Passing Bull 108 – Timbo back and in form

Tim Wilson just oozes bullshit. As you plough through the following, ask yourself what part is worse.

Menzies knew there was no contradiction between the values his party embraced…

Monday’s 75th anniversary of the “Forgotten People” speeches, understandably, has prompted nostalgia in Liberal ranks.

In a column in this newspaper on Monday, former prime minister Tony Abbott argued that there were three lessons from Menzies’ work — to “know who you represent”, “your values” and “never shirk a fight in a good cause”. On those he is right, but Abbott’s observations represent only the conservative chorus.

Completion requires the liberal verse — know where you want to take Australia. Menzies’ exceptionalism comes from understanding that successfully prosecuting a political message follows from commanding the context of choices before a country, not just the answers….

His solution was to frame Australia as a nation with an organic society born of individuals, forming families, building community as the foundation for nationhood. It is a citizen-up approach from the middle class to slay the easy temptation of Canberra-down government planning.

He then built a modern, forward-looking Liberal Party to ensure “in a country like Australia the class war must always be a false war”.

In doing so he also knew it was not the only “false war”. So was the debate about whether his party was liberal or conservative, because such a debate starts from a falsehood.

It cannot be a debate about competing or different political philosophies for one very simple reason: conservatism is not a political philosophy. It’s a disposition. A temperament. An approach to bring the best of the past forward with incremental change.

In his memoir Afternoon Light Menzies wrote of taking “the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea…

After all, a person can be socialist and conservative. They’re called Fabians. Conservatism is the virtue. Liberalism is the vision.

Yet liberalism alone is not a solution. Liberalism is the force of water through a loose garden hose that flaps around indiscriminately after the tap has been turned on. Conservatism is the calming hand that directs the hose towards the plants needing hydration….

Today the symptoms of what must be rejected are obvious, from identity politics, increased dependence on taxpayer-financed welfare, rising public debt, placing the needs of government before households and the corrosion of our culture.

But recharging the nation’s course requires analysing the disease. The disease is the shift of the centre of gravity that was, as Menzies described it, anchored in the ambitions of “homes material, homes human, and homes spiritual” that built the foundations of our society from the citizen up.

In place of the home and family life has been a centre more closely anchored to the ambitions of the academy, state capitals and Canberra, driving a vision of a nation from bureaucracies and institutions down…

The consequence is people of “the left” and “the right” are turning to populism to break the system in an attempt to regain the certainty that comes from being in control of their lives.

For left-progressives the turn to popular brings a silver lining because it creates the opportunity to tear down the institutions that underpin liberal democracy and remake them to achieve their ends…..

You may have noticed that Timbo falls for the cliché ‘left-progressives’ although he quotes Menzies as ‘taking “the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party’.  But the two prize-winners – world-beaters – for pure bullshit are ‘Conservatism is the virtue. Liberalism is the vision’ and ‘Conservatism is not a political philosophy. It’s a disposition’ – although the ‘loose garden hose’ deserves a Palme d’Or on its own.

Let’s look at three problems with ‘Conservatism is not a political philosophy. It’s a disposition’.  First, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy does not agree.  It gives two versions of conservative ‘ideology.’  Its comments are extracted below.  Secondly, if it is hard to define a political philosophy, it is even harder to define a state of mind.  How then do you frame a coherent argument on such loose premises?  (I think the common law can be a state of mind – but I’m careful of where I say that.)  Finally, is this not just a false dichotomy?  Of course a political philosophy can be a state of mind.  How can it – say, Fascism – not be?  Was the man from Quadrant who wanted to bomb the ABC deranged or depraved?  Why do we have to choose?  He is probably both and more – and he’s still got a job.

And when did you last see a Fenian?  At about the time you saw Father Christmas going down the chimney?  And do we think that Timbo has the same feeling about ‘virtue’ as Robespierre?

The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy has the following.

conservatism Originally in Burke an ideology of caution in departing from the historical roots of a society, or changing its inherited traditions and institutions.  In this ‘organic’ form, it includes allegiance to tradition, community, hierarchies of rank, benevolent paternalism, and a properly subservient underclass.  By contrast, conservatism can be taken to imply a laissez-faire ideology of untrammelled individualism that puts the emphasis on personal responsibility, free markets, law and order, and a minimal role for government, with neither community, nor tradition, nor benevolence entering more than marginally.  The two strands are not easy to reconcile, either in theory or in practice.

liberalism A political ideology centred upon the individual thought of as possessing rights against the government, including rights of due process under the law, equality of respect, freedom of expression and action, and freedom from religious and ideological restraint.

The author then goes on to describe how that ideology is attacked from both ‘left’ and ‘right’, as defined, showing that all those terms are now exhausted and worthless.


Confucius says:

The gentleman agrees with others without being an echo.  The small man echoes without being in agreement.

Analects 13.23.

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