There is no doubt that times are not good for the Australian far Right — but will its troubles create real problems for the Coalition, and the mainstream Right? Will the Mad Monk be brought low by the madder Monckton?
Two days after I noted the rise of “hysterical conservatism” in the US, its Australian manifestation had exploded closer to home, with a storm over Christopher Monckton, viscount and jobbing political hack turned climatologist, and his decision, in speeches elsewhere, to label Ross Garnaut as a Nazi, juxtaposing a quote from Garnaut with a large slide of a swastika.
Monckton used the term “fascist”, a term of abuse that has lost nearly all dramatic effect — but the swastika is something else. Fascism, Italian-style, was a cruel political movement, but its frequent use as a catch-all term including Nazism obscures major differences.
Nazism was something more than merely violent — it was a radically evil movement that celebrated itself as the negation of any notion of common human being, of mercy, kindness or love. The swastika was the symbol of that — it was meant, for its enemies, to be a pure expression of despair. Originally a north Indian symbol of the wheel of life, it has become the image of death.
Monckton is not the first climate-change denialist — yes, yes, a usage I’ll return to — to use the Nazi analogy; he may not even be the hundredth. Highlights in Australia included Andrew Bolt’s incessant references to “greenshirts”, and George Brandis’s extension of the argument in the coward’s castle of the Senate.
The Greens have broad shoulders and serious purpose and shrug off such accusations — which are often counterproductive in any case. But there comes a point when the other dimension of this travesty has to be raised — and that is the disgusting insult to the victims of Nazism contained therein.
That point, one would guess, is the brandishing of the swastika to make a cheap point, but the analogy always was disgusting. At the time Brandis made his nasty accusations — which he was unwilling to repeat outside the upper house — there were Greens voters and supporters in St Kilda and Caulfield with numbers tattooed on their arms. The Green-Nazi equivalence was a small negation of their life.
So now, he is to do his schtick, and possibly brandish the swastika at a Catholic university (Notre Dame in Perth), while sharing a platform, it is said, with Tony Abbott.
Is there no one at Notre Dame who has sufficient qualms about this to speak up, and register some protest about the way in which it is using the imprimatur of the university to give this nihilistic rhetorical act some heft? Or will everyone hide behind the babble about free speech and all points of view.
Monckton’s right to say pretty much what he likes is not in dispute; the question is whether a Catholic university, and its faculty, should see itself as a glorified conference centre with a chapel, or as some other sort of thing — the sort of entity that would legitimately express some concern at the possibility that a swastika might be brandished within their institution
Indeed, you would have to say, that if a Catholic university, of all places, cannot recognise the real being of symbols such as the swastika, the bodying forth of evil, then it is more or less lost as an institution.
Monckton’s swastika act is, of course, pathetic — a ramping up of his narcissistic campaign for attention. To say his lordship is something out of Wodehouse would be an insult to the subtlety of the master. Bug-eyed (not his fault, but what can ya do?), in tweeds, claiming membership of the British “upper house” (he has lost his right to vote as a hereditary peer since the House of Lords was reformed).
Devisor of the easily solved “unsolvable” puzzle (which cost him £1 million, the prize he had promised for it, and reportedly, his castle), he is natural kin to Peter Cook’s creation, Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, who devoted his life to teaching ravens to fly underwater (Dud: “your life Sir Arthur has been a … failure.” Pete: “Yes I think it fair to say that my life has been a complete and utter failure.”).
And Monckton’s apology is disingenuous. He has used not merely the fascist slur, but the Nazi slur so often that even planet Albrechtsen was moved to reprove him on his last visit. Most famously, at Copenhagen, he repeatedly barked “Hitler Youth!” at a young climate activist, Ben Wessel, even after Wessel had informed him he was Jewish — indeed, his family were Holocaust survivors.
The Nazi-climate change “argument” relies on a meta-version of the false syllogism by which people such as Jonah Goldberg (author of Liberal Fascism) argue the left to be Nazis. “The Nazis like bushwalking/The Greens like bushwalking/Therefore the Greens are Nazis” and so on.
The trick can be done on anything you like: freeways, anti-smoking campaigns, a sense of place and national community, state-funded economic development, and, if you like, Fanta* (short for Fantasie), the drink Coca-Cola developed to sell in Germany during WWII, when the main brand had become official sponsors of the other side.
The left for many years did it with any notion of national pride, flag or honouring military service: the Nazis were patriotic … etc, etc. It was bad then, and it’s bad now when it is almost solely coming from the Right, on other themes.
The habit is kitsch, but it has a more insidious effect, a debasement of our capacity to think about the difference between political contestation within a shared framework, and radical evil, which is intent on the annihilation the other.
The deliberate reaching for the swastika as a way of debasing politics, rather than, say the hammer and sickle — which would be more with the grain of frequent claims that Greens are crypto-communists — is because climate-change denialists recognise that the hammer and sickle, however debased by the actions of many of those wielding it, remains the symbol of a movement acting in the spirit of universal values and a common humanity.
To use the hammer and sickle would be to remind people that combating climate change is a universal cause of humanity, while opposition to it is partial and tied to nations, industries and the implicit claim by the West to deserve higher levels of consumption.
In desperation to avert what is becoming Moncktongate, the Right is repeating the false syllogism on critics of denialism. Thus the term denialism itself — which may have originated with Holocaust denialism, but has since been used elsewhere, such as AIDS denialism — becomes a mark of Nazism. It isn’t, of course — it is simply a useful term to describe politically motivated resistance to obvious and overwhelming evidence that demolished one’s position.
Moncktongate has now become a political and moral test for Tony Abbott, whose principal political action to date has been to exile climate-change denialism from the political mainstream. Does he have the courage and command to talk back to the Right fringe – in the manner indeed that John Howard reproved George Brandis for comparing the Greens to Nazis?
Does he possess that minimum level of political authority? Or is he ruled by his shifty and opportunistic side, the dimension of him that prompted a call for a plebiscite — and then a refusal to say that he would honour it, if the result went against him? Moncktongate is a test of whether he’s got the ticker, or would rather guzzle more Fantasie.