Jun 24, 2011

Rundle: will Mad Monk be brought low by madder Monckton?

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.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


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.

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25 thoughts on “Rundle: will Mad Monk be brought low by madder Monckton?

  1. Jedimaster

    He’s not a “denialist” – he’s a “bludger”

    Guy – you say that Monckton “…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).”

    I assume that “membership” of the House of Lords means more than just voting- it surely means attending and speaking as well. Monckton never had those rights because he could not even summon up one vote to get himself into the House. Ergo- he has never been a member to lose his right to vote.

    As their “denialist” credibility wanes, Monckton, Abbott et al are taking the approach “well we count for so little of the total, we don’t have to bother” . This is what Garnaut called the “free rider problem”- which is self explanatory.

    Garnaut seems to be too much of a gentlemean to use the old Australian expression for “free rider” – ie , “bludger”.

    So “climate change skeptics” morphed into “climate change deniers” and are now morphing into “climate change bludgers”.

    You can read my article on “Solar bludgers” at of 23 June.

  2. zut alors

    ‘…the coward’s castle of the Senate.’

    Nice one, Guy.

    How about we leave ol’ Monckton be? Single-handed, he appears to be undermining and destroying his own credibility at a galloping rate.

    By comparison, Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling was a mental giant.

  3. david

    [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. ]

    I will go with’ guzzle more Fantasie ‘, Abbott is all shifty and oportunist…as for ticker, excuse me while I 🙂

  4. cairns50

    good article guy, but why do yourself and everybody else keep asking tony abbott to stand up and apologise for appearing at the same event as monckton and for abbott to repudiate some of his extreme views


    much has been made about julia gillard being a liar by saying that she would not legislate for a carbon tax in the lead up to the last election

    tony abbott has told more lies to the austrlalian public in one day than what julia gillard has since she entered politics

  5. Boerwar

    Mr Monckton did indeed use the swastika.

    As footage of the relevant segment of his speech shows, Mr Monckton also used the term, ‘Heil Hitler.’

    I assume from the context that Mr Monckton was confusing Mr Garnaut with Mr Hitler, but who really knows?

  6. klewso

    Any truth in the rumour that the Monty Python crew were going to create a “Ministry of Silly Talks”, but someone googled Monckton, so they had to make up another?

  7. gregb

    Thanks for making me aware of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling. An excellent analogy. Except Streeb-Greebling makes more sense.

  8. Aphra

    Lord Monckton is not and never has been a member of the House of Lords. The clerk of the parliaments has written to Lord Monckton, confirming that he has no association with the House and advising him to stop branding himself as such. As for Monckton’s alleged misuse of the logo, the emblem is property of the Queen, and the Parliament has a Royal License granted for its use. Misuse of the emblem by either members or non-members breaches this license. The Lord Chamberlain has been contacted regarding Lord Monckton’s use of the emblem. If guilty there’s a prison sentence in the offing.

    Zut alors – Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling! O Bliss! Perhaps our very own home-grown Tarzan will also prove to have only one leg, or most likely, no leg at all to stand on.

  9. Barbara Boyle

    I look forward to seeing our loyal Opposition leader sharing the stage with that eerie, bulging eyed personification of Sir Arthur Streed- Greebling, the reminder of whom I thank you.

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