Guest Notes

Stasi notes

26 August 2017

9:00 AM

26 August 2017

9:00 AM

As the years race by it is tempting to hunt for any advantage one can possibly associate with age. Yet if disillusionment represents age’s biggest drawback, having lived through largely forgotten historical events surely remains its greatest bonus.

I wrote recently about the strong reservations I hold about every single aspect of post-modernism. To me, at least, what pass as post-modernist virtues are merely poorly concealed forms of social engineering. In terms of Australia, in fact, they represent nothing more than yet another attempted sovietisation of a Western democracy.

Yet other than a high percentage of our public service employees, teachers, academics and the unfortunate students they teach, who really believes in most of the political cant such folk habitually preach? Indeed, how many could conceivably do so if they had witnessed at first hand the abject failure of such totalitarian theory in the former Soviet Union and its satellites?

The Iron Curtain country I disliked most was East Germany, largely because of the intrusiveness of its secret police – the notorious STASI – into almost everyone’s lives. Even members of the same family were encouraged to spy on each other. If you fondly imagine former communist systems were not that bad, chat sometime to a pre-’89 inhabitant of East Germany.

When communism did finally collapse in that latter year, former Spectator colleague Taki threw a memorable, formal dress party at the Savoy Ballroom in London to celebrate that welcome event. Each of the many tables took its name from a former communist dictator or Western fellow traveller. Perhaps appropriately I sat at the Walter Ulbricht table, just down the way, in fact, from those dedicated to Beria, Walter Duranty and the Webbs.

Compared to the frequent self-righteousness of the mainstream media here such an event provided almost unimaginable fun which spilled over also into the occasional playing of competitive sport between newspapers. Thus Taki and I were once The Spectator’s first pair at tennis and a brace of cricket matches were once also played between strongly reinforced High Life and Low Life teams at the mighty Kennington Oval – a Test Match venue.

Why do I think of Australia sometimes as the would-be East Germany of the South? The matter I relate may seem trivial but I fear it is much more typical than many imagine. Firm proof that the former Soviet satellite’s behaviour was not looked on automatically with disfavour here was provided for me about 15 years ago by Blue Mountains City Council whose proposed Vegetation Management Order actively encouraged next-door neighbours up here to spy on one another. This was lest any such might plant or move a shrub of a metre or more in height in the privacy of their own gardens without the written permission of the council and the payment of a fee. Neo-Orwellian horticulture? There was also much ill-feeling that the measure was not immediately passed at the local council meeting I personally attended. As some witless local remarked at the time: ‘the forces of darkness have triumphed again’.

In his bemused mind, democracy itself was the dark force which prevented the forward march of the kind of totalitarianism he personally favoured. OK, the whole matter I describe took place 15 years ago but in the intervening period I have found I bump into similar instances of laws or attempted legislation which have no place at all in a democracy. Governments come and go at state and federal level but unseen termites gnaw away non-stop meanwhile at the fabric of any kind of recognisable Western democracy. James Allan wrote recently in these pages of the growth of political activism in the study and practice of the law in Australia. Do not be surprised on your next visit to a family lawyer to learn of a new or recent law you could never have imagined. Is former East Germany our secret role model perhaps? Everything novel takes place in the name of ‘fairness’ – as it did in former communist tyrannies – but do not be deceived.

In terms of advertising awards whoever coined the term ‘marriage equality’ should walk off with the next annual prix d’or – but again never confuse advertising or PR with reality. Indeed, before you vote on SSM get in your car and drive to the top of an ancient hill and sit there for a while in complete silence. Let your gaze wander over the landscape as far as the eye can reach and see if the rocks, land and rivers tell you anything. Like traditional marriage most such have been around for an awfully long time.

Before post-modernism raised its head, the rhetoric of modernism ruled the pseudo-intellectual roost in the West. I had the misfortune to be starting out on a career as a professional painter at that time. According to such rhetoric an artist like Jackson Pollock represented the acme of ‘progress’, ‘development’ and ‘inevitable evolution’. But the only thing devout modernists couldn’t physically stop was questioning minds wandering off to the Prado to see Goya and Velazquez or to the Uffizi – or to the Rijksmuseum to peek at Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Strangely enough the widely ridiculed ‘state art’ of the Soviet Union was then still based on a traditional system of prolonged art training that included just about everything modernists had abandoned, e.g. studying anatomy or an ability to carve marble. Soviet art was never a complete answer to modernism’s ills but neither was post-modernism or so-called Marxist analysis as practised now by contemporary critics. Thirty years ago I enjoyed a quiet drink in Moscow’s Arts Club with Russia’s leading critic of the day Vladislav Zimenko. I wonder sometimes what he might have made of the habitual left-wing politicising of art by the Australia Council?

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