Guest Notes

Conservative notes

1 April 2017

9:00 AM

1 April 2017

9:00 AM

O’Sullivan’s Law & the Ramsay Centre

John O’Sullivan is a British journalist, one time editor of the US’s National Review, the best connected Tory in the Anglosphere, and for the past two years the editor of this country’s Quadrant magazine. The man knows a thing or two about right-of-centre politics in the English-speaking world. He even has a law named after him, or rather after one of his observations about how the world works these days. O’Sullivan’s Law states ‘that any organisation or enterprise that is not expressly right wing will become left wing over time’.

That sure looks spot on to me when it comes to ‘our’ ABC TV and radio network, which cannot point to a single, solitary right-of-centre presenter or producer on any of its television current affairs shows, not one. Yes, yes, yes, we all remember the former managing director Mark Scott’s line that this wall-to-wall of lefties really didn’t matter because they were all professionals; they all could look inside themselves and deliver an impartial product. Personally, I find the ABC’s offerings so left-leaning that I’ve stopped watching and moved over fully to Sky.

And of course the great philosopher of freedom John Stuart Mill said a society would always get closer to the truth by allowing and encouraging a vigorous debate between those with opposing views. This works far better, he thought, than having one side try to be balanced and disinterested. Mill is correct. Mark Scott is simply wrong, be it due to naivety or some protect-the-troops mentality. And nothing about Malcolm Turnbull’s recent ‘captain’s pick’ for ABC chairman, Justin Milne, gives any of us grounds for thinking any of the national broadcaster’s left-leaning one-sidedness will change. Heck, this guy has already announced there’s no bias at the ABC and everything is just hunky-dory. (Want to know why the base is deserting the Libs? Just look at one Turnbull appointment after another.)

So that’s one example where O’Sullivan’s Law looks accurate. Then there are the universities, where I work. My Lord, do they lean left! I still remember when I first arrived in Australia in early 2005 and a few months later mentioned at a big university meeting that I liked then Prime Minister Howard. I brought the entire room of senior uni administrators and professors to a silent halt, which was admittedly fun albeit worrying for those whose kids have to go through these places. It was even worse when Tony Abbott was PM. If you’re interested, they have lots and lots of hard data about this bias or lack of balance in universities in the US and the UK. Upwards of 90 per cent of academics outside engineering vote for Democrats and Labour. It’s worst in the social sciences and arts. And if anyone thinks there is more balance in Australian universities than in the US and UK, all I can say is that you’re dreamin’.

And that brings me to something I’ve been worrying about for a week or two now. Recall back a fortnight or so when former Prime Minister John Howard announced the establishment of the Ramsay Centre for the promotion of Western Civilisation. This is a wonderful thing, and I say that as someone who does not believe in cultural relativism. Indeed, I believe that Western culture and civilisation is the most successful in the world’s history and, more to the point, has produced the best societies in which to live. It’s no contest. So a huge bequest from Paul Ramsay to establish this centre, and indeed to have John Howard as the chairman of its board, is wonderful.

But here’s the problem. Mr Howard says that this new Ramsay Centre will collaborate with Australian universities. And immediately I think of O’Sullivan’s Law. How is that going to work out, I wonder and I worry. Here’s an analogy. Back when Mr Howard was PM, the government kicked in some $25 million from the public purse to found the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. I’m pretty sure, or at least I’m hoping, that the goal was to set-up some sort of balanced Centre that would provide a variety of takes on the US, our most important ally, and the world’s most important country.

How’s that worked out? Well, not a single one of the supposed experts at this US Studies Centre predicted a Donald Trump win and it would seem that not a single one of them wanted a Trump win either. The views it promotes look pretty much like those you’d expect to hear if something like O’Sullivan’s Law were true. And then just this week Tom Switzer resigned from the US Studies Centre. Former Speccie editor Switzer is a conservative. He’d had enough of this Centre and now is gone.

So I can’t help wondering how Mr Howard and the new Ramsay Centre think they’re going to avoid, over time, becoming yet another left wing organisation? I ask because it’s important. Left-leaning universities and Institutes and Centres, all on the taxpayer teat, are a dime a dozen. A right-leaning Centre is very rare. The few that exist, none being channelled taxpayer monies, are those that are expressly right wing. Will the Ramsay Centre take this line too? That surely won’t be easy. It may not be possible, given that the plan is to have lots of collaboration with our universities. After all, these are the same universities whose social science departments – I generalise you understand – wallow in cultural relativism. These are the same universities that practice affirmative action and bolster identity politics. These are the same universities that fall woefully short in supporting free speech on campus.

I’m really, really hoping this Ramsay Centre makes a big impact and a difference. We sure could use it in Australia. But I can’t say I’m not worried that O’Sullivan’s Law won’t prove true yet again. Repeat after me, ‘the US Studies Centre’.

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