No Country For Bold Men

This article is from the Spring 2020 edition of the IPA Review.

One of the striking features of the coronavirus recession is that, as IPA research has demonstrated, a chart of the economy now displays a ‘K’ shape. The K’s ascending line displays how bureaucrats and the bureaucracy-adjacent are doing fine, while the K’s descending line shows everyone else is suffering mightily. In this context, Michel Houellebecq’s novel from late last year, Serotonin—which I spoke about on the IPA’s Looking Forward 2019 Christmas special—takes on a somewhat different complexion from how it was received upon release.

Houellebecq is France’s pre-eminent novelist. He has become famous for his acidic takes on modern life, dealing with classic French themes such as the loss of meaning that confronts the ostensibly free individual. He is probably most famous to English-speaking audiences for his 2015 novel, Submission, which was controversial for its depiction of a France in which the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency. The release of a Houellebecq novel is now a literary event, perhaps the last of its kind.

At the time of its release, Serotonin attracted headlines for capturing the concerns that animated the ‘yellow jackets’ movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) that roiled through France in 2019; especially the idea that France’s regions had been forgotten in the march of globalisation, which has overwhelmingly benefitted the cities. While this is indeed a theme in the book, by making his narrator a depressed and inert department hack Houellebecq aims the critique at a quite specific target: more than anyone else, it is the bureaucrats who have killed France.

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Consummate Conservative (an obituary for Sir Roger Scruton)

This article is from the Autumn 2020 edition of the IPA Review

Sir Roger Scruton, philosopher and conservative, died on 12 January at the age of 75 after a six-month battle with cancer. Over his career, Scruton published more than 50 works of philosophy, polemic, fiction, and memoir. His speciality was aesthetics and the philosophy of mind, and he published works on art, architecture, and music. But he was best known for his political philosophy and his willingness to engage in popular debate.

Sir Roger—whom the IPA brought to Australia in 2014 to deliver the keynote address at the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium (which can be found at the IPA’s YouTube channel)—articulated and defended conservatism as a political philosophy as substantial as any of its rivals. For this, he became a polarising figure: feted by conservatives as the best of us, loathed by the left for much the same reason. By the time of his death, however, he had the begrudging respect of even his fiercest opponents in the academy, had been knighted and widely acclaimed, and, as I have written in these pages previously (‘Eaton Alive’, IPA Review, August 2019) his reputation withstood one last idiotic attempt to take him down.

Scruton was perhaps conservatism’s most important theorist, and to illustrate his significance let’s highlight a key aspect of his project: the connection he draws between the individual and society, which is at the foundation of his world view. Since, however, a man’s life and work are not easily separated, it is worthwhile to recount a few facts that seem—to me at least, and without wanting to psychologise too much—somewhat salient in the interpretation of Scruton’s conservatism.

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Closer to Home

This article from the Summer 2019 edition of the IPA Review is by Director of Research Daniel Wild and IPA Research Fellows Zachary Gorman and Andrew Bushnell. It is an edited extract from ‘Australian Values and The Enduring Importance of the Nation-State’, a research report prepared for the Senate Inquiry.

If Donald Trump has achieved nothing else, he has at least made the terms of politics more honest. In calling for a wall to be built on the United States’ southern border, and in adopting an aggressive America First foreign and trade policy, Trump has exposed a widening rift between those who benefit from globalisation and those who do not. For one group, the nation-state is nothing more than a barrier to progress and justice; for the other, the nation-state is a home and a source of meaning. The two visions are irreconcilable.

The dispute, of course, is bigger than Trump. All the countries of the developed world, and a few more besides, have been affected in some way by the question of how much global integration is too much. The British vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) is often paired with the election of Trump. While these two events were landmarks, it is not true that politics suddenly changed in 2016 when they both happened.

To put these events in context, the surrounding years saw: the establishment of non-liberal governments in European Union member states Hungary (since 2010), Poland (since 2015), and as part of a coalition, until recently, in Group of Seven member state Italy; the greater assertiveness of Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (in office since 2012); and the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This environment also helped our centre-right government hold onto power this year, and the same factors will determine whether Scott Morrison succeeds or fails.

What unites these events is a growing realisation that global governance, supranational entities, and large trading blocs sit uncomfortably with the traditional understanding of national identity and its expression in the sovereign state.

Though it would have been unthinkable even a generation ago—amid the flag-waving for Ronald Reagan’s Cold War victory, German reunification, and, here at home, the celebration of Australia’s bicentenary— global politics is now centred on the question of whether the nation-state can or should survive. This has become the signature issue of our time. It goes by various names: populism, nationalism, polarisation. It is present in every political debate, from congested roads to economic competitiveness and red tape to education policy and, naturally, immigration. If we are to address these issues, we need to first remind ourselves of the value of the nation-state, how Australia came to be the nation-state that it is, and the shared national values that have made our country great.

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Australian Values And The Enduring Importance Of The Nation-State

This is the media release for a research report with the above title, co-authored by me with Zac Gorman and Daniel Wild.

The preparation of Australian values and the enduring importance of the nation-state is motivated by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy. This inquiry’s remit is broad and ranges from changing notions of nationhood, declining public trust in Australia’s major political institutions, and the impact of globalisation and economic interdependence on the nation state. This report focuses on five areas.

First, this report outlines three key Australian values: political and economic freedom, egalitarianism, and localism and argues that these values are deeply ingrained in Australia’s national identity. These values ought to be buttressed by broad protections for freedom of speech, association, and religion; low taxes and a tolerable regulatory regime so as not to discourage enterprise; and a return to the principles of localism and federalism upon which Australia was founded.

Secondly, it is argued that the society that will be best-placed to respond to the challenges identified in the Senate Committee’s discussion paper is an asset-owning democracy, within which individuals have reason and incentive to pursue their interests to their own benefit and to that of their community and nation. There are five key components of asset-owning democracy which give Australians a stake in the success of the nation:

● Home ownership is a stake in one’s local community and in the country.

● Work is a stake in one’s dignity through personal responsibility.

● Enterprise is a stake in the economy and the success of others.

● Tax is a stake in the size and activity of government.

● Saving, especially for retirement, is a stake in the future of the country.

Thirdly, this paper considers the ongoing relevance and importance of the nation-state as a home where millions of individuals can live together with a shared set of values, customs, habits, and beliefs, and enjoy with one another a common heritage and tradition.

Fourthly, we consider the idea of popular sovereignty and argue that declining trust in Australia’s governing institutions caused in part by the departure of our rulers from Australia’s fundamental values. In particular, this section outlines the way in which freedom, egalitarianism, and localism have been undermined through government intervention.

The final section considers the notion of democratic accountability—of giving power back to the people—and the ways in which this can be implemented so as to restore trust among the public in Australia’s governing institutions.

Download the report here

Eaton alive

This article is from the August 2019 IPA Review.

In its 12-17 April edition, the British political magazine New Statesman published an interview with the renowned philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, conducted by a journalist of considerably less renown named George Eaton. In advance of its publication, Eaton spruiked the interview on Twitter, claiming that Scruton had “made a series of outrageous remarks” about Hungarian Jews, Chinese people, and Muslims. What followed was a classic social media pile-on, first from the internet’s Jacobin fellow travellers but then, unforgivably, with even Conservative Party MPs Tom Tugendhat and Johnny Mercer and grandees like the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne throwing their bodies on the heap. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire sacked Scruton from his unpaid advisory position as chairman of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

Tugendhat, Mercer and Brokenshire all subsequently had to apologise to Scruton, and in the end, on 23 July, Brokenshire reinstated Scruton to the role. Why? Because, of course, it quickly turned out Scruton had said nothing particularly controversial, the left-wing activist posing as a journalist had distorted the truth, these quasi-conservatives had once more wet themselves ‘on principle’, and the internet is eating civilisation alive. None of which may surprise you. Even though this hit job failed, this incident is still noteworthy because these facts are rarely packaged quite so neatly.

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