In the Weekend Australian Christopher Pearson, one of Australia's self-styled conservatives and editor of The Adelaide Review wrote a piece entitled, 'Do the time warp again'. (no link). A paragraph or two captured my eye. So I read it more closely than his attack on snags the week before. I was interested in what Australian conservatism stood for apart from attacks on the academic left. The question that I had in mind was:' how do Australian conservatives understand our intellectual history?'
Christopher Pearson presents himself as a conservative who knows about these things. After mentioning the babyboomers, the academic left and the impending collapse of the baby boomer's core values Christopher says:
"This is not the place to venture into a catalogue aria of the delusions of hyprocisy's of the past. What might be more instructive is to reimagine it. What if the intellectual civility and pluralsim of the 1960s had been maintained in universities and public debates? What if those who had demanded tolerance had also been prepared to concede it rather than enforcing various group-think that remain such as feature of what passes for the "national conversation"? What if Jacques Derrida 's view (that there are no facts, only interpretations) had been accorded rather less currency in the marketplace of ideas?
The short answer to those questions is that Australia would have become less of an intellectual time warp. The liberalism of J.S Mill and his school would be as robust as the conservative tradition of Burke and Hume. the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and its ramifications would be much more widely discussed and understood....
Some readers may think time warp is too strong a term. Yet how else can one explain that Australia is the only developed country where "conservative " is merely an abuse label. Elsewhere it is recognized as one among a number of respectable, contending philosophies . Even fierce opponents concede its usefulness as a way of making sense of the world or, as the Americans says, "its viability as an intellectual project."'
Woa, Christopher. Another answer might be that those Australians who have lived in the tradition of Hume and Burke have done very little to contribute to an Australian conservatism as a respectable contending philosophy. Intellectual time warp indeed. More is going on than us living in those passe leftie values of the peace, love, freedom and happiness brigade.
It does sound like Christopher is having a go at social liberals doesn't it? So what do Australian conservative think is wrong with liberal freedom and happiness? What distinguishes conservatism from liberalism? Christopher doesn't really tell us. Instead he turns away to other things---how the left of the ALP despise ordinary Australians.
What we have in Australia is an instinctive conservatism that artculates its social instincts in terms of 'cumulative wisdom' and 'experience' against the theory of the academic left. Instead of doing some hard thinking Australian conservatives have allowed themselves to be swept away by the economic liberalism of the deregulated market. They have not tried to make Hume and Burke speak to us in the present. They have sat on their hands bemoaning the views and practices of both the liberal left, the academic left, and the liberal media. They---eg., Michael Duffy----tell one another stories about how those on the Left who got mugged by reality became liberal conservatives.
So if Australian conservatism as a respectable, contending philosophy then what values , beliefs and idea constitute it as a tradition? What do liberal conservatives ----I presume these people are not liberals-----actually hold? Do they return to the common life and embrace the constellation of values of those Australians living in the suburbs-----the work ethic, family life , unselfconscious patriotism and churchgoing? Does this mean that those who live in the innercity of the Australian cities are resolutely lefty and non-suburban?
All that Pearson offers us for a living contemporary conservatism is a craving for continuity and connection, along with its reference for the spirit of self-sacrifice. Its not much.
Ya gotta do better than a 'what if ' Christopher. That just amounts to wishful thinking, a hook to introduce the time warp. C'mon Christopher, get the old brain cells work. You are not writing speeches anymore to attack the Australian Labor Party.
I thought that genuine conservatives in the Hume/Burke tradition live in history and tradition, rather than seek to transcend it. History and culture is what clothes our naked bodies, orders the nihilistic chaos of existence and nurtures us in our vulnerable lives.
Its junk intellectual history this time warp stuff. Conservatives can do better than write junk.