John Howard was right when he told the Quadrant anniversary dinner last year:

Over the last fifty years Quadrant has upheld, often as a lonely counterpoint to stultifying orthodoxies and dangerous utopias, the best of the Western cultural tradition.

He was right to say:

Quadrant holds an honoured place in Australian history for the stance it took for democratic freedom and a pluralist society and in opposition to collectivist ideologies that so many saw as the inevitable wave of the future.

And he was also right when he told the meeting:

Quadrant has been an outpost of lively non-conformity in its willingness to defend both Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle against the posses of political correctness. Nowhere, I suggest, have the fangs of the Left so visibly been on display as they were in a campaign based on character assassination and intellectual dishonesty through their efforts to trash the name and reputation of that great Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey.

But Windschuttle as Quadrant editor? That’s taking non-conformity too far. The board has made an error that will distract from the magazine’s message and the values it seeks to uphold.

Windschuttle, like outgoing editor Paddy McGuinness, is a former man of the left. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent and all that, but Windschuttle’s range is too narrow. It is impossible to see him tackling the task McGuinness undertook with such verve and vigour in the nineties, churning out a daily coruscating column in the Fairfax press, touching topics from cinema to economics.

They will hate the comparison, but the Quadrant board has exactly the same factions as the European Greens – Realos and Fundis.

Crikey has been aware of debate throughout the year over who would succeed McGuinness. The Realos; the realists, the pragmatists, have lost. The fundamentalists have carried the day. Even if they cannot express it, the vast majority of Australians share Quadrant’s commitment to intellectual freedom and liberal democracy.

These values were threatened in the Cold War by communists and their fellow travellers. They are under threat today from newly aggressive forms of totalitarianism such as Islamofascism, moral relativism, new versions of the old cold war lie of moral equivalence and, as Quadrant has effectively identified, the black armband version of history.

Windschuttle has sought to refute that view, but not at a popular level. He presents poorly. He attracts controversy. He is easily misrepresented and caricatured. All of this will now be attached to Quadrant.

The magazine already only presents its message to a narrow audience. It needs to change. The Fundis are preventing this. The Spectator may be full of luxury goods and travel supplements – let alone Oscar Humphries – but it is a far more effective proponent of its philosophy.

And Quadrant’s message matters. It is shared by most Australians, but is deemed politically incorrect by the forces that seek to dominate debate. It is important that it is heard. Virtually no other outlets in Australia do this.

The appointment of Keith Windschuttle as its editor not only distracts from Quadrant’s message. It detracts from the magazine’s mission.

Disclosure: Christian Kerr contributed a book review to Quadrant in 2003. The cheque is yet to arrive.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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