A certain school of thought claims that what ails the centre-right of Australian politics is the failure to embrace a ‘forward-looking, modern’ approach to contemporary social and cultural issues. The argument is that those who subscribe to so-called ‘reactionary’ views are fighting a losing battle, and are waging a futile struggle to hold back the so-called ‘progressive’ zeitgeist promoted by the left that is ascendant in most of our institutions.
It is viewed as an electoral liability to remind the community that the centre-right rejects the tenets of the left. The best political strategy is said to be to cease any talk of social and cultural matters, and instead focus on advancing the material wellbeing of the nation. Such timid prophets maintain that the case for economic reform should be prosecuted in splendid isolation from any discussion of traditional values and principles about subjects such as the family and identity politics.
In her essay published last week by the Centre for Independent Studies, Senator Amanda Stoker powerfully argues that what truly ails the centre-right is not that it has not become sufficiently ‘progressive’, but instead that it has failed to remain authentic. It has failed to stand up and fight for the fundamental values and principles that have historically mattered to those who identify with both classical liberal and conservative political traditions.
Stoker argues that what is really at stake in the culture wars is the future of Australia as a liberal democratic society in which citizens are free to exercise their right to speak, to think, to work, and to rise on their merits without government inhibitions of their liberty.
Unless the centre-right is prepared to defend the ‘universalist’ precepts of liberal democracy — which are under concerted assault by those who seek to tribalise society along race, gender, and class lines — the freedoms that we have long taken for granted will continue to be eroded.
If we do not defend the principles of western civilisation — which have created more freedom for all than any other society in history — we will accept the left’s view that rampant ‘racism’ and ‘inequality’ justify government restrictions on speech and greater regulation of the economy.
Likewise, if a stand is not taken in defence of traditional values of personal responsibility, many of the social problems that plague the nation will persist, and will further drive growth in welfare dependence and in the size of government programs that ameliorate — but rarely solve — our social ills.
Stoker’s point is that it is impossible to neatly separate economic and social issues and that economics is fundamentally downstream from culture.
A society in which citizens are not trusted to take control of their own lives and care for their families and communities is a society in which neither trust nor liberty (as properly conceived) can thrive.
The enormous stakes mean that the willingness to fight the political fight over our social and cultural direction is crucial. Refusing to participate in the battle of ideas in defence of freedom will create a void that allows the left’s long march through society to proceed unimpeded.
As Stoker argues, the pathway to political — and to cultural, social, and economic — renewal lies in providing the kind of leadership that inspires Australians to support the traditional values and principles that they instinctively know to be vital to the future of their families and the welfare of the nation.
Engaging in, not withdrawing from social and cultural debates is the only way to ‘take back control’ of public debates and the future of our country as a free, fair, and liberal society.
History is won only by those who show up and fight for what they believe truly matters.
Jeremy Sammut is Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society Program at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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