Whatever happened to the culture wars?

Been wondering what’s happened to “values” and the culture wars in this campaign? So have I, and I’ve had a stab at an answer to the question over at the ABC’s election op/ed site Unleashed.

Posted in culture, federal election '07, Howardia
25 comments on “Whatever happened to the culture wars?
  1. gandhi says:

    I think the whole idea of “values” went out the door when we re-elected a War Criminal in 2004. Howard knows it’s not a winning rightwing meme like it used to be. As Latham said, the dominant ethos today is greed.

    As for Howard’s “narrative” of Australian history, that’s not just vainglorious B.S. but also an attempt to cover his ass from the inevitable post-Howard enquiries into AWB, WMDs etc. Howard knows that the court of public opinion is the first step on the road to the High Court and The Hague.

  2. gandhi says:

    Take the GWOT nonsense for example, which is really just an Oil Grab.

    If there is such a thing as an intelligent right-winger, these people KNOW it’s an oil grab, but they turn a blind eye to that fact. Why? Because deep down they are worried that they wont be able to maintain their affluent lifestyles in a more equitable world.

    So millions must die and live in poverty, while we collectively flick our channels to the entertainment on Foxtel.

    Values? Puh-lease!

  3. gandhi says:

    From the home of rightwing “values”, here’s NYT’s Frank Rich:

    Last weekend a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that the Democratic-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush are both roundly despised throughout the land, and that only 24 percent of Americans believe their country is on the right track. That’s almost as low as the United States’ rock-bottom approval ratings in the latest Pew surveys of Pakistan (15 percent) and Turkey (9 percent).

    Wrong track is a euphemism. We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon.

  4. Paul Burns says:

    Whatever Howard’s narrative of Australian history may be – I suspect its a regurgitation of the triumphalist British Impoerial values people of my and his generation learnt at school under what they used to call Social Studies – it all got a bit more i9nteresting in High School, when we started to get just an inkling of what real history might be.
    Nowadays one feels slightly embarrassed if one comes across a Howard version of history – though Ernest Scott and Winston Churchill are still good reading. Howard has done a disservice to narrative history, and I haven’t seen any mainstream historians abandoning narrative wholus bolus. Sure, narrative does tell a story, gets the naqmes and dates right, etc, but it also interprets. One of the most recent narrative histories I’ve read, Gary Nash’s The Unknown American Revolution, would give Howard a heart attack. I don’t see anywhere where Manning Clark is not a narrative historian, but Howard’s mates can’t stand his views, despite the fact that at times,Clark approaches genius. Kenneally’s Irish oriented Ausatralian history is narrative (and one of the best treatments of the Third Fleet I’ve read but I doubt its Howard’s cup of tea.
    Some recent Aboriginal historiography is more radical, but then again, Aboriginal Studies is a lot more than history. Maybe Howard doesn’t want to bring attention to it because of the stuff-ups in the NT – the building of a toilet on a sacred site by task foece cxontractors being the latest –
    And as quire a few LP-ers have remarked Howard has a disproportionate number of Asian voters in Bennelong. Maybe the simplest reason for the end of the culkture wars is that for Howard it was all about race/white history, etc, but in this election, race could lose him his seat, even if it didn’t lose him government.

  5. David Rubie says:

    My view was that Rudd cut off the culture war stuff really early on, with that Bonhoeffer/Hayek nonsense (who? I mean, really!). It was, in retrospect, incredibly clever. In a culture that has steadily been educated in trying to find “authentic” voices, the thus far successful culture warriors really had nothing to fall back on once a defensible intellectual tradition was shown as a realistic counter point to the empty rhetoric of Howard and his boosters.

    That Howard had to fall back on “Burke-ian conservative” says volumes about just how desperate social conservatives were to try to scrabble around in search of their own intellectual tradition. It failed. Edmund Burke is about as relevent to modern society as Henry the eighth. That Abbott had to fall back on calling into question Rudd’s christianity was the final nail in the tory coffin.

    It was such a kick in the cojones, the culture war offensive never really got started this time around (except for the odd stupid Chairman Mao stuff from Bishop et. al.). Rudd made them look like the bunch of stupid, irrelevent elites they were supposed to be railing against.

    The timing and execution were perfect. He’s a very clever politician that Mr Rudd.

  6. Paul Burns says:

    Even worse, David, when it comes to the American revolution Burke was quite radical, not anywhere near as radical as Paine, but still radical.(When putting extremely radical positions I sometimes find it useful to refer to Locke – the ultra-right warriors are left speechless once they realise he was on about more than the sanctity of property.)By the time Burke had become truly conservative – in his Reflections on the French Revolution, Burke may have been descending into madness. That Howard’s anchoring philosophy – (because he’s been carrying on with this Burkean crap for years now, probably because Burke is the only political thinker he’s ever read) is that of a man who was teetering on the verge of insanity tells us much, don’t you think?

  7. mbahnisch says:

    David, good points. They occurred to me too, but unfortunately after I’d written and sent off the article!

  8. David Rubie says:

    Paul Burns wrote:

    That Howard’s anchoring philosophy – (because he’s been carrying on with this Burkean crap for years now, probably because Burke is the only political thinker he’s ever read) is that of a man who was teetering on the verge of insanity tells us much, don’t you think?

    Paul, I reckon Howard probably hasn’t read Burke unless they’ve been reprinting him in Quadrant. This is of course the other real problem conservatism has: there are only five conservative intellectuals in Australia and four of them used to be Marxists 🙂

  9. Paul Burns says:

    It was naive of me to think that Howard has actually read Burke because he was citing him.I’ve read Reflections … which really is quite mad, at times verging on prophecy, and have dipped pretty widely into his letters – (one of rhe advantages of living in a university town -you can actually go to a library that has them). Maybe if Howard had read the man he wouldn’t be so keen to use him as a reference.
    He would have been better off if he’d taken the advice Barry Jones gave him when he first became PM. To read – like, really read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. But then again if he’d done that, he wouldn’t be John Winston Howard, would he?

  10. gandhi says:

    From today’s Crikey:

    “Whatever you think of him, Howard is no fool. He knows that next week’s election is lost, and nothing he said yesterday will change that. His eyes are on the future, which means they are also on the past: on the vindication of his record. He does not want to see the party repudiate his legacy as they did to Malcolm Fraser in the 1980s.”

  11. Paul Burns says:

    Howard’s legacy will not be repudiated. With a bit of luck ther ALP will be in so long they’ll utterly destroy it. It will be like the Little Pimple never existed.
    Or am I kidding myself?

  12. mbahnisch says:

    Christopher Pearson left a comment on the Unleashed thread. And John Greenfield! Who will make up the trifecta?


  13. David Rubie says:

    I won’t be happy until I see a response from the matronly cold spoon hand of Windschuttle. He’ll set you straight Mr Bahnisch, don’t you worry about that.

  14. jo says:

    geez mark, who knew that the ‘whole langauge vs phonetics’ primary school instruction debate was actually the extent of the culture wars in this country, according to christopher pearson.

    all the betterer for kiddies to read and understand our bl-ack arm-b-and his-tory. excellent.

  15. Evan says:

    Paul Burns says: “Nowadays one feels slightly embarrassed if one comes across a Howard version of history – though Ernest Scott and Winston Churchill are still good reading…”

    Yes, Winnie’s account of the Regiment keeping the Wog hordes at bay with their trusty Maxims at the Battle of Omdurman is a ripping yarn, but I must say it’s hard to go past Kipling.

    I mean, at least he could take the piss.

  16. adam says:

    i expect they haven’t read burke. anathema, as this riposte from hansard in a parallel universe shows…

    mr speaker, after all, mr speaker, mr burke never does something, mr speaker, for nothing, mr speaker.

    on this point of reading lists, i do wish these fools had actually read hayek, like they all intimate they have. you’d think mrs thatcher ran a weekly book club at kiribilli.

    now, i would never say hayek was totally right. after all, he fails to account for distributed media technologies and virtualization in reshaping how we prototype the future, and he worships dead white guys a little too freely for someone who claims an anti-rational position.

    but if they actually read him, then at least the libs would know:

    a) why they now are heading out the door despite “the economy being so good” – contrary to popular opinion this is a totally predictable event,

    and b) why they should not be conservatives in the first place.

    i’ll post something a little more detailed later, but for now, get your copies of “constitution of liberty” and turn to page 45 for a preview (routledge classics edition)…

    (i love hoisting these nut-nuts on their own pseudo-theoretical petards, don’t you?)

  17. Helen says:

    That Howard had to fall back on “Burke-ian conservative” says volumes about just how desperate social conservatives were to try to scrabble around in search of their own intellectual tradition. It failed. Edmund Burke is about as relevent to modern society as Henry the eighth. T

    Doesn’t matter David. “Burkeian” conjures up a comfortable mental image of chintz and french polished furniture with the English garden outside and the Empire still intact. It’s entirely a calming and affirming exercise for the Liberal voting denizens of Malvern, South Yarra and Double Bay.

  18. Helen says:

    Oh, and the “aspirationals” who would emulate them.

  19. David Rubie says:

    Helen, I get the idea that chintz conservatism has a particular appeal, however I admire the way Rudd exposed the fundamentally shallow way it was been packaged and sold in the last eleven years. Those liberal voting denizens wouldn’t vote Labor anyway.

    As an exercise in puncturing the distended bellies of the punditariat, Rudds early moves were a master stroke. I have to admit I was thoroughly confused when Rudd announced Bonhoeffer as his personal hero (mostly because nobody, including me, had ever heard of him). I thought it was a silly exercise in posturing, a means of reassuring the religious that he was serious about his oft-mentioned christianity. When he called Howard a “Hayekian fundamentalist” I scratched my head again, wondering what the point was of associating Howard with a Libertarian hero. I’m not as clever as Rudd though. Two simple moves framed the areas of debate, defined Rudd as definitely not Latham or Beazley, yet still left him as definitely not Howard. He wasn’t a scary, fundie christian, and he wasn’t a scary, fundie neo-con. It’s a huge space to operate in, stops Howard wedging to any large degree and makes every attempt to differentiate policy look like extremism (it’s Latham in reverse).

    I’d hate to play chess against the bugger, he’d be five moves ahead the whole time. Personally, I think I’d prefer Gillard as prime minister. Politically, Rudd is playing an incredibly professional game and she could probably use a few lessons before assuming that role. He’s the Tiger Woods of australian politics right now.

  20. Paul Burns says:

    Haven’t heard of Hayek. But using Boenhoffer was a brilliant move – a Protestant pastor-philosopher persecuted and I think, killed, by Nazi Fascists.Even Howard would have been bright enough to realise he had nowhere to go on that one.

  21. Tony D says:

    “voting denizens”


  22. Jenny says:

    I don’t believe there is a unique set of Australian values. Rather there are beliefs that are common to most people around the world, which are reasonably approximated by the American creed of respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    But running in parallel with those essentially secular beliefs are religious beliefs that are not necessarily compatible with common secular beliefs and in some instances are markedly different from the values of the majority. The truth is that for all the shared values of people around the world, and in Australia, there are areas of passionately held differences of opinion.

    In some ways it is a remarkable thing that the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Australia have co-existed peacefully with a culture of bikinis, underage sex, over-indulgence in alcohol and lack of punishment for religious offences such as adultery. It is equally remarkable that Fundamentalist Christians have managed to co-exist with abortion clinics, non-observance of the Sabbath and disparagement of their God on television. What has made that peaceful coexistence possible is respect for law, NOT shared values.

    So to me all the talk about values other than what is enshrined in our law is just distilled essence of bullshit. Or a nasty political wedge issue.

  23. Andyc says:

    When the drivel about getting immigrants to swear to uphold “Australian Values” came up, this time last year, I emailed my local MP, Tony Burke and Kim Beazley about it, pointing out that the idea was ridiculous and asking whether they were going to opposite it. I was worried, because Tony Burke spoke in favour of the idea on Radio National that morning (12 Nov 2006).

    I asked:
    “Do you have any idea how much potential this idea has to make a laughing stock of both the ALP and of Australia internationally?

    First, please define what you mean by “Australian Values”. I am an Australian, and my values are in general far removed from those of John Howard in that I believe in honesty, civil rights and liberties, and upholding International Law. Would you prefer our visitors to swear to uphold Howard’s values, or mine? 

    Secondly, if you think it is appropriate to require visitors to sign a statement that they uphold whatever “values” we state, then would it also be appropriate, for instance, for Saudi Arabia to require its visitors to swear that they believe women should not drive cars, and that adulterers should receive the death penalty?

    Visitors are already required to obey our laws, which is as it should be. Values are subjective and personal, and are not the province of Government…”

    Local MP replied fast and was sympathetic.

    Beazley didn’t reply.

    Burke wrote back fast (and did so again to address my further comments), and was polite, but unrepentantly me-tooist. He mentioned that other countries have similar affirmations of supposed compatibility, such as the US’s immigration silly checklist that includes “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of other Socialist organization?” or whatever it now says. I pointed out that just because others do it (particularly the US) does not make it a good idea.

    I stand by what I said then, to the effect that if some type of *behaviour* damages society, then make it illegal and prosecute those who do it. But it is stupid to try to constrain thoughts, beliefs and “values”.

  24. Andyc says:

    Oops – that should be “oppose”, not “opposite”. And there has been some sort of screw-up with the dates in my relevant mailboxes. Month may have been September last year, not November.

  25. Foucault A Go Go says:

    The Culture Wars will be with us as long as people treat “culture” as just another medium for political agitation. The Culture Wars take place mostly away from parliament house.

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