Quadrant, John Howard’s favourite magazine, is now angling for younger readers. But with the appointment of Keith Windschuttle as editor, the arch-conservative, publicly-funded magazine’s stable of aging Cold Warriors remains, and this month’s issue still fights the good fight against decadence in modern theatre, Robert Manne’s footnotes and Manning Clarke’s supposed anti-Semitism.
The accusations against Clarke are particularly odd, given the characters Quadrant continues to publish. As Michael Danby told Parliament during the Howard era:
Quadrant magazine, edited by Mr McGuinness… ran an article by [Holocaust denier] Michael Brander, a former chairman of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance who has been convicted in an Australian court of assaulting a protester with a flagpole.
Then Quadrant published Helen Demidenko/Darville/Dale, whose novel The Hand That Signed the Paper was described by Gerard Henderson as “a loathsome book… that would give comfort to anti-Semites”. Dale’s Quadrant memoir didn’t promote anti-Semitism so much as flog the magazine’s favourite whipping-boy, Robert Manne. But alongside yet another smear of Manne, this month’s issue features a bizarre memoir that trumps the spate of right-faction Liberal Party and Young Liberal anti-Jewish slurs.
“Things Diana Mosley Told Me“, by historian Philip Ayres, documents his correspondence with the late Lady Diana Mosley, the high-society Mitford sister typically described as “unrepentently Nazi”. Financier of the British Union of Fascists, editor of the far right The European, and a close friend of Hitler who reportedly “took her disgusting, unchanged views to her grave”, Mosley nonetheless fascinated Ayres during his scholarly endeavours. Why? Not simply for his historical research, but because, he explains in Quadrant, Mosley was pretty. “I was curious to know more about her because of her looks… She had been described as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’… ”
Having read Mosley’s account of her imprisonment after the war broke out, Ayres lamented:
They stuck this beautiful woman in a rat-hole… After many months of mistreatment they let this gorgeous girl out… while I understood perfectly well why she was locked up, the conditions as she described them would make most men with balls feel like they wanted to rescue her, especially given her looks. Me anyway. I could dream about a woman like that.
Evidently stuck in an era where gentlemen prefer gentiles and female beauty is a virtue overriding all sins, Ayres then wrote to the Nazi and Fascist-supporter in 1990. “This was a beautiful woman,” he again explains. Mosley wrote back, asking Ayres to read a book about her and write a review. He obliged, but “I wrote a review and sent it off to Quadrant, then being edited by Robert Manne, but for whatever reason, some perceived lack of didactic intent perhaps, whatever, he didn’t publish it.”
But Windschuttle has now published this version, and Ayres reveals: “Basically, I wanted to write to the woman in the photographs… What made the exercise an experience for me was not so much the information at the end of it … The interest for me was… the way I’d come across this beautiful lady, flipping through a book with its photographs of her when she was young.”
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For John Howard’s favourite magazine, it’s okay to be a Nazi if you’re pretty. But in today’s Liberal Party realpolitik, perhaps Susan Chandler wasn’t pretty enough — or maybe, unlike Quadrant , modern conservatives understand that in the 21st Century — since the Age of Enlightenment, even — perceived feminine virtues don’t forgive abhorrent views.