Sunday, August 11, the day of the Rudd-Abbott debate, also marked the first anniversary of the death of one of Australia’s greatest thinkers, Roger Sandall (1933-2012). Sandall’s The Culture Cult (2001) is a relatively slim tome and yet it provides the sharpest of insights into an ideology that has, over the past half century, hijacked the Left in Australian and throughout the entire Western world. Marx is dead – long live anti-bourgeois bohemianism!
Ideology is to a Leftist what reality is to the rest of us, and yet pro-Labor television and radio polemicists disavow any kind of political bias. For instance, both the staff and the management of the ABC are adamant their tax-funded media monster is not aligned with the Left. The national broadcaster’s managing director, Mark Scott, declared in May this year that it was “far too simplistic” to describe his network’s presenters as “leftist”, and then announced Paul Barry as the new compere of Media Watch, the ABC’s flagship, making this Murdoch-hating, Coalition-bashing fellow the eighth leftie Media Watch presenter in a row.
Barry, before his first Labor-supporting programme, loudly proclaimed his political impartiality:
“I believe actually in privatisation, I believe in an awful lot of things that would make me a free-marketer and, you know, a liberal.”
If Barry had taken the time to read page 67 of Sandall’s The Culture Cult he might have understood that Marxism or Fabianism – and nationalising the means of production – is not the only way to be a socialist “deeply hostile to the values of the bourgeoisie”.
Rudd’s agenda, like Gillard before him, has nothing to do with introducing the dictatorship of the proletariat, if only because Labor’s Fair Work Act (2009) has already gone a long way towards wiping out whatever remained of Australia’s industrial proletariat. The ALP’s economic vision, since coming into office in 2007, never went beyond “cash splash” — spending up big while devising new ways to extract funds from “the wealthy” and business in order to pay for the government’s largesse.
The ALP’s latest Minister of Finance, Senator Penny Wong, has been talking up Rudd’s “solid plan” for Australia’s economy. This would make a change because there has never been anything “solid” about Rudd-Gillard economic policies. The promise of a balanced budget in the 2014-15 financial year has given way to the looming reality of a $54 billion shortfall, and that’s before the blowouts in the NBN and DisabilityCare are factored into the equation.
Why this unceasing profligacy? One of the characteristics of the peculiar leftist ideology that now drives Labor, contends Sandall in The Culture Cult, is its war against traditional bourgeois values à la Benjamin Franklin’s useful virtues. Over the years, members of the government’s inner circle have themselves admitted that temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, tranquillity and humility are not the first words that spring to mind when drawing a portrait of Kevin Rudd. The man’s personality disorder makes a good fit with the Labor Party’s anti-bourgeois bohemian ideology.
Our modern-day Leftist, as noted above, is likely to dismiss all talk of ideology. He is no partisan ideologue but “open minded”. His submission to the dictates of PC rectitude denotes nothing more sinister than good manners. Likewise, a leftist’s support for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) theory or Labor’s four-decades-old policy on Indigenous Australians is less about politics than playing the part of a responsible human being.
The Culture Cult outlines a very different scenario. The institutionalisation of bohemian prejudices, which Sandall traces to Franz Boas and Columbia University in the 1920s, explains Whitlam’s radical new policy towards Indigenous people in the early 1970s. It was informed by a disdain for industrial civilisation and a concomitant idealisation of pre-modern tribalism. Thus, instead of helping Aboriginals “to cross the divide” between “the tribal world and modernity”, as had been government policy before then, Whitlam initiated an era in which a cruel and enervating existence was foisted upon rural Aboriginal people – not least Aboriginal women and children – through the agency of social welfare. Sandall, as far back as 2001, was accurately depicting the position of a bohemian-style socialist as “adopt a contrite demeanour and apologise for the sins of history, and all will be well.”
It is for this reason that Warren Mundine, former president of the ALP, has agreed to head a supervisory board to advise Tony Abbott, should a Coalition government be elected on September 7. As Mundine says: “…if someone had told me in the 1970s that during the following decades Australia would spend billions and still have a vast gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in areas such as health, education and employment, I would have been shocked.” Mundine’s approach, without oversimplifying it too much, will be to confront “one of the great sacred cows of the land-rights movement: the idea that Indigenous people can flourish separately from the rest of Australia.”
The most urgent requirement for “closing the gap”, according to Mundine, is a dramatic and rapid increase in Indigenous engagement with “commercial activities”. This – along with First World education – closely corresponds with what Sandall argued in The Culture Cult. Back in 2001, however, Australia’s leftist commentariat comfortably ensconced in urban environs denigrated Sandall’s proposed remedy as “disrespectful” or simply ignored it.
For more than four decades, our “new class” has marginalised anybody with the temerity to challenge PC dogma, and yet its members continue to define themselves as “open minded” folk whose bottom line is tolerance – unless, of course, you are a “Denier”. The Culture Cult was published long before the CAGW theory transmutated into the CAGW hoax, and yet its anti-bourgeois bohemian thesis tells us why Warministas won’t let go of the thing. Roger Sandall, were he alive today, might raise a wry smile at a junior high school history textbook used to teach Labor’s new national curriculum, especially when the author speaks of global warming as proof positive that industrial modernity is not superior to nomadic existence. Chalk that up as one for cultural relativism.
The biggest giveaway that the ALP, the Greens and many of their rusted-on supporters are in the grip of a bone fide ideology is their dismay at those who do not share their worldview. The PC presumptions of the modern-day Left have a grip on everything from the ABC, commercial television, the Fairfax press, the education system, mainstream Christian denominations, state-funded cultural institutions, workplace management, union leadership and even the AFL, and yet the very existence of Murdoch’s “hate press” is enough to drive Rudd and Co to apoplexy.
Julia Gillard discovered her inner-totalitarian when she demonised Tony Abbott as a misogynist. Penny Wong, shortly before knifing Gillard in the back, wrote a glowing piece praising Gillard’s disgusting slur as the (then) PM’s “finest moment”. Senator Wong constantly decries Tony Abbott as “unfit to be prime minister” between referring to him as “negative Mr Abbott”. Last week Wong chided Joe Hockey, the Opposition’s treasury spokesman, for describing a Liberal candidate in the forthcoming election, John Nguyen, as Chinese when he is Vietnamese: “What I’d say to Joe is we don’t all look the same, mate.”
We might explain Senator Wong’s preciousness as a minor aberration due to the pressures of an approaching election, but Wong is unquestionably the most intelligent and articulate Labor politician in the country at the moment, far more intelligent and articulate than the media-savvy but desperately shallow Rudd. She says what she means and means what she says, and in her expert put-down of Joe Hockey (who, after all, is himself a migrant) and the Liberal Party (which, after all, has pre-selected a Vietnamese migrant for the election), one of Australia’s most powerful and privileged people has coolly played the victim card.
Play the victim in our PC-infused world and victory is most assuredly yours – it’s all there in Roger Sandall’s The Culture Cult. John-Jacques Rousseau (1772-78) despised high society because the philosophes intimidated him; Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) loathed the French bourgeoisie because they were ruled by the routine and lacked imagination. What unites them, argues Sandall, is not only their bohemian distaste for the mores of Western civilisation, but also their status as outsiders. The same, alas, cannot be said for the bohemian socialists who both rule over us and are at war with us (and Western civilisation per se) via their rejection of assimilation, the time-honoured strictures of marriage, traditional patriotism and conventional border security, not to mention their accumulation of debts our children’s children will be paying back.
There are, undoubtedly, genuine working-class people who will vote for Labor in the coming election, but the Wong and Rudd brand of socialism has less in common with factory canteens than the finest restaurants in town.
Daryl McCann is a frequent Quadrant contributor and blogger