Flat White

Why Bother? Australians are sick of politics and politicians

12 January 2022

9:00 AM

12 January 2022

9:00 AM

For the politically inclined, 2022 should be a year of note. With a federal election due by May, and the usual analysis and intrigue underway, the political events of the year ought to appeal. Yet the response has been remarkably tepid, with a growing number of Australians ignoring politics entirely or remaining aloof from a process they rightly believe fails to represent their real interests.

And you don’t need to take my word for it, just look at the politicians.

Scott Morrison is warning of a hung parliament – a fate which portends a dull re-run of Julia Gillard’s 2010 experiment. It is emblematic of the Coalition’s current wafer-thin majority, the tight results of most recent elections, and a wider lack of enthusiasm with the vision advanced by both of the major parties. Indeed, the reaction of most Australians has been one of increasing apathy, a decline in institutional trust, and a retreat to their ‘Monasteries of the Mind’ – a notion coined by the great American classicist, Victor Davis Hanson.

At a deeper level, this posture is representative of a longer term despair with the status quo.

Australia has witnessed almost three decades of uninterrupted growth. If, as the free-marketeers like to remind us – economic success is the sole measure of social health – why has support for the duopoly that has overseen this dropped so staggeringly? Why the possibility of another hung parliament? And why the continued presence of minor parties, a group which now garners around a quarter of the popular vote?

Primarily, this is due to a deep disenchantment with the cosmopolitan liberalism that defines our times. Whilst the public pleads for less disruption and ‘dynamism’, and more continuity and cohesion, they are overruled by a governing class fixated on economic growth as the sine qua non of political organisation. It is a stance entirely emblematic of Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites. The practical effect of this is the social fracture, quasi-anarchy, and growing ungovernability of Western states we see before us today; yet on they plough.

The main culprit in all of this is our continued insistence on mass migration. As poll after poll shows, the Western public want less immigration, and an immigration program that’s more culturally compatible with the demographic majority. This position is obliquely observed in a recent Guardian article – Australians are more negative about immigrants from India, China, the Middle East, and Africa than arrivals from Britain or European countries – and illustrated in countries with a similar situation, like America or the UK.

One may wish this weren’t the case, and that our elite-led imposition of a largely indiscriminate immigration program was beyond reproach, yet it’s a view that’s blind to human nature and to actual and historical experience. Indeed, in an excellent recent essay – and thorough indictment – of the American experience, academic Michael Anton had this to say about mass immigration to America and the importance of non-economic criteria in social harmony and cultural assimilation:

[A]ssimilation works best among peoples with some common underlying similarity, whether political, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or cultural (preferably a combination of all these). Its effectiveness declines as the differences among the disparate peoples increase. Historically, the closer in the above categories an immigrant group was to founding-stock Americans, the more quickly and smoothly its members assimilated.

American immigration policy and practice has drifted steadily away from prioritising this practice. In particular, since the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act … newcomers to America have become more and more distant – not just from existing Americans but from one another. America now takes in, and has been importing for more than fifty years, people from every part of the globe, of every faith, speaking every language. This, too, has never before happened in world history.’

Replace ‘America’ and ‘American’ with ‘Australia’ and ‘Australian’ and you have an almost exact replica of what’s happened down here. Of course, the standard reaction to all of this are the usual claims of racism, xenophobia, and so on, yet the underlying principle remains. Is any nation, qua nation, permitted to prioritise who it will admit, and who will best assimilate to its norms and values? Or is there nothing left except a carte blanche openness to all peoples of the world, under our only criteria of import: economic growth and market rationalism?

With the later the conceit we’ve been labouring under, and a principle that if extended, would see Danes unable to select Swedes over Somalis, or Peruvians not permitted to preference Paraguayans over Pakistanis. A patently absurd proposal – given natural, linguistic, cultural, and religious difference – yet one we must appear to uphold.

With immigration the main ingredient in the larger concoction of cosmopolitan liberalism; a bitter brew that’s increasingly unpalatable to the existing population. To take one example, here’s English commentator Matthew Goodwin on this dynamic at work in the UK, and on PM Boris Johnson’s initial success in leveraging the votes of ‘Remainers’ into a broad coalition of those antipathetic to the status quo:

Forget what people say. [This] realignment was never just about Brexit or the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn, even if these elements helped it along. It was always rooted for far more strongly in a deep and profound disillusionment with the political consensus that has dominated Britain for half a century. EU membership. Mass immigration. Hyper-globalisation. Radical cultural liberalism. And a politics built by middle-class graduates for middle-class graduates. 

‘[With] Johnson’s electoral dynamite [coming] from the fact that he was the first mainstream politician to offer a genuine break from that consensus.’

The lessons in this for our major parties seem obvious, yet they appear to be ones they’ll ignore. For the Liberals, Morrison has been almost entirely absent from the whole debate, whilst Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been reduced to little more than a narrow economic mouthpiece, trotting out anodyne op-eds whilst eschewing anything of wider import. The ALP have been hardly better, although Albanese’s recent ‘pro-worker’ posture does hold promise. Yet like other Western social-democratic parties, the dilemma of squaring a nationalistic pro-worker stance with commitments to diversity and social liberalism appears insoluble.

With the latter, the catalyst for a range of other problems that are unlikely to change after the election. Will any of the major parties put an end to the ‘woke’-led erosion of our cultural and commercial space? Will they address the astronomical increase in house prices? Will they say anything about the, not-unrelated, fall in fertility? Will they retain what remains of our European architectural inheritance as our cities succumb to the skyscraper?

Will they end the marketisation of the education sector and reverse our declining school standards? Will they stem the flood of crass commercialisation – as witnessed by the proliferation of alcohol ads, gambling enticements and fast-food outlets now washing over us? Will they end our disastrous decades-long experiment with privatisation and its accrual of vast private profits at the expense of service delivery and reasonable prices?

The answer to all of these rhetorical poses is surely: ‘no’. We thus return to where we began: why bother?

If the political movement that most people want – a rightward shift in the culture and a leftward shift in economics – is, in effect, not on offer at the ballot box, then we’re condemned to a continuation of the status quo. With the major parties cobbling together a shaky governing coalition as they lose public support, and the minor parties lacking the sophistication or strategic insight to have any real effect.

The long-term durability of these arrangements is clearly imperilled. The hubris of the governing class in believing they could run a quasi-permanent program of cosmopolitan liberalism, largely under the aegis of elite-led enrichment, without public upheaval has been long suspected yet only recently seen. As now manifest in places like France – a nation increasingly riven by conflict and within sight of a potential civil war – and in the dysfunction that now characterises the current-day America.

The only question that remains to us here is exactly how it will all unfold…? Will we see a growth in our own ‘nationalists’ like France has with Eric Zemmour or Marine Le Pen? Or will the liberal establishment double-down in their efforts, like the American Democrats have with their recapture of power and their marginalisation of Trumpian populism? Yet with no indication of a change in tack from our major parties, some form of French- or America-like future assuredly awaits.

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