STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Here come the anti-Semites / Robert Manne / The poverty of nations / Speculations
, August 19, 2006
Here come the anti-Semites
Philip Adams delivered a fairly ferocious verdict upon the Australian League of Rights' leader Eric Butler (Weekend Australian
, August 5–6, 2006: Magazine
), who had recently died. The thing which strikes me from looking at these extreme right-wing, and possibly extreme left-wing, groups - the not-so-funny-farms - is the total lack of innovation, i.e., new facts, some new arguments, even new hallucinations to be found. No ... just endless, obsessional repetition. These cults are a complete dead-end, yet purport to be capable of commenting on contemporary society or events.
As for the Holocaust-deniers, they, for me, are by far the nastiest of what is a Dead Sea of anger and fear, resentment and sadism.
Adams, like many with long memories, probably always fears that if societies become dysfunctional, or unable to cope with change, then extreme right-wing nostrums suddenly appear attractive: whereas, for the propagators, nothing has changed.
And the return of anti-Semitism would certainly put the frighteners up anyone knowing what the consequences of that saga of inhumanity so often have been.
Perhaps, paradoxically, the pure hatred and venom coming from Iranian leaders and from Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. - which go much further than stories about recovering lost territories, but really focus upon extirpation of the Israelis themselves, (and Jews worldwide?) - is damping down potential anti-Semitism, at least in the West. For these people sound far too much like the Nazis, with their Final Solution.
It's hard to know why people here, or throughout the West, continue to idealise these creatures who speak, dream and act violence, and very little else.Robert Manne
I think that most people would have agreed with Bill James's piece on the contributions of Robert Manne ("Robert Manne, the intellectual hero", News Weekly
, August 5, 2006), during a period when his views and those with a similar mind, were wildly unpopular with our cognoscenti - that is, until the fall of the Berlin Wall and for some time afterwards.
His dissections of the malignant nature of Soviet and Chinese communism, and their fellow-travellers, his onslaughts against totalitarianism, and his immediate perception of what was going on in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, were invaluable.
Robert was greatly influenced by some talented, and redoubtable figures: Hugo Wolfsohn of Melbourne University (Robert's alma mater), then La Trobe; Franz Knopfelmacher of Melbourne University; and
Bob Santamaria. But also the Krygiers of the Congress of Cultural Freedom; and Peter Coleman, the editor of Quadrant
Now Robert has changed his views on many matters, but certainly not on the key issues I have outlined earlier. And he has maintained his opposition to economic rationalism, a subject which probably hastened his departure to new pastures, and allies.
Furthermore, Manne's criticisms of our universities, and education generally, have only sharpened. Nor is he happy with the media.
The problem with being a public intellectual, as Robert is, is that you need a like-minded group who will not simply approve, but will help facilitate, the dissemination of your views.
Those of us who tried to do it alone have found that, in a closed society, the rival groups (always groups!) only marginalised the independent speaker - as Geoffrey Blainey found, to the almost total detriment of the study and teaching of history in Australia.
They've also determined the very subjects to be examined, or argued against. These subjects have become fewer and fewer and the disputes more and more like territorial conflicts, so the public intellectual gradually loses his
freedom and his ability to innovate.
Our creative journalists have suffered the same squeeze, the same dumbing down, and so become predictable, then boring. An undeserved fate.
But the alternative seems to be to become a non-person and reduced to producing Samizdat
-style self-published and self-distributed writings.
Manne, having thrown off the early shackles of the Left, then found himself cribbed and defined by the conservatives; so he moved back to the present, much larger, sub-culture of the Left, where the same constrictions and pressures to be correct reappear.
One can scarcely criticise our intellectuals under such circumstances.The poverty of nations
The inevitable has happened - interest rates are at last on the rise in Australia, as they have been rising in America, and Europe.
Others of my colleagues will doubtless explain the whys and wherefores, but the sobering thing is the knowledge that many people - despite all the warnings - have borrowed to the limit, and beyond, and so are sensitive to any
drop in disposable income.
One character - from Channel Seven, if I remember right - was going to explain how people on a mortgage, who will now pay $27 a month more on interest, can "survive". That
is only $6 a week more! Ridiculous ... but perhaps not.
The Howard Government has said that it cannot stop people borrowing excessively, or stop lenders offering 100 per cent mortgages, or giving teenagers the right to pile up debt on their credit cards.
Maybe governments can't stop the lemmings, but they could do something
about unprincipled or imprudent lenders. But this would be to interfere with the operations of "the market" - the Holy Grail.
Well, assuming that there are more interest rate rises to come and that petrol prices will continue to climb, some kind of wages breakout starts to appear feasible.
We keep being told we are virtually fully employed, so wage demands could become unstoppable, at least in those sectors where there really is
a labour shortage. And the sector is expanding. There may be a bumpy ride ahead.
Ironically, across the Tasman, where left-leaning governance has supposedly operated, "New Zealanders are already among the low-paid of the developed world ... and getting cheaper by the moment". "Every drop in [the NZ] dollar effectively cuts everyone's wages. And yet families continue to expect - and indeed plan for - a lifestyle that is in many ways already beyond their means." All this from Dr David Skilling, CEO of the New Zealand Institute, a non-partisan economic think-tank. (Reported in "New Zealand, this is your wake-up call", New Zealand Listener
, August 5–11, 2006).
"Total household debt, now more than NZ$140 billion, has shot up a staggering NZ$56 billion in the past five years alone," continues the report. The "crucial" foreign investment is leading to the overseas ownership of New Zealand, and "we are in danger of becoming a nation of employees". (Heard this one before?)
"Savings are an imperative," said Dr Skilling. "With sufficient savings, business can expand overseas using domestic money, which is cheaper than foreign capital."
I thought that the domestic savings were to be invested in the country of origin, viz.
, New Zealand, to slow down foreign money coming in. No? Entrepreneurial capitalism obviously makes its own rules.
In any case, New Zealanders and Australians have long been exhorted to buy, to spend and to borrow. We have been told for many years that, when people sit on their money, the system runs poorly. Growth is the mantra, as is improving your own condition (Adam Smith).
But is ever-increasing indebtedness to finance consumption the only way to achieve this? You can't have it both ways.
In the end, you risk finishing up in a condition like New Zealand, or Argentina - or Australia - countries which, in the early 1900s, boasted the highest per capita GDPs in the world.Speculations
Some interesting material has been appearing about the gulf between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims over the centuries, and the forms that their differences have been recently taking, e.g., Sunni gunmen, bombers, etc., concentrating upon attacking fellow Iraqis more devotedly than they are attacking Americans and their allies.
Al Qaeda, which is a very hard-line Sunni movement, describes Shi'ites as infidels, as bad if not worse than Jews or Americans. So in Iraq, the extreme Sunnis, inflamed by such attitudes, are waging endless war on the Shi'ite inhabitants - particularly those in Baghdad. This is the civil war which looks more and more likely.
However, in many other Muslim places, where Sunnis and Shi'ites are opposed, the long war against America and now the Lebanon conflict are causing old foes to bury their differences. Should this happen on a wide and lasting scale, the task of the U.S. and of the West generally, in controlling events in the Middle East, would be far more difficult.
As if oblivious to all this, Al Qaeda continues to castigate and threaten the Shi'ites. The fact is, Hezbollah and Hamas have stolen their show - these
two are now leading the defence of Islam. Bin Laden is not amused.
But as this clash of civilisations continues - for that is what it has been becoming - unity among Muslims seems likely, wherever Israel or Western countries supporting her are active.
And war is a unifying force. The Lebanese have been forgetting their
differences, just as the Israelis are 90 per cent behind their
government. This makes for total confrontation, and the brokering of peace all that harder. And the more damage and destruction inflicted on the way to victory, the greater the chance of a rematch, further down the line.
The total, globally-distributed victory achieved by the Allies in 1945 virtually eliminated a comeback by the defeated states. But is this in prospect in Lebanon - or in the Middle East generally?
One understands why Condoleezza Rice is seeking a permanent settlement here - not just an interregnum before more violence. But is this possible?
Which is why some people in Israel are talking of settling accounts with Damascus, and Tehran, now. Eliminating Iranian nuclear facilities would be a boon - for a time.
But otherwise it will be military business as usual, between Arabs and Israelis.- Max Teichmann