‘Every child deserves a mum and a dad.’ ‘Every child has a right to their biological parents.’ ‘What about the children?’ ‘What about the rights of the child?’
I kept hearing this rhetoric repeated again and again by the No campaign. Biological family was inalienable, a birthright with which the State should not interfere, an entitlement beyond the reach of social engineering.
Even as a conservative myself, I find this position a bit basic. It’s certainly not historically how our society has operated. For all the dodgy studies trying to convince us that there is something essential that a person gets through a relationship with a biological mother and biological father, there is the obvious preference that people have stability and certainty. People will love each other and bring children into their family units; it would be preferable that this unit be as stable as possible regardless of the gendered accidents of the people involved.
Australia has not had the greatest history of protecting families. Even recently, rules have changed on family visas making it harder to reunite families in Australia.
But perhaps the worst example of this attitude towards families was the genocidal attack on Australia’s Indigenous culture through what would become known as the Stolen Generations. For all this rhetoric about the need to preserve family units, we should expect that the loudest voices behind the No campaign are also the most outspoken about the atrocity of forcibly destroying family units.
Procrastination, gentle reader, makes me productive in every way except the ways in which I ought to be.
I’m not joking. I have three books that I need to read by tomorrow, an essay with a deadline that is rapidly approaching, a stack of audio that I should edit, I need to clean out my bedroom, and a shortlist of job applications I need to submit… but the weather is inviting, and there’s a nice cafe down the road, and I have three new books that I’d like to pour over, and there are some movies I’d like to watch at the cinema. I want to write short stories and then delete them so that nobody can see how bad they are. I bought some letter paper a few weeks ago, but it’s too large for writing letters, so I might draw on those instead. And I love reading essays. I want to be a better essayist, but I keep succumbing to the self-doubt that I’m dull and turgid. Maybe I’m the only person left who still gets excited by essays. I want to print out old literary essays on cheap pamphlet paper and slip them into friends’ letter boxes, leave them on colleagues’ desks, tuck them into books at the library for complete strangers to discover.
Of course, I’m not actually going to do this because I haven’t completely lost my biscuits yet.
It’s scary to be conservative during the marriage debate in Australia, Internet. At any time, without warning, somebody could jump out of the bushes and cover us with glitter. It’s a horrifying thought and I live in constant fear.
And the ridicule! I dare not express any opinion that contradicts the completely unreasonable belief that people ought not to be subject to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. If a doctor expresses the belief that gay patients should be subject to conversion therapy, who knows what the Left might do? Perhaps they might report this act to the authorities for being a breach of professional standards? Who can know?
Clearly, every conservative now lives in fear of ridicule and humiliation. It’s completely unfair. It’s completely unbalanced. Sure, the Left lives in fear that we will literally kill them — either by running them down with cars or by stripping them of healthcare and food — but there can be no justification for political discrimination.
Quand une guerre éclate, les gens disent : « Ça ne durera pas, c’est trop bête. » Et sans doute une guerre est certainement trop bête, mais cela ne l’empêche pas de durer. La bêtise insiste toujours.
When a war breaks out, people say: ‘It won’t last – it is too stupid!’ And, of course, war certainly is too stupid, but that does not prevent it from lasting. Stupidity always insists.
(Camus, La Peste, 1947)
I don’t believe that the current world is significantly worse than any other period in history. As a conservative, I always think that we are in some kind of degenerate state but I don’t believe that this degenerate state is worse than any other.
The churn in Western democracies at the moment is questioning a lot of wisdom which we have not, on a grand scale, questioned for a while. We have a moment to reexamine the received wisdom that many people — far too many — accept entirely without challenge. We have intuitions about democracy, freedom of speech, and liberty that, on closer reflection, do little but support tired power structures in society. And I say this from the conservative end of politics, reflecting on the incredible expansion of the market that has filled the void where traditional state authority used to be.
But it is rare that so many people are invited and encouraged to challenge liberalism, centrism, and even democracy to engage in a discussion about what sort of a society we want and how we can go about realising that society.
The Guardian published an article by Simon Gathercole about whether there was an historical Jesus. The article is depressingly terrible and it’s annoyed me for a full day.
We should start with who Gathercole is. He is an outstanding theologian who is pushing the development of several areas of inquiry about early Christianity. When we talk about wanting Richard Dawkins to engage with serious theology, we’re talking about people like Gathercole.
But that doesn’t mean Gathercole isn’t sometimes afflicted by bouts of sloppy thinking, as evidenced by the Guardian article.
A few weeks ago, Australia’s chattering classes were gripped in an unedifying discussion about the Rule of Law. The new head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, was asked by ABC’s Leigh Sales if she believed in the Rule of Law (she did) and if that belief was inconsistent with the amount of law-breaking undertaken by unions. It was an asinine series of questions and the resulting conversation covered nobody in glory. I pointed to it as yet another example of legal theorists letting down the wider community.
What might surprise some people, perhaps, is that the same discussion points raised by the questioning of Sally McManus also arise in the recent decision to smack Assad with the tomahawk missiles.
It has been alleged — not unfairly — that I’m routinely more critical of conservatives than I am of progressives and radicals. One person has suggested that this is because I’m after a pat on the head: the vast majority of my friends and colleagues are progressives, so it is socially profitable to go after conservatives than the alternative. This greatly underestimates what an atrocious dinner guest I am.
The answer is less sinister. I have more invested in an improvement in right wing politics than I do in the left. I am like the theologian who wants to improve understanding of Christianity regardless of how many atheists I convert.
So why am I conservative?
There’s not a lot to be gained by engaging in any sort of analysis of Milo Yiannopoulos’ behaviour. He’s an attention seeker and we keep, for whatever reason, giving him attention.
I want to focus on one aspect of the Milo saga: the part where a publisher withdrew a book deal with him due to comments he’d made in support of statutory rape. I want to focus here because it raises questions about censorship and about freedom of expression and because, for whatever reason, we struggle with these concepts as a society. The problem, as ever, is that quite a lot of the tricky bits of liberalism haven’t been resolved, yet all the loudest people on social media think that they have.
The obvious answer is that ‘Guy’ was his given name, but we can (and should) look more deeply at the gendered and racial nature of anonymity. Why is Guy Fawkes — the symbol and icon — a grinning white male, and not something else?
In 1939, Robert Menzies gave the commencement speech at Canberra University College (which would later become the ANU Faculties). The speech ought to be read by every undergraduate in the country; I had to get a copy brought up from the archives where all the little-read books rest in half sleep, half death.
He delivered the speech in April 1939, shortly after becoming Prime Minister and six months prior to entering Australia into the Second World War. Menzies worries that the ‘barbaric philosophies of blood and iron are resurgent’ and that democracy is ‘on the defensive’, and he sees in universities part of the answer.
It is difficult, armed with hindsight, not to be cynical. For all the universities in the Anglophone world, and for all of the leaders with degrees from those universities, there was a lot of sympathy with Nazism among the educated elite. Their university studies did very little to disabuse them of their worst prejudices. The same occurs today: how many students really change their minds about The Big Things during their studies?
Menzies gives seven defences of ‘pure’ academic learning. One of those defences regards practical training and, in particular, the practical training of lawyers — a topic about which I spend a lot of time thinking.