Flat White

Prometheus unbound, politics undone

5 September 2016

1:50 PM

5 September 2016

1:50 PM

Rod Dreher, the American traditionalist journo, has just published an important blog post that Aussie conservatives would do well to read. It’s (broadly) about the terminal decline of fusionism, the blend of traditionalism and classical liberalism that led to the orthodoxy of ‘Movement Conservatism’, or Reaganism. Read the whole thing, as Rod would say, but this bit in particular:

This is the thing that drives me nuts about libertarians. It is a philosophy that works for people who have a significant degree of self-control, or who at least have internalized a social ethic of self-control. That is not most of humanity. When we were a more religious country, there was a certain moral code imposed by the mainstream that, fair or not, kept a lot of people from going off the rails. That’s gone.

With factional tensions between conservatives and moderates in the Liberal Party reaching critical levels, and with a new batch of IPA-approved libertarians newly arrived in Parliament (Tim Wilson and James Paterson in particular), Aussies should heed Dreher’s lament as a cautionary tale. There’s much to be desired in the libertarians’ catch-all solutions to our present woes – which almost always come down to exultant, quasi-religious chants of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’. To quote Dreher’s quoting Samuel Goldman:

As the conservative movement approaches retirement age, finally, its rhetoric has become almost unintelligible to outsiders. Rather than making arguments addressed to normal people, conservative leaders invoke limited government almost fetishistically, as if the words themselves possessed the power to convince. 

Wilson and Paterson might arrive in Canberra with a gold star from the think-tank establishment, but we should take that rubber stamp with a pint of salt. The American Right is in free-fall because it became too heavily reliant on small-government rhetoric that simply doesn’t resonate with the voting public, the vast majority of whom have a healthy skepticism about the prospects of Prometheus Unbound. It’s not that they love government so much as they distrust a mob unchecked by government.

This is why Tony Abbott, for all his faults, resonated so well with the Australian people. He offered (and delivered) a reduction in government, yes. But one never felt he was simply surrendering the country to social and moral chaos. It didn’t matter whether you agreed with his social conservatism: his unflinching monarchism, constitutionalism, Catholicism, and patriotism. You at least knew he was holding the country to a certain standard. You knew he had no intention of turning the Australian people over to their own shortsighted appetites and desires.

This is a confidence that Wilson and Paterson – and Mr Turnbull – will never be able to equal. They (rightly) want to free this country from the nanny state, but they have no positive vision for what she should do with this newfound freedom. However well-meaning their pleasantries about ‘equality’ and ‘tolerance’ might be, those aren’t values. They’re the absence of values. They’re a tacit admission that values don’t matter enough to favor one set over another. They’d shoo Australia out of the nest without first teaching her how to fly – or even seeming to care if she flies or falls.

It’s darkly poetic that the party founded and defined by Menzies, champion of the ‘forgotten people’, is now being hijacked by those who make a philosophy out of forgetting people. Their great virtue is indifference; their leadership style is to not lead. And it shows. Not exactly the stuff of legends, is it?

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