06 May 2008

Henderson's intellectual poverty

Gerard Henderson is blaming a range of organisations for intellectual failure within the Liberal Party, without examining the anti-intellectual culture within the party itself. So long as this happens, the problem he identifies cannot be solved.

The problems with Buswell or Nelson are not in the individuals themselves, but in the collective decisions that these individuals really are the best available leaders and that Liberal energies are best devoted to propping them up.
Historically, conservatives in Australia win more elections than they lose - it's just that they are not so successful in the intellectual debate.

They don't want to be, they don't think it's important. Intellectual consistency limits political flexibility and makes politicians look powerless to influence outcomes for those they regard as their clients. Nobody is more despised than the "pointy-headed intellectual" in Liberal circles.
John Howard's recently defeated Coalition government tells the story.

Indeed it does. The compromises over waterfront reform and the cumbersome, unwanted WorkChoices; the nanny-state authoritarianism of Abbott as noted below (he has been "demoted" to a position consistent with his rhetoric yet still out of his depth); the inadequate responses to defence issues; the lax approach to skills training and inflation; all these stand as indictments of the Howard government both politically and intellectually. You can't complain about intellectual failure if this is the standard to which you aspire.
An Opposition leader's lot is seldom a happy one unless election success seems evident, as was the case with Howard in 1995 and early 1996, and with Rudd throughout last year. Yet the task seems easier if there is evident, albeit minority, support in the ongoing political debate.

What a fatuous statement this is. On neither of the occasions cited did intellectuals rally to the opposition. Part of the "discipline" that both ultimately successful oppositions showed at those times involved shutting down competing ideas, equating dissent with disloyalty or at the very least rendering it unhelpful. Howard in particular attributed much of his political success to his disdain for intellectual "elites". You can't complain about lack of support from those you despise, scorn and de-fund.
During Howard's time there was considerable hype among the left about what were termed the culture wars. If such a cultural battle was ever engaged, Howard did not win it. His appointments to the ABC board did not change the national broadcaster's prevailing leftist culture.

I'm sure the view from Kirribilli compensated for the witterings of, say, Ramona Koval. Liberals and Nationals were never encouraged to apply for jobs in that organisation; indeed, such was the vituperation heaped upon it that any such ambitions would be considered career suicide.
Howard decided to fund his own think thanks, hence the generous taxpayer subsidies to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra and, more recently, the United States Study Centre at Sydney University. Neither organisation, however, has been of much help to the Liberal Party in the battle of ideas.

Taxpayer funds should not be regarded as the partisan gift of the Prime Minister, which is the clear implication of the above paragraph. The success of the ASPI and the yet-to-commence US Studies Centre depends upon a bipartisan character, and cannot be held responsible - nor compensate - for the intellectual failures within the Liberal Party. Same with the Henderson Institute, really. I have already commented about the failure of Liberal Students to storm academia the way that leftists have done since World War II. Henderson should be doing some Herbie Marcuse work to implement the only real solution to this predicament.
Now the Rudd Government is proposing to match a Victorian Labor Government contribution of $15 million to fund a think tank at Melbourne University based on the Brookings Institution in Washington ... Maybe Howard would have funded this as well. The likelihood of such a body being headed by a considered conservative is as likely as a flying pig.

See, this is just being churlish. The Menzies Research Centre should be leaving this proposed centre in its wake, or even acting as a model. It is doing neither, a hollow log for fundraising that does not translate into helping Liberals win elected office.
While the Liberals struggle to defend the Howard/Costello legacy, many former Coalition members have agreed to be interviewed for a documentary titled The Howard Years to be presented by the ABC's Fran Kelly this year. It speaks volumes for the lack of intellectual confidence among senior Liberals that they would agree to sign on to having the history of the Howard government presented by the left-of-centre Kelly, who failed to disguise her opposition to Howardism on a range of social, economic, environmental and foreign policy issues when presenting the Radio National program Breakfast in recent years.

If Kelly didn't do it, nobody would. That's the real indication of intellectual confidence. Your own performances on Fran Kelly's Breakfast, Gerard, were dull both in intellectual and entertainment terms. Acting as an apologist for policies you have played no part in shaping and are not fully informed about will do that to you.

The Liberals and Nationals do not take the intellectual debate seriously, which is why it is left to pinheads like Miranda Devine, Tony Abbott, Janet Albrechtsen or Gerard Henderson to carry the (empty) can of rightwing intellectualism. If you really want people to take on the challenge of right-of-centre intellectual development, create an environment conducive to it.

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