The weekend rag had an opinion piece by Chris Middendorp, asking why the works of Australia's greatest novelist, Patrick White, were more or less ignored by mainstream Australia. Middendorp attributes this phenomenon to 'cultural cringe'.
Clearly, Australians have much to cringe about, but most of our cringeworthy objects these days are not cultural, but political. We might ask some other questions about why a writer such as White is ignored, and ignored precisely by our good nationalists in the media.
To be sure, White is a 'difficult' writer, but no more so than any number of other modernists. We should find it striking that this era of cultural whitewashing, where Australia's racism is routinely re-branded as patriotism (or, in the cases of racism directed at Aborigines, as a 'goodwill' intervention), is precisely the era where Australians of international significance among the intelligentsia are either ignored (Patrick White), maligned (Germaine Greer) or co-opted (I'll refrain from citing examples for this last category).
It is no coincidence, of course, that during the past 10 years of Howard's rule, and subsequent cultural warfare, intellectuals have been a source of considerable angst to conservatives. It is also no coincidence that Patrick White, an avowed Whitlamite, homosexual, and Republican, is one such intellectual. As a Nobel Laureate, he is too well-regarded to be susceptible to an Andrew Bolt or Christopher Pearson smear-piece (though White's biographer is not so fortunate). Nonetheless, White is simply sidestepped, while the NewsCorp hacks and Liberal politicians (such as George Brandis, last week) aim at smaller targets.
It should be clear by now that, after years of 'intellectual' or 'elite' being used as terms of abuse, that conservative politicians, and a pliant media, have attempted, as much as possible, to push an anti-intellectual, anti-cultural agenda, except where the latter targets are sufficiently fairy floss-like to be considered no threat to the 'evil, Howard-hating elites' narrative.
In this vein, News Ltd. Political Hack-in-Chief Paul Kelly appeared on last Friday's Lateline, in an attempt to debate LaTrobe University historian Robert Manne. The debate topic revolved around the culture wars, and a recent essay by Kelly purporting to demonstrate that Australia has cultivated a clique of 'public intellectuals' concerned solely with Howard-hating polemic, who ignore the Liberal Governments policy 'success'.
Never mind that this 'success' is far from agreed-upon. Sure, the economy has not collapsed, and has been very generous (for some Australians only - but this topic can wait for another post). On every other front, however, there has been policy failure.
Good quality, affordable healthcare and education has become more difficult to obtain. Workers' long-held rights have been abolished. The sentiments of race-rioters are more or less echoed, repeatedly, by our Governing politicians.
Robert Manne, a long-time conservative who remains conservative (though not slavishly in awe of the Howard Government) made these points to Kelly, and noted that he, Raymond Gaita, David Marr, and Julian Burnside are all 'elites' who are systematically demonised by the News Ltd crew. Manne took Kelly to task successfully:
I don't dispute there is a large group of us who think the Howard
Government has on balance done a lot of harm to Australia in the area of
culture, not the economy, but there are only three people mentioned. I want to
say just one thing about that.
The three people mentioned are very distinguished
people, not second rate in any way. Paul might disagree with them, might think
they are too moralistic about Howard and so on. One has written a superb
biography of Patrick White, David Marr. The other, Raymond Gaita, is probably
the best known philosopher of Australia except for Peter Singer, maybe. And
Julian Burnside is not a public intellectual so much as a humane and extremely
fine barrister who's had major success.
I think the category - the three people
included, if he thinks they're second rate, he should look to the cast of
journalists in Australia. I think there is a real argument and I think it's a
left-right argument, as you said. And I think it's about those intellectuals
like myself and like Ray Gaita and like David Marr and many others like Julian,
who think the Howard Government in many ways has done great damage to this
country and the question of how angry we should be or what the right moral
temper is for all of that is an important and right issue. If I could start by
something. It we look at this week, we've had, for example, a defamatory attack
on a group of academics who happen to disagree with what the Government would
like us to believe on WorkChoices. I don't know what Paul thinks about this, but
we've had an attack on the entire character of a continent - Africans. I feel
really upset about it and I don't think sort of worldly calm, as Paul seems to
think, is the right response to an attack on an entire group of people. I think
it is racism, I have to say.
And therein is revealed the intellectual bankruptcy of present-day conservatism. Preoccupied with idiotic left-right cultural flaming, they cannot assert any coherent, positive position, or even identify who 'the left' actually are. For instance, as Manne correctly noted, Kelly's targets are not rabid socialists.
For instance, Gaita is a signed-up member of the execrable Euston crowd. Burnside is concerned primarily with human rights and due legal process, and is not a polemicist. Marr is a polemicist, but of a self-described 'soft-left' variety. Whilst his criticisms of the Howard Government are frequent, and articulate, they are hardly militant.
The stupidity continued today in the Government Gazette when the far-right News Ltd hack, and board member of 'our' ABC, Imre Salusinszky, opined that the 'intellectuals have gone too far'.
Last week, the Government's 'avuncular' Minister for Serfdom, Joe Hockey, attacked an academic report that demonstrated that the Government's Workchoices legislation left workers worse off. Always more 'idiot' than 'savant', Salusinszky continued Hockey's anti-intellectual smearing by way of Murdoch's megaphone:
A quick scan, using the internet, of research centres at universities
reveals that many are structured around the "softie Left" world view that former
Media Watch host David Marr memorably nominated as the primary qualification for
entry into Australian journalism.
One can accept the above statement as true, provided one excludes the actual content of 90% of what passes for Australian 'journalism'. Only one newspaper in the country is even vaguely to the 'left', and there is no television program that could be considered particularly progressive.
Salusinszky targets that author of the industrial relations study in particular, with this obtuse broadside:
And perhaps there is no reason to be concerned that, in the era during
which the mainstream political class has come to accept the logic of the market,
an academic paid to conduct research into the Australian labour market still
describes himself as a socialist.
This statement demonstrates Salusinszky's remove from the 'mainstream', as well as his sycophantic sloganeering. Who in 'mainstream' Australia has come to accept 'the logic' of the market, other than the HR Nicholls society and a few fundamentalists? Not the many Australians who opposed the sale of Telstra, and who oppose the increasing privatisation of every aspect of society. Not the majority of Australians who despise the Government's supposed 'deregulation' of industrial relations laws. Not the farmers, who are slated to receive significant subsidies or generous retirement handouts from the Government, in order to shore up votes in rural electorates. Imre's gripe, that a labour-market researcher describes himself as 'socialist', is likewise misguided. The Australian Labor Party still describes itself as 'socialist' (with the necessary qualifiers), and remains Australia's oldest, and single-most popular party.
Salusinzsky's most comical moment, however, comes at the end of his piece, where he cites is colleague and fellow-culture warrior, Paul Kelly:
"A healthy democracy will see a healthy gulf between its politicians and
its intellectuals. But this gulf in Australia is a chasm that demands serious
That the GG could even try to publish such material, without irony, and not intended as satire, suggests that some grave intellectual deficiencies exist either among Murdoch's staff, or his readers. That, or we need to hang a few 'intellectuals'.