I found Gerard Henderson quite odd today…

21 Nov

WordPress, despite its frenetic autosave, managed to lose most of this post, except for the last paragraph. I have rewritten it in Wordpad just in case, and will now try to publish. Here’s hoping! BTW, WordPress usually behaves itself but has been odd this morning.

I may be wrong, but today’s column by Gerard, Outgunned in the culture wars, seems to have been written with his brain not quite in gear. Deadline pressure, perhaps? On the one hand we are told:

JOHN Howard is spending big on what have been termed the culture wars. Last week Howard said that his Government would support the establishment of a US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney “with $25 million of taxpayers’ money”. That’s real money, especially since the centre, created with the involvement of the American Australian Association, will also be supported financially by the NSW Government as well as businesses and individuals in Australia and the US.

On the other hand we are told all this spending hasn’t worked. (I beg to differ, as in the past decade certain voices have been shamelessly endorsed and encouraged, and others relegated.)

So far the Howard Government has not been very successful in the culture wars, despite much mythology to the contrary. At the moment there is talk about some much-needed reforms to the ABC, but this is a decade after Howard became Prime Minister. Like the ABC, SBS is much the same as it was in March 1996, when Labor was defeated. No sign of a culture war victory here, at this stage at least…

It’s much the same with the grants handed out by the Australian Research Council in the humanities area. In recent articles in The Australian, the academics Merv Bendle, David Martin Jones and Carl Ungerer have documented how council funding for terrorism-related research has gone to university-based leftists who believe, in Bendle’s terminology, that the West is responsible for anti-Western terrorism. Ungerer is certainly no right-winger, having worked as a Labor staffer.

To some extent, the situation is not completely of the Coalition’s making. For historical reasons, there are fewer conservative intellectuals – on a per capita basis – in Australia than in the US or Britain. What’s more, many leading conservatives have left-wing or mainstream pro-Labor social democrat backgrounds. There are very few cradle-to-grave conservatives here and it is not clear to what extent this is changing among the younger generation…

So far as the lament has some substance, could it simply be that the right has simply failed to be convincing? Then of course there is the whole thrust of the argument here, which is a worry: the research here is denigrated not on the basis of any argument or evidence, but on the presumed antecedents of the people involved. For example, it is assumed that any thought that the West may itself be responsible for the reaction against it, seen at its most extreme in terrorism, must be invalid because only leftists would think this, and it really shouldn’t be thought at all, even if there is, objectively speaking, some merit in the argument.

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9 responses to “I found Gerard Henderson quite odd today…

  1. AV

    November 21, 2006 at 9:44 am

    Given the calibre of what passes for a “conservative intellectual” in the US these days–e.g. Ann Coulter or Dinesh D’Souza–does he really think Australia should be emulating them?

  2. ninglun

    November 21, 2006 at 10:17 am

    That’s a bit unfair to Dinesh 😉 Dinesh I disagree with, but he does at least argue. Coulter is just a throwback and a nutter of the first order. (Yes, I am name-calling, but who in their right minds could take this person seriously enough to engage her in argument?) See Interview with Ann Coulter, and If Ann Coulter’s a Christian, I’ll Be Damned. Then there is that wonderful Salon interview, my favourite (and most telling) bit being:

    Who do you admire who is dead? Joe McCarthy.

    That infamous twisted little man who so bedevilled US life in the 1950s. Says it all, doesn’t it?

    BTW, you don’t have to be Arthur to comment here. 😉

  3. AV

    November 21, 2006 at 10:38 am

    BTW, you don’t have to be Arthur to comment here. 😉

    I can be someone else if you prefer.

  4. ninglun

    November 21, 2006 at 10:43 am

    No, stay as you are. BTW did you see your mention on the Big D today? I wonder if that is his finger? I suspect it might be…

  5. AV

    November 21, 2006 at 11:14 am

    BTW did you see your mention on the Big D today?

    I did indeed. That’s the one where he implies that the naked female body is as obscene as an image of a dead baby with its brains falling out of its skull, right?

    So not only is our Big D a homophobe–he’s a misogynist, too. This “Utopia” of his is looking more and more like Gilead every day! 🙂

  6. Jim Belshaw

    November 21, 2006 at 11:19 am

    This was interesting, Neil, because it suggests that Gerard is out of touch. My personal view is that Howard has won the culture wars because he focused on core Australian views that were being neglected. As I have been trying to explore, the issue of left or right models imported from overseas has nothing to do with the gap between “official” and popular culture, the gap that Howard is filling.

    I do not classify myself as right wing. By the standards of some of the overseas commentators I appear to be on the libertarian left. I am, however, representative of a group that felt itself marginalised by the “politically correct” views that for a period became so dominant that to oppose them risked ridicule. This is Howard’s territory.

    Mind you, being Australian I am now equally concerned at the way in which the other side of the culture wars with its admixture of local and oveseas ideas is starting to do the same thing, creating a new PC. I always like the underdog, so I reserve the right to switch sides without notice!

  7. ninglun

    November 21, 2006 at 11:30 am

    It is almost impossible to be sanely right wing and be heard above the noise when you consider some of the overseas commentators, and I think that is very sad, as I believe it is eminently possible to be sanely right wing.

    As to PC in the past, we could discuss that further, I suspect, though I know what you mean. I think the key thing is not to rule some things in and some things out merely on ideological lines, but to carefully weigh evidence in support of whatever thesis you may be arguing — as in fact you do. On the other hand, I found the opening of alternate views and stories that characterised the Keating years was cleansing, timely and ultimately healthy, and I am sad we have turned away from much of that, even if, as Gerard says, the stories are still told in places like SBS.

  8. marcelproust

    November 21, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    I read Henderson’s thesis as being:

    1)The Govt has set up various think tanks with the hope of promoting its own values in the cultural wars.
    2) Because, according to the internal code of the intelligentsia, opponents to the govt’s side in the culture wars are more prevalent, more prominent (and possibly even more appointable) this inevitably leads to the govt inadvertently funding its opponents (until it can put this right as with Hugh White).
    3) The Govt has just set up a new institution with generous funding.
    4) It could be that the same thing will happen again.

    The way I read it is that is that Gerald is:

    A: firing a warning shot across the bows against whoever may have independence from the government (probably the university) in staffing the new centre, or else stiffening the sinews of the govt and encouraging it to make sure it has, directly, or indirectly, control over the appointment process; and

    B: in case that does not work, or to the extent that the centre, when it is up and running, does not entirely conform to what he sees as “the right view,” preemptively laying the foundations (yes, both!) for an attack on those from the centre who, wrapped in its flag, look good, but whom Gerard will wish to dismiss as the “latte set.”

    Fairly obviously, (A) is the more immediate strategy. Gerard knows that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  9. ninglun

    November 21, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Much more sinister than my reading, Marcel, but 1) it clears Gerard of napping on the job and 2) it is only too believable.

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