If ever John Howard needed a Minister of Propaganda he could do worse than Miranda Devine, whose status as a fully paid up member of the fan club is quite naked in her opinion piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald — and let it be said that every now and again I actually agree with Miranda. But read this and weep:
Speech from the heart cements a place in history
WHEN John Howard gave a speech in May at the 30th anniversary dinner of the Centre for Independent Studies, the audience was a bit disappointed by its lack of intellectual red meat.
He lavished praise on the free-enterprise think tank but there was a feeling in the room that he had “winged it” on an occasion that called for more profound reflections to a relatively like-minded crowd.
After all, he is the Australian Prime Minister who has engaged decisively in the culture wars of the past 50 years, who has been bruised and belittled, and has emerged grinning on the winning side of history.
So when he had the opportunity on Tuesday night to address a similarly simpatico audience at the 50th anniversary of the great “literary journal of combat”, Quadrant magazine, he came prepared.
He began by praising Quadrant, one of his favourite magazines, as an often “lonely counterpoint to stultifying orthodoxies and dangerous utopias that at times have gripped the Western ‘intelligentsia”‘. The little magazine of poetry and ideas, edited by Paddy McGuinness, is “Australia’s home to all that is worth preserving in the Western cultural tradition”.
Then, to an audience including poets, historians, journalists, a High Court judge, a chief justice, Liberal and Labor politicians, a Catholic cardinal and an Anglican bishop, Howard summarised the great ideological struggles of the past 50 years and how they underpin the culture wars, in a clear 2000 words, punctuated by enthusiastic applause…
And so on. Read again what Martin Krygier had to say about the magazine his father founded. And I’ll bet you can all name the dignitaries Miranda alludes to. Culture wars indeed.
With delicious irony the front page story in today’s Herald is about the quite admirable Petro Georgiou who seems to be singing from a different hymn sheet.
Liberal ideal under threat – rebel MP
THE federal Liberal MP Petro Georgiou has rubbished the Government’s planned citizenship test and has warned the party’s principles of individual expression and social justice are threatened by a growing dominance of conservatives.
In a lecture at Adelaide University yesterday, Mr Georgiou, from Victoria, said the party had moved away from being the broad church envisioned by its founder, Sir Robert Menzies.
“The social justice constantly proclaimed by Menzies as one of the party’s cornerstones has been forgotten by many members of the Liberal Party, and has been reviled by others,” he said.
Mr Georgiou’s lecture came the day after the Prime Minister, John Howard, gave a speech in Sydney extolling the virtues of conservatism over the past five decades and attacking the left.
“Our traditions of civil liberty have been curtailed, and in some cases overturned, in pursuit of a war on terrorism,” Mr Georgiou said…
I am sure Miranda would simply say, “Oh pooh, that ratty fossil; take no notice!” Do take notice. He is telling the truth. Many don’t, or are too cowed by the triumphant Gnome in all his truly mind-numbing Babbittry to speak up.
Meanwhile, over at The Monthly, whither many a one-time Quadrant writer has fled, we have a notable article by Labor’s Kevin Rudd. I have read his article now. He is not advocating a blurring of the distinction between church and state. Rather, he takes inspiration from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he could do a lot worse. Equally he may have taken inspiration with much the same result from Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Bertrand Russell, or anyone in the past one hundred years who has spoken essentially for humanity. On that Religion Report last night Rudd explains:
Kevin Rudd: Dietrich Bonhoeffer had guts, he was principled, and those principles were put to the test during probably one of the most awful periods of the century, namely Germany in the 1930s. Bonhoeffer was a pastor, theologian, peace activist, and he was a bloke who had begun a promising academic career, teaching in systematic theology at the University of Berlin, and then suddenly the stormtroopers erupted in the streets outside, and he was faced with the ethical dilemma of the age, which is what do I do when the State is taken over by a bunch of thugs? And Bonhoeffer’s response was, Well, I’ll do the right thing; I’ll stand up for the persecuted minority, in this case the Jewish people of Germany, and he also participated over time in a plot to remove Hitler himself and he paid for all that with his life. Hitler had him hanged, together with the other conspirators, just two weeks before the end of the war.
Stephen Crittenden: He was of course an opponent of overweening State power, and as you say, he was part of a plot to assassinate one particular head of state. What does he have to say to a politician who aspires to have political power?
Kevin Rudd: I think what Bonhoeffer does for people who are Christians in politics in every age and in every culture, is to say this: that Christian ethics are a dead letter unless they are translated into real concrete social action in pursuit of social justice. In other words, Bonhoeffer’s enduring principle is that Christianity is not a privatised, spiritualised affair meant for the interior places of the chapel, it’s very much an exterior thing. It is to be applied in concrete social circumstances to deal with the injustice of the age in which you happen to live…
What I’ve said in the article in the October edition of The Monthly, is that Christians should always view all politicians sceptically; they should always hold a state somewhat at arm’s length, but in their engagement with the state, they should take a consistent ethical position, which is always based on a cause of social justice or the interests of the marginalised. I think what I haven’t been calling for necessarily is a greater Christian voice in politics, as some have written. I’ve simply called for a different Christian voice in politics. The social justice tradition of Christianity has been alive and well and so much of the shaping of the Labor movement over the last 100 years, but in the last decade or so, it seems to have been drowned out increasingly by the conservative forms of Christianity in Australia, a view of Christianity which says it’s purely a matter of private personal faith, and as for my interests in the social wellbeing of my neighbour, well that’s his business, not mine, and he can go and jump in the lake. So it’s time, I thought, to contest that view…
I note he begins the article with a quote from God’s Politics by Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Again Rudd could do a lot worse. I’m afraid he’ll never lead the Labor Party though. He’s too good.
Religion and Politics will be the topic in Australia Talks Back tonight. Not to be missed.
On that theme, however, read a very substantial essay in the weighty Foreign Affairs: God’s Country? by Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Also not to be missed.
In fact, given such excellent mainstream American resources as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, the magazine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we have no excuse to follow blindly in the stumbling footsteps of George W Bush or to lavish praise on his Australian acolyte Howard or the compliant Alexander Downer, both of whom have been giving the Australian public the full mushroom farming treatment over the past few years: keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit. And Kim Beazley has been little better.
The September Foreign Policy demonstrates clearly, among other things, that there has been a marked increase in terrorist attacks and fatalities everywhere in the world except Africa, Australia, and the USA since 2003 — especially in Iraq. I should add that neither Foreign Policy nor Foreign Affairs can sanely be called “radical” or even “leftist”. The Bush-Howard policy seems to be that now we are out on a limb, we must deny it, just keep sawing away, and see what happens.
The strident baritone of the generously proportioned Piers Akerman joins with the contralto of Miranda from all the way over at Kippax Street. Why am I not surprised? I imagine the deep bass notes of Prof Flint and Cardinal Pell would have been heard on the night too.
And on the conservative parties of the past, see Jim Belshaw on David Henry Drummond and the Importance of Compassion. Aside from being Jim’s grandfather, Drummond was one of the early members of the NSW Country Party, now the National Party, coalition partners with Howard. Drummond was “the political theoretician who articulated its beliefs… I will talk more about David Drummond in later posts. For the moment, I would simply say that Drummond’s life demonstrates the importance of compassion, of cutting people some slack so that they can go on to prove themselves.” Not fashionable now, is it, except for those like Baird, Georgiou, and a number of other “malcontents” on the Howard side of politics. I might add that in the 60s I had many conversations with an old relative by marriage in Wellington NSW who had been a Country Party organiser in that area; I don’t recall much resemblance between him, and what he believed, and what one might read in Quadrant today or hear any day of the week in Parliament.