One morning in late November I woke to find myself transformed, in an ideological echo of poor Gregor Samsa's metamorphosis, into a right-wing conservative. No, more than that: an enemy of democracy.
The charge was made by two postmodernist academics from Curtin University in an ill-tempered polemic titled The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press.
It was an unsettling moment. One conservative Sydney columnist who escaped a flaying in the book was visibly peeved that he'd been ignored. I on the other hand was bridling at my new-found status as one of Australia's notorious freedom bashers: my companions in arms included Janet Albrechtson, Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt.
A lugubrious colleague who I'd never heard laugh before cackled a good minute at my misfortune before suggesting, in all seriousness, that I could use my notoriety as a pitch for a promotion.
After a few weeks of teeth-gnashing I resolved, with reservations, to ignore Steve Mickler and Niall Lucy’s tract. Curtin is a Perth university that fails to make the Jiao Tong's international ranking's top 500, so this is hardly a stellar duo. But after reading Mark Bahnisch's thoughtful post (On Line Opinion) on the book, and a number of the over-heated responses at On Line Opinion by people of Lucy and Mickler's ilk, I offer the following as an appendix to that discussion.
The thing that makes my inclusion in Lucy and Mickler's anti-democratic axis of evil profoundly anomalous is that I am not, and never have been, a conservative. Christopher Pearson, writing in The Weekend Australian, has already drawn attention to this “category mistake”. And Pearson, it's safe to say, knows a conservative when he sees one.
I've never advocated support for the Howard or Bush governments and their domestic or foreign policies; I have, on the other hand, written positively of things like the revival of anti-war political protest, and derisively of “blustery conservative pundits with a vested interest in talking up the enemy”. I am, in other words, an opponent of the political persuasion Lucy and Mickler impute to me.
A month or so after the Lucy and Mickler attack I found, for example, the opening of an article I had drafted in response to John Howard's Quadrant address, which expresses my frustration at the current rather Manichaen state of debate in Australia.
"We are entering a period of neo-conservative ideological hubris that must not go un-challenged," it began. "The academic left, whose thinking has become muddied by two decades of toadying to the fashions of postmodern theory, is largely irrelevant to the resistance. The challenge must come from a vigorous and pragmatic mainstream left. And here lies the rub: such an entity does not in any meaningful way exist. The opinion pages of the metropolitan dailies are clotted by neo-cons who discharge expensive verbiage - most are exceedingly well paid - on a sectarian war against a largely chimerical enemy: the so-called left establishment."
I appear to have been assigned to Lucy and Mickler's band of deviant conservatives solely because of my position, adumbrated in the passage above, on postmodernism. They argue that “since it would be unspeakable for Slattery to come out against democracy, he has to say instead he is opposed to something he calls postmodernism”.
Not only is this infantile non-sequitur a travesty of logic, it's an abuse of common sense. Put it this way: if I am an enemy of democracy by virtue of my criticism of postmodernism, then the anti-democratic insurgency must have seduced the mainstream Anglo-American philosophical and scientific communities.
The distinguished Harvard biologist E. O Wilson speaks for his profession when he writes: “Scientists, being responsible for what they say, have not found postmodernism useful.”
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