The ‘Infinite Caution’ of not Leaping Forward

Much is being made of Anthony Albanese’s humble upbringing.  Graham Richardson, for example, lauds the new ALP Leader as “the kid from the Housing Commission one-bedroom flat, raised by a single mum”.

While not wanting a re-run of the Monty Python sketch about disadvantage and having to live in a shoe box, my childhood also involved poverty and hardship.  The difference, though, is that whereas Albanese is from the Left faction of the ALP, I’m centre-right and a conservative. As to why I’m a conservative and why so many Australian voters preferred the continuity and stability represented by Scott Morrison, rather than Bill Shorten’s politics of envy and radical change, the answers are easy to find.

Central to Morrison’s campaign was appealing to the quiet Australians living in the outer suburbs of our major cities and to rural and regional Queenslanders.  For these Australians home ownership, gainful employment, financial security and family are what matter most.

Unlike voters in wealthy electorates like Higgins, Kooyong and Warringah, of most concern are issues like the cost of living, the increasing congestion and stress caused by overpopulation and the sense that society has been overwhelmed by politically correct ideology, censorship and groupthink.

As noted by the British academic Roger Scruton “ordinary people are conservative, they just don’t articulate it”.  By stressing change and channelling Gough Whitlam’s 1972 It’s Time campaign Shorten appealed to the inner city privileged set but, in doing so, reinforced the belief the ALP was the party of what Scruton calls the “intellectual class” — a class that sees itself “gifted with superior insight and intellect and therefore inevitably  critical of whatever it is that ordinary people do by way of surviving”. 

The fact that cultural-left commentators like Jane Caro, Phillip Adams and Yassmin Abdel-Magied so deplored the election result best illustrates this out-of-touch sense of privilege. Such was the combined distress and hostility expressed by the ABC and former Fairfax, now Nine, commissariat that one is reminded of the lines from Bertolt Brecht’s poem The Solution that it would be best “To dissolve the people and elect another”.

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Even though the reasons why Donald Trump won the Presidency, why the British voted for Brexit, the rise of centre-right parties in the European election and why Scott Morrison is now PM are different there are similarities. Underpinning all is a sense that increasing numbers of people feel alienated and dispossessed. While the intellectual class preaches global warming, open borders and immigration, gender fluidity, identity politics and victimhood the rest of society is seeking stability and continuity.

As argued by the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott “To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss”.

Oakeshott goes on to suggest “To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed to make certain kinds of choices.”

Unlike the socialist urge to perfect human nature and achieve a utopia on this earth, to be a conservative is to accept the imperfectability of human nature and to understand utopian dreams, no matter how appealing, always lead to violence and oppression. Lenin’s worker’s paradise, which was anything but, Mao’s inglorious Cultural Revolution and Pol Pot’s Year Zero resulted in millions starved, imprisoned and killed.  To be conservative is also to realise that continuity is just as important as change and that evolution is preferable to revolution.

While characterised as ossified and backward-looking the reality is that conservatism also embraces the need for change.  As suggested by Edmund Burke who many consider the father of conservatism “We must all obey the great law of change.  It is the most powerful law of nature”.

At the same time, based on observing the horror and death of the French Revolution, Burke argues “it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purpose of society”.

While the cultural Left argues Western liberal democracies like Australia are fraught with inequality and disadvantage, that religion and the church are oppressive and the traditional family offers nothing beneficial, conservatives argue those institutions that have stood the test of time need to be defended.

The slogan employed by the UK’s Vote Leave campaign “Let’s Take Back Control” and John Howard’s slogan during the republican debate “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” were so successful because they tapped into the conservative side of human nature in a world characterised by incessant turmoil and unwelcome change.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of How Political Correctness Is Destroying Australia

10 thoughts on “The ‘Infinite Caution’ of not Leaping Forward

  • whitelaughter says:

    The biography of Albanese is a depressing read; his mother’s refusal to give him up for adoption caused massive damage, eventually destroying multiple families. Not his fault, but a brutal rebuttal of the single parent family. Having also been brought up by one parent, I find the idea that any one human can take the place of a family absolutely laughable. Even the nuclear family is dangerous; having access to uncles/aunts etc far wiser.

  • en passant says:

    Many years ago I wrote an essay (for an assignment) called “Why Revolutions always make things worse – and why they are necessary”.
    I looked at the decline and demise of the Spanish Empire, the Aztecs & the French & Russian revolutions. In all cases the society declined because they had become so rule-bound that change and modernity was all but impossible. The answer was the chaos of revolution. But every revolution made things worse – for a time, then the revolutionaries were replaced and a new dawn became possible.
    You mention that the Left sees ‘Australia [as] fraught with inequality and disadvantage, that religion and the church are oppressive and the traditional family offers nothing beneficial …’
    Well some religions (whose name cannot be spoken and which cannot be criticised) are seriously oppressive to everyone, including 60% of its own followers.
    Thirdly, my father was unemployed for seven years when the manufacturing industry he was in collapsed (score one for outsourcing and globalisation), my mother waitressed and cleaned. My cousin became a lifelong Communist (he annoyed me by not witnessing the demise of his ‘dream’ society by dying the year before the Berlin Wall fell). When I was told that by bettering myself I was trying to ‘get out of my class’ my reply was that “I have not reached it yet”. It is not where yo start that counts, but where you finish. Just ask Steve Jobs …

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    Yes, whitelaughter, my father and his siblings were brought up in poverty by their widowed mother, and forced like many of that post-World War I generation to leave school at the minimum age to help support the family. I and my own siblings were fortunate that our father survived his World War II active service, and we were always aware that so many others of our generation including our own schoolmates were not so fortunate. We all knew many single women who had lost husbands and fiancés in that war and who had been forced, by the relative shortage of suitable men, never to marry or remarry.
    They were vastly different times, but the Albanese experience was commonplace. We who had the luxury of a loving extended family know how important they are, and must resist all efforts by the radical left to devalue their importance.

  • Peter Smith says:

    When I say that I am a conservative I mean that I am someone who wants to preserve what is good in our evolving peerless Western civilisation. At one time countries within the Western civilised world jailed sodomites, flogged miscreants in the street, embraced child labour and slavery, press-ganged men into naval service, marginalised women, deported thieves, and colonised lands without permission of indigenous populations and treated such populations cruelly at times I am led to understand. So, us conservatives need to tread carefully lest we support what turns out to be unsupportable after our time. Bring it up to date. If I were a conservative in Iran or Turkey or China I would not, I think, be on the right side of things. Being a conservative and being good are not necessarily in sync. Time and place make a deal of difference. Remembering this helps to keep us modest – which is another hallmark of being conservative.

  • D J McNeice says:

    I classify myself as a conservative, too, but it is worth re-reading F.A Hayek’s chapter titled “Why I am not a conservative” in his book “The constitution of liberty”. Conservatism by itself, inherently to ‘conserve’ but without a clearly established and articulated set of principles to aim for, always drifts left. The main difference between Labor and Conservatives is a time delay.

  • padraic says:

    En passant makes an interesting point with the following remark relating to his academic assignment “But every revolution made things worse – for a time, then the revolutionaries were replaced and a new dawn became possible.” I have noticed the same thing over the years observing politics. The people who make the revolution are ill-suited to govern afterwards because they still fight the battle even after they have won and are obsessed with personal “glory” and it is only when they have died and a new generation remote from the revolutionary years takes over and a modicum of common sense prevails.


    Kevin, you should copyright your line which said in essence – ‘Conservatives prefer evolution to revolution’ – that was worth my QUADRANT subs.

  • Sos says:

    excellent article
    Albanese a self confessed socialist
    world view based on 19 th class war

    Albanese labor never want to talk about the living example of socialism that has destroyed the once rich democracy of Venezuela

    Government travel warning

    • Do not travel to Venezuela due to the unstable political and economic situation, food, water, medicine and petrol shortages and high levels of violent crime. Many hospitals are closed. Power and water outages are common.

    • Venezuela has one of the world’s highest crime rates. Violent crime, including murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, drive-by shootings and car jackings, is common muggings and kidnappings by criminals posing as taxi drivers and other violent crimes.

  • bomber49 says:

    When I was a kid growing up in a northern suburb of Adelaide, the kids would boo Bob Menzies when he appeared on the newsreels at the Saturday Matinees (remember newsreels?). The kids views reflected those of their parents, who were your true Aussie battlers and would have nothing in common with the Leftie inner city cafe latte intellectuals who determine Labor Policy nowadays. Sixty years later they still get the icky end of the stick because new Labor take them for granted and then Conservatives figure why try to win them over. There is light however at the end of the tunnel post Federal Election where the some of battlers made a choice between racing to the bottom by saving the planet and their own self interest. Maybe the time is right for the conservatives to win over the battlers with the same bribes that the marginal seats obtain.

  • marcuslestrange says:

    ‘For the many (The Battlers) not the few (Labor’s New Class)’

    This letter is not anti-real Labor but anti New Class Labor (those who only joined the ALP only to become millionaires-multimillionaires) and The Nomenclature (the heavies / the ‘names’ / insiders) of the ALP. The below is just one example of governments (knowingly) using the false monthly unemployment figures in its decision-making process and the deadly effects on Australians.
    LETTERS: Marcus L’Estrange News Weekly, July 28, 2018
    Shorten and the class war
    Multimillionaire Warren Buffett once declared: “Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.” However, Bill Shorten, Albo and the rest of Labor’s New Class don’t come into this battle with their hands clean, nor can they cast the first stone.
    First, media coverage of MPs rarely mentions that, if you are an MP on the defined benefits super scheme, you now have $6 million plus in your super pot. Many Labor frontbenchers are in this group. The Australian’s “Shorten’s frontbench team rich in assets” (June 26, 2018), is very illustrative and clearly shows Labor MPs are well and truly in the top 2 to 3 per cent of income earners (and property owners) in Australia.
    Second. Bill, Albo and comrades, when in government in 2013, enacted a viscous class war against three welfare groups. In cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee, Bill and Albo voted not to increase the dole (Newstart), which was then and is now one of the world’s lowest and hasn’t had a value increase since Paul Keating’s government in 1994.
    Likewise, Bill, Albo and Co also voted to tighten up on the Disability Support Pension so that it was, and is now, extremely hard to get and you have to have one foot in the grave to have any hope. Bill topped this off by voting and moving the actual legislation as employment minister to offload sole parents from their pension of $21,000 a year to the dole of $14,000 a year when their child turned eight. Many sole parents then had to couch-surf or sleep in their cars, and work in massage parlours. (1), (2)
    All Bill’s decisions surely are a major cause of poverty today; he and Albo and the rest should hang their heads in shame. After all, Albo was raised by his single mother on the sole-parent pension. One thing Bill did do was to support his long-time friend, Nicola Roxon, who left Parliament on a pension of $143,000 a year, so that, yes, you’ve guessed it, she could spend more time with her daughter, who had just turned eight. Nicola, of course voted for Bill’s legislation. The party also voted for a 35 per cent pay increase for MPs.
    Also, Bill and Albo (family income $800,000 plus a year), Macklin, Wong, Gillard, Swan, Carr, Plibersek (family income $850,000 plus a year) and others, knew that the real unemployment figures showed a job vacancy rate of one job for every 20 unemployed.
    Bill, Albo and the entire Labor Party: Get your own house in order. Conduct a real class war within Labor’s ranks first, then and only then can you tackle Malcolm and the “top end of town”.
    (1) Omitted- ‘and some committed suicide’. (2) I should have added: Consequently, Labor MPs who supported the move to offload sole parents from their pension have blood on their hands.
    (3) EMPLOYMENT Minister Bill Shorten yesterday ruled out any immediate increase to the $13,000-a-year Newstart allowance, despite saying he found it hard to make ends meet on his salary of about $330,000. Anna Caldwell, Herald Sun August 28, 2012
    Additionally, Jenny Macklin ($330,000 pa) said she could also live on the dole.

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