Home > Oz Politics > What if they gave a culture war and nobody came?

What if they gave a culture war and nobody came?

November 15th, 2007

It’s now looking just about as certain as any electoral outcome can be that the Howard government will be defeated, and that the Federal Liberal party will join its state and territory counterparts in opposition, possibly for several terms to come[1]. Given that the economy is doing well, and that the Australian electorate is not obviously in a state of leftwing ferment, this (still putative) outcome needs some explanation.

One striking fact, despite having received an overwhelming mandate in 1996 for a policy of making Australia “relaxed and comfortable”, the Howard government, and, even more, their supporters, see themselves as being engaged in a “culture war”. An even more striking fact is that the other side in this culture war has been just about invisible, particularly in political debate. It’s hard to see either Kevin Rudd or his smooth and scrubbed counterparts at the state level as engaged in a struggle to undermine traditional Australian culture. Even the Greens, led by Bob Brown, don’t fit the bill. And this is consistent with my day-to-day experience. Maybe UQ is riddled with extreme cultural leftists, but if so, I don’t get invited to their parties.

Yet opinion columns, talk radio and the rightwing blogosphere are dominated by diatribes against what appears, in their telling, as an amorphous mass of political correctness, environmentalism, radical feminism and general hostility to ordinary Australians and their values, which supposedly dominates not only the Labor party but all of our major cultural institutions including universities, the legal system, the ABC and even, in many accounts, the commercial mass media in which these bloviators are writing.

The pursuit of the culture war is, in my judgement, one of the main reasons that the conservative parties have become increasingly unelectable.

There are three main reasons for this. First, unlike the US, there is no core constituency for this kind of thing. Although some lefties get worried about the religious right, it’s pretty much non-existent here. The churches as a whole are moderately leftwing on most issues. That includes socially conservative Christians like Family First, who are typically centre-left on most economic issues. Even Hillsong, often see as the aspirational class at prayer, has backed Labor’s call to increase foreign aid. The other potential constituency, successfully mobilised by Pauline Hanson, to whom slogans like “political correctness” appeal, consists mainly of people who are generically unhappy about changes of all kinds, amounting to maybe 15 per cent of the population. That’s enough to provide the talkback shock jocks and their print and net equivalents with an audience, but not the basis of long-term success in politics, especially as much of this group is disengaged from politics much of the time

Second, the vitriolic style associated with the culture wars turns most Australians off. It’s striking given all the talk of looking for a “right-wing Phillip Adams” that hardly anyone on the right tries to emulate Adams’ avuncular style.

Third, and most importantly, the factoid-based, point-scoring, style of argument that goes with the culture wars eventually leads to complete insulation from factual reality. Any proposition, no matter how ridiculous, can be defended in this way, long after the average person has seen through it. This has been most obvious in relation to climate change and Iraq, but there are a whole string of issues where the culture warriors have imprisoned themselves in an orthodoxy every bit as constricting as the largely imaginary monolithic leftism they are supposed to be confronting.

Looking at the commentators who generally support the Coalition, the great majority (virtually everyone at the Oz, Devine pere et fille, Bolt, Akerman, McGuinness, Pearson, the IPA and much of the CIS) are self-proclaimed culture warriors and climate change delusionists, and most of the rest are carried along by this tide. The only pro-government commentators I can think of who are largely free of this kind of thing are Andrew Norton and Harry Clarke (no doubt there are some others – feel free to point them out). As long as the Liberal party gets its intellectual firepower from such sources, it will struggle to connect with Australians in general.

Note: A bunch of other people, including Mark Bahnisch, Guy Rundle (may be paywalled) and Andrew Norton (can’t find it now, but I’m sure I read it) have written useful stuff on this. And Chris Berg of the IPA has a good debunking of fears about the religious right.

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  1. melanie
    November 15th, 2007 at 16:45 | #1

    Hanson, at her peak, managed 15% in Queensland. The vote was much smaller in other states.

  2. November 15th, 2007 at 17:08 | #2

    Good post, John.

    I don’t think anyone outside a cabal of right wing pundits and their cheer squad has cared about the culture wars since Keating. Look at Quadrant’s subscriber base. I can’t see that continuing to carry on like porkchops if Labor are elected will do the conservatives any good at all. If the Libs want the chance of an early return to power, they’d do far better to return to the centre.

    It’s interesting to consider the case of the British Tories – who squandered years on the opposition benches through reciting right wing mantras from which the electorate had long moved on. It’s not as though the Blair government would not have been vulnerable after the first few years – Blair certainly thought so in his first term.

    It took close to a decade for the Tories to discard this losing strategy.

    The other local example is the contribution of religious crazies in NSW to the Iemma win. Iemma should have been the state premier who was most vulnerable to a loss in the recent round of state campaigns.

  3. Jill Rush
    November 15th, 2007 at 17:11 | #3

    When you, Prof Q, begin to list those individuals and institutions which are targets in the culture wars, run by the Howard government and its minions, it is no wonder that there are so many people who have been motivated to try and rid the country of them as leaders.

    The negative ads about unionists whilst trying to woo a range of marginal voters fails to recognise that unionists are mothers of school children, carers of the disabled, volunteers at the netball on a Saturday etc.

    So while you can try and buy a vote it won’t work if at the same time you are telling a person that they are no good because they are a unionist.

    One of the major problems with the attack on unions is that those who are depicted as thugs are seen as blokes operating in a hard industry who are only reacting to the bullying of the bosses – the rest of the union movement are teachers, nurses, policemen who are doing their best.

    Everyone knows that there will be individuals who are bad eggs but why should we be harder on the little people and make them representatives of their occupational group, than people like Mr Pratt who has ripped us all off and yet has had a nod and a wink from the PM because he has money which he donates to the Liberal party?

  4. Persse
    November 15th, 2007 at 17:33 | #4

    With Quadrant an article starts with a superior sneer at some cultural opponent, then gives a false and tendentious representation of the opponents views, and follows up with a bashing of the straw men so created. This is the pattern. This made it unreadable to me. A pity, I, for one, certainly don’t need to only listen to voices reflecting my own views. But I am not going to waste time on what is little more than ranting, invariably about attacking someone usually clearly their moral and intellectual superior ( Rachel Carson, Al Gore et al). Like those Japanese soldiers, left over from forgotten wars I prefer to let them fight on alone in the cultural jungles of their minds.

  5. November 15th, 2007 at 18:26 | #5

    I seem to remember that feminism died in the arse long before Howard, so it was always a bit bemusing to hear it being railed against. Another case in point is the arch dumbarse Julie Bishop talking about Maoists in the schools! Ai Ya!
    It is also highly amusing that people have the same level of interest in the non black-armband of history than they did in the black armband version – That is, none at all.

  6. conrad
    November 15th, 2007 at 19:27 | #6

    Looking at the latest piece of electoral hate mail to enter my letter box, I can add two other reasons, mainly applicable to younger people:
    (1) Many of the things they are targetting are basically meaningless abstract concepts to people under a certain age, like unions and state government debt.
    (2) The big campaign against climate change and the more recent Peter Garrett hating campaign is a sure loser. My feeling is that the vast majority of younger people think more should be done and not less — probably much more — and its a very important issue to them. That goes across political spectrum under a certain age.

  7. Geoff Honnor
    November 15th, 2007 at 19:42 | #7

    John, I admire you greatly but you really need to get out more :) 95% of the electorate would have no idea about “Culture Wars” and absolutely no interest in finding out. I’m quite convinced that the Oz remains afloat largely because of Larva Prodders obsessively accessing it to be repetitively outraged at the Op Ed content :)

    The Coalition is deservedly on the way out because it’s old, tired, creaky and long past its “used by” date. Rudd’s most compelling “new idea” is Rudd. And its working a treat.

    I don’t know for certain but I’m guessing that the
    worst thing about all this for John Howard is that he’ll lose government, not because of some down to the wire, hard fought ideological contest, but because people are just, sort of, over him. In droves.

  8. Ikonoclast
    November 15th, 2007 at 19:48 | #8

    I’m not sure if my understanding of the term “culture wars” matches the standard or received definition if there is one. My initial position would be (perhaps somewhat pedantically) that while there are humans there will be cultures and while there are cultures there will be wars; both hot wars and culture wars. Every strand of discourse is a strand in the culture wars. I think the culture wars have gone on since humans evolved and will do so until humans cease.

    The main culture war in the last 200 years or so has been Capitalism versus everbody, every ‘ism’ and every thing else. And to put it bluntly, Capitalism has won hands down and swept all else from the field. OK, OK there’s still a bit of residual sweeping going on but it’s basically all over on that front.

    This does not mean however that history is over. We are about to find out that endless-growth Capitalism’s inherent contradiction is not to be diagnosed by any historicist dialectic but by looking at its impact on the environment. Capitalism’s victory (it its current form) is entirely phyrric. The environment’s capacity to sustain a capitalist world civilization (in its current form) is about to collapse.

    Howard and his band of cronies are best understood as very late recruits arrived on the field when the battle is won and their side entirely victorious. They have bravely and vigourously trodden about the field (in culture war terms) puffing their chests, telling each other and everyone else what great fellows they are and stamping on the faces of the dead and defenceless dying. Any arm raised by the crumpled as a final defence is loudly decried as a rank rebellion that threatens the entire fabric of the moral cosmos. Even more vigorous trampling ensues where the defenceless, along with all the best tenets of democracy, of law (meaning good law,) of morality and decency are all ground into the mud in one unrecognisable mash.

    However, there is a sea-change (it’s part of the climate change) coming to this world. John Howard and Co. will soon look like the dinosaurs that they are. Does that mean things will get better? I hope so but I doubt it. New kinds of manipulators and tyrants will arise always seeking to exploit the main weaknesses of the people. As J.S. Mill said, the populace are too credulous and too respectful of authority. Mind you it’s hard not to show respect to such a massive monopoly on organised terror and violence as is now wielded by the modern nation state.

  9. melanie
    November 15th, 2007 at 20:56 | #9

    “95% of the electorate would have no idea about “Culture Warsâ€? and absolutely no interest in finding out.”

    Isn’t that what Quiggin just said? They had a ‘culture war’ and nobody came.

  10. haiku
    November 15th, 2007 at 21:04 | #10

    Geoff, wasn’t that JQ’s point: so few people are concerned with “the culture wars” that it is not a sufficient strategy for electoral success?

    On Howard, Peter Brent makes a persuasive case that he is actually quite poor at attracting the vote: even his “big” victories have been quite small compared to other incumbents. Further, he’s been lucky: being in the right time and right place in 96, winning with a TPP minority in 98, Tampa and 9/11 in 01, and Latham in 04. No doubt persistence brings a lot of luck, but the story of Howard the ordinary bloke with an intuitive connection to the Australian people is myth.

    JQ, obviously you need to add Flint and Barnett to the first list. To the second, maybe Imre? Owen Harries?

  11. November 15th, 2007 at 21:35 | #11

    Is much of the CIS involved in AGW denialism? Jason Soon has denied this in the past.

  12. November 15th, 2007 at 21:58 | #12

    History marches on past the cultural conservatives and that pisses them off to no end. Societies move with the times (albeit slowly in the case of Australia recently) and progress is made in terms of accepting new movements and integrating them into our cultural fabric.

    People don’t mind environmentalism now, we’re warming to the idea of gay rights and women have got it better than they did in the 1950s (unless they’re the Deputy Leader of the federal ALP).

  13. John Bignucolo
    November 15th, 2007 at 22:32 | #13

    You can add Sydney Morning Herald columnists Gerard Henderson and Michael Duffy to your list of movement conservative culture warriors. If having your own show on Radio National is a prerequisite, then Michael Duffy, who hosts “Counterpoint”, comes closest to being a “right-wing Phillip Adamsâ€?.

  14. November 15th, 2007 at 22:59 | #14

    Oh yes John, how could Gerard Henderson be forgotten? I’m sure he was vehemently arguing about what someone was saying in a student club in the 1960′s the other day. I’m sure no-one even cared then. Laugably the world’s crappiest paper The West Australian has this clown as a guest columnist.

  15. P
    November 15th, 2007 at 23:16 | #15

    The culture wars may be an import from the US, however the history wars have been won, the Prime Minister has previously declared victory. To cement the victory he has put some of the warriors on the Board of the ABC, and they will be there for some time.

  16. BilB
    November 16th, 2007 at 04:36 | #16

    The conservative persona feeds on fear and greed. But the overall well being of the general population reduces the ranks of the would be cultural warriors who are not deterred by their dwindling numbers. But as they rise to the challenge of the battle against complacency they see their opponent disappearing to the distance marching united to a struggle for the planet, leaving their battle field vacant. A whole new threat has arisen, a very real threat has united the entire populous even drawing in many of the conservative knights. The cultural war has become an empty memory churning only in the minds of those tormented souls who cannot give it up. For now.

  17. jquiggin
    November 16th, 2007 at 06:03 | #17

    I think Imre is definitely in the first class (South Park conservative types follow the same general approach but have a slightly different set of targets). Harries fits the second.

    As regards CIS, they’ve promoted Lomborg. He’s clever enough not to present himself an outright delusionist, and smooth enough to be effective, but he’s definitely a culture warrior.

  18. Eric Vigo
    November 16th, 2007 at 07:11 | #18

    Good topic.
    I wonder if those who rant and rave so much, actually believe it.
    If we did an interview with each of the ranters, and asked them what their honest opinion is – given that they are honest and are heart-felt about their passion against lefties – then we will see who has been lying and who hasn’t

    For instance, someone in the world somewhere believes in these exact same issues, considers them to be the ONLY things that are worth worrying about, have rationalised all other issues away, and have logically come to a conclusion that the only issues that matter in the world, and would also only matter to a Sudanese refugee – coz they are so so so obvious are:
    • gay marriage – for instance, a refugee in some camp in the world would rather spend time writing in a journal how gay marriage is destroying all other marriages, rather than get fed for the day. Such is the organicness of this topic.
    • abortion
    • left wing bias in the media
    • The Aboriginal Industry
    • unions are ruining the country, and only them
    • single mothers on pensions. This to them, is logically obvious, for the $5000 the single mother may have squandered from the state is a much more important attack on our economy than, say, Richard Pratt.
    • refugees wanting to invade Australia and ruin the Australian Way of Life
    • the Australian Way of Life – or in the case of Botswana, the Botswanian Way of Life.

    These issues are to be spoken of in a pleading way (“pleeeease understand me, I only care for everyone!) and in a relaxed and composed way.

    Every arguement is spoken in this way, with discussion points, and each person on either side holding their chin & going “mmmmm, good point, that makes sense, more sense than my point”

    Yep, ONE PERSON exists in the world, at least.

    Or else we really see that those who espouse these points of view, dont mean it, dont believe it, and are abusers of our community space. Fakes.

    For to NOT be a fake, all of them that is, they have to engage in a manner above or similarly to have any credibility.

    I’m still waiting

  19. Paul Norton
    November 16th, 2007 at 09:10 | #19

    A post I wish I’d written myself.

    I think the prominence of anti-abortionism and valorisation of the stay-at-home mother of 12 in the canon of the Culture Warriors will sooner or later be analysed as a significant factor in the demise of the Tories. When Abbott took the hard line he did on abortion and RU486 early in the current term of the Howard government, he not only brought on a fight in which he copped a well-earned drubbing, he also attracted a lot of attention and publicity to one of the least attractive faces of the Coalition.

    The Coalition’s prospects of electoral recovery over the next three years will be zero unless they strictly quarantine the likes of Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, Heffernan, McGauran, Joyce and others like them from any issue remotely relevant to gender, famkily, sexuality and women’s reproductive rights.

  20. observa
    November 16th, 2007 at 10:41 | #20

    What culture wars? We’re all singing the same metoo rational, we were all fiscal conservatives, type policies now. Here’s the classic rollover in the Saudi Arabia of uranium- http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/11/15/2091219.htm?site=elections/federal/2007
    You remember the good old days
    http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,21293733-5006301,00.html
    What can a moral badge wearing, anti-nukes tosser do when faced with inexorable logic eh? A nuke power station can provide all of SA’s power and at night can run a massive desal plant flat out in offpeak to get around all those tossers who have been pissing in our ears about CO2 as well as our river for years. And guess what? Who do you think is going to be picking up the bill, with all those carbon credits we get from ceasing to burn dirt from Leigh Creek? The first one will be built at Port Augusta, near the existing transformers and transmission lines and then we’ll leave the other disappointed citizens of the Iron Triangle towns of Pirie and Whyalla to fight over who gets the next one to interconnect with you lot, to save you all from Rudd’s horrendous, cap and trade, power bills. Then we’ll earn a bit more on the side dumping your medical and research low level radioactive waste. Naturally Media Mike is saving these delicate announcements for after the Federal election and if he doesn’t get in quick, well the Opposition will make the running at the next State election. That’s how culture wars are eventually won of course. Metoo or perish. We’re going to have a visibly ostentatious, solar powered airport for the benefit of all the tossers immigrating from interstate of course.

  21. observa
    November 16th, 2007 at 10:52 | #21

    My advice is to pack up the Prius and get in early before the lush gardened, aircond house prices get real ugly. Fly in first for the preliminaries and gush over the solar airport naturally.

  22. observa
    November 16th, 2007 at 10:56 | #22

    Give us your downtrodden poor, freezing and sweating in the dark, as well as your thirsty cactus growers eh?

  23. BilB
    November 16th, 2007 at 11:14 | #23

    I can see where Rann is coming from with that. He is leaving the door open for cabling in Nuclear Power from Japan.

    I’m more interested in talking (as the subject of power has been raised) about the collapse of the Victorian coal mine and its ramifications for the viability (lack thereof) of geosequestration of CO2. JQ, any chance of a thread on that?

  24. wilful
    November 16th, 2007 at 11:21 | #24

    Observa’s on fire! no idea what he’s saying, however.

  25. Hal9000
    November 16th, 2007 at 11:24 | #25

    My feeling out in the leafy no longer safe Coalition voting burbs of Brisbane is that it’s Howard and Co’s constant pettifogging with what Prof Q calls factoids that have turned people off. People can clearly see the big picture of lies and deception however much Howard and Co (and their blogging disciples) bang on about ‘sort-of’ facts. No amount of huffing and puffing can disguise realities like the lies told about Iraq as pretexts for war, or the patently non-existent ‘secret’ case against Haneef.

    During the campaign so far, constant carping about ‘gaffes’ by Garrett et al merely reminds voters of all they loathe about this ghastly crew, of how every utterance of Howard needs to be parsed and subjected to legal analysis for escape clauses.

    The voters have also woken up to the fact that Howard is by no means a nice bloke and in this I think the cultural warriors have performed a sterling service. The sheer nastiness of the Gerard Hendersons, Christopher Pearsons and their co-religionists in the blogosphere (like Tim Blair and his largely American posters) in defending the mendacious old schemer and his world view has alerted many to the misanthropic soul of Teh Right. The thin-lipped unpleasantness of these people has worked its own magic: they have charted their own way into the wastepaper basket of history.

  26. BilB
    November 16th, 2007 at 11:59 | #26

    There is some nice wording there, Hal. I particularly like

    every utterance of Howard needs to be parsed and subjected to legal analysis for escape clauses

    that one.

  27. Hal9000
    November 16th, 2007 at 12:19 | #27

    You’re too kind, BilB. No room for the likes of you in the RWDB blogosphere.

  28. Persse
    November 16th, 2007 at 12:27 | #28

    I am against CO2 sequestration because I see it as like buying a car by increasing your house mortgage when interests rates as low. The car wears out in seven years, but repayments last 25 with the rate of interest going up. I know sequestration is technically doable, but relies on a set of favourable circumstances that has not been shown to be without long term practicability or risk. The technologies are mature in dealing with this substance, in terms of pumping, piping and injecting the CO2. But geological interactions and costs are not known with a reasonable degree of certainty. The main danger, in my view, is that an interim technology such as this, will delay better technologies by obscuring price and demand signals leading to better technologies being developed and implemented. The resources that the implementation of CO2 sequestration would consume would be better used in solutions that reflect the structural changes in energy generation that are required.

    In contradiction to what I have just said, if a convincing case is put and shown (as may be possible) that the urgency to cut emissions is so great, that any workable solution must be considered – then so be it.

  29. Paul Norton
    November 16th, 2007 at 12:40 | #29

    Jill Rush wrote:

    “One of the major problems with the attack on unions is that those who are depicted as thugs are seen as blokes operating in a hard industry who are only reacting to the bullying of the bosses”

    A point well made, Jill. In the construction industry (in which my father worked all his life) workers get killed and maimed because of the callousness and cupidity of the very same employers that the Right depicts as put-upon victims whenever union officials use tough strategies and tactics (and unsubtle and highly vernacular language) to protect the wages, conditions, lives and limbs of their members.

  30. Paul Norton
    November 16th, 2007 at 12:42 | #30

    And I seem to recall that the Right’s culture warriors never seem to have a problem with boisterous CFMEU members and officials when they’re from the Forestry Division and they’re campaigning for the logging companies and the Coalition against the greenies and Labor (as in 2004).

  31. November 16th, 2007 at 12:50 | #31

    I seem to remember that feminism died in the arse long before Howard, so it was always a bit bemusing to hear it being railed against.

    I’m not sure what evidence you have for that weird suggestion, Worst O’Perth, although living in Perth I guess you’re not exactly at its epicentre.

  32. Andrew
    November 16th, 2007 at 13:02 | #32

    It’s odd – but I would have written this post almost the same but from the perspective that it’s the left wing that obsesses about the so called ‘culture war’. I’m still not sure what a culture war is – but I do know that the only time I hear the term is in the left leaning blogosphere.

  33. derrida derider
    November 16th, 2007 at 13:27 | #33

    The culture wars are indeed the most obvious aspect, but more generally this government has always had the problem that its preferences are well to the right of those of the median voter.

    It is only consistently good (if cynical) tactics by Howard, a mediocre opposition and a hostile Senate that has kept it in the game so long. Once that constraint was removed and it was free to follow its ideological instincts it duly followed them – to electoral disaster.

  34. Paul Norton
    November 16th, 2007 at 13:29 | #34

    Andrew, check this link:

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22642864-25377,00.html

    Greg Sheridan is almost the last person one could accuse of being a “left-leaning blogger”.

  35. Zarquon
    November 16th, 2007 at 13:30 | #35
  36. rog
    November 16th, 2007 at 16:32 | #36

    I would agree with JQ’s assertion; everybody is tired of the culture wars and they just want to live their lives.

    ATM the ALP is presenting a softer version of the Libs and thats what voters want.

    JH’s problem was that he grew too big for the position, he should have pulled in his horns and managed things efficiently. His need to control the public debate has marginalised him from just about everybody.

    Its a shame, he did have the publics confidence, thats why Libs are mystified as to why there are no baseball bats out for them, its just time.

  37. Hal9000
    November 16th, 2007 at 17:00 | #37

    rog, IMHO (but based on observations from 1972 and 1983) Labor victories from opposition are never ‘baseball bat’ affairs – that’s what happens when the Tories win from opposition. This is primarily because Labor wins are associated with more positive emotions than anger and a desire to punish, which the ‘baseball bat’ metaphor neatly captures. The surprise really is that so few in the RWDB commenatariat are in touch with positive emotions – hence their incomprehension at the shellacking about to be inflicted on them.

  38. Dylwah
    November 16th, 2007 at 19:12 | #38

    Yae verily Ikonoclast, Some one in the SMH today quoted Thucididies via Colin Powell. which reminded me of the Melian dialogue, one of the original, recorded, culture wars.

    re our CW, i think that while the rodent was calling the troops to arms at posh dinners, thanks Zarquon, his opponents were at various parties, down the pub and at the cricket and footy having the face to face interactions that show up the rattus crew for the bunch of rovian doublethinkers that they are.

    Did you never go to a Trot party Proff Q? they are fun, tho you never know where the youngsters will end up when they grow up. in the mean time there is plenty of time to sing guthrie and seeger tunes and the odd bush ballard, like “the Billygoat Overland”

  39. Ian Gould
    November 16th, 2007 at 21:01 | #39

    “I do know that the only time I hear the term is in the left leaning blogosphere.”

    Presumably you’re unaware of Fox News and its star turn self-described “Culture Warrior” Bill O’Reilly.

    If so, you are a very lucky man.

  40. observa
    November 16th, 2007 at 23:19 | #40

    To get elected Rudd has simply moved Labor onto Howard territory, whatever that is. Presumably it’s some horrible place no decent thinking person would possibly want to go, let alone vote for. In reality it’s where you have to be nowadays to get elected and with that horrible little man gone soon, it will then be a nice place to be. You know it all makes sense.

  41. brian
    November 17th, 2007 at 00:05 | #41

    The Rudd Govt. must move swiftly to purge the ABC Board of that quite awful right-wing crew thatg Howard has placed there,
    Out with Albrechtson.Keith Windshuttle,and all of them
    That will be the first very real victory in the Culture Wars for the Left

  42. Ian Gould
    November 17th, 2007 at 10:20 | #42

    Engaging in the same ideologically-driven partisan patronage would validate the whle absurd “culture wars” paradigm and be a dangerous step further down the road to an American-style spoils culture.

    As Director of the Office of Cabinet. Kevin Rudd (along with Wayne Swann then the Director-General of the Premier’s Department) cleaned up the culture of corruption and cronyism within Queensland government after the Bjelke-Petersen issue.

    I would hope that Rudd restores propriety to the process of selecting ABC board members and that this process will in time see the place-men off the board.

  43. Katz
    November 17th, 2007 at 10:33 | #43

    In reality it’s where you have to be nowadays to get elected and with that horrible little man gone soon, it will then be a nice place to be. You know it all makes sense.

    Does this explain why so many Tories are running dead in this campaign?

    If Howard is so universally detested, why didn’t the Tories have him taken out and shot?

    Could the answer be that the issues go deeper than personalities. Might the issues also concern themselves with culture?

  44. gordon
    November 18th, 2007 at 09:40 | #44

    “Culture Wars” seem to be the particular product of sour, self-centred old men like Howard and Murdoch, to whom any generous, youthful impulse is hateful. I would like to think that their departure will raise the tone of cultural discourse, but I fear that their appearance and the power they wield are symptomatic of the aging of the population. Are we to be the victims for the foreseeable future of the narrowness, selfishness and envy of a gerontocracy of wizened and resentful mediocrities?

  45. November 18th, 2007 at 14:33 | #45

    For people who are so sure that the “culture war” was the beat-up of “a cabal of right wing pundits” beholden to Howard and his “minions”, you lot spend an awful lot of time writing and fretting about it. You are right to imply that this “cabal” is a very small minority – furthermore its alleged members have no tax-paid backing; unlike the legions of academics and the hordes of their ideological progeny. Contrary to ridiculous conspiracy theories and obsessions about Howard’s alleged obsession with the culture wars, his government increased the flow of billions of dollars towards your lefties in the universities, the ABC, etcettera, and sent nothing in the direction of the so-called “cabal”. So why do you spend so much time slurring its alleged members, moaning about the terrible time the left has had warding off Howard’s fourth Reich, and convincing yourselves that the culture war will all go away when he does?

    If it is true that the “right-wing” pundits have been as influential as the left says it has, they were so as a small minority, on a shoestring, against overwhelming opposition. That should lead you to wonder how they achieved that feat. You have the entrenched ideologies, the tax-paid billions, the educational monopoly, the ABC, Fairfax, etc etc on your side – how could you loose any battle, let alone any culture war? The imagined “cabal” has a few very good and dedicated men and woman who have given up a great deal to proselytize their convictions, but they are such a small under-funded scattering of individuals that they could not have had any impact unless they had some advantage – what?

    Contrary to your epistemology, discovering what in “factual reality” is right and wrong is not a matter of taking a poll of the intellectual class. A poll of the intellectual class last century had communism as the benevolent wave of the future and capitalism as the malevolent exploitation of the past, and this consensus convinced the “average person” to go along with that view. But the intellectuals were totally and horribly wrong. And those of you who believe that what comes out of humanities classrooms has got to be considered true are just as wrong.

    The advantage some of the “right-wing pundits” have is that while you assume truth to be correspondence to the “scholarly consensus”, they assume truth to be correspondence to an independent reality that exist out there in the real world. That is why their arguments are “factoid-based” as our host disparagingly puts it. But it is not “factual reality” that this method insulates them from; it is the “scholarly consensusâ€? that gave us a billion dead from communism last century and a methodology that rationalises away such inconvenient truths. No, the intellectuals are not communists any more – their multiculturalism/egalitarianism/postmodernism/nihilism is much worse.

  46. Katz
    November 18th, 2007 at 15:13 | #46

    John Dawson is correct. The Right has lost the Culture War.

    But I’d like to ask John Dawson three questions.

    1. What does he think is the most dangerous item of left wing consensus prevalent in our culture?

    2. What has prevented the Right from undermining the grip this consensus on public opinion?

    3. How could the Right do better in future?

  47. Ian Gould
    November 18th, 2007 at 15:47 | #47

    “The advantage some of the “right-wing punditsâ€? have is that while you assume truth to be correspondence to the “scholarly consensusâ€?, they assume truth to be correspondence to an independent reality that exist out there in the real world.”

    right, that’s why it was a Bush administration official who gave us the disparaging term “reality-based community”.

  48. Ian Gould
    November 18th, 2007 at 15:58 | #48

    “it is the “scholarly consensusâ€? that gave us a billion dead from communism last century and a methodology that rationalises away such inconvenient truths. No, the intellectuals are not communists any more – their multiculturalism/egalitarianism/postmodernism/nihilism is much worse.”

    So multiculturalism is worse than the Gulags?

    Yeah, that sounds extremely realistic.

  49. John Bignucolo
    November 18th, 2007 at 19:16 | #49

    right, that’s why it was a Bush administration official who gave us the disparaging term “reality-based community�.

    The epithet “reality-based community� comes from an article by Ron Suskind in the New York Times magazine of October 17, 2004 entitled Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush. The whole article is worth reading, but below is its most well known paragraph:

    The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    The paragraph below is pretty good too.

    And for those who don’t get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ”You think he’s an idiot, don’t you?” I said, no, I didn’t. ”No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!” In this instance, the final ”you,” of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

  50. John Dawson
    November 19th, 2007 at 00:16 | #50

    Katz asks:

    1. What does he think is the most dangerous item of left wing consensus prevalent in our culture?

    Postmodernism.

    2. What has prevented the Right from undermining the grip this consensus on public opinion?

    Entrenched ideology in the university bunkers.

    3. How could the Right do better in future?

    Privatise higher education so that academics have to compete for paying students (or their education vouchers).

  51. John Dawson
    November 19th, 2007 at 03:12 | #51

    Ian Gould asks “So multiculturalism is worse than the Gulags?�

    For the first half of last century the left’s intellectuals argued that evils like the Gulag Archipelago could not result from communism, only from capitalism. Then, as the Gulags were being stocked, they returned home from visits to the USSR praising its “noble experimentâ€? and calling anyone who didn’t like it fascists. If they’d had our host’s way with words they would have called reports of the cattle trains, barbed wire, mass starvations etcetera “factoid based point-scoringâ€? that leads to “insulation from factual reality.â€? When the evidence became overwhelming, they blamed bad leadership, bad weather, bad CIA men, everything but communism – but in every communist country the pattern was the same. Most intellectuals hung onto their pro-communism until the USSR imploded – most hang on to their anti-capitalism still.

    As for multiculturalism, if it meant a melting-pot of sovereign individuals from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds, I’d be all for it, but that’s not what it means. In theory it means that every culture is equal to every other, and so no culture is to be judged by those who stand outside it. In practice it means that every culture is equal except the one that is responsible for its own evils and the evils of all the others as well – the Western culture. But is this worse than the Gulags?

    It’s early days, so you can argue that evils like the Gulag Archipelago could not result from multiculturalism, only from capitalism. But, for a start, take a good hard look at the Aboriginal Archipelago of homeland settlements, outstations, and fringe ghettoes. These hell-holes are the product of multicultural premises. But does that make multiculturalism worse than communism?

    At least communism promised that all the blood, privation and degradation would one day produce a gloriously prosperous utopia. Multiculturalism promises nothing, except that that westerners won’t be so arrogant as to judge the blood, privation and degradation of another culture as inferior to its prosperity and progress.

    Yes – I think that’s worse.

  52. Katz
    November 19th, 2007 at 06:01 | #52

    3. How could the Right do better in future?

    Privatise higher education so that academics have to compete for paying students (or their education vouchers).

    But John Dawson, Australian academics operate in a world of academic discourse. What Australian academics say on various topics doesn’t differ much from what similar academics say in other parts of the world.

    This fact has an important impact on your argument, because a large part of this world discourse is to be found in US universities, especially in the best funded US univesities, whose endowments come not from the public purse but from private endowment and from students who are willing to pay a huge sum to attend those universities and to do those course that you see as so damaging to them and to the rest of the world.

    How are these distressing phenomena to be explained?

  53. November 19th, 2007 at 10:02 | #53

    How are these distressing phenomena to be explained? Ultimately by philosophy. But we have to start somewhere and the real world is a great teacher. If a plumber applied the epistemology of the humanities professors his pipes would leak, but they can get away with it because they are removed from the real world results by decades or centuries, by the common sense of those who have to apply their nonsense, and by their guaranteed tenure and ideological closed shop. Tax-payers should at least do something about the latter. But then we need a new enlightenment.

    http://www.macleaypress.com/Washout.htm?id=SKU004

  54. Katz
    November 19th, 2007 at 10:14 | #54

    Tax-payers should at least do something about the latter.

    But John Dawson, as I suggested above, the leading US universities are largely beyond the reach of the taxpayer. And it is a notorious fact that these privately funded US universities have a disproportionately large influence upon academic discourse.

    And it is well known that academics are very keen to further their own careers and their reputations by establishing themselves as leading thinkers in any given field. Thus, even post-modernists debate against each other with self-interested enthusiasm.

    Why is it, then, that so few of them take advantage of the common-sense insights that you have provided in your above comments? It seems on the face of things to be an irrational rejection of a career-building opportunity.

  55. November 19th, 2007 at 11:51 | #55

    Your argument is a good one Katz. Privatization won’t guarantee better ideas. But at least it would break up the monolithic monopoly we have in this country and give better ideas a chance of getting a foothold. The problem is that too many of the best minds take one look at the humanities in general and philosophy departments in particular and run for their lives to the physical sciences, technologies, or out of the universities. That is understandable, but disastrous; it leaves the whole field to the Left. The secular Right usually put philosophy in the irrelevant nonsense basket. Most of it is nonsense, but it’s by no means irrelevant. Sooner or later it must be dealt with to give a reality based foundation for better ideas. But that’s too big a subject for a blog.

  56. Katz
    November 19th, 2007 at 12:16 | #56

    But John Dawson, the problem is that the Australian academy is to a greater or lesser extent a branch office of the world academy.

    This is of enormous importance, because it’s those private US academies that control the most influential referee journals and sponsor the most important seminars and symposia.

    Are you suggesting that Australian academics be discouraged from engaging themselves in these discourses?

    How would such a thing be policed? For example, should foreign postmodernists be denied visas for entry to Australia?

  57. November 19th, 2007 at 14:55 | #57

    should foreign postmodernists be denied visas for entry to Australia?

    No.

    There should be a free market of ideas. The lecturers who attract the best following should get the best funding. If they teach nonsense, so be it, but nonsense doesn’t work in the real world, so qualifications in nonsense sooner or later loose their cachet and students have to take that into account when choosing their courses.

    You say it’s not working like that because the most prestigious (private US) universities teach the worst nonsense. Maybe so, but notice how quickly they pass from one fad philosophy to another as they are debunked and ridiculed. In any event you have to let ideas run their course; you certainly can’t proscribe them politically (unless they direct or incite violence). Who would judge which ideas are to be proscribed?

    The good news is that good ideas don’t need to be prescribed, they don’t need a “scholarly consensusâ€?, they don’t even need equal time, all they need is a reasonable hearing. The left understands this, that’s why it’s so paranoid about them getting any hearing at all.

  58. Katz
    November 19th, 2007 at 15:08 | #58

    You say it’s not working like that because the most prestigious (private US) universities teach the worst nonsense. Maybe so, but notice how quickly they pass from one fad philosophy to another as they are debunked and ridiculed. In any event you have to let ideas run their course

    But John Dawson, this doesn’t explain how the error of postmodernism became such a vogue in the first place.

    And, more worryingly, according to your thesis, you’d expect a constant, iterative rejection of “nonsense” and a return to “good sense”. In fact, that hasn’t happened, even in those prestigious private US universities.

    Generations of students continue to flock to these courses.

    It’s mysterious, yes?

  59. Andrew
    November 19th, 2007 at 15:59 | #59

    “1. What does he think is the most dangerous item of left wing consensus prevalent in our culture?

    Postmodernism.”

    Indeed. How many are the nights that I have lain awake at night, fretting about how the Postmodernisms are coming to eat my children. I can only lull myself to sleep by visualising the power of Clear Thinking, the kind that got us into, say, Iraq, vanquishing the evil Postmodernisms, shining sword in hand.

    Postmodernism, as much as it is anything, is a technique of analysing ideas. The worst it can be is not useful. Unlike, say, dreams of empire in the hands of powerful American presidents, or the idea that economies exist independently of the environments that sustain them.

  60. jquiggin
    November 19th, 2007 at 16:29 | #60

    Actually, John D, the enemy is within your gates. Postmodernism is passe on the left (postmodernism+passe gets 189 000 Google hits) and rampant within the contemporary right, as evidence by the “reality-based” quote above (right-wing+postmodernism gets 561Kgh).

    For a particularly crude example of the Sapir-Whorf hypotheses at work, you might want to look at the claim that because Tasmanian Aborigines (supposedly) didn’t have a word for “property” they lacked the notion of ownership. As an avowed enemy of postmodernism, I’m sure you’ll agree that such an argument is preposterous..

  61. Ian Gould
    November 19th, 2007 at 21:05 | #61

    “It’s early days, so you can argue that evils like the Gulag Archipelago could not result from multiculturalism, only from capitalism. But, for a start, take a good hard look at the Aboriginal Archipelago of homeland settlements, outstations, and fringe ghettoes. These hell-holes are the product of multicultural premises.”

    I hate to break it to you but all the evils you ascribe to multiculturalism were all well-entrenched back in the days of Bob Menzies.

    Cause PRECEDES effect – but maybe that’s just the academic consensus.

  62. November 19th, 2007 at 23:00 | #62

    jquiggin said: For a particularly crude example of the Sapir-Whorf hypotheses at work, you might want to look at the claim that because Tasmanian Aborigines (supposedly) didn’t have a word for “property� they lacked the notion of ownership. As an avowed enemy of postmodernism, I’m sure you’ll agree that such an argument is preposterous.

    I have looked at it John. The alleged claim was allegedly made by Keith Windschuttle. You obviously swallowed the allegation made by your scholarly consensus without descending to so crude a level as to check the “factoids”, such as Windschuttle’s actual case, which was disgracefully misrepresented by the academics (e.g. Reynolds used slight of hand to imply that Windschuttle denied the Aborigines had a notion of territory, which he didn’t.)

    Windschuttle’s primary case was the Tasmanian Aborigines pattern of behavior, the fact that they had no word for property was only an addendum to it. The Tasmanian Aborigines clearly lacked the notion of ownership as far as land was concerned (in contrast to their game etcetera) – why would any hunter-gatherer ever need the notion of land ownership?

    Windschuttle’s case was not postmodernist but empirical. He wrote a whole book exposing and debunking postmodern history.

  63. jquiggin
    November 19th, 2007 at 23:12 | #63

    “why would any hunter-gatherer ever need the notion of land ownership?”

    And you wonder why the right is losing the culture wars!

  64. November 19th, 2007 at 23:31 | #64

    JQ, land ownership is as weird to hunter-gatherer cultures as, say, Germans staking claims to beach occupancy is to British tourists. Those cultures do have concepts of property, but in relation to other things, and their approaches to land are not the one we think of as ownership. That is a comment on our culture more than on theirs; it is not to denigrate the genuine encroachment on their approach that is made by applying our approach. It has subtler implications, because even setting up the land as theirs is, ironically, applying our approach; giving or recognising their ownership of land can and has backfired in various times and places, from imposing a cultural shift (as opposed to accommodating a shift that they embrace and adapt to because they drive the pace of adopting it). The hunter-gatherers – tautologically – have to change to accept it, and with the best will in the world (not always present) it can also lead to loss, as in the “allotment movement” as applied to U.S. Indian reservations.

  65. November 20th, 2007 at 00:01 | #65

    Ian Gould

    I hate to break it to you but all the evils you ascribe to multiculturalism were all well-entrenched back in the days of Bob Menzies.

    Not quite – they can be traced back to Nugget Coombs, but they became entrenched under the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating governments. Admittedly the term “multiculturalismâ€? wasn’t in vogue until the latter; nevertheless the multicultural premise was what inspired the ignoble experiment. W.E.M. Stanner put it this way: “there are no natural scales of better or worse on which we can range the varieties of men, culture and society.”

  66. Katz
    November 20th, 2007 at 05:57 | #66

    W.E.M. Stanner put it this way: “there are no natural scales of better or worse on which we can range the varieties of men, culture and society.�

    Exactly, John Dawson.

    All that remains for you to do to prove your case is for you to explain what is “natural” about the scales that you use to weigh the “goodness” of one culture against the “badness” of another.

  67. jquiggin
    November 20th, 2007 at 06:37 | #67

    ‘Windschuttle … wrote a whole book exposing and debunking postmodern history.”

    in which, IIRC, he praised Henry Reynolds for doing empirical history rather than the kind of cultural studies/critical theory that Windschuttle now does in reverse (for example, the idea, which he now plays down, that British, being Christians, were culturally constrained from committing murder.)

  68. November 20th, 2007 at 09:55 | #68

    Katz said: All that remains for you to do to prove your case is for you to explain what is “natural� about the scales that you use to weigh the “goodness� of one culture against the “badness� of another.

    Nature provides every being with a scale of values, with death at one end and life at the other. Pro-life values are good, anti-life values are bad. But human beings have a unique problem: they must choose their values. They must choose between better or worse actions, lifestyles, ideals, cultures, societies, political and economic systems – and nature, sooner or later, delivers its verdict.

    Contrary to what is taught in most philosophy classrooms, human beings are creatures of a specific nature that live in a world of immutable facts. Consequently, universal judgments about what is good and bad for human beings can be made. Regardless of their ideological rhetoric, everyone who decided that something went terribly wrong in the Aboriginal archipelago has, tacitly at least, made such a judgment.

    The fundamental premise of the architects of the Aboriginal archipelago was wrong. A modern capitalist society is better than a tribal or medieval or communalist society, better for human beings of any ancestry.

    I have not proved my case, you can’t do that in a blog. But it is provable.

  69. November 20th, 2007 at 10:20 | #69

    jquiggin said: for example, the idea, which [Windschuttle] now plays down, that British, being Christians, were culturally constrained from committing murder.

    You really should read Windschuttle’s books John; rather than just regurgitate the academics’ disgraceful, duplicitous, pack-attack (or my analysis of it http://www.macleaypress.com/Washout.htm?id=SKU004).

    Be that as it may, I want to thank you for allowing me more than my fair share of space on your blog.

  70. Katz
    November 20th, 2007 at 10:23 | #70

    human beings are creatures of a specific nature that live in a world of immutable facts. Consequently, universal judgments about what is good and bad for human beings can be made.

    I guess one of the most important immutable facts concerning any society is longevity.

    Japanese live longer than Australians.

    Australians live longer than Americans.

    So, Americans should strive to live more like Australians and Australians should strive to live more like Japanese.

  71. John Greenfield
    November 20th, 2007 at 11:01 | #71

    JQ

    For somebody who decries and the Culture Wars, you sure do write a lot of posts on them!

    It is plain philistinism to grant Howard the power of “starting” the Culture Wars. They have been fomenting since the late 1970s, but only reached traction in Australia during the early 1990s. Our late start was basically a reflection of the vast majority of Australians, who are not part of the Luvvie Left, were asleep.

    Keating woke them.

    Guy Rudle argued in Crikey a week or so ago that the Culture Wars were over now that Keating has gone. It is true that the Culture Wars went mainstream under Keating. Keating – needing a new base after grassroots Labor made it quite clear they loathed him – embraced the Luvvies, and eagerly megaphoned for them.

    Labor’s base freaked. Eleven years later, it took Kevin Rudd to openly dissociate Labor from anymore culture warring.

    Part of the reason Howard has been so successful is that he knew – as did Hawke, but Keating could not understand – that the Australian PM has neither the moral nor political capital to usurp identity. Howard’s pact with the electorate was not to lecture them or sneer down to them.

    The Pauline Hanson phenomenon revealed a huge sociological database the Luvvies had supressed for decades. The op-ed writers saw Gold and went for it!

    What Rupert Murdoch understands, but the Luvvies do not, is that the vast majority of people see newspapers and broadcasters as largely “entertainment.” Fairfax finally caught up when it poached Miranda Devine from The Terror, making her Australia’s highest paid journo. The gig has turned out to be money for jam for her. Tens of thousands of Useful Idiots spit, fume, and blog everytime she touches a keyboard!

    The reason they have not moved far from the Luvvie-sphere is that in the parliamentary sphere there has largely been bipartisan rejection of Keating’s very clumsy and naive embrace of the black armband, neomarxist identity anxieties.

    People like Mark Latham, Micahel Costello, Bob Carr, Barry Cohen and Lindsay Tanner, Wayne Swan all rejected the Luvvies’ Culture Wars by the late 1990s. Rudd won’t have a bar of them.

    But they will still be fought. For those who think the Culture Wars are some creation of John Howard, check out how many Australian universities have full departments called “Culture Studies.” I simply cannot believe people do not accept these departments are basically Culture War bunkers, brokers, and distributors. NTTAWWT.

    To wit, those who post almost daily on their blogs about the Culture Wars being “over” are either blind or disingenuous. As many are otherwise very intelligent, well-read, and informed, I tend to go with the latter. ;)

  72. jquiggin
    November 20th, 2007 at 11:18 | #72

    JG, perhaps you’d like to list a dozen or so of these “near-daily” posts. IIRC, I’ve written two posts in the last month or so on this, and even less frequently before that.

  73. John Greenfield
    November 20th, 2007 at 13:46 | #73

    JQ

    I said “THOSE who post almost daily….” Sorry, I can see that could rationally mean you, but that was not what I meant. You do post a lot about it, but absolutely not ‘near-daily.’ In fact, I visit your blog precisely because it travels along a much higher road. Don’t throw your economics pearls before the Culture Warrior swine. ;)

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