rationalism and his cultural progressivism. After all, the time to punish Keating’s economic rationalism would have been 1993 with the “the recession we had to have” fresh in voters memory.
    There is abundant evidence that the masses are to the populist-progressive Left of the Econmic Elites and to the populist-conservative Right of the Cultural Elites. Howard has merged these two flows of ideological sentiment into a Great Convergent coaltion of the populist-moderate Centre of the Political Masses.
    In 1993 neither the LIBs or the LABs would have gone anywhere near party leaders with conservative-liberal agendas like Latham or Howard. And Keating/Hewsons progressive-liberalism, at whatever flame they set it, hardly repelled the electorate.
    The 1993-1996 parliament saw the high-tide of Keating’s cultural progressivism. This explains the ALP’s staggering losses in 1996 in the more socially conservative working class heartland electorates.
    Over the latter half of the nineties, one must remind progressive-liberals, the public serially rejected Keating’s ATSIC-seperatist, feminist-ball-busting, minimal-Republican, Javanese-appeasing and multi-cultural-pandering models of political culture.
    The slow-motion collapse of the progressive-liberal DEMS over the late nineties, and their return to the conservative-liberal fold in 2004, is the most obvious psephologic symptom of this conservative trend in political culture.
    In 2004 if any major party ran hard on a progressive-liberal cultural agenda they would have been absolutely flattened by the electorate.
    This is despite any number of worthy progressive-liberal causes to run on. In fact the dogmatic progressive-liberalism interest group pandering of the early nineties discredited the pragmatic progressive-liberal harm-minimisation of the early noughties. Mainstream people simply didn’t trust Cultural Elite Chicken Littles on subtantive issues like Tampa, Iraq etc given the Cultural Elite fetish with symbolic issues earlier on.
    This qualitative evaluation of the conservative-liberal tendencies in the major party platforms, together with a quantitative metrification of the decline in the progressive-liberal minor party SEN vote share, compels us to conclude that there has been a Decline of the Wets.

  41. Paul Norton
    October 22nd, 2004 at 12:36 | #41

    Jack says:

    “There is abundant evidence that the masses are and to the populist-conservative Right of the Cultural Elites.”

    The first part of this proposition is unquestionably true. Opinion surveys have consistently shown majority (and growing) opposition to the main planks of neo-liberal economic and IR thinking.

    The second part, like a lot of Jack’s commentary about cultural progressivism, collapses together a range of disparate phenomena.

    The available social survey data shows that it is undoubtedly true as it applies to attitudes to multiculturalism and what is sometimes termed “race” politics.

    It is more likely than not to be mistaken in relation to issues of gender and sexuality, although people respond in wildly different and contradictory ways to surveys depending on how the question is phrased. For instance, if you survey attitudes towards work and family issues, you will get a strongly pro-feminist response if the question is framed in terms of equality of rights and responsibilities between men and women, and a strongly pro-tradfam response if it is framed in terms of the interests of children.

    As far as the republic is concerned, I think it is a mistake to regard the republic debate and referendum as being principally about cultural conservatism versus progressivism. According to the Australian Electoral Study, half the people who voted NO in 1999 did so because they wanted a directly elected head of state, and felt strongly enough about this issue to send the minimalist model and its supporters back to the drawing board. Where Jack may have a point is that there was obviously an attempt by the minimalist republican camp to frame their model as the cool option whose success was historically inevitable and which intellectually superior and groovy people ought to support. More substantively, it is clear that the NO camp (including Howard) did a brilliant job of positioning themselves as the champions of popular-democratic sentiment on this issue, but their task was made easier by ARM/minimalist incompetence.

    On drugs (an issue Jack doesn’t mention) most people are culturally progressive libertarians on their own right to get a skinful and be excused for their subsequent bad behaviour, and culturally conservative fusspots on other people’s right to smoke funny stuff.

    Notice that I don’t include attitudes towards the environment in the discussion of cultural-political trends. Of course neither does Jack, although some others do.

    “Howard has merged these two flows of ideological sentiment into a Great Convergent coaltion of the populist-moderate Centre of the Political Masses.”

    We’ll see how long he continues to represent economic policy sentiments “to the populist-progressive Left of the Econmic Elites”!

  42. October 22nd, 2004 at 12:41 | #42

    Fyodor Fyodor at October 22, 2004 08:27 AM is now so over this debate:

    Personally, I’m bored with this issue and don’t see that we’re making any progress on it. I’ll let the audience be the judge.

    Ditto me.
    There cant be much progress when one side explains facts and the other side explains them away. (Or blatantly misrepresents sources, as in the case of Fyodor’s black-is-white, up-is-down characterisation of Paul Kelly et al.)
    Fyodor has chronicly evaded noticing, let alone explaining, the key indices of progressive-liberal decline:
    latitudinal re-composition: in the 2004 election, as ex-DEM Wets lurched to the Drier Centre-Right LIBs, rather than the Wetter Far-Left GREENs/Centre-Left ALP.
    longtitudinal degeneration: over the 1996-2004 period, the Wet movement – parties, policies, personalities, philosophies and polities – lost ground to constrary positions.
    Fact evasion on this monumental scale is a psychoanlytic, not analytic, problem.
    And the Decline of the Wets was not just an AUS event. Over the latter half of the nineties it became apparent throughout the civilied world. The Austalian Parliamentary Library, no hot-bed of Howard-lovers, includes the following adverse judement on the Wets, in a review of recent electoral trends:

    the centre-left’s general fall from the voters’ grace cannot be disputed. Only three years ago, centre-left parties were the ones being described as in the ascendant.
    In January 1999, centre-left parties were in power in 11 of the 15 European Union countries and in the United States, and the centre-right was described as ‘tired, arrogant and in need of refreshing’.
    Today, the situation-and the comments-are reversed and it is centre-left parties which are accused of being ‘exhausted, complacent and clubby in office’.

    Over the nineties the Wets became something of a lauging stock. This is sad because a healthy progressive-liberal party-reformer movement is a necessary counter to mad-sect reactionary and bad-class revolutionary malignancies incipient in the transition through modernity. The fact that GW Bush is even in the running in the US election, after his series of disastrous encounters with the reality-based world, is testament to the weak electoral & ideological position of the liberal-progressive Centre-Left, never mind the Far-Left.
    So the writing has been on the wall for a while. To avoid drawing unpleasant conclusions many Wets, like Fyodor, have resorted to all sorts of pre-mo and post-mo epistemological quibbles and methodological dodges to rescue a degenerating intellectual position. This evasive stance is a diagnostic of the Wets intellectual pathology and a primary reason for their political decline. See Alan Ramsey for an acute case of this syndrome.
    It is not for me to say which of us is “stupid”. I prefer to let History, speaking through its electoral Muse, be the judge.

  43. Sir Fyodor, Black Knight of the Wets and Scourge of the Jackerstrocchi
    October 22nd, 2004 at 15:13 | #43


    You have an unerring ability to drag any debate down into low farce. Every new “attack” is a further parade of your intellectual shortcomings. I am, however, a little disappointed you didn’t refer to me as “Sir Fyodor, Black Knight of the Wets”. I quite liked that epithet. Predictably unoriginal, but it goes well with my “psychoanlytic” [sic] problems.

    This was the clincher for me, and a suitably comical end to this absurd mismatch:

    “It is not for me to say which of us is ‘stupid’. I prefer to let History, speaking through its electoral Muse, be the judge.”

    We didn’t have to wait long, did we? How can history have an “electoral muse”? I’m pretty sure she wasn’t one of the nine in the classical tradition, but maybe you’ve invented her too.

    I’d say the emperor has no clothes, but that’s one of your stock cliches, so I’ll suggest he’s lost his marbles instead. For future reference, that would be termed a “psychiatric” problem.

  44. October 22nd, 2004 at 18:50 | #44

    Paul Norton at October 22, 2004 10:08 AM corrects my (lazily quoted) facts:

    extrapolating the current Greens Senate vote of 783,420 with 84.17% of the vote counted…we come up with a final Greens vote of 930,649

    Actually, Paul Norton is underestimating the GREENS totals. I make the GREENs projected total to be 930,759.
    x = GREEN vote extrapolation
    y = GREEN running total (783,420)
    AEC = ratio of votes counted (0.8417)
    (x)*(AEC) = y
    (x)*(0.8417)/0.8417 = 783,420/0.8417
    x = 930,759.
    Actually, the GREENS will do better than that if they maintain their current voting ratio. There are 13,021,230 enrolled voters in Australia. If the GREENs maintain a 7.5% share of the SEN vote they will claim 976,592 votes. Just shy of the mill.
    The 7.5% share is nothing to sneeze at, I suppose. It is a ~50% improvement on the 4.9% of the SEN vote the GREENs achieved in 2001. But still somewhat under the 10% of the vote that they were polling at the beginning of the campaign and the five or so Senators they were predicting towards the end.
    But there is significant downside on the GREENs performance. Bob Brown’s honeymoon period with the media is well and truly over. It will take a long time for the GREENs to recover mainstream credibility after the Right’s Campaign launch Pearl Harbour attack tore so much out of the GREENs progressive-liberal soft underbelly.
    The Doctors Wives wont be lodging protest votes with the GREENS, over the war and Tampa, for ever. And the GREEN apparat must be more than a little disappointed about not snapping up the bulk of the right-ward heave-hoing ex-DEMs.

  45. October 22nd, 2004 at 19:29 | #45

    Sir Fyodor, Black Knight of the Wets at October 22, 2004 03:13 PM continues to live up to to his nom de guerre by refusing to give up when all is lost:

    We didn’t have to wait long, did we? How can history have an “electoral muse”? I’m pretty sure she wasn’t one of the nine in the classical tradition, but maybe you’ve invented her too.

    Fyodor I am not going to defend my DoW thesis against you anymore. One look at the glum faces of your fellow progressive-liberals tells me all I need to know.
    Fyodor is, to continue the mangling of literary metaphors, arguing with a tide of History. He flails about, King Canute-style, in a vain endeavour to command the waves retreat. But we all know what happens to those who panic when caught in a rip.
    Lets look at the Longer Run-Bigger Picture of this trend.
    The first wave of post-WWII Old Left progressive-liberalism, epitomised by Gough, had real worthwhile work to do to complete the Enlightenment settlement in the AUS state. But the second wave of post-VN War New Left progressive-liberalism, epitomised by Theophanous , appeared to be more into ideological posturing and interest-group pandering.
    Progressive-liberal parties, policies, personalities, philosophies and polities are on the defensive since the New Left’s cultural hegemony bit the dust, sometime in the early nineties. In most cases these political establisments are going backwards.
    The events of 911 exacerbated this trend. Although the blowback from the fool in the White House may give some respite to whats left of New Left.
    Over the nineties there has been, in various ways, a conservative-liberal re-consolidation of social order underway in most civilised societies, partly aging and wising and partly to clean up some of the mess left behind after the last 30 years of cultural fiestas, follies and f**k-ups.
    In government: Take a look at the score board. Four elections on the trot by a PM who has described his political career trajectory and political character thus:

    the times will suit me…the most conservative leader the Liberal Party has ever had.

    Amongst the Minor Parties: Moderate progressive-liberal (proceduralist DEM) parties imploding. Extreme conservative-liberal (racialist ON) & moderate conservative-liberal (religionist FF) parties coming from nowhere.
    Amgonst the Major Parties: Conservative-liberal personalities (Latham) dominate. The most succesful progressive-liberal, Bob Brown, looks and sounds like everyone mother’s idea of a perfect accountant.
    In the academy: progressive-liberal philosphies (po-mo) and mannerisms (pee-cee) an object of derision. eg Sokal Hoax
    In the public sphere: Deep skepticism about the value of symbolic-dogmatic elitist politics as opposed to substantive-pragmatic populist policies. eg Multi-cultism, Feminism, Indigenous Seperatism, etc The long-suffering tax-paying masses have to pay for these things and eventually they will demand value for money.
    Even Old Media broadcast networks and metro broadsheets, sometime bastions of moderate progressive-liberalism, have been out-flanked by feral and conservative bloggers.
    Political campaigns have, sad to say, become uglier. It is fashionable to blame this on conservative-liberals “playing the race card” or “dog whistling the RWDB’s”.
    But who started playing the “identity-political” game first? I don’t remember the LIBs having an “ethnic lobby”. Nor did they need to impose feminist quotas, they simply recruited enterprising females. They intitiated this politics of cultural division and churning out their smelly little orthodoxies.
    The progressive-liberals have no-one to blame but themselves for the mess they are in. And the longer they stick their head in the sand, the longer they will be powerless to recover.

  46. gordon
    October 26th, 2004 at 09:28 | #46

    Having proposed in my comment in this thread on 19 Oct. that there is a feeling abroad that “the end is nigh”, I was pleasantly surprised to read a summary of a paper by Richard Eckersley (National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU) in the Canberra Times yesterday (25/10/04, p.13). Eckersley finds a trend towards “apocalyptic nihilism” and withdrawal in the face of percieved degeneration in our society. He doesn’t, as I did, trace this collapse of social confidence to beliefs about the environment, but he does agree with my identification of excessive personal ambition as one response to the “fraying of citizenship and democracy”. So there you go.

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