January 25th 2020


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Wildfires: Lessons from the past not yet learnt

EDITORIAL America 'resets' foreign policy on China and Russia

CANBERRA OBSERVED After the fires, we still need an economy and to power it

GENDER POLITICS In trans Newspeak, parental consent is a 'hurdle'

REFLECTION Conjugal honour: Love of husband and wife joined together in pure intimacy

LIFE ISSUES Pro-lifers punished for exposing baby harvesting

LAW AND SOCIETY Cardinal Pell and the Appeal Court judges

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Botany Bay: Always more than a dumping ground

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Finally getting Brexit done

HUMOUR The MacStuttles probe

MUSIC From retch to wretched

CINEMA Three times the bravura: 1917, The Gentlemen, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon

BOOK REVIEW The contradictions of the dominant ideology

BOOK REVIEW Novel celebrates inventor of literary fairytales

POETRY

LETTERS

HUMAN RIGHTS A Magnitsky-style law for Australia?

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BOOK REVIEW
The contradictions of the dominant ideology




News Weekly, January 25, 2020

LIBERAL SHOCK: The Conservative Comeback

Edited by William Dawes,
foreword by Peter Hitchens

Connor Court, Redland Bay

Paperback: 366 pages

Price: AUD$39.95

Reviewed by Brian Coman

This new book from Connor Court joins a growing number of recent publications concerned with the evident and mounting problems associated with liberalism as a political idea and as an ideology. In all, this book contains 20 essays, most by well-known national and international commentators. In addition, there is a foreword by Peter Hitchens and a long introduction by William Dawes.

In his Foreword, Peter Hitchens recounts an episode in 2013 when he appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program. This really sets the tone for the whole book because it demonstrates the impossibility of rational argument with what now appears to be a majority of “commentators” whose liberal ideology has assumed all the characteristics of a religious belief system.

The title of the book is rather odd. I would have thought it almost impossible to shock a modern liberal-minded person, since their whole agenda is directed towards “shocking” the conservative mind-set. “Liberal Shock”, there-fore, is an oxymoron.

Likewise, to speak of a “Conservative Comeback” seems to suggest that a conservative counter-attack is gaining ground. I’m not at all sure that this is so. Indeed, I’m not at all sure that such a comeback is at all possible without some radical new approach, quite outside the old boundaries to which we are accustomed.

The old boundaries, as Alasdair MacIntyre has so ably demonstrated (After Virtue and other works), have long since been appropriated by liberalism so that we have liberal liberals, conservative liberals, green liberals, socialist liberals, and so on.

The long introduction, rather oddly set out as four separate chapters, provides a useful background history of liberalism as a political idea and an analysis of the rather strange concept of a supposedly “conservative” Liberal Party in Australia.

As Dawes points out, the distance between the ideas of J.S. Mill (usually regarded as the “father” of liberalism) and those of Edmund Burke (the great champion of conservative thought) is not just vast, but unbridgeable. And yet, in one of the later chapters, Tony Abbott does attempt to sketch out an alliance. As much as I admire his loyalty to his old party, I’m afraid I do not share his confidence in such an alliance.

Many of the essays deal with specific topics that are really the end products of liberalism. For instance, Catherine Priestley writes on euthanasia, while Bill O’Chee writes on commercial surrogacy. Other essays deal with the failures of the modern education system, with drug use, and with the campus rape culture.

Indeed, the range of topics is so broad as to render the job of the editors (Dawes was assisted by Catherine Priestley and Michael Warren Davis) rather difficult. This explains why each essay in the collection is preceded by a few sentences from the editors, detailing its relevance.

For this reviewer, at any rate, the most important essays in the collection are those dealing directly with the philosophy (if one can call it that) of liberalism and why, of its very nature, it is destructive of human culture and human society.

This, of course, is hardly a recent discovery. It is now almost 40 years since Malcolm Muggeridge gave us “The Great Liberal Death Wish” and Leszek Kolakowski penned his essay on “The Self-Poisoning of the Open Society”. However, much water has passed under the bridge since then and I’m sure that both Muggeridge and Kolakowski would be truly astonished by the situation today, where a rampant and degenerate liberalism has morphed into a sort of soft totalitarianism. The so-called “freedom of the individual” has, in fact, ceded more and more power to central governments and to the legal system.

In addition to straight political analyses, there is also an important essay by Adam Creighton on liberal economics. In it Creighton out-lines the myth of the “free” market. It details the culture of corporate greed, the nature of modern banking, and the poor understanding of the long-term consequences of privatising important public assets.

Here I cannot resist a small quote from Creighton: “It’s a little bizarre when governments brag about how much they’ve sold utilities for because the sale price, obviously, reflects how much the new owners think they can get away with squeezing out of customers.”

His essay is peppered with such small but important reflections on the modern economic system in the liberal West.

But the standout essay of this collection (and acknowledged as such by the editor) is a contribution by James Wilson entitled simply, “Beauty and the West”.

You may ask: “What has that got to do with liberalism?” As Wilson points out, modern conservative thought, which draws largely on a tradition going back only two centuries or so (Edmund Burke published Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790), tends to discount more ancient conservative ideas, which he (Wilson) terms “the Christian-Platonist tradition”.

Here, he paints with a broad brush, including in his classification ideas that are commonly associated with the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition as well. Once this is understood, the notion of beauty as an ideal and an overarching teleological principle in human affairs becomes more easily associated with general political ideas, and the absence of such a principle with our current malaise.

Put simply, Wilson argues that such a traditional religious/philosophical view is indispen-sable for any sustainable and just society in the West. It is not my intention here to elaborate further on Wilson’s approach or to detail his arguments. That task would require a separate essay itself. Far better that you read Wilson’s account for yourself. Even if the interested reader of this review buys the book for this single essay only, he or she will be richly rewarded.

This is perhaps the only essay in the book that offers a real alternative (we might call it a “third way”) to an otherwise stale territory of political ideas, most of which have long since been contaminated by a pervasive and anti-metaphysical liberalism.

An essay by Roger Kimball discusses the relevance of the recent surge of “populism” and “nationalism”. I put both terms in inverted commas to indicate that today’s media pundits generally use the terms pejoratively. This is a useful essay and offers some hope for a resurgence of true conservative values. Kimball, however, is rightly cautious of placing too much hope in this area.

Part of any approach to construct a viable alternative to the dominant liberal ideology must include an emphasis on the traditional human family as the first and greatest social unit. In the book under review, only one essay deals with the importance of the family. It is written by former politician John Anderson, who correctly identifies the family as providing the foundation of true human freedom. One would have hoped that, in a collection such as this, much more attention would have been directed towards the family as the basic and indispensable social unit of human society.

Again, we might have hoped for one or more essays dealing directly with the principle of subsidiarity – the devolution of power down through a hierarchical system. This, after all, constitutes a true empowering of the individual.

Also missing from the collection is any real attention to the nature and purpose of human work. In our society, work for many people is simply a necessary evil and they are, in effect, slaves to an economic system that views human labour simply as an “input” in the system of production. For instance, the volume would have benefited greatly by one or more essays detailing the traditional notion of human work as set out in the great encyclical of John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (1981).

Even so, these essays are a useful resource for all those interested in reclaiming the traditional notion of a human person and of re-affirming the nature and purpose of human life. I commend the book to News Weekly readers and especially recommend the essay by James Wilson as providing the sort of approach to our present dilemma that is consonant with the general approach of the NCC and of the vast majority of News Weekly readers.


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