Aspirational nationalism

21 Aug

The spell-check doesn’t like it, for some reason… It suggests “situational” as an alternative, and I think I could actually embrace the idea of situational nationalism. Better than one-eyed jingoism, I would have thought.

The 7.30 Report has credited John Howard with coining the term. It appears not to be so.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Kevin Rudd’s night on the town in New York and the question of how much political damage he might suffer four years later in the heat of an election campaign.
Certainly, the story that broke yesterday of a drunken visit to a strip club has taken some of the shine off Mr Rudd’s squeaky clean image, although government ministers have been very careful not to be seen to try to exploit the issue, and who knows what judgement swinging voters will make.
And while Mr Rudd was still having to deal with questions today about that night, the Prime Minister was putting forward an agenda for his next term in office, with a new promise to keep the budget in surplus by at least one per cent of GDP, and an appeal to a new sense of what he’s termed “aspirational nationalism”.

I gather what it actually means is bypassing the states whenever you feel like it, or something like that.

JOHN HOWARD: We should be neither centralists nor slavish adherence to States rights. We should be focused on outcomes and not systems. We should be what I call aspirational nationalists.

Focusing on outcomes rather than systems sounds good, but also sounds more than a bit like a false dichotomy. Why not both? It also could be seen (by a cynic) as a variation on the end justifies the means. Surely not…

As it happens you will find several Google references under “aspirational nationalism” — make sure you use the quotes. One is an Indian scholar writing about China. Vikram Bedi wrote in the February 2007 issue of Hard News:

China’ is, above all, a rhetoric deployed by the Communist Party of China. This is intended to shore up support by making a certain type of ‘development’ the cardinal guiding principle of the Chinese nation’s will to regain its former grandeur, strength and eminence. Hence the enthusiasm for hosting the Olympics, or the obsession with its booming mega-cities: glass office tower-blocks, high-rise condominiums; avid mimicries of the latest architectural and urban design fads of the West.

The ‘rhetoric of China’ is designed to pre-empt and disarm thought and action by disaffected citizens, who want, or could want, a more plural, fuller specification of national purposes. That is, not just growth but also equity, ecological health, greater democracy, freedom of spirituality, expression and dissent.

Chinese State-capitalism and its successes, then, are not just about market-oriented reforms, institutional redesign, and infrastructure — they can’t function without this rhetorical discourse, this nationalist ideology. This economistic, aspirational nationalism is the ‘spirit’ of the Chinese State-capitalist system. It is used to coordinate and motivate local, provincial and national elites and, more importantly, legitimise and authorise their stewardship of the Chinese nation.

I wonder if that is relevant?

I see Peter Hartcher has called Howard’s “aspirational nationalism” a constitutional coup d’etat, all without the inconvenience of a referendum too.

If we are to enjoy what he promises to be an “Australian renaissance”, it seems that it will be a kind of Dark Ages for states’ rights. In recent months Howard has been aggressive but also ad hoc in seizing functions from the states. He has elevated his approach, putting Commonwealth takeovers at the very centre of his bid for another term.

Yesterday the Prime Minister did three things to transform his experimental efforts so far into a permanent new campaign against the states.

First, he dignified the practice by turning it into a doctrine with a name – “aspirational nationalism”. The menace to the states is plain – he has discarded the concept of federalism and has adopted the word nationalism. This signals he is not proposing any sort of negotiated reworking of our 106-year old federal structure but a bulldozing…

The most radical Prime Minister since Whitlam, or simply the most radical Prime Minister ever? Conservative? Really?


Study that carefully. The symbolism was important when it was granted and remains important in 2007.

I suspect I am the conservative here…


It has been a popular one, this post. Not huge, but it has been up less than twenty-four hours, split into two days below because WordPress follows GMT in its stats…


Should I be worried that ten minutes ago it was visited by this mob in Maryland?

Perhaps it’s Daniel’s comment they were after… 😉

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One response to “Aspirational nationalism

  1. Daniel

    August 21, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Big Brother John, desperate for re-election, is employing all his Machiavellian guile to snow the voters, a not unusual strategy for him.

    Aspirational nationalism is simply a term that dresses up right-wing despotism in pretty paper.

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