Guest Notes

Arch-conservative notes

6 January 2018

9:00 AM

6 January 2018

9:00 AM

A devoutly Catholic Polish couple I know who came to Australia thirty years ago to escape the extreme unpleasantness of communism in their homeland tell me they now meet increasingly with instances of recognisably totalitarian behaviour here in Australia when dealing with almost any kind of authority.

My wife and I both travelled quite extensively and even worked in former communist countries before we met and would thoroughly endorse our friends’ findings. Indeed when my wife was only a small child her late father drove her, his wife and a teenaged male cousin to Moscow and back via Norway in a specially equipped VW Kombi to see the supposed wonders – or horrors – of communism for himself. That was way back in 1965 and her father was never tempted to return.

In my own case I spent part of my two years of compulsory military service on the absolute front line where the British and Russian zones in Germany faced each other at the height of the Cold War – at RAF Fassberg which is situated in the endless pine forests of Luneberg Heath. Much of our training involved what to do in the event of a sudden Russian attack. For our part we learned survival skills in night-time temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius which I have never subsequently forgotten. Among the countries visited by my future wife and me before and during the collapse of communism were Estonia, Poland, East Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Georgia and the USSR itself.


In Britain prior to the Second World War communism certainly attracted figures as diverse – and blinkered – as G.B.Shaw, Anthony Blunt (former director of the Courtauld Institute in London) plus Burgess, McLean and Kim Philby who later betrayed umpteen fellow Western agents before fleeing to Russia himself.  Hereabouts the words traitors, treason and treachery spring rather easily to mind. Certainly my own experiences of communism, Marxism, neo-Marxism and post-modernism – which is merely a cleverly disguised sub-branch of the former – incline me to value Western culture, freedoms and civilisation with a passion which never diminishes.

If I remember correctly I was described on coming to work in Australia more than twenty years ago as ‘a tall, arrogant, grey-haired, English arch-conservative’ probably by the Age which certainly ran an extremely hostile half page article to greet my arrival here. Clearly within such a description only supposed arrogance and arch-conservatism were really in my power to change since height, grey hair and Englishness are hard if not impossible characteristics to eradicate.  Not to be outdone the ABC shortly invited me to take part in a 45 minute TV program wherein 5 hours of interviewing me were boiled down shortly to a dishonestly edited 5 minutes. Had the plane carrying me from London to the land of ‘the fair go’ inadvertently set me down in North Korea by mistake?

In subsequent radio interviews I also fatally admitted to having worked on the National Curriculum in Britain almost certainly through the prompting of Margaret Thatcher and – perhaps worse still –had sat for some years on a Conservative Advisory Board for the Arts and Heritage latterly as their visual arts spokesman.  What in my ignorance I had totally failed to appreciate was that while some form of conservatism or other might just occasionally be tolerated in certain other areas, within ‘official’ art circles in Australia it was and still remains the ultimate, paramount sin. Indeed in the last conversation I had with an influential arts editor here I was informed that all my many years of teaching and writing about art elsewhere in the world were totally worthless since they failed to be based on ‘Marxist analysis’. But how then is our heavily politicised art perceived overseas?

Although it was not widely reported here – if at all – the highly costly exhibition AUSTRALIA which ran 4 years ago at the Royal Academy of Arts in London was voted by a panel of senior British art writers to be the worst major public exhibition of the year. This was in spite of the only previous post-war show of Australian art which ran at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London way back in 1961 having been very favourably received. Three Australian painters whom I would rate as among the more important such of the whole 20th century – Lloyd Rees, John Olsen and William Robinson – were each ‘represented’ by an ill-chosen single work apiece – in the case of the first, who was an international draughtsman of the first rank, by a tiny almost anonymous painting. Judging art basically by its degree of political correctness as state authorities now do here is the most fatal and elementary of errors. In the area where I now live planning authorities are also probably among the least aesthetic and most visually illiterate in human history. Yet we live in a supposed World Heritage area. In my ‘arch-conservative’ view Australia is now on a slope from which there is probably no easy return politically, morally, socially or culturally at local, state or federal levels. Above all conservatism itself has been regularly betrayed yet remains our most valuable agent of social sense and stability.

To me at least the attempted destruction of Western civilisation, which is the true objective of post-modernism, is akin to straightforward treason.

If you seek a simple, highly readable analysis of our current predicament buy and read a book which was published way back in 2000 and then pass it on to other members of your family. The book in question is The Long March by Roger Kimball (Encounter Books, San Francisco 2000) which is appropriately dedicated to another major thinker of our times, fellow art critic Hilton Kramer.

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