Here and there – George Will: The Conservative Sensibility

 

You get some idea of the tone and gist of this book from the following extracts from the Introduction.

Although it distresses some American conservatives to be told this, American conservatism has little in common with European conservatism, which is descended from, and often is still tainted by, throne-and-altar, blood-and–soil nostalgia, irrationality and tribalism.  American conservatism has a clear mission: It is to conserve, by articulating and demonstrating the continuing pertinence of, the Founders’ thinking….The label ‘liberal’ was minted to identify those whose primary concern was not the protection of community solidarity or traditional hierarchies, but rather was the expansion and protection of individual liberty.  Liberals were then those who considered the state the primary threat to this…..In Europe today, the too few people who think the way American conservatives do are commonly called liberals, and people who think as American progressives do are called social democrats….Progressivism represents the overthrow of the Founders’ classical liberalism.

Later on, we get this – those who believe, as the Founders did, that first come the rights and then comes government, are adherents of the Republican Constitution; while those who believe, as progressives do, that first comes government and then come rights are the Democratic Constitution.  The difference comes down to whether ‘We the people’ is a collective entity or ‘We the people as individuals.’

A number of things follow.  First, this book is about theories and labels.  (I agree with the late G H W Bush – labels belong on soup cans.)  Secondly, it will offer little to the rest of the world because this conservatism is uniquely American and different to that of the rest of the West.  Thirdly, the book will be completely foreign to Anglo-Australians because we prefer experience to theory, results to ideology.  Finally some of the discussion will be as penetrable as the doctrine of the Trinity or the Real Presence, and provoke the question: What contemporary political issue might be enlightened by the application of these theories or labels?

But let us take the mission of this book on its terms.  We are to seek the Founders’ thinking by going back to what they said.  Lawyers are familiar with this process (and avoiding dogmatism in this context will be very tricky).

Let us put to one side that the Founders knew division – between, say, the focus of Jefferson on you and me, and the focus of Hamilton on Uncle Sam.  The Founders had some things in common.  They owned and traded in slaves.  They might fairly be labelled patrician and they were horrified at the thought of what we call democracy.  Alexander Hamilton spoke of the ‘unthinking populace’ and John Adams referred to ‘the common herd of mankind’.  George Washington referred to the common people as ‘the grazing multitude’.  He had the High Tory view that ‘the discerning part of the community’ must govern and ‘the ignorant and designing’ must follow.  His successors now practise the reverse.

As a result, the Declaration contained two outright lies.  The one about all men being equal is well known.  Perhaps I may then refer to what I said in a book about the comparative history of Australia and the U S.

Well, this evasion, if that is the term, on the subject of slavery might be expected from a slave-owner from the largest slave-owning state.  But what was not to be expected was the lack of candour on the causes of the revolt.

The American Declaration of Independence follows the form of the English Declaration of Rights.  It records the conduct complained of to justify the termination of the relationship.  (This is what lawyers call ‘accepting a repudiation’ of a contract.)  The English did so in short, crisp allegations that were for the most part devoid of oratorical colour in the Declaration of Rights.  The allegations are expressed in simple enough terms and were not phrased so as to encourage an evasive form of denial. 

How does the American Declaration of Independence go about this process?  Before it gets to an allegation that the king maintains standing armies, which is a relatively specific charge, it made ten allegations of misconduct that were so general that they would not be permitted to stand today as an allegation of a breach of the law on a conviction for which a person might lose their liberty.  The fourteenth allegation, which is hopeless, but which appears to be an attempt to invoke the English precedent, is that:  ‘He [King George III] has abdicated government here.’  Then there is the fifteenth allegation:  ‘He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.’  If that allegation of plunder and murder – the old word was ‘rapine’ – had been seriously put, you might have expected to see it before an allegation of abdication – and before every other allegation.  The eighteenth allegation relates to the Indians. The nineteenth was the allegation relating to slavery and which was struck out.  Those drafting the Declaration were not evidently keen to get down to the subject of people of another race.  Or tax.

Let us put to one side that all these allegations are made against the Crown, and not the government, and that none of these allegations refers to any statute of the British government.  There is no history of the American Revolution that has been written that says that the American colonies revolted from their subjection to the British crown for any of the reasons that are set out in the eighteen clauses of the Declaration of Independence.  The primary reason that history gives for the revolt of the colonists was the imposition, or purported imposition, of taxes upon them by the British parliament – when those being taxed had no direct representation in the parliament levying the tax.  Most divorces are about money, and this one was no different. 

But British taxation is only mentioned once in the Declaration of Independence.  That reference is fallacious.  It is against the King.  The Glorious Revolution made it plain that he could not impose a tax.  The only reference to the English legislature comes when those drafting the documents scold the English for ‘attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us’.  Given that the 1688 revolution secured the supremacy of the English parliament over the English Crown and made it transcendentally clear that only the English parliament could levy a tax on its subjects, it may have seemed a little odd for Jefferson to be suggesting that the American colonies were somehow subject to the English Crown, but not to the English parliament.  ‘Jurisdiction’ is a word that has come to bedevil American jurisprudence, and it looks like the problem may have started very early.

‘For imposing Taxes upon us without our Consent’ comes in near the end of charges against England.  This Declaration is then a very dicey basis for any political theory or catechism.  It’s not much of a rock to build a church on.  And the descendants of the colonists are still skittish about tax.  They are better at spending than paying.  An endorsement of deceit, racial superiority and fiscal irresponsibility may be okay for the current president, but surely not for a Republican, much less a bona fide conservative.

The rest of the West think that the U S has been driven to at least two disastrous political failures by the application of the kind of theories discussed in this book by Mr Will  – free universal health care and gun control.

If you think an ounce of evidence is worth a ton of theory, try this.  In June 1908, David Lloyd George told the House of Commons:

‘These problems of the sick, the infirm, of the men who cannot find a means of earning a livelihood … are problems with which it is the business of the State to deal.  They are problems which the State has neglected for too long.’

That proposition is still heresy for those to whom Mr Will appeals. For them, the State has no business in dealing with such problems.  But Lloyd George and Churchill drove through this reform – as they called it – which would be the foundation of what we know as the Welfare State, and the start of the provision of a system of affordable health care that is taken for granted in every country in the West – except America.  England was following the example set by Bismarck in Germany.  Well over a hundred years later, Americans were still mouthing silly labels like ‘Socialist’.

What do Americans get for their primitive and puritanical purity?  Not just the worst health system in the Western world, but the most expensive.  And they get something from between pity and contempt from the rest of us who regard free universal health care as non-negotiable in a society that likes to call itself civilised.  You can quote Plato and Hegel till the cows come home – decent health care provided by government is for us an inescapable part of our social fabric.

The same goes for gun control.  Americans pay a frightful sacrifice in human life in obedience to what we see as a hideously loaded ideological reading of a clause in their Bill of Rights that had nothing to do with the cruel aspirations of the NRA. .  The same Bill of Rights is part of our legal dispensation, but only a lunatic would assert that it has the same lethal consequences for us.

You get some idea of the depth of the gulf separating us when you read ‘So, constitutional lawyers are America’s practitioners of political philosophy.’  That is not our way here.  English and Australian jurists would be horrified at the notion that they should engage in political philosophy while on the job.  And we worry about Mr Will’s grip on reality when we read: ‘most Americans want altars kept apart from the state’s business.’  Is all that stuff we read about Evangelicals just fake news?

The Index to the book makes no mention of Trump, or, in a book riddled with –isms, populism.  As best I can see, the book contains no discussion of the current status of ‘conservatism’ for Republicans in America.  If they are the two main issues facing America today, then tossing intellectual playthings about like shuttlecocks makes Nero’s fiddling look while Rome burned positively sane.  If this book correctly reflects a ‘conservative’ spectrum in America today, then we may better understand what many see as the moral and intellectual collapse of the Republican Party and any reasonable application of ‘conservatism’ to the U S in 2019.

By contrast, near the end of Jefferson and Hamilton, John Ferling said:

Presciently, and with foreboding, Jefferson saw that Hamiltonianism would concentrate power in the hands of the business leaders and financiers that it primarily served, leading inevitably to an American plutocracy every bit as dominant as monarchs and titled aristocrats had once been.  Jefferson’s fears were not misplaced.  In modern America, concentrated wealth controls politics and government, leading even the extremely conservative Senator John McCain to remark that ‘both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.’  The American nation, with its incredibly powerful chief executive, gargantuan military, repeated intervention in the affairs of foreign states, and political system in the thrall of great wealth, is the very world that Jefferson abhorred.

Well, that was way back in 2103, and since then the abhorrence of Jefferson has got so much worse as the United States has fallen flat on its face in the gutter.  And, yes, Hamilton was killed in a duel.  And the rest of the world looks on in sadness as the United States increasingly looks more like its current president – the spoiled child who never grew up.

None of this would have surprised Alexis de Tocqueville.

…..in America the people regard this prosperity as the result of its own exertions; the citizen looks upon the fortune of the public as his private interest, and he co-operates in its success, not so much from a sense of pride or duty, as from, what I shall venture to term, cupidity…As the American participates in all that is done in his country, he thinks himself obliged to defend whatever may be censured; for it is not only his country which is attacked upon these occasions, but it is himself…Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse of life than this irritable patriotism of the Americans.’

And ‘irritable patriot’ is a reasonable title for the current incumbent at the White House.

Here and there -The price of sanctimony

 

Some Australians have been playing with matches about law and religion.  Our law grants privileges to people of faith.  Our churches do not pay tax.  That privilege of caste led to revolution in France and the lasting divorce between church and state.  Our churches have another privilege.  They are absolved from our laws against discrimination.  They can therefore threaten to fire employees who refuse to toe their religious line on marriage; in so doing, they reinforce division by abusing their privilege.

One prelate said he would go to jail rather than obey a law about reporting sex offenders if he thought that our law conflicted with the dogma of his church about the confessional.  That prelate is plainly ready to put himself and his church outside the law – and the interests of his flock.  And some clergy claimed that if our law on marriage were to be changed, that change may, not must, compel them to act against the teaching of their church – and on that ground, they seek to deny to others equality before the law.  The notion that the church could be above the law went out the window with Martin Luther, if not Thomas Becket.

Some religious people opposed marriage equality in our laws on the grounds that homosexuality is not natural, and that marriage between two such people is against the word of God.  Is it tart to say that these arguments come from the same people who told us that it was not natural and against the word of God to say that the earth revolves around the sun?

As for the argument from nature, its inarticulate premise must be that marriage is about procreation.  Why should we deny marriage equality to people who can’t have or who don’t want to have children?  This argument just has to be unkind.  Why punish people just because they’re different?  And in some mouths, this argument sounds sickeningly like an allegation that homosexuals are somehow inferior – because, say, they cannot make their own babies.  We have fallen very low if we frame our laws on the footing that people who are somehow better than others should have more rights or privileges than their inferiors.  In truth, God is the only justification for the premise that legal marriage is there to promote procreation.

Well, what about God?  Which one?  Whose?  The God that allows his clergy to support marriage equality in the press, or the God that slams that door in our faces?  We may admire people for staking their lives on blind faith – but we get very angry when they try to force us to go along with them.  And please don’t say that we should all be governed by unreason.

Some have a deeper objection to some Christian opponents of marriage equality.  At bottom, these Christians appear to say that the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the one they call Christ, entitles them to deny legal equality to other human beings merely because those people are different.  This looks to many to be a denial if not a betrayal of all that that most holy man stood for.  It is a tragic reminder of how far a wholly fallible church has moved from the teaching of its wholly lovable founder.  The teaching of Christ cannot allow anyone to reject the notion that everyone of us has our own dignity as a human being.

And don’t let anyone say that only a priest can make that call.  If God did send Jesus, God sent him for all of us, and not just for one or another bunch of bickering clerics – each claiming to have the only true view.  In the middle ages, the church played Monopoly with what we could know; later they wanted to do it with whom we may marry.  Which monopoly is more offensive?  We are amazed that people who enjoy privileges deny rights to those who don’t – the privileged few against the ordinary multitude.  What about that kind old hymn – ‘You in your small corner and I in mine’?

These people prefer taking to giving.  They’re desperate to keep their club exclusive.  We should therefore look again at the privileges we gave to these people.  If these people sound so hostile and partisan, should they not lose their exemption from laws against discrimination?  And why should a body be exempt from paying tax if ‘charitable’ is the last epithet that you would apply to it?

What is the relevance of this after Parliament has decided the issue of marriage equality?  The relevance is that some religiously driven politicians have been driving a rear guard action.  They should know better, but they are bad losers.

Here and there – Rupert and Jennifer on the road to Christchurch

 

Set out below are citations from columns of Jennifer Oriel published in The Australian in and after 2017, with some of my commentary.  They are all taken from Passing Bull Volumes 2 and 3 published on Amazon.

The remarks attributed to Jennifer Oriel in my opinion show the following attributes:

  • A high level of ideological indoctrination and dogma – to the point of apparent brainwashing.
  • Fatuous, adolescent phrasing that has a tribal or conspiratorial air about it.
  • A sustained sense of being threatened or persecuted – in tribal terms, these people feel existentially threatened, so that their core values are in peril.
  • The world is full of demons and bogeymen and Western patriots are being vilified.
  • There is an absence of restraint, or the tolerance that that word implies. It is what the American historian Richard Hofstadter called the ‘paranoid style’ – ‘heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy.’
  • There is a felt need to strike back, to find a scapegoat.
  • Pluralism is a sign of weakness – what is needed is a muscular response to the threats to civilisation as we know it.
  • It’s OK to play rough.
  • People need to be fed propaganda on Eurocentricity – that is presumably where the Ramsay Centre comes into play.
  • There is a concentration on a largely imaginary past and a wholly imaginary future.
  • There is a childlike faith in the capacity of right minded people – if you prefer, the Strong Man – to prevail over the forces of evil.
  • We must identify with Western civilisation because that is what made us and what defines as being different from those who do not share our heritage. Heritage is all.
  • That civilisation is inseparable from Christianity – the Jews apparently don’t get a look-in.
  • We can confidently assert that Islam is incompatible with Western civilisation.
  • The final judgment is therefore irrefutable – Islam is the enemy of Western civilisation.
  • Muslim migrants are therefore suspect and must be closely watched – if indeed we continue to admit them.
  • If there is a difference between a Muslim and a jihadi, it is not one that has been identified by the columnist.
  • We can therefore associate with the new right which has come back to take back our civilisation.
  • People like Wilders, Orban and Trump have been sadly misunderstood if not vilified. Each is in his own way a patriot.
  • Nationalism is a good.
  • We can therefore properly discriminate against Muslims on the ground of their faith and we can incite conflict against them.

Now, it is a matter for you to see which if any of those attitudes is revealed by the evident history and beliefs of the man charged with murder after the massacre at Christchurch – or of Fraser Anning.

Some clever person may have an ingenious or nuanced argument that the enshrinement of Western civilisation is not the same as advocating white supremacy – I have not seen one – but I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion from those remarks that Muslims are by their faith precluded from being good citizens of our Commonwealth.  If it matters, that looks to be very like the offence committed by a Trump acolyte on Fox News and for which even that outfit has taken action against her.

May I add one personal comment?  I am not a card carrying member of any church, but the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth runs very deeply inside me.  Words cannot express my revulsion that anyone putting out this kind of vile tripe could invoke in their aid the life or teaching of the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount.

Extracts from Passing Bull Volumes 2 and3

In the place of enlightenment, Hillary Clinton champions emotionalism, unreason and the barbarian fetish for supernatural rule over the sovereignty of liberal democratic people.  Donald Trump rises on a reactionary platform typified by an oppositional stance to anything establishment.  Neither champions reason.  Neither champions the form of freedom.  Neither promises the redemption that America so desperately needs.…

Rather, Trump’s America is a counter-revolution in waiting.  We know what has preceded it: the neo-Marxist march against Western civilisation whose gross dilation finds form in state-sanctified minority supremacy and the political correctness that sustains it.  But no one knows what might proceed from a Trump presidency except a counter-revolution against P C Left culture by the progressive dismantling of its government agencies, the media, the activist judiciary and universities…

Neither Trump nor Clinton augurs the restoration of American greatness.  But Trump is brash and arrogant enough to lead a counter-revolution on the premise of American exceptionalism.  The brutal lesson of Trump’s ascendancy is that to battle the philistines, sometimes you have to act like one.[Emphasis added.]

**

The term ‘political correctness’ or P C has in truth become abused and debased.  People of a reactionary cast of thought claim that their freedom of speech is imperilled by exponents of political correctness.  Commentators in The Australian pepper their pieces with this complaint tirelessly.  In the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel, it is a machine-gunned cliché that rat-tat-tats with the same ghastly monotony as ‘sovereignty’, ‘free speech’, ‘free thinkers’, ‘elitism’, ‘populism’, ‘activism’, ‘systemic political bias’ (from The Australian!),  ‘draining the swamp’,  ‘identity politics’, ‘sovereign borders’, ‘open border activists’, ‘pride in Western culture’, and ‘fundamental Western values’.  (Those last two are black-shirt Dutton sinister – so much for the East!)  Here is a simple example:

The P C left can smear us with false accusations of racism and we have no recourse to action under the RDA.

(As Lenin asked, who are ‘we’?)

Here is another sample:

The restive public is leaning towards political figures who oppose the P C establishment’s open border lunacy, its intemperate approach to channelling public funds into the activist class in the media, academe and non—government organisations, and its censorship of politically incorrect speech.

In that piece, the author used the word ‘sovereign’ or ‘sovereignty’ on nine occasions.  I wonder what that word meant on any of them.  This is transcendental bullshit.

**

Jennifer Oriel is a keen student of ideological terms.  In a piece in today’s Australian she says that the emergence of what she calls ‘the new Right’ means that we have to define conservatism.  ‘The task of definition is urgent. Unless a well-defined, muscular conservatism emerges, the best of Western civilisation will not survive the 21st century.’ Goodness, gracious me – well, we won’t be here for the grand exit or Armageddon.

**

Ms Oriel says the following.

The Conservative Mind sparked the post-war conservative intellectual movement in America. In it, Kirk provides a definition of conservatism that comprises four substantive doctrines. The first conservative doctrine, “an affirmation of the moral nature of society”, rests on the belief that virtue is the essence of true happiness. The matter of virtue is family piety and public honour. Their consequence is a life of dignity and order.

Kirk’s second doctrine of conservatism is the defence of property. He defines it as “property in the form of homes and pensions and corporate rights and private enterprises; strict surveillance of the leviathan business and the leviathan union”.

The third conservative doctrine is the preservation of liberty, traditional private rights and the division of power. The absence of this doctrine facilitates the rise of Rousseau’s “general will”, made manifest in the totalitarian state.

The final doctrine of Kirk’s conservatism is “national humility”. Here, Kirk defines the nation state as vital to the preservation of Western civilisation. Politicians are urged to humble themselves in the light of the Western tradition instead of indulging in cheap egoism by promoting policies that buy them votes, but weaken the West.

English philosopher Roger Scruton identifies the political, pre-political and civil components of Western civilisation that sustain the free world. They are rooted in the uniquely Western idea of citizenship, which is influenced by Christianity. The core components of Western citizenship are: the secular democratic state, secular and universal law, and a single culture cohered by territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. Like Huntington, Scruton analyses the core foundations and animating principles of Western civilisation in contrast to Islamic civilisation.

Conservatism stands in contrast to both small “l” liberal and socialist ideas of culture, society and state. Its central tenets are: moral virtue as the path to happiness, supporting the natural family, promoting public order and honour, private enterprise, political liberty, the secular state and universal law. The central tenets of conservatism are sustained by a single culture of citizenship that enables the flourishing of Western civilisational values.

Conservatism remains the only mainstream political tendency whose core objective is the defence and flourishing of Western civilisation. In its federal platform, the Liberal Party defines its liberal philosophy as: “A set of democratic values based upon … the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people as individuals.” There is no discussion of Western civilisation or Western values. However, it shares with conservatives the principles of limited government, respect for private property, political liberty and the division of power. And conservative prime ministers from Menzies to Howard and Abbott have led the defence of Western civilisation in Australia against its greatest enemies: socialists, communists and Islamists.

It is on the questions of immigration, transnational trade and supranational governance that the primary distinction between conservatives and the new Right is drawn. For example, there is growing tension fuelled by the belief that mass immigration, especially of Muslims, constitutes a demographic revolution that threatens Western values. Mainstream conservatives, including Cory Bernardi, reject the idea of a ban on Muslim immigration. But it is clear that policy resonates with many…..[Emphasis added.]…….

That leaves opposition to socialism and Islamists or Islamic civilisation.  As to socialism, I’m not sure what that means, partly for the reason I have given above, and partly because the word is hardly used now in Australia.  Is there anyone left who claims to be a socialist?  As to the second enemy of the West, I object to what Ms Oriel says on three grounds – it is wrong to discriminate against people on the ground of faith; it is wrong to brand whole peoples or nations because of the actions of a few; and if Islamists are a threat to us, I don’t think it promotes our security to brand or discriminate against all Muslims.  As Macaulay said of the Elizabethan persecution of the Puritans in England:

Persecution produced its natural effects.  It found them a sect: it made them a faction. To their hatred of the Church was now added their hatred of the Crown.  The two sentiments were intermingled; and each embittered the other.

Whatever else ‘virtue’ might mean, it doesn’t mean looking down on people just because they have a different faith – especially when so many people have no faith at all.

So, I am afraid that it is bullshit as usual for Ms Oriel.

**

I have referred before to the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel.  This morning’s instalment shows the fineness of the line between inanity and insanity.  It includes the following.

We stand at a pivotal historical moment. In just over a week, we will learn whether the new-right movement resurrected by Brexit and Trump is going global. The looming Dutch election is a bellwether. It is the first European election of 2017 featuring a pro-Western nationalist party vying for the popular vote. Locally, the West Australian election next weekend will test whether Hanson’s One Nation will extend significant influence beyond Queensland.

If The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV) wins, its leader Geert Wilders will become the most strident pro-Western prime minister in Europe. The Trump effect will translate into a transatlantic phenomenon. Either way, the third reckoning of new-right rhetoric with political reality is nigh.

…….

The leaders of the new-right movement differ on some policy matters, but share a set of values that are cohering into an international program for action. Their shared political aims are to: restore the primacy of Western civilisation by defending sovereign democracy and the nation-state system of allied free-world countries against the supranational left. New-right politicians give greater emphasis to the national interest than centrist-left and right parties by prioritising debt reduction via secure borders and rational immigration programs. Some claim that protectionism is co-essential to prosperity, but the claim is substantially weakened by the lack of systematic evidence. Far better is the shared goal to resurrect Western culture by battling the economically and socially corrosive PC culture that dominates the activist media, academia, NGO and public sectors. All new-right parties are gearing up to drain the swamp.

Wilders has been called the Dutch Donald Trump, but he preceded Trump’s ascendancy by several years. His European allies include Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who dubbed 2017 the year of rebellion. In 2015, Wilders said to Agence France-Presse: ‘The only way to deal with (the immigration crisis) is to regain our national sovereignty and close our national borders … I am asking that our government close its doors as Hungary did.’

The year 2016 ushered in a Western renaissance led by Britons and Americans. Brexit represented a triumph of self-determination over supranational governance as Britons renewed their faith in liberal democracy by voting to leave the EU. More than 60 million Americans chose Donald Trump as President to restore American primacy by fortifying the foundations of the free world laid down in the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution.

The supranational left is working overtime to prevent Trump’s ideas developing into a coherent international program for Western civilisational renewal championed by a right avant-garde. The right is gaining ground in the war for by reminding centrist parties Western values matter and turning the weapons used by neo-Marxists and Islamists to attack the free world order against them. ……

The foundational thesis of the 21st-century left is Orwellian doublethink. Codified inequality that promotes minority supremacy through affirmative action law is rebranded equality. The systemic censorship of conservative thought is called free speech. Consistent with its neo-Marxist creed, the modern left suppresses the silent Western majority; punishes politically incorrect thought; undermines the free world by weakening the nation-state system and vilifying Western patriots; purges conservatives from publicly funded institutions; and imposes punitive taxes on wealth creators and hard workers to fatten the parasite class.

The new right is a counter-revolution whose seeds were sown in the 1970s, the decade neo-Marxism took root within the West. As Roger Kimball wrote in The Long March, the new left’s method of gradualism meant ‘working against the established institutions while working in them’.

By almost destroying the liberal in liberal democracy, the left has prepared the ground for totalitarian politics. But it didn’t see the new right coming, whose members hail from both left and right united by the fight for the West. The new right has come to take our civilisation back.  [Emphasis added.]

Orwell would not have believed this.  Western civilisation championed by Trump, Wilders, Orban, Farage, and Hanson?  Would you let any of them into your home?  Here is the moral and intellectual emptiness of what shamefully passes for our conservative press – the Lone Ranger on steroids of dyslexic paranoia.

**

Some in The Australian ranted themselves to new depths.  …..

Australian painter, cartoonist and avantgarde freethinker Bill Leak died of a suspected heart attack. He was 61 years old.

In the two years before his death, jihadists and the political establishment inflicted horrific stress on him because he refused to surrender his creative genius and free mind to the colourless, artless overlords of political correctness.

In 2015, Leak was forced to flee into a safe house with his family after jihadists threatened to kill him. His thought crime was drawing a cartoon of Mohammed in the wake of militant Islamists slaughtering cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

In 2016, Leak was accused under the PC censors’ favourite weapon, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, for offending someone somewhere.

Members of a state-protected minority chose to take offence at a cartoon……..

The suggestion is, apparently, that Leak died from the stress inflicted on him.  He is, we will be told, a martyr.

Even by the standards of Rupert Murdoch, it is beneath contempt for him use the death of an employee to pursue a tawdry political objective that will make it easier for the surviving employees to offend and insult others because of their race.

What Oriel and the paper refuse to mention about the cartoon that said that aboriginal fathers were drunks who could not remember their children’s names is the following.  That cartoon was grossly offensive to a large number of white people and almost all aboriginal people.  Nevertheless, the legislation complained gave Leak a sound answer to any complaint at law.  (There is my view no answer in decency.)  At all times he had the backing of the Murdoch press and the best and most expensive lawyers in the land – as had his mate, Andrew Bolt.  He was never charged or even sued.

Are we, then, seriously to believe Leak’s whimpering about stress?  If we are, the answer during his life would have been simple.  If you don’t like the heat, don’t go near the bloody kitchen.  If you want to hand out coat-hangers, stand by for at least a comeback.  And this is in the context of a cartoon demonizing blackfellas in order to take the heat off complaints of crimes against humanity perpetrated by white people in the Northern Territory.  Leak put in what NRL thugs call a cheap shot.  ‘Don’t worry about what we whites do to black kids.  Look at what their piss-pot fathers do to them to land them in our care.’

This truly was disgraceful behaviour by an agent of the Australian press.

But the whole campaign of Murdoch and his shrill, whining minions has set a new low in Australian bullshit.  There is a daily unloading of bullshit about hate speech, the flat earth (climate change), and the ecclesiastical rejection of gay marriage by cloistered churchy men who just refuse to grow up.  They stand for the forces of funded reaction that hold back the Liberal Party and the whole nation.  They’re now terrified by the thought of a vote on gay marriage.  Who would ever trust a democrat? They should all be deeply ashamed of themselves.

And so should the Prime Minister be ashamed of himself for publicly attending their ghastly Gotterdammerung.  I did not vote for him so that he could hobnob with people who want him to cede to them the right to beat up on blackfellas and Muslims.

**

The fix is in. Queer activists will use fear of sharia to create a moral panic about freedom of religion. Suddenly laissez-faire liberals have developed a distaste for pluralism. They claim that codifying freedom of religion will result in sharia. They fail to comprehend fundamental freedoms in context.

In the context of Western culture, religious freedom is anathema to political Islam. The best guarantee against sharia is Eurocentricity: a cultural agenda that comprises secure borders, the legal protection of fundamental freedoms, and education on the Christian foundations of Western civilisation……

Much concern about sharia in respect of the religious freedom review is artificial. It’s a beat up to prevent dissenters from queer ideology enjoying reasonable protections from militant activists……

One would expect the Ruddock review not to recommend sharia as a model of religious freedom. In the Western context, religious freedom has a particular meaning rooted in Christian scripture that supports the secular state, free will and forgiveness.

Christian religious freedom empowers the secular state. It also embodies a limited state according to Christ’s instruction: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). By contrast, much of the Islamic world is theocratic.

One of the more potent examples of the difference between religious freedom in the Christian and Islamic traditions is their comparative tolerance for it. While Christ exhorts people to come to God and issues numerous warnings to those who turn away from Him, free will is permitted and sin is forgiven. In the Koran, Muslims are taught that non-Muslims are evil and enemies. Muslims are instructed not to ‘seek the friendship of the infidels’. Jews and Christians are considered abominable.

People often assume that the 21st century jihad against America and Israel is a consequence of colonialism or interventionist foreign policy. But hatred of Christians and Jews is rooted in the Koran…..The Western conception of religious freedom incorporates pluralism. In its most basic form, pluralism is tolerance for diverse beliefs limited by the principle of no harm. A historical benefit of the Christian scriptural belief in limited state authority is that it removes the state’s incentive to monopolise religion. As such, it empowers the flourishing of diverse faiths. Consequently, violent monotheism is fundamentally incompatible with the modern West. Yet the Koran prescribes it……

Freedom of religion is not possible where that freedom is singular. Nor is the Western conception of religious freedom possible where individual liberty, including the freedom to exercise religious belief, is subjected to state control…..

The legalisation of same-sex marriage has created an unintended consequence of potentially widening the scope for state interference in personal faith matters. Australia has some of the weakest protections for religious freedom in the free world while international precedent demonstrates the use of lawfare against Christians is becoming something of a blood sport…..

Australia’s approach to religious freedom should reflect the best of the Western tradition. We believe in free will. We believe in the secular state. We believe in the inherent worth of each and every individual. We want a future where freedom of religion can animate the soul of the free world. Neither militant atheism nor hardline Islamism will light the way to liberty.

Well, there you are.  Queer or militant activists have put the fix in to use fear of Islam to suggest that some people may fear Christianity – and so stand in the way of religious freedom.  How this relates to the ‘21st century jihad against America and Israel’ is not explained.  Nor for that matter is religious freedom explained.  Israel Folau is legally free to express his religious opinion that gay people are doomed to burn in eternal flames.  What more freedom does he need?

The contention underlying this seamless rant appears to be that while we can tolerate ‘extreme’ or ‘hardline’ views in Christianity, whatever those terms may mean, we should not do so for Islam.  This apparently follows from the role of Christianity in western civilisation.  So much for pluralism.  And as to theocratic states that favour one religion over another, how does Israel shape up?  In fact, how do we shape up when our head of state has to be in communion with the Church of England?

And as for parts of scripture that are on the nose, the bible is shot through with endorsements of ethnic cleansing.  That God did after all choose one people over others.  It is sufficient to refer to Deuteronomy 20:16, Joshua 1:1-9, 6:17-25; and 8:24-30.  For that matter, Genesis 3 has not done much for women in western civilisation.  Or men.

Ms Oriel has at least two things in common with Donald Trump.  She is pursued by demons – in her case, political correctness and jihadis; in Trump’s case, the deep state and witch-hunters – and moderation is not her go.  She and Trump exemplify the extremism and fantasy of our time.

Here and there – Lowlights of western civilisation

 

Without seeing an outline of studies for the Ramsay proposal, it is difficult to comment on its educational utility.  I am currently writing my second version of the top fifty books.  If the proposal envisages offering a smattering of those, it will be a bit like a finishing school for English gels before they offer themselves up to the meat market with a sombre photo of a twin-set in Country Life.  If it is a matter of offering a dabble in history, literature and philosophy, it would be like offering a shallow B A before something useful or sensible.  I wonder how ‘Western’ adds to or subtracts from ‘Civilisation’, and how the course would treat the lowlights set out below.

 

The barbarism of ancient Greece and Rome – whose citizens called everyone else barbarians

The failure of our education systems to identify that barbarism – especially at Cambridge and Oxford

The Dark Ages

The Crusades

Feudalism (a Mafia protection racket)

Apartheid by England in Ireland for six centuries

Anti-Semitism throughout and from time immemorial

The inherent conviction of Kant and Hume, and other leaders of the Enlightenment, that people of colour were seriously inferior to white people

A growing hostility to Islam masked as concern about migrants or refugees

The hardening of attitudes to refugees – including people made refugees by failed policies of the West

The Thirty Years War, the religious wars on the Dutch, and the French religious wars.  (Has anything inflicted more loss and misery upon Europe than Christianity?)

The Inquisition

The Spanish Armada, and its motives

The perpetuation of the lie about Original Sin in order to hold women down

Holding women down

Persecuting Galileo and retarding Darwin

The intolerance of both Catholics and Protestants after the schism

Civil wars in England and America

The toleration of slavery – in some places until now

The spoliation and ruination of all of Latin America

The looting of India

The rape of Africa

The attempted rape of China and Japan

The actual dismemberment of the Middle East

The failures of European imperialism generally and in particular the cruelty of imperial powers and colonising peoples to indigenous peoples

Napoleon, Mussolini, Franco and Hitler.  (Russia is not part of the West.)

The role of Christianity in each of the above regimes

The perfection of terrorism in the French Revolution and by other oppressive regimes – all but the French claiming collaboration with Christianity

The intellectual failure of Marxism and the moral and political failure of Communism

The failure or degradation at one time or other of all the Great Powers of Europe and their Empires

Two world wars

The Holocaust

The Depression and the Great Financial Crisis

The failed interventions in Vietnam and the Middle East

The impending failure of the European experiment

The failure to civilise Russia

The failure of the rule of law to consolidate elsewhere than in common law countries and Western Europe

The involvement of so many religious bodies in abuse and covering up that abuse

The brutal ineptitude of American evangelicals

The present decline of Christianity and the failure to find something to put in its place

The sterility and uselessness of modern philosophy

The failure to confront inequality of opportunity and other lesions of what we call capitalism

The growing threat to the party system and democratic government

The consequent onset of the aberration called populism – the populists and those they follow are the antithesis of whatever western civilisation may be, and they evidence its failure

The sterility of popular entertainment and the popular press

The lingering death of classical music, opera, and modern jazz

The moral and intellectual collapse currently being experienced by the nation that once led the west

The present decline in literacy, numeracy, and courtesy

The failure to provide any sense of vision about where we are headed

The failure to come to grips with the notion that all the pillars of what is called western civilisation – religion, philosophy, the rule of law, courtesy (civility) and a sense of refinement – have failed or look likely to fail with the result that many now see the whole notion as having failed

A felt sense of superiority – notwithstanding all these manifest failures – and a need felt by some to engage in propaganda about the virtues and values of Western civilisation

Which will appear from the response – express or implied – of the zealots of western civilisation to this sad catalogue: ‘Well, yes, we have made mistakes – but we are much better than any other bastards – so stay with us for all of your answers to all of the big questions.’

Passing bull 171 – Bull about confessing

 

Not being Catholic, my understanding of the role of confession in religion is limited.  But Catholic friends whose judgment I trust tell me that in their view the debate over compulsory reporting of crimes admitted in confession is pointless.  They say that it is quite unlikely that a priest guilty of illegal sexual abuse would confess his guilt in confession.  It would be even more unlikely if he were a serial offender not offering genuine contrition and not truly committed to abstaining.  And only a mad priest would confess to a crime if he knew that the law required the person to whom he had confessed to report this confession to the police.

It is surprising then that the Catholic Church refuses to bend on this issue.  In The Australian on Saturday, a priest made the following arguments.

Without the surety of confidentiality no one would come to confession and speak about their deepest, darkest faults for fear of this being used against them by others….If those seeking confession know that anything they confess may be reported to police, why wouldn’t they go directly to police and report it themselves?

This is empiricism without the benefit of evidence.  And it sounds badly wrong.  Is it seriously suggested that members of the flock are so criminal and neurotic that they will not go to confession if they believe that the admission of a serious crime has to be reported to the police?

…in seeking to break the seal on confession, the government, by essentially making priests agents of the state, fundamentally would breach the separation of power between state and the church.

Well, I have to report to government often – for tax, licensing, or electoral purposes, for example – but it would be silly to say that I then become an agent of the state or that that silly proposition may have some forensic consequences.  If you want to frame the argument in large terms, what this church is seeking to say is that it ought to be above or outside the law, and is therefore seeking to undermine the rule of law.

In my view, therefore, those arguments go nowhere.   It is worrying that their author is an archbishop.  And anyone who thinks that this is a good time for a priest to say that he should be outside the law is crackers.

Bloopers

This is where climate change emerges as a classic post-material concern.  It is cost-free virtue-signalling.  The arguments are mainly emotive and any politician attempting to run against the tide by introducing facts and realism would be worried about the backlash in social and mainstream media….Apart from obvious risks in meddling with foreign policy settings for domestic political gain, the trouble with this sort of superficial campaigning is that it assumes blocks of voters can be picked off here and there with policies and giveaways, it tends to insult the intelligence of those same voters.  Rather than win votes, it may fuel disdain for the major parties and their tactics…..It is as though our political media class is focussed on the half-time entertainment….They ought to have more faith in the electorate….The enduring criticism of Labor and Liberal prime ministers across this lost decade has been too much focus on politics over policy, spin over substance or popularity over respect….Now Scott Morrison has inherited a broken Coalition, rescued from its lurch to the Left…..

The Australian, 20 October 2018

And so it goes – on and on and on.  It’s as if Mr Kenny keeps two A4 pages in a drawer and just re-orders the catch-phrases.  But it shows clearly why people in Wentworth rejected both major parties, and why every night the leaders of the ALP and the Greens go down on their knees to thank the Almighty for the blessings bestowed on them by Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, the IPA and The Australian.

Passing bull 170 – Religion and politics

 

At least two prime ministers have said that they would not allow their religion, or faith, to interfere with their politics.  What nonsense.  Politics is about how we get on with each other.  So are morals.  It would be absurd to say your morals are irrelevant to your politics.

But people who are religious commonly draw heavily on their religion for their moral views.   Indeed, some people of religion have been heard to say that is difficult to envisage a biding moral code without the backing of a religion (putting to one side the difficulty of settling on which one?)  If a person’s religion is vital to their morals, it is equally vital to their politics.  Next time you hear some people say that their faith does not affect their politics, ask them whether that means that they can put to one side the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.  It is pure bullshit.

Although, to be frank, some people worry that some politicians ignore the demands of their faith far too much.  Some take that view about the way we deal with refugees.  They say, for example, that everything we do on Nauru violates almost every part of the Sermon on the Mount.  That position is gaining support – from at least 6000 doctors who have their own moral position to advance. For them, there is nothing new about finding a position adopted by both major parties to be immoral.

Now, it is suggested that our current prime minister is considering getting us to join Guatemala in recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the moral lightweight championship of the world.  He will abandon principle to seek a vote.  How much lower do we have to sink before something snaps?

Then there is the reaction of President Trump to the apparent murder of a journalist by Saudi Arabia.  He says that any sanction will not include limiting the sale arms (that are used for the butchery in Yemen).  He says that such a sanction would cost the U S too much in money and jobs.  The Great Republic, it seems, cannot afford to be decent.  How is Trump’s position different to that of a bank robber who tells the judge that he needed the money to feed and clothe his children?

There may then be something to be said for the proposition that politicians do not give full faith and credit to their religion.  But, then you look at the Kavanagh catastrophe, and you call for the bucket.

Bloopers

Readers must be in turn fascinated, confused and astounded by the increasingly lurid fiasco surrounding the US Supreme Court confirmation hearing of judge Brett Kavanaugh. When I read that this 53-year-old man with a seemingly unblemished character and all the right credentials in jurisprudence had suddenly been accused by a woman of molestation when he was 17 and she 15, and that despite years “recovering” her memory of the incident, she still couldn’t remember any concrete facts about it, and what’s more, no one else could confirm her accusation, I laughed. Not the standard feminist response but this episode had turned into the theatre of the absurd.

Angela Shanahan, The Australian, 29 September.

Well, at least the contributors to that paper never claim that their faith does not affect their politics.  But it is sad when someone claiming adherence to the Beatitudes laughs off attempted rape.  That is worse than bullshit.  It is cruel.

Passing Bull 166 –Nothing at the top

 

There is real concern at the revolving door of federal politics.  The people in Canberra are not up to it – morally or intellectually.  But has it occurred to you that there may be nothing there at all?

Do you know that we have a federal Minister for Energy?  The federal Constitution says nothing about energy – but that doesn’t stop the Commonwealth having a ministry.  How does the Minister see his function?  To keep down prices.

There will be no ideology in what I do.  My goal, the goal of my department and the goal of the electricity sector, must be simple and unambiguous – get prices down while keeping the lights on.

Well, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia may not have the power to make laws about energy, but as a minister advising Her Majesty the Queen of Australia, the Minister believes that he can do something to keep prices down.  What can he do?  And what can he decently do as a member of a government that likes to call itself conservative, and to believe in the invisible hand of the free market?

If electricity is supplied by corporations, won’t their directors be managing their business to return profits to shareholders (including super funds), and might not this obvious fact of life lead them to increase rather than lower the price of their product?  In truth, asking a minister of this government to do anything sane about the environment or energy is like asking the Grand Chief Wizard of the Lodge to conduct Mass.

The National Party claims to represent farmers.  Desperate drought affected farmers have now joined with a conservation group to put on an ad:

We need to stick to the Paris agreement, we need to stop burning coal and we need to commit to more renewable energy.

Each of those propositions is anathema to those in power federally.

Well, the Commonwealth has power to make laws about corporations.  It has legislated about them – at mind-crippling length.  It has also appointed a body to enforce those laws.  The scandalous ineptitude of that body is just one of the unsettling revelations of the Royal Commission that this government was so keen to avoid.

You get the impression that some members of the government think that the buck stops with the regulator.  That is wrong.  The government cannot shed its responsibility for enforcing its laws by appointing a regulator any more than a board of directors can do so by appointing a CEO.  This government remains responsible for its failure to enforce its own laws.

The Treasurer appears to favour giving the regulator power to order a corporation to pay compensation ‘within a set timeframe, thus avoiding ASIC needing to take legal action.’  On its face, that looks like giving the executive of the government the power to deprive people of their property without intervention by the judiciary – that is to say, without due process.  That will be an interesting exercise – especially for a government claiming the character referred to above.  But whatever else is involved, we will get masses of regulation – and highly remunerative work for lawyers, accountants, and other advisers.

What then is the major aim of the Treasurer?

The big focus for me is going to be on the productivity agenda and…cutting regulation.

If you put all this with the blooper below, it is hard to imagine any body of people more completely losing their way.  Is there anyone home at all?

Bloopers

Brown is a fourth-generation grazier whose family property has been affected by drought.

In the clip, she calls for ‘politicians to stop dancing around the issue and help us to do something about this’.

‘We need to stick to the Paris agreement, we need to stop burning coal and we need to commit to more renewable energy,’ she says.

The campaign comes after the prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the drought as his highest priority but said the conversation about the connection between drought and climate change should be ‘left  to another day.’

The Guardian, 16 September, 2018

This might remind you of the standard response of Donald Trump or the NRL to the latest mass murder in the U S.  ‘This is not the time to talk about the answer to the problem – our rotten gun laws.  In the meantime’ – as David Rowe remarked some time ago in the AFR –‘take a few boxes of thoughts and prayers – on the house.’

Here and there – An unsurprising Royal Commission

 

The most surprising thing about the Royal Commission into banking is the amount of surprise people feel.  What did they expect?

In 1983, a very old and respectable trustee company – Trustees Executors and Agency – failed and went into liquidation.  A very un-trustee like general manager had flirted with property development and short term money.  This collapse was a huge shock.  The Victorian Premier wanted the directors to surrender their passports.  (A few years later there were worse crashes.  Do you recall Tricontinental and Pyramid?)  ANZ acquired the business of the trustee by act of parliament.  One of the older trustee managers was heard to groan that bankers ‘don’t understand trusts – they only know debits and credits.’

There is a world of difference.  If you deposit money with a bank, it becomes theirs, and they have to pay you back an equivalent amount later.  But if you ask them to hold your BHP shares on trust for you, they become subject to much more onerous obligations and you get much more generous remedies.  In the first case, they get your money; in the second, the shares remain yours.  The relationship between creditor and debtor is very different to that between a trustee and beneficiary.  A trustee may have to account to a beneficiary for a profit taken innocently in the transaction.

Some think that the law has nothing to do with morals or ethics.  They are dead wrong.  So much of our law turns on whether people have been careful, honest, or conscientious.  If someone puts their confidence in me, the law says that I have to act toward that person in good faith, and take care that I do not have an interest or become subject to a duty that conflicts with my obligation to honour the confidence put in me.  These duties are called fiduciary.  If I get sued, the court might even inquire whether my opponent’s hands are clean.  So, moral or ethical issues abound in the law.

The banks probably educate their staff about bankers’ obligations of secrecy or confidentiality (which sit uncomfortably with the aversion of bankers to being called fiduciaries).  But plain and simple moral obligations tend to get forgotten in the blizzard of government intervention. They do however remain, and these obligations that are called equitable tend to be sternly enforced by the courts.

What education do the banks give their staff who act as trustees?  What do they get taught about that mystical word ‘fiduciary’?

That is one fault line on show.  Another relates to management.  The law says that ‘the business of a company is to be managed by or under the direction of the directors.’  At the risk of sounding like the late Bud Tingwell in The Castle, what do those words mean?

Very experienced directors, managers, and lawyers answer this question very differently.  The directors of a bank are not there to act as tellers, but how much direction do they have to give to managing the bank’s business?  Those words are elastic.  Does it matter that the law describes directors’ duties as fiduciary?  What are the directors of banks told about their obligations under the law?

Can you recall a time when we actually dealt with bank managers?  I grew up living beside one.  Alf had come up the hard way.  Alf could be rough and tough, but two things were certain.  Dishonesty never entered his head; and if he thought a would-be borrower was being stupid or greedy, Alf would let them have it – right down the bloody front.

Alf was not into equitable or fiduciary obligations.  He just did his job by the bank and its customers.  Both sides were content, in a way that we don’t see much of now.  If, as I suspect, there is doubt about the management of banks at the top, there is at least as much doubt about how they manage you and me – their customers.

Here and there – Problems with politics

 

When Aristotle said that man is a political animal, he meant, we are told, that man is at best when he is living in a polis – a town, or a city, or small state.  Putting to one side a Greek bias, people are better off when they live together.  (If you are a hermit, you have a better chance of doing what you want, but who would want even to visit a land of hermits?)

In order to be able to live together in a community, we have to be able to get on with other people.  Everyone is different and people want different things.  It follows, as night the day, that I will not be able to have everything I want.  If, therefore, some people in a group are determined to get their own way, regardless of others, we have a problem.  They might put a spoke in our wheel.

England and Australia are governed by an elected party that is said to stand for something, but which does not appear to stand for anything.  The same goes for each of their leaders.  Both the party and the leader appear to have lost purpose and direction.  Sadly, much the same can be said of the leader of the opposition in each country; each is, at best, a disappointment.  All this fuels the loss of faith in government, and assists the downward spiral.

America is different.  Its governing party has lost its nerve and any commitment to principle.  It just refuses to do its duty to control the executive.  Its leader owes allegiance to nothing but himself.  As for the opposition, if such it may be called, it has no leader at all.  The system doesn’t allow it.

The American problem therefore looks worse than that of England or Australia.  But in each case, there is simmering discontent, a loss of faith in government if not the nation, and a readiness to confront enemies at home, either real or imagined.  We are seeing hostility, or just plain anger, and an unwillingness or inability to restrain it.  We are losing the lubricant that oils our political machine and allows it to tick over and absorb any shocks caused by faulty parts or cogs in the gears.

As I understand it, economies and reserve banks are still adjusting to the Great Financial Crisis – that started ten years ago.  (History may show that crisis to have been more consequential than the Great Depression.)  The appalling inequality of wealth and income that that crisis revealed is part of the problem.  Another is that our wealth as a nation depends on international trade that each nation has only a very limited capacity to control.

What you then get is a feeling of powerlessness or helplessness among those who have lost out.  You also get a sense of affront and outrage at the apparent inequality of treatment.  The people so offended hardly need persuasion that their case is both plain and just.  They look for politicians who will give them the plain answer they need.  When the fishwives of Les Halles got to Versailles, their demand was simple: Du pain; pas tant de long discours.  Anything resembling sophistication is of course the defence mechanism of the enemy of the chosen.

Well, the plain answer is obvious.  The people of the nation – the real people, that is – need to go back to its true self, what it was before those awful bad guys took over.  (It is of no concern that this past is almost wholly imaginary.)

And the other part of the answer is equally obvious.  You identify and go after the causes of your maltreatment.  These are obviously those who are foreign to the real people, either abroad or at home.  You go after them with gusto, especially if they are sitting ducks.  How sweet it is to be able to dish out elbows for people whose lives have been dedicated to copping them.  The historical label for these people on the receiving end is ‘scapegoats’, but our latterday avengers are not keen on that term; it too closely resembles their own condition while they were disempowered.

From that dreadful cocktail, you get misfits like Hanson, Farage, Johnson and Trump.  It does not matter that this model has been duplicitously flogged from Peisistratus to Duterte for 2500 years.  There is one born every minute.  Nor does it matter that history hardly reveals any successful people’s or peasants’ revolt or any scapegoat who has been decently pursued.  The relevant history is one of misery and injustice.  Neither the oppressed nor their champions go in for length, width or depth in their view of the world.  Their commitment is short-term, personal, and angry.  Like that between the advocate from Arras and the sans-culottes, it is a marriage entered into on the altar of social justice.  (They hardly spoke a word in common, but they developed a communal taste for an exposed neck.)  If you had to choose one word for such a union, the most polite might be ‘irrational.’

We have seen all this before.  What is worrying now is the readiness of people to throw sand in the gear box.  In the end, our political system depends on people restraining themselves and co-operating with others.  ‘Co-operating’ with others there means little more than living or working with them.  It comes back to living in a group.  If we do want to rate ourselves above the apes, we have to control our impulse to selfishness.  If you go to legal historians, they will speak of customs; lawyers talk of precedents; constitutional lawyers speak of conventions; our commitment to the rule of law comes down to little more than a state of mind.  You will immediately see that the short-termed champion of the oppressed can so easily drive an excavator clean over the foundations of our world.  It may not take all that much to seize up our machine.

And when you think about it, people who should also have known better have been eating away at conventions that stood in their electoral path – for immediate if transient advantage, they were prepared to risk long term damage.  And, as it seems to me, the soi disant conservatives have always been the first to go out of bounds.  Just look at the determination of the Republican Congress to block an elected president, even to the point of denying him the right to appoint to the Supreme Court.  Their determination to block Obama has only been matched by their steely resolution to do nothing to stand in the way of President Trump.

On the need for cooperation, take an example from the law.  A man agreed to buy a very expensive machine.  The contract was subject to testing by the buyer.  The buyer refused to pay.  He said that he had not tested the machine.  But the court held against him.  The court found that the buyer was at fault in not inspecting the machine and that he could not rely on his own fault to defeat the claim of the buyer for payment.  The court ruled that:

…where in a … contract it appears that both parties have agreed that something shall be done, which cannot effectually be done unless both concur in doing it, the construction [legal effect] of the contract is that each agrees to do all that is necessary to be done on his part for the carrying out of that thing, though there may be no express words to that effect.

The court therefore found that where people agree to act together for a common purpose, their agreement may be subject to an implied condition of cooperation.  That ruling to my mind does little more than reflect a necessary truth of communal life.

Why are so many now ignoring this obvious fact of life?  Part of the problem comes from the self-righteousness of those who see themselves victims as the victims of injustice.  (As Gandalf remarked in The Fellowship of the Ring, ‘There is such a thing as malice and revenge!’  And every revolution known to man nearly drowned in them.)  The other part of the problem comes from the selfishness and deceit of the chosen champions of the dispossessed.  They have, after all, only come along for the ride.

Now, a lot of this is large, too large.  But none of it is novel.  Indeed, it is just the lack of novelty that is most unsettling.  Of course they love their country; of course they value their citizenship; what else have they got?  So, we will reclaim our sovereignty, whatever that means; we will glorify the Fatherland, and if necessary go to war for it, and our values; and we shall confine citizenship to those born to deserve it.  That old script is so tawdry, but it does prompt some reflections.

From any point in that compass, Trump is a vicious threat.  He is a stupid spoiled child who has never been taught any better, but what troubles us as much as the credulity of what is called his ‘base’ is the failure of an established party to do its job and check him.

They may however be part of a grand irony.  If the GFC paved Trump’s wave to power, he may be rewarding those wealthy smart Alecs responsible by policies, if such they may be called, that favour the rich over the rest.

But Australians need not feel smug about the inanity of American government.  Its main allegedly conservative party is once again tearing itself apart over a proposition as contestable as that which says that the earth is round.  Those responsible are helped by lay preachers, failed political hacks, think tank stooges, and tarts for the crowd who somehow get some attention from the downtrodden on the outlets of Rupert Murdoch.  The tribalism and bitchiness transcends anything offered in the past by the Labor Party – and that is no small statement.

There is another worry for us. Three of the most unloved people in Australia are Rudd, Latham, and Abbot.  They are now being joined by a fourth – Joyce.  The rats come from all sides; each led his party; two were Prime Minister; all four failed at their top; all four have turned on their own party with all the grace of a Taipan hit and missed by a piece of angle iron.  There is a well-founded worry about the stability of all of them.  But what they have in common is that they are bad losers whose blame on others is writ large and whose hunger for revenge is as ugly as it is unwarranted.

But we may have seen a touch of spring.  When a member of the Guards ratted on a princess, The Times said that the system had ‘flushed out an absolute shit’.  So have we.  Fraser Anning looks to be as nasty as he is inane.  I will not rehearse the terms of his maiden speech – that’s your and my taxes at work – but Mr Anning did not seek to hide his contempt for people of a different creed or colour; nor did he seek to hide his longing for the White Australia Policy.  He just stood there looking like a toddler who had just soiled his nappy in public.

In doing so, Mr Anning immediately outed all those members of parliament and the Murdoch press who have for years been transmitting signals about those very sentiments under code names like border protection, sovereignty, national values, freedom of speech, and that most glorious chestnut of them all – Western civilisation, or, if you prefer, Judaeo-Christian civilisation.  We need not pause for an historical analogy for the role Muslims in Australia in 2018 as scapegoats; if you have a problem, ask another Australian who subscribes to a faith coming out of Asia – apart from Judaism and Christianity.

Mr Anning’s embrace of those whole wavelengths of scapegoats was so brazen that both houses of parliament came together and denounced the rogue ratbag on the spot.  How dare a new boy queer the nest of the old boys?

Everyone felt better.  But do you know what?  Even the decent press called this a victory for democracy.

And about ten years after the good fishwives of Paris got their bread and killed their king, they got a little Corsican emperor with his own aristocracy and a secret police that the Bourbons could never have dreamed of.

Here and there – What is fascism?

 

Some years ago, I sought to identify the range of meaning of three terms or labels commonly used in political discussion as follows.

Left and right

I do not like and I try to avoid these terms, which come from the French Revolution, but I shall set out my understanding.  The ‘left’ tend to stand for the poor and the oppressed against the interests of power and property and established institutions.  The ‘right’ stand for the freedom of the individual in economic issues, and seek to preserve the current mode of distribution.  The left is hopeful of government intervention and change; the right suspects government intervention and is against change.  The left hankers after redistribution of wealth, but is not at its best creating it.  The right stoutly opposes any redistribution of wealth, and is not at its best in celebrating it.  The left is at home with tax; the right loathes it.  These are matters of degree that make either term dangerous.  Either can be authoritarian.  On the left, that may lead to communism.  On the right, you may get fascism.

Fascism

What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axe carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look a bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

Madeline Albright has written a book warning against a resurgence of fascism.  Eastern Europe looks very bleak.  You can make up your own mind about the application of those criteria to Trump.  To me it looks a very close run thing.  I am sick of hearing about him.  I merely say that since Hitler died before I was born, Trump is the leading contender for the prize of the man most loathed on this earth during my lifetime.

I want to invite people to apply those criteria to Napoleon.  Again at first blush that, too, looks close.  Let me just quote some passages from a biography by the distinguished English historian J M Thompson.

Napoleon’s forays into Italy and Egypt were little more than robbery on a grand scale.  He wanted to fund the rape of Egypt by robbing the Swiss.  On the war in Italy, Napoleon said:

Discipline is improving every day, though we still have to shoot a good many men for there are some intractable characters incapable of self-restraint.

You may recall that his political career took off when he used artillery to disperse a Paris mob – Carlyle’s ‘whiff of grapeshot.’  Throughout his career, the Corsican was profligate with French life – something that scandalised his Grace, the Duke of Wellington.

Asians got it worse.

The Turks must let their conduct be ruled by extreme severity.  Here at Cairo, I have heads cut off at the rate of 5 or 6 a day.  Hitherto, we have had to treat the people tactfully, in order to destroy the reputation for terrorism which preceded our arrival.  But now we must make sure that the natives obey us; and for them obedience means fear.

Could Hitler have improved on that descant?

Each stage or coup in the rise of Napoleon in France involved a franker appeal to force.  Abroad, the urge for conquest was insatiable.  His nationalism was only matched by his egoism.  He said that he had made Italy a part of France.  Madame de Staël had his measure.  ‘The English particularly irritate him, as they have found the means of being honest as well as successful, a thing which Bonaparte would have us regard as impossible.’

In his 2014 book Napoleon the Great, Andrew Roberts said that Napoleon was great.  This to me is like the myopia that leads Oxbridge to say that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised.  He committed France to eternal war (la guerre éternelle) and then he lost that war.  He left five million dead in the process.  He left France a smoking rubble that it took France at least a century, and endless coups and revolutions, to come out of.  And, fatally to the reputation of any soldier, he walked out on his own army – twice.  And the only reason that Napoleon and his spurned soldiers found themselves in the sands of the Levant and the snows of Russia was his manic lust for la gloire.

But at least he had one clear policy.  Make France great.  And he then ruined the joint.  As they say there, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.