Now that Joycegate — how did this never become a “-gate”? — has quieted for a moment, it might be worth making a few points that got less than full consideration. When the story broke, there was a big push to argue a total separation of private and public life.
Then many progressives realised what hamstrung them: Joyce had made private life a public issue in the plebiscite, so goose, gander, sauce. Actually I think that’s off the mark; there’s nothing inconsistent about being a shagger, and believing in traditional marriage only.
What’s inconsistent, and what makes Barnaby Joyce’s entire private life fair game is the argument conservatives make about the necessary structure and form of social life. Conservatism — and the National Party is a conservative one — argues that social order is precarious, that the world is more complex than any knowledge system can encompass.
Thus tradition should be respected, and changed gradually and piecemeal. Concrete “given” institutions, such as the nuclear biological family are anchors of a society. Therefore they demand renunciation: you give up some individual desires — like an affair with that hair-twirling hottie in the roller-disco outfit — to preserve order.
For a century or more, progressives have argued against this. Tradition is a source of domination, misery and lack of flourishing, they have said. Better risk chaos than live in misery. Within this debate are different ideas about what it is to be human, creatures born in sin versus the hope that rational, reflective life may be possible.
With the desperate defence of Joyce’s privacy, conservatives conceded the final redoubt of their defence to progressives. Indeed they overshot: in their disregard of a child on the way from this affair, the right is stepping into the territory of post-Woodstock 1970s era cultural nihilism, that even progressives pulled back from.
The curtain-raiser to this was the Milo Yiannopoulos tour: all these advocates of traditional order desperate to be seen with the blonde bomber, a defender of the positive character of young adolescent-adult sex, a troll of uproar and disorder, Aleister Crowley meets Justin Bieber. Political Viagra for a movement drained by its lack of autonomous values, and its self-definition with regard to the left.
It is not merely Joyce’s media fate, but his behaviour itself that was a consequence of this nihilism. This is something that even those on the right who see something gone very wrong won’t acknowledge.
Take Paul Kelly’s op-ed in today’s Oz, a piece pinging round the echo chamber with laughter and ridicule. Kelly finally gets that there’s been a crisis in conservatism, but guess whose fault it is? Progressives! Their campaigns for sexual surveillance has turned Joycegate into the “cult of victimisation”.
There is that, in the air, but that’s not what’s at work here. No progressives called for a minister-staffer sex ban. Takes a lot of guile to blame this “what the butler saw” move on the left! Turnbull improvised that — from the right — as a political stopgap. In fact, progressives criticised those on the left, for breaking their own ban on politicising consensual relations, for cheap gain.
The cultural and political crisis of our time is not a product of the progressivism Kelly has always hated – but of the liberal economics/social conservative model he has espoused for decades. The unbounded market has now worn away all grounded meaning, so that movement can no longer stably exist. Into that cultural vacuum has rushed statist progressivism.
What’s fair game and what isn’t, in these matters, depends on the person concerned. “Politician eats steak” is no story — unless it’s an MP for the Animal Liberation Party. Conservative pollies who want to advocate “family values” in, among other things, welfare systems, pro-marriage tax regimes, health, contraception and abortion law, religious freedom, etc, etc, should expect no quarter. We will find out, and expose, if you have cast your seed upon the waters. Barnaby himself? He couldn’t withstand even one more scandal …