Flat White

A defensive battle was won on May 18. A long slog’s still needed in the culture wars

27 June 2019

2:57 PM

27 June 2019

2:57 PM

When GoFundMe shut down Israel Folau’s fundraising campaign for his legal battle with Rugby Australia, it confirmed in spades the stand-out post-election analysis offered by Nick Cater of the Menzies Research Centre.

In a column last month, Cater drilled in on what the Coalition’s election triumph had not accomplished:

Social conservatives should be wary of claiming victory, tempting as it might be. The Coalition may have won the election but it hasn’t won the culture war.

Winning a majority on the floor of the house has not changed the balance of power in our universities, media institutions and boardrooms. The progressives are regrouping as we speak and will return for a fresh symbolic crusade both more absurd and more potent than the last.

The Coalition did not win the culture war because it did not fight one.

Sure, the election killed Bill Shorten’s mission to surf into The Lodge on a wave of progressive sentiment. And, sure, it derailed Labor’s resolve to lock Australia onto a more radical social trajectory. It’s a battle won, but not the war.

And yet, by rejecting the ALP, Australia could have applied a strategic brake upon the momentum for far-reaching change built up during the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Only future historians will be able to tell us, though, whether this has been so.

In the meantime, we don’t know how this election victory will reverberate throughout Australian society, or whether it will reverberate at all.

It remains to be seen whether the Morrison government’s promised religious freedom bill – with its inherent broader implications for freedom of thought and speech – will fire up social conservatives to sustain the counter-progressive action displayed on 18 May by voting for the Coalition.

Let’s understand. The Coalition won a defensive battle for control of the ‘apex’ of society: the federal parliament and government. But everywhere below the ‘summit’, the culture war continues as before.

All our subsidiary institutions are at stake: government and corporate bureaucracies; universities and schools; police and armed forces; all forms of media; churches and families. Especially families.

And why especially families?

Induce families to accept same-sex marriage and “gender reassignment” and you neutralise the family as an obstacle to the next stage of the revolution.

For cultural revolutionaries, same-sex marriage and gender politics aren’t the endpoint. They’re only a clearing operation. They’re intended to open a path to a more important objective: to render the individual naked and powerless in the face of government by progressive elites.

And thanks to our short-sighted pragmatism – our live-and-let-live approach to life – exhibited in the SSM plebiscite, we’ve allowed those same elites to advance far along the road toward their ultimate goal.

The question remains: can the sense of resolution belatedly displayed in the polling booths be kept alive and translated into action beyond the passing opportunity presented by a federal election?

A key problem is intellectual leadership.

Where will voters of a conservative bent find a star to inspire and guide their further course?

Unfortunately, some of our leading prophets of freedom adhere to philosophical positions dangerously flawed.

Libertarianism is a common thread.  It holds that not only economic but also social choices should be made in a deeply deregulated environment.  In both fields, the state should adopt a hands-off neutrality designed to preserve the maximum freedom for economic or social actors alike.

Libertarians hold that their system of thought entails some ultimate limits on freedom. Their problem, however, is a reluctance to draw lines in practice for fear of compromising freedom. We saw this in the debate over same-sex marriage. Some big-name freedom warriors, under libertarian influences, swung in behind SSM. Neither Chris Kenny, for example, nor Janet Albrechtsen; neither Alan Jones nor Jennifer Oriel could draw that line.

To their credit, they have all critiqued the radicalism of progressives and identified, behind the SSM campaign, looming strikes against freedom of speech and religion. That, however, did not prevent the libertarian camp from conceding to the Left the vital point at issue.

For freedom’s sake, libertarians felt compelled to treat the impassible facts of human biology as irrelevant considerations when defining sexual relations and the nature of the family. For freedom’s sake, they declined to defend the family, traditionally understood, as the one and only building block out of which societies can form themselves – and they did so precisely in order to credit a counterfeit with the substance of reality.

In this, libertarians demonstrated not only an incapacity to defend society and the freedoms they claim to cherish – what might freedom of speech and religion be worth once the family has been demoted to equality with a make believe? – they also proved libertarianism to be yet another society-wrecking ideology.

In the long run, social stability can’t survive opposite ordering principles: the family and the anti-family. Yet, this is exactly the “Mission Impossible” which libertarians have endorsed.

Given that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” social conservatives can work with libertarians against progressives. Libertarians are very good, up to a point, at biffing progressives intellectually.  They are useful, even necessary, allies. Conservatives, however, shouldn’t entertain illusions about the implications of libertarian thought.

The failure of the libertarians lies in this: in their hands, freedom has become an “end in itself”. But freedom is not such an “end”. Freedom is not the highest good. Freedom is directed towards something other than itself: and that yet higher purpose is “the good” that freedom empowers us to accomplish.

Libertarians say it’s wonderful for humans to be free. And they’re right. It is wonderful. The wonder arises, however, not from freedom itself, but from “the good” chosen.  The glory of freedom is reflected glory. It basks in the light of “the good” pursued. Undirected to “the good”, freedom is an arbitrary power.

“Oh,” libertarians reply, “we have nothing to say about ‘the good’ and the state should have still less. Our master idea is to preserve the power of the individual to choose.”

A noble purpose to be sure, but conceived with a narrowness ultimately lethal.

Intellectually, the libertarian mind is dazzled by the power of freedom and its potential. Closed, however, is its logic to the danger posed by freedom unhinged from “the good”.

There are, however, several “goods” that the state upholds without objection from libertarians: take life, liberty and property. All the more so, then, should libertarians concur were the state to defend the traditional conceptions of marriage and the family. In this, the state would only be acting to secure the continued existence of society itself, at least as it has been understood in every civilisation and in every age until this present critical moment in the West.

Or, are the libertarians saying that true human freedom demands the option of permitting revolutionary minorities to reinvent society – and to hell with the consequences for the life and property, not to mention the liberty, of the rest of us ‘uninventive’ souls?

Bottom line: you can trust libertarians to beat up on progressives, but you can’t trust them with society itself.

Where to from here?

There’s many a good book and writer to recommend in their place. But let’s come to the book that lies behind the books, good and great, of our cultural inheritance.

Want to save your family? Want to protect your kids from the bizarros who roam free in our institutions and workplaces?

When it comes to the crunch – and it has – there is just one book you absolutely must have. Its title: The Bible.  It’s the book that made the world you now fear to lose.

Gary Scarrabelotti blogs at Scarra Blog.

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