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Politics and truth

By Chris Lewis - posted Wednesday, 8 April 2009

According to the Brit Colin Hay (Why We Hate Politics 2007), there is a need to challenge the dominant doctrine of neoliberalism, given its influence over public policy during the past 30 years and its negative effect upon the potential of democracy, as represented by a greater disdain for politicians and disbelief in the effectiveness of formal political institutions.

Hay’s assumption is based on government responsibility having been delegated to quasi independent bodies such as independent central banks in the public sphere; increasing privatisation; and the shifting of responsibility for important services from the public realm to the non-government sector, or a greater burden being placed on the individual.

Negative views about liberalism may even cite an abundance of evidence. After all, the current economic crisis was caused by inadequately regulated capital and financial lending, growing income disparity has occurred both within and between nations, and we are light years away from adequately addressing environmental degradation.


So should I surrender my defence of liberalism, jump on the bandwagon, and offer greater criticism? Should I run around and collect certain evidence to write an essay that pretends to have the answers to such a complex world?

Oh, I wish I was that way inclined. I would make a lot more friends at universities where an emphasis upon policy possibilities rather than limitations remains the rule of the day for most humanities students and academics.

But the aim of scholarship is to tell the truth from what one learns from an abundance of information, even if the bias of one’s views and values cannot be completely eliminated. As I would say to the former student, who could not understand why someone from a labouring background could support liberalism so passionately, I continue to open my eyes and think about the issues.

Yes, I started out as a passionate left-wing supporter. Brought up in a primarily blue-collar suburb (Preston in Victoria), I was opposed to non-Labor parties as I listened to the dominant ideas of my area. When 10 years of age, I wore an “Its Time” badge proudly in my support for Whitlam in 1972.

But I slowly learned to separate fact from fiction, a process sped up from the nonsense portrayed by some humanities academics. For instance, as noted in Quadrant in November 2006, one university lecturer, after telling students that it was the working class that made multiculturalism accepted, backed down when I suggested that the former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser would be disgusted by such a comment given his support for multiculturalism.

Sure enough it was the left-wing lecturers who promoted the biggest ideas and the most rubbish. It did not matter that many employers supported immigration from southern Europe (albeit often for self-interested reasons) during the 1950s, and that many trade union members and officials were initially opposed to such immigration.


And logic told me that racist attitudes had nothing to do with class, as there was likely to be good and bad attitudes from people with vastly different employment or wealth backgrounds. After all, working class people could also be cruel, as evident one day in the early 1970s when I was pelted with rocks when delivering newspapers, simply for being a so-called “wog”.

My wariness of do-gooders was reaffirmed after working for a federal politician (1999-2000) who wrote many books on social justice and how the world should be, yet went to jail for receiving money in exchange for unlawful favours.

So rather than rely on the wisdom of even the best-intentioned Left, I went off and read the thinkers that many humanities academics opposed. For instance, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis did state that it is human to hate and that resolving one conflict gives way to another, but also concluded that the great civilisations should respect each other and learn to live together, a view which I actually thought was too optimistic.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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