Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum
Cory Bernardi wrote a book late last year titled The Conservative Revolution (Connor Court, 2013). To most thinking Conservatives the more controversial element of the book would have been its title – an apparent oxymoron. However, as it turns out, the deliberate1 implication in the title of the necessity for reaction in certain circumstances, has proven prescient.
The reaction to the book has been vehement to say the least, but what is unusual, is that the most venomous reactions have come from those who would not appear to have to actually read the book! Furthermore, the negative comments largely derive from a single aspect of the book – the author’s preference for a family composed of a mother, father and children (what Conservatives have been marginalised in to calling traditional family, when, as I was once corrected by the Bishop of Sydney, His Lordship Robert Forsythe, it is properly known as simply family.)
The Conservative Revolution (as its author continually reinforces) is a book about philosophy not policy – a book about world view. Bernardi’s work announces what amounts to an application of the famous “Ten Principles of Conservatism” by Russell Kirk:
I offer my interpretation of Kirk’s original principles below. It should be noted that since the publication of his opus, many of them have undergone various stages of development and interpretation. What follows is my own understanding of their meaning, particularly in the context of an Australian conservatism. Where I believe it is necessary, I have made slight digressions to develop a point which will be important to bear in mind while working through the chapters that follow. I acknowledge that my observations are based closely on his original work and should not be considered original thought.2
The discussion of what can be regarded as ‘classic life and family issues’ such as abortion and gay marriage compose only a small fraction of the work. The book is primarily about decadence – it is an exploration of what has made Australian society decadent and in need of serious restoration. Bernardi recognises that this condition is part of a wider problem affecting the Anglo-sphere in particular – but the Occident as a whole. In that sense, the book is also subtly identitarian, as Australian society is seen as part of a greater Western Civilisation. It is the latter edifice he seeks to protect:
Reversing the decline and decay of our culture must be the first priority of the ‘conservative revolution.’ Without a strategy for restoring our nation to its rightful and sustainable path, we risk bearing witness to, and being a part of, the very dismantling of Western culture.3
The recent critics of Bernardi have completely failed to understand or acknowledge the purpose of his book. His refreshing use of genuine Conservative philosophy and thought is probably beyond their capacity as it requires a more subtle understanding of the world than the ideologue is used to. Bernardi is careful to frame his analysis and set his groundwork:
However, before one can advocate for a philosophically conservative framework to be restored as the cornerstone of our national governance, one should at least attempt to define what it means to be a conservative. This presents the first difficulty, for there is no one conservative doctrine or ideology.4
From there Bernardi goes on to distinguish between the views of the pragmatists like Oakeshott and his student Minogue and other lesser known thinkers such as Viereck and Kekes before returning home to Scruton. Of course, like most Conservative thinkers, Bernardi seeks grounding in Bukre:
In Burke’s writing, we see that conservatism is a state of mind that reflects and honours the importance of stability and structure. This attitude has been reflected in later conservative thinkers across the Anglosphere, as illustrated briefly above. It recognises that the historic continuity of human experience offers a better guide to policy than the abstract, utopian propositions of those who seek to reinvent the human condition in their own image (or that of Rousseau, J.S. Mill, Marx, Freud and their acolytes). Yet conservatives know that [Bernardi quotes Kirk here:] “prudent change is the means of our preservation, and the great statesman is one who combines with a disposition to preserve an ability to improve.”5
Even a relatively cursory glance at the introductory sections of this book would terrify the radical as they may actually have had to have read some books in order to follow Bernardi’s argument with a critical eye. Not just that, Bernardi’s critique is serious criticism – not just sniping journalism. This is material that goes to the very fundamental defects within the radical’s belief system. Methinks the panic button was well and truly pressed when this volume hit the shelves – and the only weapon left in the arsenal was personal smear. Just like a cornered peasant terrorist with a dirty bomb, the progressive media pundits have decided that they are absolved from any moral requirement to ‘fight fair’ because Cory has all the big guns.
The first ‘red flag’ in the storm of criticism is the undue focus on the ‘life and family’ issues. It is in fact the critics that have a fixation with these matters – not Bernardi. Of all aspects in this book of very wide compass – they have decided to focus upon these. What strange criticisms they raise too. In an interview on the ABC with Beverley O’Connor, the interviewer honed in on the issue of abortion. She seemed to regard the matter of abortion as a ‘decided issue’ that was now beyond the pale of any opinion other than acceptance and therefore ‘controversial’. She went as far as to suggest that the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade6 had somehow confirmed, for Australian society, that a clear ‘right’ to abortion exists for all women – and anyone who considered the matter otherwise was somehow locked in an eccentric past proved ‘unviable’, ‘immoral’ or ‘unrealistic’ by the passage of history. No doubt the interviewer has been entranced by the linear and utopian visions of the cultural Marxists, who see humanity on an exponential path to progress and perfection. In any event, the full bench of the Australian High Court will be edified by O’Connor’s revelation that U.S. Supreme Court judgments now determine the pulse of Australian society.
Bernardi’s retorts that he had written a book of philosophy that seeks to discuss, in an open manner, the position in which Australian society finds itself went unheeded – as it appears that issues such as abortion and gay marriage are not up for discussion. So the real issue, it would seem, is more a case of “How dare you!” on the part of the cultural Marxists. They had all too comfortably assumed that they had pulled a ‘Jedi mind trick’ upon the masses, and truly convinced them that “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. Bernardi has opened up a discussion that clearly is unfinished (why else do we have headlines?). This is obvious, because if he had written a book claiming that the Earth was flat he would not have been interviewed (he may have still made the news however – but only on the basis that a madman resides in the Senate).
Still, from the point of view of feminist ideologues, ‘LGBT’ lobbyists and others – he may as well have written about the Earth being flat. However, even those so deluded are well aware that the average person is yet to be completely convinced that altering a tried and tested form of family relations, distilled over at least seven millennia, is such a good idea. The Progressive’s Totschweigtaktik is clearly under threat, and they want to renew its implementation before they are left standing in the room with an empty bag, a newly escaped cat and an elephant someone finally wants to say “hello” to.
The other striking element of criticism directed towards Bernardi is the empty sentiment it is composed of, as opposed to considered rational argument. The responses are primitive in the extreme – the kind of irrational, phobic emotional discharge associated with seeing a spider-like object in the dark. Without even comprehending or contextualising Bernardi’s arguments and cited facts, the critics seek to have him exiled from polite society. At no stage have I seen such critics attempt to actually engage with a single argument he has made. This reduction to degenerate sentiment was discussed by Russell Kirk in his Prospects for Conservatives, where he in turn cites C. Northcote Parkinson and his diagnosis of degeneracy in a civilisation:
What concerns our argument is not that the world’s do-gooders are mistaken but that their attitude is decadent. They are moved by sentiment rather than by reason and that is itself a symptom of decay. Still more to the point, their interest is solely in the present and for them, too, the future is merely the end.7
The pinnacle example of the degenerate sentimental arguments spewed forth by the great illiterati of the media would have to be demonstrated by Carrie Bickmore on a programme called “The Project” (nothing Utopically revolutionary in that title is there?). The one redeeming aspect of Carrie’s unbridled emotional tirade is that its genesis probably arises from a genuine, heartfelt response to tragic personal circumstances (which is probably why it would have been best to keep such matters private rather than sharing them on national television). She somehow interprets the death of her husband as transforming her family into a ‘non-traditional’ one according to Bernardi’s terminology and upon which Cory Bernardi is passing a moral judgement.8 Far from it. Bernardi is merely stating the facts – children without fathers are not getting the best environment. This is not a moral indictment upon Bickmore’s personal circumstances (which are very sad indeed). If anything, one would have thought that she would be in philosophical agreement – otherwise is the gaping hole in her family’s life, where her husband used to be, nothing more than a sentimental memory? Surely he represents a pivotal element in the life of the family: an example to his children, a complement to his wife, something more real and permanent than just a set of emotional attachments? If so then this is precisely Bernardi’s point.
What is unfortunate about Bickmore’s very public and misleading comments, is that they put anyone who may wish to counter them, in the position of heartlessly picking upon the grieving widow. Bernardi’s view of family underscores the tragedy of families who have suffered such loss, and should not be mistaken for moral judgement. Of course, such rationale is lost in a world governed by pure sentiment. Sentiment however, panders to the selfish and irrational. It offers the injured soul a kind of self-indulgent victimhood that allows the sufferer to lash out and transfer the anger of their tragedy on to those around them. Bernardi strikes right at the heart of sentimental victimhood, recognising it as an assault upon the confident independence of a well ordered society. This is closer to the essence of his writing. Bernardi is in fact explicit with his avoidance of moral condemnation of parents who have had life’s circumstances overtake them:
Such findings are not meant to pass judgment on or criticise the many different Australian families that do their best in raising children; the findings aim to identify the risk factors in order to help improve the lives of children. They also demonstrate the extreme folly of the left in dismissing the importance of the traditional family. The left have the evidence of the risks to children before them and yet they continue to pursue their radical agenda and dismiss any critical examination of what they are proposing.9
Therefore, to make representations of Bernardi’s words, that suggest he is making a moral condemnation of every family that doesn’t consist of mother, father and children, is not only patently absurd on its own logic, but a negligently dishonest reading of his book. So when the opposition leader, Bill Shorten makes reported statements such as “[a]s a father in a blended family, I reject Senator Bernardi saying that stepfamilies are somehow inferior”10 we cannot help but read malicious intent into such words. At least in the criticisms of those such as Melinda Tankard Reist10 they opt for predictable liberal critiques as opposed to ad hominem nastiness and acknowledge that Bernardi isn’t a baby-eating devil freshly released from the ninth circle of hell. It just goes to show that it can be done – shame on those commentators who chose not to.
Slowly but surely, if persons such as Bernardi continue to write and think, Conservatives may finally have their subtle and complex world view understood. It would make statements such as those reported of Anthony Albanese, who either hasn’t read or has ignored Bernardi’s definition of freedom (“Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said Bernardi claimed to be pro-freedom but was against women controlling their own bodies.”12) very dangerous to make. The Conservative would be able to point out the fallacy of such a shallow definition of ‘freedom’ as easily as brushing one of the ‘flies of summer’ from his unfurrowed brow.
For now Bernardi needs to take heed of the concluding words of ‘The Dark Knight’, uttered by Commissioner Gordon in response to his son’s cry that Batman didn’t do anything wrong so why chase him: “Because he’s the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we’ll hunt him – because he can take it – because he’s not our hero – he’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark knight.” One day Australia will be ready. Until then, Bernardi shall have to rest content with the reverberation offered by the wilderness – until the nation is ready for principled heroes once again.
– Luke Torrisi
The author is a legal practitioner and the host of Carpe Diem, Sydney’s only explicitly Traditionalist and Paleoconservative radio programme broadcasting on 88.9FM, between 8:00 to 10:00pm, Mondays.