As the Bradfield preselection hots up, prize candidate Tom Switzer must be getting a little nervous about one thing: will anyone ask him about the war?

Switzer rose to national prominence, of a sort, as op-ed editor of The Australian, at a period when it was going from its late-Kellyesque torpor through a period of brief interest and good sense, to become the Slightly Foxed News mad cartoon we know today.

Though Switzer was hardly genuinely pluralist in the way he ran the pages — your correspondent and other leftists could get in, but only when they were denouncing other parts of the left — they were at least a reasonably exciting, combative place.

They were of course overwhelmingly pro-war from 2002 onwards, with their rota of writers shamelessly plugging the idea that Saddam Hussein “undoubtedly had masses of WMDs” to quote Greg Sheridan — and when that was shown to be the furphy that actual weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter said it was, they converted to the human rights justification for the war. (Now the Afghan war has become a feminist one, with Tony Abbott leading with that justification for it on a recent Q&A. Soon, it will be a green war — the Taliban’s carbon footprint we will be told, is unacceptable, and therefore they must be eliminated, for the sake of future generations).

But here’s the weird thing — Switzer himself was always anti-war, both the Iraq one, and, as far as I know, Afghanistan. Not from a left perspective. Perish the thought. Switzer is a down-the-line US style conservative, specialising in the whiny white-guy victimhood that is now their stock in trade (and which John Roskam gave a flawless performance of on last week’s Q&A — while four other speakers discussed in open and interesting ways, our relationship to our history, all Roskam could do was bleat out the usual talking-points about postmodernists saying that there were no “facts”, etc).

Switzer’s perspective was from what is now known as paleo-conservatism — the idea that the most important part of conservatism comes not from politics per se, but from epistemology, and the relationship between knowledge and being. Thus, argue conservatives like Burke and Oakeshott, we can never know that we know enough — that the world always stretches beyond the frameworks we apply to it.

Thus conservatism opposes itself to both liberalism (classical and social) and Marxism, arguing that the ultimate political virtue is prudence. Respecting tradition is one mode of prudence. Limiting military adventures to your immediate, specific and unarguable national interest is another.

For “paleocons”, both the Afghan war (beyond its immediate post-9/11 king hit on the Taliban) and the Iraq war, are not wars of necessity, but mad liberal-radical adventures, engineered by an unholy alliance of crazy Hayekians, burnt-out Trots and crusading Jesus freaks — with predictably disastrous consequences.

The locus for paleoconservatism since 2003 has been The American Conservative by far the most interesting and often alarming publication in the Anglo-thought-sphere. Founded by former Reagan speechwriter Patrick Buchanan and Greek playboy Taki Theodoracopulos, The Am Con has been unsparing in his analysis of the folly of the Bush years (and of the ease with which sections of the liberal-left have gone soft on the Afghan war, since it became Obama’s war).

Taki’s anti-Semitism is often clothed in a pro-Palestinian argument — but he’s the genuine article, the one that Michael Danby and others are always on the lookout for, an old-style upper-class European anti-Semite.

Danby should ask Barry Cohen and other Oz Spectator contributors why they are so willing to slide between the covers with such a man.

Buchanan comes from a different direction — American catholic nativism, arguing that “Capitol Hill is run from Jerusalem.” He takes the anti-war position shared by Switzer to its logical extent, arguing that US participation in WW2 (or the German part of it, at least) was an earlier example of a liberal crusade, that Churchill’s imperialism amounted to decades of war-mongering of which WW2 was a continuation, and that many of Germany’s 30s territorial demands were legitimate, as they involved the recovery of ethnic German enclaves taken by the Versailles treaty.

Should Switzer be preselected, he will quickly become the Opposition front bench’s ideas and policy guy — since let’s face it, he’d be one of the few people there who’s read a book and can eat with a fork. How will that sit with the Opposition’s commitment to Afghanistan as a “good war”? Could Switzer honestly sit on his more acute awareness that the conduct of these wars — wars John Howard staked the reputation of the Coalition on — has been a disaster for the West, the projection of folly and fantasy?

The ideas he has, and the company he keeps — these are the questions the electors of Bradfield should be asking about Swiss Tom.

DISCLOSURE: your correspondent was approached by the American Conservative to write book reviews, and considered it, before deciding, for the above reasons, that they were well beyond the pale.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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