Terry Barnes on the Death of the Sensible Center in Australia

Over at The Meanjin, Terry Barnes has a great article on The Death of the Sensible Center, where he laments the divisive and destructive nature of Australian politics. A superb read on Australian centrism and its demise.

Against the Right:

The Liberal Party of the great centrist, Menzies, is failing in the centre. After six years of opposition and three in government, it still hasn’t worked out what it stands for and where it is going. It is riven by ideological factions, personality cults and power struggles … There’s no question the Liberals were in big electoral trouble when Turnbull launched his coup against Abbott in September 2015. But it quickly became obvious that Turnbull was like Robert Redford’s title character in The Candidate, who having beaten the long-time incumbent, turned to his campaign manager and asked, pathetically, ‘What do we do now?’ Turnbull was not the solution: he was just another—worse—problem.

Against the Left:

When it comes to Polemic Politics, however, even the intellectual left is just as strident, intolerant and aggressive as those it opposes. In 2017 Australia, the horseshoe theory of ideology, that the fringe left and right are closer to each other than the centre, is alive and well. Both have their demagogues and polemicists who are outspoken to the point of crudity, utterly convinced of their own rightness, and reject the legitimacy of any views but their own. Take the divisive issue of freedom of speech. Many on the left rejoiced in shooting down the Turnbull government’s recent if half-hearted attempts to change the hate speech tests of the infamous section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Many, including some Labor MPs, were happy to vilify those supporting change as endorsing racism and prejudice of all kinds. Yet, smug in the absolute conviction of their own rightness about capitalism, racism, refugees, feminism, gender and marriage equality, climate change, and any other cause they see as confronting their world views, leaders and foot soldiers of the left are all too ready to shout down their opponents, engage in ad hominem attacks and practise moral McCarthyism instead of moral leadership. Recent attempts to muzzle those offending the left, from the boycotting and humiliating of a brewer for sponsoring a civil conversation between two Liberal MPs on gay marriage to the threats of disruption and violence that led to the cancelation of the visit of Islamic apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Clementine Ford’s determination to Fight Like a Girl as a social media feminist warrior, or the shouting down of American writer Lionel Shriver at the Brisbane Writers Festival, highlight an intolerance of freedom of thought on the left that’s no less distasteful and ugly than that on the fringe right. Yet with Shorten Labor off with the populist pixies, the moderating voices of the centre-left are muzzled. Sadly, too many so-called progressives have become loud, intolerant and authoritarian, effectively no different from the likes of Hanson, Bernardi and the more extreme nationalists on the right they so virulently attack. In the absence of a sensible-centre consensus to moderate the civil discourse, in 2017 Australia the only opinions that deserve free speech and thought are your own: when polemic politics and the political fringes that practise them are unchecked, such is the new normal.

Do read it!