The first question I ask when encountering a piece of writing is: Who is the author trying to reach with this piece of writing? And if the answer is someone other than me, the next question arises: Will I benefit from it in some way?
I am aware of Gray Connolly from Twitter – where I often find myself disagreeing with him. Curious about his beliefs, I tracked down Conservative Futures, published in the Australian literary journal, Meanjin.
The first thing to note is the choice of venue. The article talks at length about steps that need to be taken by the Australian Liberal Party. And yet Meanjin is an imperilled literary journal with a circulation of around 2,000. It is not the house publication of either Liberal party grandees or suburban party branches. I am only as expert on conservative Australian media as circumstances force me to be, but there feels like a disconnect. Is this article an attempt to explain conservatism to a (slightly) broader audience or to influence the conservative movement? It is mostly the former but the latter constantly slips in.
I want to skip through some comments quickly before hitting the big one:
- I am not a student of the history of the Australian conservative movement so some of the background was informative.
- I agree with Mr Connolly on freedom of religion and the sharing of prosperity across society (although we would probably disagree on exactly how to do that and by how much).
- Not sharing his Christian beliefs, I disagree with him on a number of social and moral issues.
- The style of the piece is heavy going – especially in the middle section. While Meanjin is a literary journal, the author seems at pains (his and mine) to make as many historical and literary references as he can get away with. This is not learning worn lightly. An ermine clock rather than a cashmere scarf. Fortunately, the reference density eases up in the final third as we reach the present day.
So what’s the big issue then? Well, the title of the article is “Conservative Futures”. There is much about the past and present in the article but little about the future. In a sense, this blind spot is simply a function of the author’s conservatism. Conservatives tend to assume that the future will be much like the past, only not quite as good. They view history much like a Hollywood franchise – the initial movie was fantastic but each subsequent sequel a little more of a let down each time.
However, while human beings will continue to be human beings in all their awful and petty glory, our future will not be like our past. The next 50 years for Australia will not be like the previous 50. The issues we face around technological change, environmental degradation, the restructuring of the global order, and the demographic shifts of an ageing society are not touched upon. The author hints at this in his final sentence: “It is only the eternal values of prudence, duty, loyalty and unity, with sound conservatives at the helm, that will see the good ship Australia safe in the rough seas that most certainly lie ahead.”
He has not attempted to chart those rough seas so he does not know if his vessel is sound enough to withstand them. The calm waters of the Western world since 1945 do not equate to the oncoming storm into which we are drifting.
He also does not fully map out the threats to his conservatism from adjacent entities. Connolly is a One Nation Tory in the English sense, not a One Nation conservative in the Australian one. His immediate competitors (white nationalism, corporate-sponsored libertarianism, religious conservatism) are less thoughtful but more agile corsairs than his stately galleon of conservatism. We will see what lasts the hurricane.
This is part of the Into The Maelstrom series.