Kevin Rudd & The Paranoid Style in Australian Politics
There is something deeply troubling about Kevin Rudd’s extraordinary attack in his Lowy lecture on people who dare to be skeptical about the climate change hysteria that is presently overwhelming Australian politics.
Certainly its breathtaking arrogance and conviction of absolute certitude, its “naming and shaming” attack on political opponents and commentators, and its relentless dot-point repetition and stylistic vapidity, are worrying enough. However, its depiction of a giant global conspiracy of climate change deniers and skeptics reveals something more, a disturbed mental state first identified in 1965 by the great American historian Richard Hofstadter in his essay on “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”.
In this very influential work, Hofstadter described the role played in politics by “a style of mind [characterized by] heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy”, together with “systematized delusions of persecution and of one’s own greatness”, and “overheated, over-suspicious, over-aggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic [forms] of expression”. Hofstadter explains how the paranoid-style politician sees himself as a champion of his society, the vulnerable masses, and indeed the entire world, locked in mortal battle with deeply entrenched conspiracies that aim to destroy them all. As their defender, he “sees the fate of this conspiracy in apocalyptic terms – he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values”.
As an example, Hofstadter cited Senator Joseph McCarthy, who raged against “a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that [it] shall forever [be] deserving of the maledictions of all honest men”.
In comparison, Rudd rises to the same rhetorical heights, referring to “the climate change skeptics, the climate change deniers, the opponents of climate change action [who] are active in every country … They are powerful … driven by vested interests … alive in every major country including Australia, [they] constitute a powerful global force for inaction … quite literally holding the world to ransom”. Their aim “is to destroy the CPRS at home, and … to destroy agreed global action on climate change abroad, and our children’s fate – and our grandchildren’s fate – will lie entirely with them … The clock is ticking for the planet, but the climate change skeptics simply do not care. The vested interests at work are simply too great”.
As a devout Christian, Rudd also appears to make a Biblical reference where he talks of “the legion of climate change skeptics [who] happily play with our children’s future”. This evokes the story of Jesus (Mark 5:1-13) confronting the man possessed by demons: “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion’, he replied, ‘for we are many’.” Realizing they must leave the man, the demons begged Jesus to allow them to possess a passing herd of pigs, but when they did “the herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned”. This is, of course, a passage that is infamous amongst environmentalists because they believe it demonstrates Christianity’s anthropocentric attitudes and lack of care for the environment. In Rudd’s hands the reference might also betray an extraordinarily exalted self-perception of himself as a divine champion ridding the body-politic of the demons of skepticism that presently possess it.
Over the past few years Australian politics has moved from a political paradigm defined by a preoccupation with patriotism, history, and a concern with the Australian character, to one increasingly defined by globalism, paranoia, and an obsession with apocalyptic views of the future. John Howard was the master of one, and comfortable with ordinary Australians and their aspirations; while Rudd is making a claim to be the master of the other, and is far more comfortable with foreign heads of state and UN officials, and their aspirations, which are, of course, his own.
Therefore, what the climate change imbroglio demonstrates is that the actual real-world interests of our nation and the pragmatic solutions they require will be ignored by a Prime Minister who exhibits no particular aptitude for such day-to-day political activity, but increasingly perceives both himself and his role in the world in absolute, grandiose, and messianic terms. Modern history has demonstrated many times that political messianism is a very dangerous thing and so the question remains: do we have the politicians with the courage required to put the brakes on this increasingly menacing process, or will the future of Australia be sacrificed on the altar of the eco-apocalypse?