Reading the ‘Quarterly Essay’ for the January quarter this year revealed an interesting perspective on the state of the economy, politics, society and neo-liberalism within a modern Australia. It insisted on tearing apart aspects of the Liberal party’s beliefs and actions, partly through quoting Sir Robert Menzies. One of those quotes read:
The moment we establish, or perpetuate, the principle that the citizen, in order to get something he needs or wants and to which he has looked forward, must prove his poverty, we convert him into a suppliant to the state for benevolence… that position is inconsistent with the proper dignity of the citizen in a democratic country
While this quote pertains to the welfare system, it is always interesting to compare the words of the party’s founder to the actions of its current leaders.
Robert Menzies’ core belief was to avoid collectivism and empower individualism. He described the middle class as “the strivers, the planners, the ambitious ones.” as those that made a nation glorious. But he wasn’t unaware of the issues of class, nor the fact that some people may need the help of society – “We offer no affront – on the contrary we have nothing but the warmest human compassion – toward those whom fate has compelled to live upon the bounty of the State “.
But, when would you ever hear a modern Liberal defend the right of the individual to a support net? Menzies went further, stating that an individual “should be able to obtain these benefits as a matter of right, with no more loss of their own standards of self-respect than would be involved in collecting from an insurance company the proceeds of an endowment policy on which they have been paying premiums for years.”.
The modern Liberals have lost much of their individual self-respect, both upon themselves and in encouraging it across society. You would never see one propose lifting Newstart from being 33.7% below the poverty line to even equal with it.
You don’t see them advocate for an LGBT child’s right to an education, even though when a parent “ponders upon the future of his son” they “sees it most assured not by the inheritance of money but by the acquisition of that knowledge which will give him power”. While ignoring the clear phallocentric nature of a speech from the 1940s, it does point out that education is a vital aspect of the Liberal Party’s core tenant of individual responsibility.
So, what does any of this have to do with the current Federal Liberal Party?
Well, you’ll often find members of the party doing what I have just done. Finding quotes from Sir Robert Menzies and using them to back a particular attitude or policy is one of the many pastimes of any Liberal MP. It works well with the base and offers the semblance of sticking to some system of values.
Values are what use to underpin the makeup and framework of the Liberal Party. Individual responsibility, empowerment of individual enterprise, small government, support of the family unit. These all come together under what is considered as political conservatism – scepticism of radical or sudden change, respect for institutions and evidence-based policy.
In recent years, this political conservatism has been tinged with moral conservatism; think Tony Abbott in a church lecturing his gay sister on how she can’t be married.
While this moral conservatism has always been an aspect of the party and will continue to remain as one, it has reached a new level of extremist ideology, one filled with anti-intellectualism and, in instances, nativism.
This has seen a clash between the two factions that don’t exist – the big L’s (conservatives) and the little l’s (moderates).
To Be Continued…