Passing Bull 132 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny – Part II

 

We were looking at remarks of Mr Kenny in The Weekend Australian of 13-14 January 2018.  I need not set out those remarks again as this post will end with former posts that contain quotes from Mr Kenny over the years to the same effect.

When Mr Kenny refers to the ‘love media’, what label does he have in mind for his side, or tribe?  All of us are worried about energy prices, but has anyone bettered Mr Kenny’s identification of the real problem when he refers to people who are ‘phlegmatic about alarmist claims on climate’?  When he says ‘even business leaders fuel the left side’, does he accept that that entails two propositions (each of which I would regard as at best odd): that we can give some useful meaning to the word ‘left’ in this context; and that in that meaning, it would surprise us if business leaders supported opinions grouped under that label?  When Mr Kenny refers to ‘the political/media class’ with such disfavour, what definition can he give of that body that does not show him up as its leading exemplar?  For that matter, what ‘elite’ would not have Mr Kenny?  And does he really believe that Trump and Farage were ‘mainstream’ candidates?  Finally, given that a substantial part of the business model of this newspaper is to report on conflicts fuelled by opinion polls, has Mr Kenny not broken all records for hypocrisy with the sentence: ‘It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.’

In fairness to the newspaper, I might say that the same edition carried a piece by Caroline Overington about a suicide that followed cyber-bullying that I thought was first class in every way.  Now, Ms Overington does appear from time to time with the Anti-Christ, the ABC.  Mr Kenny might inquire of Ms Overington how often she gets ‘howled down’ as a ‘heretic’.

Before going to Mr Kenny’s priors, I may report on one of his colleagues in labelling, Jennifer Oriel.  Ms Oriel is a cheerleader in the partisan scolding of those awful people called ‘progressives.’ But Ms Oriel has now made confession – of the sin of apostasy.  She has outed herself as a former Labor supporter.

And old friend asked why, after years of voting Labor, I left the Left.  I considered justifying myself again with the chronology of exodus.  But the truth is plain and blunt.  Why did I leave the Left?  Because two plus two equals four.

Well, there you have it.  Mr Kenny explains everything in politics by reference to the facts (which I assume means evidence).  Ms Oriel does it with arithmetic.  The reference is of course to 1984, but the notion certainty in politics being arrived at mathematically is unsettling.  But, then, how many contented and equable lapsed Laborites do you know?

Here, then, are two previous posts that show that Mr Kenny is nothing if not consistent.  You will see that we begin with a disclaimer by Mr Kenny of ‘partisan or personal cheerleading.’  It fairly takes your breath away.

Passing Bull 18 – The Dean’s Wake Syndrome (19 October 2015)

....unlike progressives, conservative commentators tend to stand on principle rather than indulge in partisan or personal cheerleading….

Chris Kenny, The Saturday Australian, 17-18 October, 2015.

On any given Saturday you can get about five whoppers like this from that newspaper as the ‘conservatives’ make faces at the ‘progressives’, like little girls to little boys behind the shelter-shed.  What was the context?

Rowan Dean, the editor of the Oz Spectator, and the leader of the unattractive pack described in Passing Bull 15, threw a wake for the former PM.  We are told that Dean was smarting if not seething.  The usual idolaters were there – Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Paul Murray (who has been inconsolable on Sky ever since, routinely throwing objects as well as tantrums, and imploring the new PM to be tough on Muslims).

Mr Kenny, another idolater in his time, says he knows how these people feel.  He does so in terms that contradict point blank the silly boast set out above, and which show why Australians are revolted by the cabal of politicians and journalists that have dragged us down to our present level, on both sides of politics, and where all except the addicts, or those who profit from or traffic in the addiction, are praying for relief, if not enlightenment from a mix of the Wars of the Roses and a New Dark Age.

After years of sneering at the poll-driven, media-grovelling superficiality of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, the Liberals have descended into the same sand-pit.

And with the ABC, Fairfax Media Newspapers, Canberra press gallery, academe and sundry other elements of the love media and political/media class railing against their version of the anti-Christ – a socially conservative prime minister – a great opportunity to prove them all wrong has been frittered away.

Most of us with a view to the structural ebbs and flows of politics could see that despite the antipathy directed at Abbott, some obvious failings and poor poll ratings, the Coalition was most likely to be re-elected next year.

This would have confounded the love media and twittersphere, and confirmed the good sense of mainstream voters.

In Abbott’s favour were strong policy settings (border protection, climate change, and attempted budget repair), the escalating issue of union power and corruption being teased out in the royal commission he established, and how all this had rendered Bill Shorten nigh-on unelectable.

When an impatient Turnbull launched his challenge the week before the Canning by-election he not only robbed Abbott of a chance for recovery but denied many true believers the pleasure of this social-political experiment – this vindication.

It passes belief.  If you did not know that you were the victim of an experiment, at least you know it is not one that will be repeated.  Here is why politics presently revolt Australians.  There is hardly any reference to principle, but just a focus on partisan political cheerleading.  And do you know why?  The people and their representatives do not know as much as Messrs Kenny or Bolt.  They cannot be trusted.

As usual, the crucial partyroom votes were exercised by inexperienced, impressionable and self-interested MPs, many of whom would not have entered parliament if not for Abbott’s campaigning skills and who might have been less than helpful in briefing journalists and voicing disharmony as they fretted over the polls.

In the next post, I will try to spell out this disease of the mind, but Mr Kenny does offer one frightening thought:

I sense the republican cause may be at the heart of much conservative antipathy.

These embittered relics of Plato’s Republic and the Split are not just harmless Looney Tunes.  They are intent on not allowing us to break with the Mother Country and become self-governing without support from the Anglican Crown.  Bring back 1788 – and the lash.  They are Monarchists envenomed.  Don’t they know about 1789?

Passing Bull 44 – Outstanding hypocrisy in the Press  (26 May 2016)

Politics and politicians are on the nose all around the world.  There is a savage reaction in the West against political parties and political elites.  Since the system as we know it has been worked by political parties run by elites, the results may be disastrous, if not terminal.  Corbyn was bad enough, but Trump is a genuine nightmare.

In Australia there is a very unhappy union between politicians and journalists.  There is much to be said for the view that our press is in large part responsible for the awfulness of our politicians.  They are far too cliquey and close to their subjects; the worst kinds of would-be journalists are tribal, and feed themselves on hits from other followers of the cult on the Internet.  The real disasters are former political staffers who then want to pose as journalists.  Instead, they become boring and loaded cheerleaders.

Two of the worst examples are Chris Kenny and Niki Savva.  They could not hope to pose as being objective, but they sadly think that that they are intelligent.  They live in confined echo chambers quite cut off from the world, just like the politicians in Canberra.  They are part of a useless but self-appointed elite that is quite out of touch with what they call the mainstream.

It was therefore quite a surprise to read the following from Chris Kenny in The Australian last Saturday:

There is a great and pernicious divide in Australia.  It is not between the eastern seaboard and the western plains, or between the rich and poor, city and country, black and white, or even between established citizens and refugees.  The divide is between the political/media class and the mainstream.

There is a gulf between those who consider themselves superior to the masses and want to use the nation’s status to parade their post-material concerns, and those who do the work and raise the families that make the nation what it is.

That is a reasonable statement of the problem, even if it comes from one of the worst examples of those who give rise to the problem.  And what on earth is a former Liberal staffer – attached to Lord Downer; no wonder his syntax is shot – and employed by The Australian and Sky doing referring to ‘the masses’.  Has Mr Kenny ever met one of them?  But then it all becomes clear when we get this:

In this election we are seeing the chasm open up, like a parting of the seas, as the media elites and their preferred left-of-centre politicians seek to determine what issues should be decisive.  They lecture and hector the mainstream.  Worse, they try to dictate what facts can even be discussed.  They seek to silence dissent.  They have compiled an informal list of unmentionables, facts that should not be outed: the truths whose name we dare not speak.

And then Mr Kenny goes on to ‘lecture and hector’ those poor souls who share his echo chamber, the true believers who know that Satan masquerades as the ABC and the Fairfax press.

This is all as boring and predictable as anything said by Mr Kenny in The Australian or one of those ghastly Sky chat shows that demonstrate that the chattering classes, the former chardonnay socialists, have long ago swapped sides graphically and terminally.  We reached a new all-time low recently when Peta Credlin joined Andrew Bolt for a nocturnal tryst on Sky that will be sure to upset at least three dinners a night.  It might all be boring, but the hypocrisy of Mr Kenny takes your breath away…..

…..Does any decent Australian give a bugger about the alleged Left/Right divide or any other of those profoundly stupid chat shows called ‘culture wars’?  Have they not yet seen that everyone else rejects all this bullshit and all those who want to wallow in it?  Does the press just not get that they are an essential part of the package that people are rejecting all around the world?

Passing Bull 131 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny

 

On Sydney radio 2GB this week, host Mark Levy was commenting on the hype about Oprah Winfrey running for president.  ‘Despite all the doom and gloom around the Trump presidency, what’s he done wrong so far?’ asked Levy.  It was an unremarkable reflection that generated no contention and was not intended to do so.  For that audience it was a statement of the obvious.

Yet could you imagine such an observation being made on the ABC?  Not only is it inconceivable that any ABC host would make such a call, we know that any guest arguing the same would be treated as a heretic.  The proposition would be howled down as controversial, partisan and absurd.  Despite its charter obligations to objectivity and plurality, the ABC could not entertain such a reasonable point of view…..

Callers [to a 2GB show hosted by the author] are concerned about immigration and poor integration, sceptical about government interventions, worried about energy prices and phlegmatic about alarmist claims on the climate…..But few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other ‘love media’ staples…..

It is not hard to see which view is right   [Someone reported in the Fairfax press had argued that ‘volunteering was counterproductive, undercut paid work and relieved governments of their responsibilities.’]  And it is not a matter of opinion.  The facts support the case for volunteers.….

The Prime Minister’s energy policy is still beholden to futile Paris targets, despite the U S withdrawing and the international community asking next to nothing of China or India.  While he backs Paris at the expense of affordable and reliable energy, he fails to give the mainstream what they really need and want – the cheapest and most reliable electricity.

Our competing narratives can broadly be described as left and right.  But we can imagine a series of Venn diagrams where the flanks of the major parties overlap to share and swap members on various issues.  Even business leaders fuel the left side of some debates because of corporate posturing, dinner-party imperatives or fear of social-media-driven reputational damage.

Turnbull and the Coalition need to have faith that the numbers are with the mainstream and common sense.  Sure the left narrative – with its academic and political/media class support – makes most of the noise and generates its own momentum.  But Brexit, Trump and even Tony Abbott circa 2013 demonstrate that voters can flock to mainstream candidates no matter the hectoring and prognostications of the so-called elites.  John Howard could never have won a single election unless this were true.

This requires strong advocacy from conviction politicians to give mainstream voters a guiding light through the deceptions of the political/media class.  It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.

Yet this is not a matter of theories, ideology or complex plans.  Rather, it is about the facts.

In the issues mentioned earlier, the facts support the mainstream view…..If not for the publicly funded ABC, SBS, subsidised magazines, universities and bureaucratic interventions, the false narratives of the virtue-signallers would be soundly defeated in the open market-place of ideas.  Instead their nonsense dominates…..

(The Weekend Australian 13-14 January 2018.)

There is more to the same effectBefore looking at parts of the argument, may I make two general observations?

First, the author likes applying labels, or, if you prefer, he is fond of clichés.  That is, Mr Kenny likes to put things in boxes and give them a name – such as, love media, mainstream, left and right, elites, conviction politicians, political/media class, and virtue-signallers.  Mr Kenny does not say what he means by any of those terms, and I am not sure what they might entail in the context of his argument – or anywhere else.

Secondly, and relatedly, Mr Kenny sees people as acting and thinking in identifiable groups – or, if you like, he sees people acting tribally.  We can see this immediately from the reference to ‘that audience’ in the first paragraph, and ‘we know’ in the second.  In the eyes of Mr Kenny the audience of 2GB is very different to that of the ABC – or ‘other ‘love media’ staples.’  They apparently represent different tribes.  When it comes to politics, Mr Kenny is like an Arsenal or Collingwood supporter.  You are either for us or against us – and with passion – either way.  Mr Kenny’s team would seem to come from the ‘mainstream’ or ‘right’ and is apparently opposed by the ‘left’ or ‘elites’ of the ABC and the like.  What those groups might stand for is left swinging in the breeze.

Since the original labels have not been explained, there is a serious risk of confusion in putting people to whom those labels may apply into boxes.  Unless you are careful, you could wind up with the agony of Procrustes.   May I suggest that most of what I see as the faults in Mr Kenny’s argument derive from these tendencies to apply labels to conduct or opinions and to separate people into classes?

Let us then go to the ‘statement of the obvious’ – ‘to that audience’.  The statement was phrased as a question.  Mr Kenny therefore sees the question as rhetorical.  That is, he saw the 2 GB host as asserting that Mr Trump has not done anything wrong, and he, Mr Kenny, believes that the 2GB audience would regard such a statement as unremarkable, uncontentious, and a statement of the obvious.  Those propositions are large, but that is the risk you take when you proceed with this level of generalization – and at this remove from the evidence.

What wrongs might be reasonably alleged against Donald Trump?  The charge sheet, or indictment, might read as follows.  He has waged open war on two elements of the United States constitutional fabric, the judiciary and the press; he has failed to persuade another element of that fabric, the Congress, to implement key elements in his policy; he has acted against people just because they are of a different colour or race; he has sought to create conflict by making divisive statements to please what is called his ‘base’ rather than to act in the interests of the nation at large –he has acted as if to excite domestic insurrections; he has on any view shown himself to be a compulsive liar; he has consistently acted in an intemperate, illiterate and rude manner that demeans his office and the United States; he has publicly insulted the Secretary of State and Attorney-General, and he has refused to appoint people to fill vacant offices in the State Department; he has acted to alienate most of the allies of the United States and most members of the U N – and he boasts about all these things; he has not built the wall, much less get the Mexicans to pay for it; he has not repealed or replaced Obamacare; what Mr Kenny calls ‘tax reforms’ are a violation of the Republican views on the deficit, and will benefit the rich rather than the poor; he consistently acts against the advice of his ministers, some of whom know what they are doing, for fear of unsettling his ‘base’ or creating a flaw in the image with which he is so much in love – himself; and he has incurred political obligations to unattractive people that obliges him to protect and defend Nazis, and help promulgate their views.  There is more to this history of repeated injuries and usurpations.

Trump is the most unpopular president in living memory; in the opinion of those qualified to give one, he is the most unstable and stupid man ever to go to the White House; he has appeared to validate the first such proposition and to prove the second by proclaiming, over his chosen medium, that he is a ‘stable genius.’  And that’s before you recall the evasion of military service; the serial bankruptcies in his businesses, and the $25 million dollar settlement of fraud claims against him that he said he would never settle; the absurd favouring and promotion of his family and his business; his tax evasion and his refusal to show his tax returns; his pussy-grabbing and his failure to fulfil his statement that he would sue his accusers; Puerto Rico; Roy Moore; and the several matters occupying the attention of Mr Robert Mueller III.  (One of those appears to be admitted.  Of the many inconsistent reasons Trump gave for firing the head of the FBI, one was that Comey’s Russian investigation was annoying him.  To an Australian lawyer, that looks like an admission of obstructing the course of justice.)

All those allegations can be and are being made, and not just by the ‘love media’, whoever they are.  That being so, many people would regard a statement that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong as at least ‘controversial, partisan and absurd’, to adopt the wording of Mr Kenny.  When you look at the evidence – what Mr Kenny calls the ‘facts’ – it is hard to imagine any history better placed to disqualify a person from holding any form of public office, let alone that of President of the United States.

My own personal view?  No decent Australian would let that crude lout into their house.

But Mr Kenny allows himself to be boxed into the absurd by the linguistic traits I have referred to – and by his fear and loathing of the ABC.  That being so, some taxpayers might be very upset if the ABC were to promote such an odd position as that advanced by Mr Kenny.

May I say three other things on this first point?

The constant harping about the ABC by Mr Kenny and almost everyone else on his newspaper is not only predictable, boring, and unhinged, but it is unprofessional.  If you went to a doctor or lawyer and they routinely set aside time to bad mouth others of their profession, you would fire them.   Why can’t journalists at this paper conform to professional standards?

Next, one consequence of the tribalism that I referred to is that there is no balance or nuance in Mr Kenny’s presentation.  What we get is the ‘me against you’ of Arsenal v Liverpool – all out conflict.  This intolerance is blighting our public life, and this piece of Mr Kenny is a very sad example.

What do the arguments of the other side amount to?  ‘Their nonsense.’  And ‘their nonsense dominates.’  We get this sense of persecution, of victimhood, two things that this paper inveighs against.  And we get the hallmark of the Arsenal tribe – you don’t respond to the premises of the argument; you go straight for the throat of the person who has the gall to ignore plain ‘facts’ and to promote such ‘nonsense.’  It is not surprising that both parts of what Mr Kenny calls the ‘political/media class’ are in such bad odour.

Finally, what drives Mr Kenny to adopt a position on Trump that would strike many, if not most, as delusional?  I’m not sure what ‘mainstream’ entails, but no one would call Trump mainstream.  (He would be appalled at the suggestion.)  Mr Kenny does, I think – like Mr Abbott, at least until 2013 – like to see himself as a ‘conservative.’  That’s another weasel term, but again no one would call Trump conservative.  He is a radical out to blow up the Establishment.  Some say Trump is a ‘populist’.  That’s another watery, limp-wristed phrase, but no meaning of populism equates with any meaning of conservatism.

What then is driving Mr Kenny here?  Does he think that either mainstream party in Australia could enhance its chances at the ballot box by championing Donald Trump and proclaiming that he has so far done nothing wrong?  Is this the strait to which what Mr Kelly calls ‘the right’ has been reduced in Australia?

Well, that’s enough for now.  I will look at the balance of the quoted text later.

Happy new year.

Here and there – Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is not just admired.  He is revered.  He was decent, shrewd and sensible.  He had immense moral and intellectual courage.  Out of the humblest origins, he schooled himself on the King James Bible and Shakespeare, and then the law, and he carved out in marble his written understanding of his nation.  He was a consummate politician while remaining a decent human being – something we sadly find it hard to comprehend now.  He may be the only known exception to the rule that all power corrupts.  He held the United States together by the force of his being.  It would be neither silly nor blasphemous to see in his life and death a replay of the redemption story.  Lincoln gave his life to redeem his people from the original sin of slavery.

Historical novels are not my scene.  I prefer one or the other, and not an ersatz combination of both.  An exception is Lincoln by Gore Vidal.  I have just read it for the third time.  I was first referred to it thirty years ago by a friend in politics.  He said that this book precisely captures the factional strife of party politics.  He was surely dead right.  Some of the plots and conspiracies would make Le Carré jealous and make Yes Minister look tame.  Vidal precisely pictures not just Lincoln, but each member of his cabinet – none of whom thought he was up to the job when he started, and most of whom would plot against him.  It required political genius of the highest order for Lincoln to survive the incompetence if not cowardice of his generals, and the disloyalty or corruption of his cabinet.

The book starts with Lincoln travelling secretly to Washington for what would be his first inauguration.  At the same time, the novel starts to track those would be involved in his assassination.  The issue of the war remains apparently open until near the end.

Here is a scene about halfway through the book.  It is before the battle of Gettysburg, and the emergence of the two generals that would bring Lincoln home, Grant and Sherman.  (Sherman said that he looked after Grant when he was drunk, and that Grant looked after him when he was mad.)  Lincoln goes to the front.  He passes what he is a told is a facility for southern boys who have been wounded.  Over the protests of security, Lincoln insists on going in to see these young men.  Any one of them would have been proud to have killed Lincoln in cold blood.  The sight and stench, even the sounds, inside the tent would have been unbearable to anyone reading this note.  Remember that Lincoln’s portrait was on the greenback.

When the colonel started to call the men to attention, the President stopped him with a gesture.  Then Lincoln walked the length of the room, very slowly, looking to left and right, with his dreamy smile.  At the end of the room, he turned and faced the wounded men; then, slowly, he removed his hat.  All eyes that could see now saw him, and recognised him.

When Lincoln spoke, the famous trumpet-voice was muted; even intimate.  ‘I am Abraham Lincoln.’  There was a long collective sigh of wonder and of tension and of…..?  Washburne [a Congressman and friend] had never heard a sound quite like it.  ‘I know that you have fought gallantly for what you believe in, and for that I honour you, and for your wounds so honourably gained.  I feel no anger in my heart toward you; and trust you feel none for me.  That is why I am here.  That is why I am willing to take the hand, in friendship, of any man among you.’

The same long sigh, like a rising wind, began, and still no one spoke.  Then a man on crutches approached the President and, in perfect silence, shook his hand.  Others came forward, one by one; and each took Lincoln’s hand; and to each he murmured something that the man alone could hear.

At the end, as Lincoln made his way between the beds, stopping to talk to those who could not move, half of the men were in tears, as was Washburne himself.

In the last bed by the door, a young officer turned his back on the President, who touched his shoulder and murmured, ‘My son, we shall all be the same at the end.’  Then the President was gone.

Now, that passage might stand for the dilemma of the historical novel.  How do we know this happened?  Is it true of Lincoln?  Having read the replies of Vidal to his critics, I am confident of the answer to each question.  The book was scrupulously sourced, and vetted by one of Lincoln’s best biographers, and this incident is consistent with all we know of Lincoln.

It’s also consistent with our experience.  We know that some people – some heroes – are of such obviously strong character, and such proven fine history, that their mere physical presence can have an effect on total strangers that is as unreal as it is uplifting.  I have seen this with my own eyes with people touched by merely being in the presence of Muhammad Ali, in a mysterious way that they thought might change their lives.  I have heard about from those who were in the presence of Nelson Mandela.  Some people, a very tiny few, have this magical power.  Some of them, like Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King, would pay the ultimate price for challenging the status quo.

So, in a way, did Lincoln.  His story is one of the great epics of mankind, and in my view it is wonderfully unfolded in this book by Gore Vidal.

Curiously, the attractive power of innocence was explored by Herman Melville in his novella called Billy Budd.  The hero embodies innocence.  Claggart, the villain, embodies evil.  The book is another redemption story.  Melville began his story by describing how sailors when they went ashore gathered around one who was the ‘Handsome Sailor’.  ‘With no perceptible trace of the vainglorious about him, rather with the off-hand unaffectedness of natural regality, he seemed to accept the spontaneous homage of his shipmates.’  That is a reasonable description of Lincoln and his government – when they got to know him.

Here is my note on Lincoln from another publication (Men of Genius).

Lincoln

1809-1865

The problem of slavery was resolved by force of arms and the effect of what might be seen as a failed revolution was stated in terms that still today can produce a tremble in the bottom lip of people who have never even set foot in America.

Abraham Lincoln did not come from the middle class or higher.  He was born in the backblocks in a log cabin in Kentucky.  He learned his law lying on his back with his feet up a tree.  This largely self-taught lawyer practised in Illinois and rode on horseback on circuit when he slept fully clothed head to toe with opposing counsel.

He had one supreme advantage over most of us.  He was better educated.  He was brought up on the King James Bible and Shakespeare, and his young mind was unsullied by tripe or trivia.  Lincoln may well be the most consummate politician who has ever lived, and he may also be one of the very few in all history who was not corrupted by power.  He had, of course, no time for political theory.  It was by the force of his character that the union that we know as the United States of America was held together and then defined afresh.  Without Abraham Lincoln, our world in the West would be very different.  He is the supreme political genius in the history of the world.

To go a little out of order, Lincoln in his second inaugural address left no doubt that the Union was redeeming itself in the course of the Civil War.  He said that at the start of the war, one eighth of the population were coloured slaves.  He went on with some very direct statements about religion:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained.  Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease.  Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding.  Both read the same Bible, and prayed to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.  It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in bringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged.  The prayers of both could not be answered – that of neither has been answered fully.

Lincoln then went on to say that the ‘scourge of war’ would ‘continue until all of the wealth piled up by the bondsmen’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and every drop of blood drawn with a lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword …’ The nation that started with the Puritans was therefore redeeming itself from the sin of slavery with its own blood.  Lincoln concluded that inaugural address with the famous passage that begins:  ‘With malice toward none ….’

Less than four months before his re-inauguration, Abraham Lincoln had stated his vision for his nation at the dedication of a cemetery at the site of a three-day battle, one of the bloodiest of a very bloody war, the battle of Gettysburg.  People who have seen the TV documentary, The Civil War, may recall that the late Shelby Foote said that after Lincoln had read his address ‘in his thin piping voice,’ he was worried about it.  He said that it did not ‘scour’.  For good reason, that address is now chiselled into the Lincoln Memorial at Washington, D.C., and it is an essential part of the fabric not just of the American nation, but of western civilization.

Lincoln had a well-oiled logical machine in his mind.  He would as a matter of course build the premises of his argument into the structure of his prose.  There is just one thing to note about that process here.  He starts by referring to ‘a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal’.  We know that statement was false when it was first made.  Lincoln goes on immediately to say that the Civil War is to test ‘whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure’. The Civil War was therefore being fought to make good the original declaration of equality.  It is the same redemptive vision, almost a biblical redemptive vision.  The great republic would redeem its original sin with its own blood.

Here then is how the great Abraham Lincoln defined his vision of the free republic of the United States:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note nor long remember what we may say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us –that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 9

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

9

Secret police

Police are people employed by government to enforce the law.  Secret police are police whose work and identities are kept as secret as possible.  They might sometimes be described as ‘under cover.’  The word Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police) is now used throughout the world to signify the most terrifying form of secret police.  The word Stasi, from the DDR, is less well known, but stands for a police that is forbidding, intrusive, repressive, and everywhere.

The ‘police’ at large in the French Revolution played a very minor part in the Terror compared to the part played by secret police in Communist (or Bolshevik) Russia and Nazi Germany.  Those two regimes are models of the police state and the totalitarian state, and it is not surprising then that their police agencies, especially the secret police, were at the very top of the pyramid of power, second only to the dictator.  In France, there was no police force as we understand that term during the revolution, and we only get to see police operating at anything like that level under Fouché and Napoleon.

Fouché survived the revolution and Napoleon, and he showed amazing versatility to do so – Napoleon made Fouché his chief of police and later ennobled him, but he never trusted him.  Fouché, like Talleyrand, betrayed Napoleon and lived.  Like Talleyrand, he had a rat cunning bordering on greatness.  Georges Lefebvre says that ‘what really put an end to the attempts on his [Napoleon’s] life was the terror and the perfection of police surveillance.’

Stalin and Hitler ran totalitarian states – everything is controlled by the state.  Power comes from the force realised by channelling numbers.  Stalin saw all government as a ‘transmission belt connecting the party with the people.’  He believed that Soviet greatness came from the ‘cadres’ of the party – the police.  The secret police were the elite of the Party and they were only drawn from the ranks of the party.  Hitler said that sixty thousand men ‘have outwardly become almost a unit, that actually these men are uniform not only in ideas, but that even the facial expression is almost the same.  Look at these laughing eyes, this fanatical enthusiasm and you will discover…..how a hundred thousand men in a movement become a single type.’  This is a horrifying glimpse of the SS, and Hitler only committed suicide after he concluded that the SS had failed him and could no longer be relied on – the ‘best’ of them were blowing their brains out all around him.

The object of the secret police is to eliminate the enemies of the state.  All dictators rely on their secret services and for that reason they may be vulnerable to them, as was the case with the Roman Emperors and the Praetorian Guard.  Himmler’s position as Reichsfuhrer-SS and head of German police effectively put the police in the hands of the SS and achieved some kind of unity of party and state.  The SS was the new Praetorian Guard, and the sole armed branch of the party, the elite from which the future leadership would be drawn.  Totalitarian dictatorships invariably become police states.

Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism distinguished between suspects – those who are suspected of breaking the law or of being an actual threat to the regime – and ‘objective enemies’.  People come within the class of objective enemies not because they want to overthrow the regime, but because of a policy of the government to exclude or condemn them simply because they are members of a class – like kulaks for Stalin, or Jews or Gypsies or homosexuals for Hitler.

These targets are not individuals whose dangerous thoughts might be provoked or whose individual histories warrants suspicion, but members of a class who are like ‘carriers of tendencies’, like a carrier of a disease.  The Nazis frequently invoked the analogy of disease when speaking of Jews or Gypsies.  Hans Frank distinguished between those ‘dangerous to the state’ and those ‘hostile to the state.’  A lawyer who went over to the SS said in an obituary of Heydrich that he regarded his opponents not ‘as individuals but as carriers of tendencies endangering the state and therefore beyond the pale of the national community.’    Hannah Arendt expressed this mordant view:  ‘Practically speaking, the totalitarian ruler proceeds like a man who persistently insults another man until everybody knows that the latter is his enemy, so that he can, with some plausibility, go and kill him in self-defence.  This certainly is a little crude, but it works – as everybody will know whoever watched how certain successful careerists eliminate competitors’.

A French historian of the Tsarist Okhrana said that provocation was ‘the foundation stone’ of the secret police.  After 1848 in Europe it may be hard to find much anti-government action for some time that was not inspired, or provoked, by the secret police.  But they hardly have to resort to provocation if they can put people away on suspicion.  And what happens if the agents eliminate any apparent threats and then look like they may have disposed of the objective enemies?

Most civil servants are seasoned at concealing any basis for suggesting that they are superfluous.  Secret police, like arms manufacturers, find ways to generate demand for their services, but the secret police may become entirely dependent on government to identify sufficient targets to keep them in work.  It looks like Hitler was thinking of turning on Germans who were not physically good enough, and that Stalin was looking to turn on the Jews, perhaps as a comradely gesture to his satellites who were predisposed in that direction.

Fouché was if nothing else flexible and financially adept, and during his time and later, secret police would seek to profit from their victims.  A simple way would be to go into partnership in illegal activities like prostitution and gambling.  In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, cadres of ‘chastity commissars’ lived off the earnings of blackmail.  The NKVD lived off the exploitation of slave labour: the labour in the gulag paid for the apparatus that got people inside in the first place.  Himmler first financed his SS through the confiscation of Jewish property.  The SS raised funds the way political parties and cultural institutions do – people who became ‘Friends of the SS’ might ‘volunteer’ donations in return for benefits that might not be so easily defined – perhaps what we call a ‘get out of jail card.’

Stalin’s need for purges extended to the secret police.  People got improved positions when others got shot.  Informers are offered incentives.  Each jobholder becomes complicit in the system, a conscious accomplice of Stalin.  This is likely to turn them into more ardent supporters of the regime.  The wielders of the highest power get to understand the nature of caprice and arbitrariness, and this in no way abates their professional inhumanity and dedicated cruelty.  It is just this randomness that tears away by the roots the very humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Yet the all-embracing secrecy leaves people with a capacity for denial.  They all know that people disappear, and that they do not come back, and they suspect many of these may be ‘innocent’, if there is such a thing, but they also know that the one way to end up the same is by talking about this kind of thing.  The one thing that you do not talk about is anything that is ‘secret’.  Even a child knows that.

Passing Bull 129 – Fake conservatives

 

The word ‘conservative’ has had its political ups and downs, but of late it has been debauched if not hijacked.  Conservatism found its most classical expression in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.  The English preferred evolution to revolution.  They relished their history and traditions; they revelled in their own mystique.  They suspected change.  Burke said that their ‘opposed and conflicting interests…interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions; they render deliberation a matter not of choice, but of necessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets moderation; they produce temperaments, preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations…’  And the French?  ‘You set up your trade without…capital.’

Now, that is very English.  Our state of mind comes from our experience of history.  ‘Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta.’  And the big reformation secured the separation of Church and State in a typically perverse English fashion.  All this was in aid of ‘liberty’ – ‘Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself.’

An American legal scholar W D Guthrie expressed Burk’s thought on the 700th anniversary of Magna Carta.

…..everything which has power to win the obedience and respect of men must have its roots deep in the past, and the more slowly institutions have grown, so much the more enduring are they likely to prove.

Guthrie later spoke of ‘the rare and difficult sentiment’ of ‘constitutional morality.’  Its essence is ‘self -imposed restraint’.  Its antithesis is ‘the most fallacious and dangerous doctrine that has ever appeared among men, that the people are infallible and can do no wrong.’  A ‘populist’ and a ‘conservative’ are two clean different things.

These views flow naturally from the Anglo-American legal tradition.  We are looking at a certain type or cast of legal or political thought.  How, then, would a ‘conservative’, so described look at some of our main political issues?

Take our handling of refugees.  History is not a good guide.  Historically, Australians have not acted well toward people of a different faith or colour, and the present government recently flirted with one of the more obnoxious disguises used in the White Australia policy.  But putting to one side plain human decency, our treatment of refugees flouts Magna Carta and legal obligations undertaken to the world community.  To that extent, a conservative must condemn our policy.

Take marriage equality.  A conservative would argue that allowing same sex marriage expands the notion of liberty that underlies our whole dispensation.  There are problems with that contention, but there are more problems with the very idea that the proposal might be opposed on the ground of religion.  Our separation of church and state is recognised in our constitution in a way that is the direct opposite of the English version.

Yes, marriage has been between a man and a woman since Biblical times, but while antiquity may appeal to conservatives, it cannot rule them.  Slavery has a history as long as that of marriage.  As Burke said: ‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.’  That in my view is the real lesson of the French Revolution, but of one thing we may be sure – Burke would have been horrified and Disraeli would have been mortified by the suggestion that the Parliament refer the issue to the plebs.  That to them would have been a fatal abdication.  Labels have limits – Burke was a conservative Whig and Disraeli was a radical Tory.

Take our reaction to climate change.  It’s now common ground that we have made a mess of it, and fools of ourselves.  It’s hard to see how the issue could have become political, much less ideological.  It would be tart, but not ridiculous, to suggest that the first job of a conservative is to conserve the planet, but you struggle to find any principle to the opposition to the findings of science.  All you get are populist diversions about the price or reliability of power.  It’s what we used to call the ‘hip-pocket nerve.’

Now, you will know that some in parliament and in the Murdoch press who call themselves ‘conservatives’ hold views opposite to those set out above.  Some do it out of malice; others do it for money.  Either way, it’s hard to see any underlying political principle.  But it’s easy to see a surrender to the mob.  What you don’t see is anything like the compromise, moderation or temperaments described by Burke or the self-restraint described by Guthrie.  None of these parliamentarians is temperamentally given to compromise, moderation or self-restraint.

What you have is a repudiation of conservatism.  It’s time these people were called out.  They are not of the right sort of mind.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 7

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

7

Waves of Terror

The Terror in France was an accident of history, substantially driven by people and events outside France.  In Russia and Germany, Terror was integral to the revolution from the start.  In France, terror was what was thought to be a temporary expedient to keep the ship of state afloat; in Russia and Germany, terror was just one facet of the whole apparatus of the new government.  When either said that terror or the police state was imperative for the security of the state, they were referring to the security of the party or its leader or leaders.  In France, at least at the start, it was the nation that was in peril.

The French reasonably believed that Terror was an emergency condition, and that they could quit it when the emergency had passed.  The Russians may or may not have believed that the state would just wither away, but neither Lenin nor Stalin showed any sign of believing that the Party could quit its methods.  There is no reason to suppose that the Nazis ever thought that the One Thousand Year Reich would ever be able to go without the SS, the Gestapo, or Dachau.  To the extent that they ever thought about it, they presumably thought that they could dispense with Auschwitz only when it had no more work to do.

In France, the demands for what we would call strong government and repression came from the bottom, the sans-culottes (blue collars), as much as from anywhere else.  The reason was simple – their need for protection in their personal security was greatest, and less likely to be deflected by some elevated theories about abstract rights of man or what we call civil liberties.

In France, terror came from the street.  Violence and terror were part of the course of events from 14 July 1789 until Napoleon took over, when a more orthodox version of the Police State was set up

The Assembly initially had conservative members who were looking for a constitutional monarchy and who did not like the more radical and populist leanings of the Jacobins.  These were called the Feuillants and early on they had a majority and they were the source of the ministry.  The popular uprising that saw the downfall of the monarchy and the setting up of the Paris Commune in August 1792 brought an end to the effective office of the crown and the political relevance of the Feuillants.

The next conservative group would be called the Gironde or Girondistes because of their connections with Bordeaux.  These people like Brissot and Vergniaud were very cultivated and capable – and therefore very likely to get up the noses of those not so blessed.  Marat loathed the Gironde.  They more than loathed Marat.  They arraigned him, then the President of the Jacobins, before the Revolutionary Tribunal, but they failed.  The Gironde then sought to overthrow the commune by arresting Hébert and other extremists known as Enragés.  After a popular uprising, the Girondins were arrested and liquidated. When the wheel turned, their executioners would in turn be executed and the Girondins would later be celebrated.

Members of a rival club to the Jacobins, the Cordeliers, and what we would now call the extreme left – the Enragés – were liquidated.  Then it became the turn of Danton and Desmoulins.  Danton was sickened by the bloodshed and this evidence of humanity on his part was fatal.  Camille Desmoulins, who had been there since day one, went in the same batch.  He told the Tribunal that he was 33, ‘the same age as the sans-culotte Jesus Christ when he died’.  The people who had died for seeking clemency, because they were then opposing the regime, are sometimes called the ‘Indulgents’.

The end came quickly.  Fouché, who was to have the honour of intriguing against both Robespierre and Napoleon, was not a lawyer, but he was a survivor.  He mingled among people saying, ‘You are on the list, you are on the list as well as myself; I’m certain’. When the game changed, Robespierre tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the face.  The attempt failed.  When the executioner ripped off the bandage on the scaffold, Robespierre let out a primal scream.  The Terror was over.  There had been about 1,500 executions in seven weeks.  In the wash-up, the acolytes of Robespierre, and the prosecutor and executioner felt the blade that they had dropped on thousands of others.

The Russian Revolution was conceived in hate and born in violence.  Since Russia got nowhere near the rule of law while the Communists held power, and it has never done so before or since, it is not surprising that violence and terror stayed with the regime all its life.  The major terror in Russia is however associated with Stalin in the thirties.  Stalin was naturally given to paranoia.  He knew that Lenin had wanted to warn the party off him.  This was of course kept secret, but it worked on Stalin.  When a comrade roundly criticised him, Stalin wanted to have him shot ‘as a terrorist’.

Professor Hosking has defined the communist mentality:  ‘They had all seen the world as a battleground between good and evil, the good tinged with millennial hopes, and the evil with apocalyptic forebodings.  They and those entering the party from 1917 had forged their new world in the furnace of civil war.  They had adopted the methods, the mentality, and the discourse of the battlefield, including intense self-sacrifice and loyalty to their own comrades, murderous hate of the enemy, and disdain for normal moral standards.  By the early 1930’s all party documents, the speeches and articles of the leaders, were couched in language of this kind and expressed identical sentiments.  The unified rhetoric had become compulsory: anyone who failed to use it might be identified as a ‘deviationist’ and lose any hope of further advancement.  Those who had ‘deviated’ at some time were expected now to confess their errors and swing into step with their comrades’ marching columns.  The rise to power of Hitler in Germany finally sealed this closing of the ranks.  Rhetoric now became virtual reality, perhaps even reality itself.’  The Russians were heading toward the moral and intellectual black hole that we would see in China and North Korea.

The party was made the subject of rolling purges.  Show trials were put on before an incredulous world press, with fantastic and induced and concocted confessions.  The purges became cyclical, rather as they had in France.  First you barred someone, and then you exterminated them.  The intelligentsia, or the nomenklatura, got it the worst.  Of the one hundred and thirty nine members of the Central Committee of the Congress of Victors, one hundred and ten were later arrested.  Of one thousand, nine hundred and sixty six delegates, one thousand, one hundred disappeared.  Stalin was getting rid of those who knew him when he was younger, or who may have known of the testament of Lenin.  The cyclical vengeance of the French revolution looks tame indeed.  Even so, Stalin echoed Robespierre: ‘Everyone who arouses the slightest suspicion should be removed’ (murdered).

Seniority in the party carried its own risks – those lower down in the ranks were always on the look-out for an opportunity to denounce a superior in order to get his job, and Stalin must have known that most victims were ‘innocent’, a word of no meaning to him or his cadres.  Stalin said that if just five per cent of the people who had been arrested turned out to be real enemies, ‘that would be a good result.’  Yezhov advised his NKVD operatives that if ‘an extra thousand people are shot, that is not such a big deal’.  Yezhov too would be shot.

All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  When did you last see a dictator resign – or be fondly remembered?

Here and there – Working the Constitution

 

Walter Bagehot (pronounced as in Paget) is fondly remembered at The Economist.  He edited that journal for some time and in 1867 – just before Disraeli, a Tory PM, enfranchised the working class – he published a book called The English Constitution.  It had great impact, and it still does in Conservative circles.  The author claimed to have found the ‘secret’, between the ‘efficient’ working of the constitution and the ‘dignified’ part.  We might be more wary of such journalistic flare nowadays, especially when it rests on labels, but there is something to the distinction.

The book is now hopelessly passed its historical shelf time.  After about four pages, you are told that if you are not convinced that the lower classes are ‘narrow-mined, unintelligent, incurious’ then ‘you should go into their kitchens’ and ‘try what seems .the most obvious, most certain, most palpable in intellectual matters, upon the housemaid and the footman’ and you will find what he says seems ‘unintelligible, confused and erroneous.’

Dear, dear, dear.  Class then was caste – at the bottom as well as the top.  The author celebrates the distinct constitutional role of the aristocracy, while he maintained that in England they were no separate caste – at least as a matter of law.  And as Richard Crossman pointed out in the Introduction, Bagehot had that centuries old English ruling class fear of educating the lower orders in case that caused them to rock the boat.  They shared this fear with the Church.  Bagehot said that ‘what I conceive to be about the most essential mental quality for a free people, whose liberty is to be progressive, permanent, and on a large scale: it is much stupidity.’  Or, try this: ‘a political combination of the lower classes, as such and for their own objects, is an evil of the first magnitude.’  What kind of political genius, then, was Disraeli?

But the book does offer comment on the malaise of our times.

Bagehot said that the ‘the efficient secret of the English Constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion, of the executive and legislative power.’  This of course is banned in the U S.  They rest on a doctrinaire embrace of theory that has never taken hold in the mother country.  Like the French, the Americans – fresh from a brawl with a monarch they neither understood, not trusted – wanted an absolute line of demarcation between legislature and the executive.  That has never been the case in England or Australia.

Crossman thought (in 1963) that the ‘theory of checks and balances….is now a fiction’.  Well, it doesn’t look too fictitious in America where putting a spoke in the wheel has become the main game.  Accordingly, Crossman thought that once ‘elected by the Commons, the Prime Minister exerts powers greater than those of any American President.’  That’s a fair topic for a pub debate.

But there has to be a workable parliament.  Critically for our purposes, Bagehot saw two conditions as ‘essential to the bare possibility of parliamentary government’ – the independence of the individual Member and the moderation of the House of Commons.’  He thought that both would be destroyed by strengthening the party machine outside parliament.

Well, that’s what happened.  The centre of power shifted from the parliament to the party machine outside it.  The individual member lost his independence and the legislature lost its moderation.  And its sense.  Australia has just spent $120 million on a plebiscite that most people didn’t want, on an issue that most regarded as decided, because one faction of a party persuaded the whole party – one nominally committed to the cause of liberty – to ban its members from voting in parliament on an issue as a matter of conscience.  It’s hard to think of a more complete, or revolting, vindication of the prophecy of Bagehot.

What holds together the effective government in England, the Cabinet, is a ‘combination of party loyalty, collective responsibility and secrecy.’  But, again, you need to have a decent parliament, one not composed of ‘warm partisans.’  Now all we see are hot partisans.  In the US, a Republican may lose endorsement from the Party for not being partisan enough – or be attacked by the President for being the wrong kind of Partisan.  The very word ‘moderation’ is suspect, if not dirty.

The powers of Cabinet have been eroded by Whitehall, but it is the dominance of the party that has reordered all that Bagehot described.  Crossman quotes a French observer: ‘Parliament and Government are like two machines driven by the same motor – the Party.  The regime is not so very different in this respect from the single party system.  Executive and legislature, Government and Parliament are constitutional facades: in reality the party alone exercises power.’

These things are matters of degree, but that’s how at least some saw government in England one hundred years after Bagehot wrote his book.  As a result, Crossman says that resignations on principle and dismissals for incompetence have become rare.  ‘Party loyalty has become the prime political virtue required of an MP, and the test of that loyalty is his willingness to support the official leadership when he knows it to be wrong….It is what is said and done in the secrecy of the party meeting which is now really important – though the public can only hear about it through leaks to the press.’

What then was the role of opposition?  In Crossman’s time they played safe and went in for shadow-boxing.  Why?  The alternative was to obstruct over time and so halt the process of government. ‘But by taking opposition to this level, an Opposition lays itself open to the charge of extremism and irresponsibility, and may well lose the support of that mass of floating voters which it must hope to win in order to turn out the government.’

Well, all that, too, has come to pass.  Immoderation is the order of the day for opposition.  The Government determines its policies in secret, and the Opposition does its best to jam the system.  The spirit of the game has just gone.

Now, this may seem silly – but none of that looks very ‘democratic.’  (As an aside, Crossman says that Britain’s decision to explode an atom bomb never reached Cabinet, let alone Parliament – before or after the event.)  Many people feel estranged by and from the process.  They don’t trust the people involved.  They don’t like them.

We are coming to grips with flaws in the two party model – after the public at large has in substance rejected it.  One problem is the fact that we only get to vote for people selected by the party.  We have no control over that process, and we are increasingly despondent about its results.

Our constitutional framework has another big problem that was not about in Crossman’s time.  The whole process of government required a professional and dispassionate civil service.  On various fronts that notion has taken massive hits in Australia.  We have seen the rise of political advisers.  They are neither professional nor dispassionate.  They tend to be people on the make and people who are not easy for others to fall in love with – particularly when, after they flop, they slink off unemployably to share their chagrin on Sky News.  It is both odd and sad that this erosion of this part of our constitutional dispensation has gone largely unnoticed.

So, what Bagehot and Crossman said does bear on our political ill health.  We are witnessing a collapse of decency and sense in public life across the West.  The mot de jour is ‘polarised.’  Moderation is out.  The centre cannot hold.  We look with Yeats upon those who lack all conviction and at those who are full of passionate intensity.  In England, a movement promoted to return something called ‘sovereignty’ to the Parliament is at risk of surrendering just that sovereignty to something called the ‘people.’  While the people of the U S and the U K are losing faith in their governments, the standing of those nations among others has collapsed.

The collapse of faith and trust was described by Thucydides in Greece thousands of years ago.

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings.  What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely one way of saying that you were a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; an ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.  Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence.  Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect.  To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching.  If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of the fear of the opposition.  In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at all.  Family relations were a weaker tie than party membership….Revenge was more important than self-preservation…..Indeed, it is true that in these acts of revenge on others men take it upon themselves to begin the process of repealing those general laws of humanity which are there to give a hope of salvation to all those who are in distress, instead of leaving those laws in existence, remembering that there may come a time when they, too, will be in danger and need protection.

The fact that we have seen it all before is not much comfort.  For me, working with the law, and in particular the common law, comes down to a state of mind.  I know that answer will disappoint or infuriate the theorist or scientist – or, for that matter, the fanatic – but it’s the best I can do.  I think the same goes for government.  The problem is that that’s where I think we have lost it.

Passing Bull 128 – How good is popularity?

 

When the Beatles were at the height of their appeal, their popularity was almost immeasurable.  They could do no wrong.  Their wealth was immense.  A lot of the noise came from schoolgirls screaming out their puberty, but there was no doubting the general popularity of the band.  They were about as big as Elvis Presley.

But did this immense popularity signify anything about the inherent quality of their music – as opposed to the huge saleability of their product?  It would have been absurd to say that the Beatles were on a par with Mozart – and just as absurd to say that Elvis was on a par with Frank Sinatra – or even Bing Crosby.  If an entertainer is popular, he or she is to that extent succeeding in their chosen pursuit.  It’s the same with politicians.  If they are sufficiently popular to win the required number of votes, they may be elected into office – like a pope at the College of Cardinals.  That level of popularity and of votes entitles them to claim the prize or title of office.  But does it do any more?  Does it entitle them to say that they have some kind of seal of approval on the quality of their policies or their character?

Simply as a matter of logic, the fact that a given number of people like you or your policies does not of itself entail that either you or your policies have some intrinsic worth.  A proposition about worth does not follow from a proposition about popular appeal.  You have only to reflect on popular will in its purest form of action – the lynch mob – or the characters of probably the three most popular political leaders of the twentieth century – Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in, say, 1938 – to see how doubtful a signifier mere popularity is.  The leader of North Korea is almost certainly more popular in his own country than the leader of the United States.

If someone claims vindication or exoneration from a win in a political process, they will invite at least two questions.  Did the process have integrity?  Was there a quality field – who did the winner have to beat?  In Australian terms, was he or she up against a drover’s dog?

The election of Trump falters on each.  Australians think the U S system is flawed because voting is not compulsory.  Democrats say the system is loaded against them.  Trump did not win the popular vote.  The Electoral College does not perform its original function.  And many people voted against Trump’s opponent rather than for him.  Many of his supporters are still in that mode.  They will support any measure that goes against what the Democrats did – especially if it involved the nation’s first black president.

So, it would be very hard to argue that the electoral triumph of Trump somehow validates either him, or his policies.  To the extent that we can identify policies he laid out before the election – such as building a wall, or excluding Muslims – then as President he would have both the right and the duty to seek to implement those policies.  (It’s best to avoid that weasel word mandate altogether.)

But to claim that his election as President in some way validates those policies is as sound as saying that the election of Hitler as Chancellor validated Mein Kampf, including the elimination of Jews and the annihilation of Russia.  Then you might ask whether Trump’s announced policies entitled him to present a budget which helps the rich, hurts those under the rich, and bankrupts the nation.

All that is clear enough, but we get keep being assured that the election of Trump does in some way validate both himself and his policies.

The issue has crystallized in Alabama.  In most political bodies, Roy Moore would be hors de combat because of his found misbehaviour as a judge.  In England and Australia, he would have no hope because he is a sanctimonious, bible-bashing hypocrite.  He would certainly have no chance anywhere that politics is rational in light of the credible allegations of sexual predation against him – and his dreadful response to those allegations.  In many places he would be hopelessly on the nose on the sole ground that this whole fiasco is the product of a faction fight within one party sponsored by a nasty, rich Leninist named Bannon.

But what about the similar allegations of sexual misconduct against the President?  With the straight face that becomes serial liars, the White House says that the American nation elected Trump with full knowledge of the allegations.

For reasons I have sought to give, this proposition entails no logically relevant consequence.  This case is a fortiori – a successful candidate wants to argue that winning an election doesn’t just validate policies – it also erases sin, or the allegation of sin.  And this is where the candidate is a proven liar; he has denied the allegations; he has said he would sue the complainants well knowing that he would never do so; and where he has given evidence that he is a serial sexual predator.  And the White House says their case is stronger than that of a Democrat senator who has admitted to and apologised for a lesser offence.

The Republicans have another problem with saying that Trump has been cleared by his being elected.  They will move to block Moore even if he is elected.  They are apparently choosy about which popular choice they will regard as valid.

The events in Alabama also show how the prejudices of an electorate can show why electoral success can so rarely be cited to support some kind of moral validation.  Polls in Alabama show that more than 70% of Christian evangelicals or fundamentalists will vote for Moore despite the evidence of his paedophilia.  Why?  According to a Republican spokesman on CNN, who is against Moore taking a seat on the Senate, this is because Christian evangelicals regard Democrats as being in favour of abortion to the extent that they might fairly be described as murderers.  What is the conclusion of these soi disant Christians?  They would rather vote for a paedophile than a murderer.

God give us strength, and spare us from judgments derived from the will of the people.  We are after all human.  At least one of the Beatles understood this.  The first of them to leave us, John Lennon, said: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock’n’ roll or Christianity.’  The Greeks had word for that kind of thing.  We call it leading with your chin.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 6

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

6

Civil War

In dealing with the conflict between Loyalists and Patriots during the American Revolutionary War, Churchill said there were ‘atrocities such as we have known in our day in Ireland.’  An American general said that each side ‘seemed determined to extirpate’ the other.  There would be nothing new in atrocities, massacres, or depopulation in a fratricidal civil war in France or Russia in the course of or as a result of their revolution.

The Terror in both countries was driven by fear of two things, disintegration from within, and attack and subjection from without.   Any regime that has come to power with violence is apprehensive about its standing.  If they had won power with the gun, might they lose it to the gun?

Lyon was the second city of France, almost a rival capital.  When it rose as a city against Paris, the Committee of Public Safety sent an army to put it down.  After a siege of two months, Lyon capitulated.  The Convention, not just the Committee, decreed its destruction.

A commission extraordinaire was set up to punish the rebels.  The name Lyon was to be struck from the map.  ‘Lyon made war on liberty; Lyon no longer exists.’  Hitler or Himmler could hardly have improved on the covering instruction:  ‘A revolutionary agent may do anything.  He has nothing to fear, except failure to reach the level of republican legality.  He who anticipates this or goes beyond it or even seems to have passed its goal may not yet have reached it.’

One commission could try twenty prisoners an hour.  Using the firing squad as well as the guillotine, they managed to kill twenty-eight a day for two months.  Worryingly for posterity, they experimented with alternative modes of mass killing.  The commission did something that has not been attributed to the Waffen Death’s Head SS – it ordered batches to be killed by shellfire from cannons.  The condemned were blown into open graves after which revolted infantrymen had to move in to finish off the screaming wounded by bayonet or bullet.  One witness wrote home to Paris: ‘What a delicious moment!  How you would have enjoyed it!  What a sight!  Worthy indeed of Liberty!   Wish bon jour to Robespierre.’

The rebels in La Vendée were peasants and farmers led by nobles and priests.  Their revolt struck fear in Paris for a long time, and the retribution was frightful.  The victorious general said: ‘I have crushed children beneath my horses’ hooves, and massacred the women, who thus will give birth to no more brigands….We take no prisoners, they would need to be given the bread of liberty, and pity is not revolutionary.’  Even by the standards of the times, what murderous banality lay there?  Pity is not revolutionary.  What is?  Heartless cruelty?  When most of the fighting men of the Vendée had been finished off, the area was to be cleansed of rebels by a series of colonnes infernales or ‘hell columns’ marching in parallel across the terrain.  Their commander had express written instructions.  They were clear and there is no problem in sourcing them: ‘All brigands taken under arms, or convicted of having taken them up, are to be run through with bayonets.  One will act likewise with women, girls, and children….Those merely suspected are not to be spared’.  The troops equalled the bestiality of Napoleon’s troops in Spain or the Soviet peasants in Berlin in 1945.  About a quarter of a million perished, half at the hands of the Republic.

Many were killed by the noyades, or drowning, another macabre experiment with mass killing.  Barges were towed into the river full of manacled prisoners – they were then sunk, leaving their human cargo to drown.  Others were said to have been bound up in pairs naked, and then thrown into the Loire in ‘republican marriages.’

The Revolution in Russia, as in France, had brought not liberal democracy but anarchy and war.  It was fought with that animal savagery for which this part of the world is known.  The political struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks became a war between the Reds and the Whites.  The efforts of the Red Army in battle were backed up by the efforts of the Red Guards as militia-police.  There was a complete breakdown of order.  One Russian writer described Petrograd as a city of ‘icebergs, mammoths and wastelands’ where ‘cavemen, swathed in hides, blankets and wraps retreated from cave to cave’.  Peasants sought to protect themselves from whichever group sought to control them, or just from hungry locals.  Many peasants, about eighty per cent of the Russian people, who the Communists regarded as the main beneficiaries of the revolution, just wanted to defend their way of life – the Russian way of life – against Communist rule.  Hunger and famine were so bad in some areas that peasants were driven to cannibalism.

Trotsky led the Reds, but the dirty work was done by security police.  The Cheka executed hundreds of people.  At one time, in memory of the French drownings perhaps, they drowned their victims from barges in the Volga.  They applied principles of ‘class justice’.  The judges were to come from the workers.  ‘For the exploiters, the only right that remains is the right of being ‘judged’’.  So said The ABC of Communism: ‘….the greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing for this reason, the better. We must teach these people a lesson right now, so that they will not dare even to think of any resistance for several decades.’  There is Lenin speaking, with the distilled froideur of Saint-Just and Robespierre.

Martial law was imposed, and Trotsky’s military unit became the supreme organ of the State.  They had to call up the peasants, but the Communists did not relate to peasants.  They were a hostile and foreign lot.  Marxism gave a veneer of logic to a base gut reaction – its ‘laws’ of history ‘proved’ that the peasantry was doomed.  Lenin had proved that there would be two classes of peasants – the poor, who were the allies of the proletariat, and the ‘capitalist’ farmers, called ‘kulaks’.  The poor were just despised; the kulaks were loathed and hunted down.  It is no surprise that the Communists reduced Russia to starvation.

The Cheka was its own state.  The Commissariat of justice tried to contain it for a while and then gave up.  It practised the knock on the door in the middle of the night, interrogation and imprisonment without charge, torture, and summary death – it was its own universe.  ‘The Cheka is a fighting organ on the internal front of the civil war…..It does not judge, it strikes’.  That is a reasonable job description of the SS.  One of its earlier tasks was the murder of the whole royal family.  Here was the Terror made flesh – no one was immune to death at the hands of the Cheka.  Trotsky had said: ‘We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.’

Lenin said that it was better to arrest a hundred innocent people than to run the risk of letting one enemy of the regime go free.  That comes close to getting to the heart of the matter.  What mattered was not the welfare of people at large, but protecting the life and way of life of those at the top.  Their methods of torture don’t bear describing.  They were lower than the beasts.

Passing Bull 127 – Elites and religion and Mr Dyson Heydon, AC QC

 

In its ordinary meaning, the ‘elite’ are the chosen or elect.  The Oxford English Dictionary has ‘choice part or flower of society.’  If, therefore, you are part of the elite you might feel blessed – like a cricketer who gets to wear the baggy green cap for Australia.

But of late, in the mood of general gloom, the term has become one of abuse, particularly among those of a reactionary caste of thought.  Never mind that those who use the term as one of derision are invariably rolled gold examples of the elite at least in the general sense of that term – elite has become a sparring glove for the politically restive – like the terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’, which are on any view bullshit.

Donald Trump, we are told, was elected to defy the elites in the U S and to put them in their boxes.  If, then, the elites are those who are opposed to Donald Trump, then in the eyes of the world, and a substantial majority of Americans, the elites stand for all that is decent in American life.

But, hang on – we are also told that Donald Trump was elected to drain the swamp.  Are we then to say that the flower or cream is the same as the swamp?  How could that happen?  The two phrases are of course nebulously silly in equal degree, but they have been taken up on Sky News and at the Australian Spectator.  And enough Americans were silly enough to vote against what they believed were elites and for a person who is as far from being part of the cream or flower of society as you could ever imagine.

So, using the term ‘elites’ as derision has some credentials – even if they are credentials of a peculiarly revolting kind, especially if you add Pauline Hanson and Nigel Farage to the list of progenitors, those worthy battlers for ‘the forgotten people’, those people who those of another creed called the ‘masses.’

On 17 October 2017, Dyson Heydon, A C Q C, gave the inaugural P M Glynn lecture on Religion, Law and Public Life at the Australian Catholic University.  (It has not occurred to me to ask this before, but is there an Australian Protestant University?  What makes this university Catholic?  Are its laws of physics or contract different to the laws of Protestants, agnostics or atheists?)  In his lecture, Mr Heydon said that people were attacking religion at large, Christianity in particular, and that Catholics were principal targets.  Who are making these attacks?

Mr Heydon says that the attacks come from the ‘modern elites.’  Indeed, in the edited version in the press, the term ‘elites’ occurs at least twenty-five times.  The lecture comprises abstractions and labels, and it has barely one statement of verifiable fact, but I do not see a statement of what Mr Heydon means by the term ‘elites’.  And if anyone is part of the elite of Australia, it is surely our learned lecturer, a sometime Justice of the High Court Australia, and a man chosen at the highest levels of government to engage in the highest affairs of state.

Let us then apply the dictionary definition.  That would not be unfair to a former Justice of the High Court.  In the political context that we have, the elite would include people who by character, upbringing and training are well placed to take part in running the community.

Let’s then take two examples – a former P M, Tony Abbott, and a leader of the political commentariat, Andrew Bolt – and see if they fit the model of the portrait of elites painted by Mr Heydon at the Australian Catholic University.  That model is as follows.

The public voices of the modern elites are not humble.  They conceive themselves to have entitlements and rights, not blessings.  They desire to exclude any role for religion in Australian public discussion, and perhaps any role for religion at all in any sphere, public or private.  They instantly demand an apology for any statement they dislike.  They seem to waver between contradictory contentions: that Christ never existed, that Christ was never crucified, or that the Roman soldiers attempting the crucifixion were so incompetent that Christ merely fell unconscious, and never actually died on the cross.  They fail to condemn these examples of subhuman behaviour.  Does this not show their acceptance of these views?  They have moved from mere indifference to fanatical anti-clericalism.  Some want to destroy faith itself.  Their tolerance is tyrannical – ‘if you try to say you disagree and why, you deserve to be, and will be, hounded out of all decent society.’  They only pay lip-service to freedom of religion.  By failing to denounce evils, they associate themselves with those evils.  This weakens their case.  They do not desire tolerance.  They demand unconditional surrender.  They are discourteous.  They are the sorts of people who do not give up their seats on public transport to the pregnant, the elderly, or the infirm.  They shout rather than argue.  They reject the fundamental part of the Christian tradition that is the source of the modern world and their own favoured position in it.  They welcome tyranny.  They seek to destroy their inheritance from secular liberalism.

And so it goes.

Now, Mr Abbott and Mr Bolt have their critics, and indeed enemies, but they have not been guilty of any of that kind of stuff.  People who say that Christ never existed or who refuse to stand for a pregnant woman are at best complete nuts and at worst total shits.  Fortunately, I have never met one of them.  Mr Heydon doesn’t refer to any of them by name.  What’s he on about?

The clue comes with the denunciation of the catch-cry: ‘why don’t religious people stop forcing their opinions on everyone else.’  ‘This is a call for what in Germany in the 1940’s would have been called a compulsory inner emigration.’  I haven’t the faintest notion of what that Mr Heydon might mean by that, but I am one of those who have asked just such a question – on these pages – and I’m not wildly thrilled to be directed to compare myself with someone in Nazi Germany as a consequence.

As best I can see, Mr Heydon does not mention marriage equality or assisted dying, but I suspect that it is the debate over those two issues that is behind most of Mr Heydon’s tortured angst.  A lot of people, including me, are opposed to people seeking to translate into law beliefs on moral issues that derive from a religion based on revelation.  It is one thing for a person to take a leap of faith – it is altogether a different thing to seek to impose views formed after such a leap of faith on others – with the force of law.

There is a long history – at least a century of it – of real hostility in Australia to people seeking to alter the political landscape by views derived from contested areas of faith.  You need only mention the names Mannix and Santamaria.  And now you can add the name of the primate who authorised a donation of one million dollars to the ‘No’ campaign in the marriage equality debate.

Fairly or otherwise, a lot of Australians are offended by the idea of the plebiscite, and they believe that they wouldn’t have had to put up with this expensive insult had it not been for the determination of some people of the Christian faith, especially Catholics, to impose their views on others.  If religious people want to get angry about this reaction to them – and Mr Heydon plainly does – that’s a matter for them.  But in the name of God, what bloody good can it do?

There is nothing new about this tenderness about allowing people of one religion or another to interfere in matters of state.  This tenderness lies under the English reformation and it was a major factor in the French Revolution.  The English Crown, which still in name reigns over us, claimed, and hung on to in the face of the Spanish Armada, religious Home Rule from Rome.  This insistence on the separation of religion from the state runs deep in our political history and thought.  Just try to imagine the reaction of most Australians if people of faith sought not to have our laws enshrine the teaching of Christ, but the maxims of Sharia Law.

And since Mr Heydon refers to Western civilisation, as do many contributors to The Australian, it may be as well to refer to moments in our shared history like humanism and the Enlightenment.  In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Professor Simon Blackburn says of ‘humanism’ – ‘any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative to use it as best we can…..Later the term tended to become appropriated for anti-religious social and political movements’.  For the Enlightenment we have:

The period of human thought characterised by the emphasis on experience and reason, mistrust of religion and traditional authority, and a gradual emergence of liberal, secular, democratic societies.  [Emphasis added.]

There are no surprises here.  Just as we have gone from the supernatural to the natural in science, so also have we done so in law and government.  It is sufficient to give one citation from the prince of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant:

Now, when, as usually happens, a church proclaims itself to be the one church universal (even though it is based upon faith in a special revelation which, being historical can never be required of everyone), he who refuses to acknowledge its (peculiar) ecclesiastical faith is called by it ‘an unbeliever’ and is hated wholeheartedly; he who diverges therefrom only in path (in non-essentials) is called ‘heterodox’ and is at least shunned as a source of infection. But he who avows allegiance to this church and diverges from it on essentials of its faith (namely, regarding the practices connected with it), is called, especially if he spreads abroad his false belief, a ‘heretic’ and, as a rebel, such a man is held more culpable than a foreign foe, is expelled from the church with anathema….[Emphasis added.]

Let me also refer to Macaulay.  He is, you would think, as high up the pole of the ‘former elites’ as any mere mortal may ever get.

The only event of modern times which can be properly compared with the Reformation is the French Revolution, or, to speak more accurately, that great revolution of political feeling which took place in almost every part of the civilised world in the eighteenth century, and which obtained in France its most terrible and signal triumph.  Each of these memorable events may be described as the rising up of the human reason against a Caste.  The one was a struggle of the laity against the clergy for intellectual liberty; the other was a struggle of the people against princes and nobles for political liberty.  [Emphasis added.]

This insight is important.  A large part of the progress of Western civilisation or secular liberalism has been putting priests and bishops in their place – outside the door of government.  (Has anyone ever had a good word to say about bishops?)  There is a place for the supernatural – but not in ruling the lives of everyone else.  Ask the French.  People releasing themselves from the power of priests was as important as their releasing themselves from the power of princes.  We have not always understood this truth.  Even the English downplay the liberating effect of their reformation on their political process – which, by common consent, is the model for the Western world.

There are in addition some other very odd propositions in Mr Heydon’s lecture.

First, denouncing people because they have not denounced others is seldom helpful and always dangerous.  No people I know of has welcomed informers, and denunciation is a favoured weapon of the most evil regimes in history.  A favourite Party trick of Stalin was to send wives to Siberia for not having denounced their executed husbands.  This argument is also used as a stick to beat Muslims with in the west.  It doesn’t help the cause of religion as a whole that those who brandish this stick at Muslims, who are slow to denounce evil at the edge of their faith, frequently subscribe to a Church whose very hierarchy, right up to the top, has been involved in massive breaches of public trust that have damaged the standing of public institutions at large, and not just the Church.  Just look at the decline and fall of the Church in Ireland.

Secondly, Mr Heydon has odd views about the range and extent of the perceived hostility to religion.

The hostility is demonstrated least against Hindus and Buddhists.  It is also not much demonstrated against Muslims.  It is beginning to be demonstrated against Jews.  Some elements in the elites are drifting back to an anti-Semitism that one thought had been purged from Western life by the horrors of World War II in communist Eastern Europe after 1945.  And hostility is increasing markedly against Catholics….But no Christian denomination seems to be exempt from the new de-Christianisation campaign.

Try telling that to the worshippers at the Lakemba or Bendigo mosques.  The rush to line up as victims might be hilarious if the context were not so ordinary.

Thirdly, I quite fail to see the historical or moral warrant for claiming that the ‘Christian tradition is the source of the modern world.’  It’s like saying that Australia is a Christian nation.  The endeavour to award primacy to one faith over others can only lead to pain and conflict.  And it hardly becomes a Church that claims to speak with and for humility.  This kind of bullshit might wash with people who follow footy, but it is hardly appropriate among those who worship God.

That brings me to two things on which I agree entirely with Mr Heydon.  First, I agree that it is ridiculous to claim that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised – at least as we now understand that term.  That proposition in my view follows from the fact that they had not been exposed to the views about the essential dignity of each human life as taught by Jewish rabbis and Christian priest and ministers, and by Kant and other members of the Enlightenment.  As a result, the ancients had views about equality that we think are as uncivilised as you can get.

Secondly, I also agree that Christ had ‘a different vision.’

He showed a concern for the ill, the socially marginal, the outsider, the destitute.  He opposed self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  He had no concern to associate with wealth, power or celebrity.  His associates were humbler.  Many of them were women.  He saw little children are heirs to the kingdom of heaven…But above all Christ taught that all human beings were humble before God, and all could enter the kingdom of God.

To that fair picture, Mr Heydon may have added that the man they called Christ signed his death warrant by taking to the money dealers in the Temple with a whip, and that while that warrant was being executed, Christ said that his kingdom was not of this world.

This certainly was a new vision.  But for many Australians, that portrait of Christ presents problems.  It is inconceivable that Christ would have stayed overnight at the Melbourne Club; prelates of both major denominations do just that.  (They do this is part of a deliberate policy to avoid mixing with the kind of people that Jesus of Nazareth mixed with.)  It is equally inconceivable that Christ would have stayed silent during Australia’s treatment of refugees, not least the children among them; prelates of both major denominations have done just that.  Finally, and in the present political context, it is inconceivable to many Australians, including very many in communion with one or other of the churches of Christ in Australia today, that the Christ so described would choose to deny equality in marriage to homosexuals, ‘the socially marginal, the outsider.’  Or at the very least, had Christ been so minded, he would have been appalled at the spellbinding dishonesty perpetrated by the Australian Christian Lobby in engaging in this squalid and unnecessary political shit fight.

As I see it, the most worrying symptom of the decline in public life here and elsewhere is the lack of moderation, the lack of tolerance, if not respect, for the views of others.  This lecture is brutally one-sided, nos contra mundum, ‘you’re either for us or against us, and if the latter, you’re a goner.’  It is as bloody and over the top as a charge at the Somme, and the resulting phantoms are just as ghoulish.  That’s what Mr Heydon charges others with, and, as it looks to me, that is just what he is doing in to the rest of in this lecture.

May I offer some advice to people with God who share the apprehensions of Mr Heydon?  If you don’t like the bloody heat, don’t go near the bloody kitchen.  And the next time you want us to suffer the insult of a bootless $100 million plebiscite to save your dogma from your own blushes, can you in the name of God please try to avoid saying that if your side gets up to forty per cent of the vote, you will put that down as a win?  Because people who behave as badly as that deserve to get a bucket of the best or worst refuse right down their bloody front and any other part of their person that they are silly enough to show before the people of Australia.