The fortieth anniversary of Woodstock made it almost inevitable that News Ltd’s, David “Dr No” Burchell would be wheeled out to do moan and groan like Eeyore about people remembering a spectacle that seems to have been kinda fun at the time.

But if you remember the 60s as a good time, you weren’t there, or you weren’t there with David Burchell. After another jeremiad on the French Revolution, the fun really begins:

…in reality the Woodstock music festival — which meandered to its conclusion in a sodden field in upstate New York 40 years ago today — was little more than three wearisome, mud-soaked days of musical chaos. And yet on every single anniversary since that day we have been treated to the ramblings of brain-addled pilgrims…

And on and on. Terry Eagleton once remarked that the philosophy of Schopenhauer — who believed that the meaning of humanity was suffering and that global extinction would be the best possible outcome — constitutes one of the great comic writings of all time, and it is hard not to giggle as Burchell drones (the man can actually write droning):

…The world-philosophy of the Woodstockers was surely too eclectic to systematise. But at a pinch it could be described as a disorderly blend of 19th-century Transcendentalist spiritualism with … Who today recalls the patrician contempt with which their great idol, Jack Kerouac, treated the po-faced credos of the hippies and the yippies? Or the bewilderment and consternation of an older generation of social progressives towards the radical romper-roomers…

Who gives a sh-t who today recalls whatever David, really? God help us, if you wanted an illustration of the old Chesterbellockian adages that a puritan is anyone who suspects that someone somewhere is having a good time, and that a philosopher is someone who gives advice to people who are happier than he is, you couldn’t look past this one-man bodega of sour grapes.

Sure, a lot of the claims for Woodstock etc are pretty spurious, but meandering to musical chaos? Really? On the surviving footage the music holds up pretty well, and the idea that rock is nothing more than its influences is patently absurd — every genre has influences and transforms them into something new, and Woodstock, the event and the film, is a collection of that form when it was at its high point. Jesus, you’re hacking into the Who because they’re not 20s jazz?

Seriously, dude how old are you?

Like most of the Oz‘s right-wing pity party, Burchell is an ex-leftist — former editor of the Australian Left Review — but unlike former Maoists such as Christopher Pearson and Keith Windschuttle he joined the most boring faction, the Eurocommunists — effectively social democrats with baggage, who spent most of their time telling people what wasn’t possible, a strange inversion of the Communist vision.

The right-wing Maoists retain some brio because, well, because they’re as stark staring mad as they ever were. Burchell isn’t — he’s just bitter over decades he believes wasted on a politics derived from a French Revolution he now denounces. If he can’t find meaning in his own past life, he’s damn sure no-one else is going to.

Despite serial post-communist enthusiasms for Foucault, Machiavelli and, most amusingly, Mark Latham, he continues to wander in the desert of the real, hoping that with enough work the last half of his life will cancel out the first, and his life will form a perfect zero. Like a bus crash of orphans or an episode of the Office, you look upon his work through the fingers of a hand over your eyes.

Together with Planet Janet’s fear and loathing of a feminist movement who were clearly mean to her at college, Pearson (Christopher’s) nightmare vision of a secular fascism, Tom Switzer’s “poor me” tales of media exclusion etc, Burchell is exactly what’s wrong with the modern Right (to which he has now migrated) — bitter, burnt-out, pessimistic, victimhood junkies, incapable of that most defining of adult traits, the acceptance of ambivalence and ambiguity.

If The Oz is having a makeover it could do worse than find a few conservatives who can write with a pleasure in the sensuous particularity of life which is supposed to be conservatism’s hallmark, and not with the rancour and despair imported from the dying Left they left.

True, the Revolution Woodstock wasn’t, but something was happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Dr No?

Peter Fray

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