It’s The Values, Stupid

This piece originally appeared on the cover of the IPA Review in April 2017.

Before it finally announced its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in March this year, the Turnbull government professed a very strong view on where section 18C ranked in its list of political priorities.

Eliminating this threat to freedom of speech—one of the most fundamental democratic liberties—by scrapping 18C ‘wouldn’t create one job’, according to Treasurer Scott Morrison. It ‘won’t build a road’, declared Malcolm Turnbull.

There are many things the government does that won’t create jobs or build roads, but its throw-away dismissal of freedom of speech shows that it understands very little about the forces behind Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump. For the last few decades, an entrenched political class has chipped away at the key institutions of liberal democracy: the rule of law, free speech and tolerance, impartial justice, and a limited state. At long last, conservatives have lost patience.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s election strategist James Carville coined the campaign slogan: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Economics matters, of course. Understanding the moribund economic growth since the Global Financial Crisis is a big part of understanding the politics of 2017. Morrison and Turnbull are therefore right to be concerned about jobs and roads, but democracy is more than a mechanism to agree on the best company tax rate. More than anything, when we vote, we vote our values. Continue reading

Courting freedom

This article was cowritten with Morgan Begg, and originally appeared in the IPA Review in April 2017.

Since 2013, the federal judiciary has been substantially reshaped, with four appointments to the High Court, along with 30 other appointments to other federal courts. In January 2017, for instance, retiring Chief Justice of the High Court, Robert French, was replaced by Susan Kiefel. Yet few Australians could name any of the recent appointments made by the government. Even fewer could explain their judicial philosophies.

Silently appointed High Court judges have been quietly undermining our freedoms for
more than 90 years. The only way to arrest this trend is by democratising the appointment process. Continue reading

Trump: chief critic of American conservatism

A version of this article appeared in the IPA Review in 2016. It is a review of George Hawley’s book Right-wing critics of American Conservatism.

Since the Second World War, right-wing politics in the United States has been dominated by an order of intellectuals, commentators, and institutions that together make up what has been known as the conservative movement. The movement began in the early 1950s with the philosopher Russell Kirk and consolidated towards the end of that decade behind the flagship magazine National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, drawing together a diverse mix of traditionalists, libertarians, and, from the 1970s, neoconservatives. This alliance settled on a program of defending religious and social custom, free market economics, and the development of an overwhelming military capability, which it has attempted to implement through control of the Republican Party. But with the rise of Donald Trump to that party’s presidential candidacy, the terms of this right wing consensus are now in dispute.

In this context, George Hawley’s new book Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism is very timely. Hawley’s book is a taxonomy of right-wing thought, describing movement conservatism and contrasting it with other forms of right-wing thought that the movement has deliberately excluded, beginning with Buckley’s vanquishing of the paranoiac anti-communist John Birch Society through to the more recent shunning of members who evince racist attitudes.  However, despite the conservative movement’s tight policing of its boundaries, these other philosophies and styles never disappeared. The appearance of movement conservatism as a synecdoche for right-wing thought has always been false.

Continue reading