Over in Anti-News Unlimited land, the vaguely North Korean festival of journalist Nick Cater continues. His book The Lucky Culture is being variously launched and spruiked by former PM John Howard and, of course, academic Geoffrey Blainey in various places round the joint. This paean to a meritocratic non-nepotistic culture has been praised to the skies by anti-News columnist Miranda Devine, the daughter of the late Frank Devine, an anti-News lifer. She’s the girl who went to Take Your Daughter To Work Day and stayed. She thinks Cater’s paean to individualism should be “taught in every school”. She would not actually see any contradiction in this.
Today it’s Planet Janet Albrechtsen’s turn. She, a former corporate lawyer, turned Anti-Newsista, spruiks the Cater “thesis” and notes Prime Minister Julia Gillard was speaking at an event at the think-tank Per Capita, which she described as an event very different to the entrepreneurial spirit on display at the Cater launch (Howard is a four-decade professional politician; Nick Cater is a BBC/Anti-News, corporate lifer; Per Capita, this entrepreneurial deadzone, was founded by Evan Thornley, Australia’s first — albeit brief — dot-com billionaire).
There’s only limited utility in pointing out all these contradictions, but it’s great fun. When you see Cater, Devine and Albrechtsen in action, you get an insight into the totalitarian mindset in all its glory. There are journalists there is no need to bribe, Dostoyevsky noted in The Gambler, because they are sycophantic by nature. Anti-News Limited isn’t killing people in large numbers — except when they’re spruiking foreign wars — but the enthusiasm to be salespeople of an agreed-upon line is the essence of the totalitarian style. They’d all feel as at home in Ceausescu’s publicity department as they do in Surry Hills.
What is fun at the moment is to see how the old New Right will react to this new official version of Australian identity — and whether they will consent to this lunatic idea that Australians have a long history of individualism and free enterprise. For the last 30 years Paul Kelly, Peter Coleman, Gerard Henderson and others have all presented their politics as an insurgent liberalism/conservatism against a statist and conformist society. Cater’s argument — that some entrepreneurial individualism runs through our history, suppressed by some crushing state, runs counter to that argument and to, y’know, all evidence. Will the old New Right have the self-respect to honestly assess what is little more than a one-dimensional piece of Murdochian propaganda, or will they knuckle under?
It appears Blainey already has, but for decades he’s been willing to toe the line. Most memorably, he praised to the skies Keith Windschuttle’s self-published Fabrication of Aboriginal History, even though it poured scorn on Blainey’s own argument about inter-racial violence in Tasmania (in Triumph of the Nomads, Blainey argued, not originally, that the expansion of commercial sheep farming in the 1820s had brought white-black conflict to a pitch; in Fabrication Windschuttle dismissed that argument as a “Marxist fantasy”). The “settlement” thesis was always one-dimensional but at least you could have a rational argument with it. Rationality appears to have been rescinded, and the “settlement” argument not merely retired, but trashed.
“The only two winners will be the parties that apply systemic thinking to social processes — the Greens and the WikiLeaks Party.”
Which is indicative of the current state of the Right — that it prefers myth to science. The “settlement” theory was, after all, not merely an argument about how Australia should change, it was an analysis of what the Right had to change in the political culture in order to take a slice of the majority that Hawke/Keating had built up. As Judith Brett made clear in a series of articles for Arena Magazine in the 1990s (the happy days when Arena Magazine’s subscribers included one John Howard), the Coalition regained hegemony by taking over notions of fairness, mateship, etc — all collective ideals grounded in Australian life — from the ALP, not by projecting an alien fantasy on them.
That they can do so with such abandon is a measure of how confident they are in their victory in September. They have abandoned what was once the centre-Right’s greatest weapon — the Popperian notion that movements based on grand theories lose to those with more piecemeal approaches, because the former have no way of testing reality, no crude falsifiability of courses of action. Cater’s crude fifth column thesis — that a sub-class of busybodies are taking the bloom off the rose — is the anti-Popperian ideal embodied. Any resistance to the all-embracing truth about Australia — which should be taught in all schools — can be blamed on these anti-Australians at the heart of the nation.
Whether Labor can use this to their advantage remains to be seen. They have so many elements who share this right-wing Americophile fantasy, so many figures — Craig Emerson, Marn Fern, Michael Costa, Mark Latham from the outside — are so eager to trash the (pretty mild) collectivist history of the ALP, that they commit it to the same delusional status. There is zero electoral justification for this, and the policy advantages are pretty equivocal. It is simply part of the ALP’s whirlwind of obsessiveness and anti-intellectualism in which it is currently engulfed. The party of Whitlam, which once joined an intelligentsia to the organised working class, has now lost the former to the Greens, while the latter has largely decomposed as a class. That’s why they appear to spin aimlessly, without the slightest capacity for self-steering.
So it’s essentially a double-act. The Coalition will win by brute force. Should it stumble in the next few months, it will have no capacity to right itself. Luckily for the Coalition, the ALP will have no capacity to benefit. The only two winners will be the parties that apply systemic thinking to social processes — the Greens and the WikiLeaks Party.