I have been reading the conservative pundit C. Pearson of late to learn about Australian conservatism. Christopher is meant to know about such things ---well, he does promote himself as one who has his finger on the pulse of the age better than most. So I read his "Dissenters of attention" in the Weekend Australian , January 11-12 2002, (no link). It promised to be big picture sketch of the paradigm change in Australia culture that he had put together after talking to the poet Les Murray on the phone.
Honestly, I couldn't make much from the text----it struck me as pretty junky stuff even though I read it twice.
This is what he and Les have put together. Pearson writes that a paradigm shift has taken place that can be marked by the year 1995/6. But we are still hovering between the old one that is not yet exhausted and the new one not yet born. (These boys have read their Hegel). However, there are signs and portents, not all of them ambiguous that can be deciphered or interpreted.
The signs are: the acknowledgement of the mind-forged manacles of the political correctness of the academic left and the intellectual conformism of the Keating era; reality undermining multiculturalism; the distinction between racism and the disturbing levels of religious and cultural difference when talking aabout Islam; the development of common sense as a constituency; the growth of Christianity; young adults staying at home far longer than previous generations; families clinging together; hard-pressed parents willing to pay for their children's education; and the vote of no confidence in the state public education system; the erosion of teachers union control over working class education.
Okay these are the signs that need interpreting. What does this constellation mean? What is the new paradigm that is struggling to emerge from the decay/ ruins of the soft-totalitarian cultural paradigm of left liberalism? Presumably, it is the emergence of conservatism from the timewarp of left liberalism living on beyond its use by date. Thats what we get when we connect this Pearson pierce to the one last week ----- see previous posting Junk intellectuals: A conservative laments Sunday, January 5th.
Pearson has stopped playing 'what if', and to his credit, he has immersed himself within cultural phenomena, and is doing a bit of phenemenology of particular phenomena, rather than thinking about it from above. But this cultural phenonema is present as truths whose meaning or import can be easily read of ---people are becoming more conservative because kids are staying at home longer. Is disclosing the truth, or social significance (the rise and rise of conservatism) that simple?
What sort of conservatism is this? What can we say about it?
It is not said. All that Pearson does is quote Les Murray to the effect that 'ideologues are making unwilling concessions to mask the emergence and prevent themselves from being swept away'. What is left is pretty lightweight as a cultural interpretation ---- I get the idea of a conservatism anchored in the commonsense of everyday life of suburbia, rather than one anchored in high culture life, but little more than that. Which suburbia are we talking about? There are lots of suburbias. In Pearson's Adelaide we have inner suburbs; middle suburbs, outer suburbs, eastern leavy-green suburbs, western suburbs, beach suburbs, hills-face suburbs. Each of these is quite different. Which one are we talking about? Or are we talking about what is common to all of them?
So why is this the work of a intellectual junk: it just concentrates on the signs of particular cultural and social phemonena, but lacks the philosophical reflection to go beyond them. Pearson simply lists and ties the bits together with conservative string. Yet the phenomena interpreted are mobile and internally mediated and as signs of a social history they characterise Australia at a particular moment in historical time.
Update: Am I being too hard? Junk can be good. What about Christopher's idea of a 'soft totalitarianism in a liberal culture---ie., political correctness as soft totalitarianism? Check it out here here and see what you think. The Conservatives are going to liberate us from the totalitarian left liberals?