Australian Conservatism after Abbott:
The Need for Social Movements
Following the replacement of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister, some conservatives are asking what can be done to recover political influence. What can they do to make a conservative leader again?
The question is predicated on the dubious premise that the Abbott government was in fact conservative. They were better economic managers than Labor, but beyond that their conservatism was ambivalent at best. On most of the big conservative issues they failed abysmally. Yes, they stopped the (illegal migrant) boats, and that was important, but they acquiesced or actually participated in what Greg Sheridan describes as the “cultural genocide” of Anglo Australia.1 Tony Abbott’s alleged conservatism rested to a significant extent on his supposed Anglophilia. But conservative do not kill the thing they love.
Immigration and Refugees
As a minister in the Howard government, 1996-2007, and as Prime Minister from 2013 to 2015, Tony Abbott supported a non-discriminatory immigration policy that has helped reduce Australia’s Anglo and Western character and introduce the many ills of “diversity.” This would be understandable for a revolutionary intent on destroying national identity and cohesion in order to break resistance to some utopian scheme. But no conservative worthy of the name, in any country, is willing to remove immigration restriction, for to do so is to break tradition, continuity and cohesion. Tony Abbott and his mentor, former Prime Minister John Howard, became radicalised on immigration policy in the 1990s, and Australia is suffering the consequences.
One consequence is the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism, young Muslim men who hate Australia and seek to kill civilians, soldiers and police. This is a pin prick in terms of casualties but symbolises the breakdown of national unity that goes beyond the Islamist threat. John Howard lost his seat in the 2007 election because of an overtly racial campaign by the Labor Party that induced middle class Chinese and Korean voters to put ethnic resentment (against Howard) ahead of class interests.2 While traditionally, conservatives see restricting immigration as one of the highest duties of office, Abbott learnt nothing, allowing rates to remain both unrestricted and large.
Tony Abbott was not being honest or coherent when he stated at the United Nations in September 2014 that the “Australian Government will be utterly unflinching towards anything that threatens our future as a free, fair and multicultural society; a beacon of hope and exemplar of unity-in-diversity.”3 His government did nothing but flinch from its duty to halt Islamic immigration even when the intelligence community assessed domestic jihadist terrorism to be highly probably.
He flinched again when, under pressure from the leftist media, he increased Australia’s generous offer to take an additional 4,000 refugees from Syria to 12,000, almost doubling Australia’s already high annual intake.
In the early 1990s Abbott was critical of multiculturalism.4 He argued that encouraging migrants to keep their identities made immigration potentially disruptive. That was a conservative position, though vague. It lacked the insight that multiculturalism is an inverted ethnic hierarchy based on an alliance of the post-ethnic cosmopolitan left and the tribal (minority) right. Abbott’s intuitive view was compatible with the organic theory of social cohesion, i.e. that it emerges from the slow accumulation of shared culture, memories and origins. It could as well have been based on a modern biosocial science, which generally confirms conservative wisdom.
That enlightened suspicious view of diversity was completely jettisoned by Abbott during the 1990s. When home-grown Islamic terrorism emerged from unrestricted immigration (under the watches of Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard) Abbott’s response was to fiddle with citizenship instead of getting at the root cause. He also demonstrated a most unconservative attitude towards national identity. In 2013, during a visit by Dutch anti-Islam campaigner Geert Wilders, then opposition leader Abbott distanced himself by declaring that Muslim citizens are as Australian as Catholics, Jews and Protestants.5 Of course Islam was not part of Australia’s origins nor of its identity or culture.
This puts him firmly in the ranks of the left, and its beliefs that the benefits of national identity – cohesion, unity, domestic peace – can be legislated. In fact citizenship is a legal category that designates an individual’s membership of a state, not a nation. Abbott seems to believe that loyalty to the state can substitute for loyalty to the nation, hardly an informed conservative position. No wonder Australian society is coming under increasing strain as the result of diversity, itself produced by government policies no longer wedded to the protection of national identity.6
In embracing the Orwellian mantra “unity in diversity” (often also stated as “diversity is strength”), Abbott also overlooked the political reality of multiculturalism, namely, that it is based on the subordination of the original nation to ethnic minorities. Multiculturalist governments license minority ethnicity but punish ethnic expression of the majority. Australia is a textbook example.7 It is odd that Tony Abbott continues to have the image of a conservative maverick even while he accepts the domination and demographic replacement of his beloved Anglo culture.
Tony Abbott personally supported the campaign to install recognition of indigenous Australians in the country’s Constitution. The “Recognise” campaign is radical because its selective ethnic acknowledgment effectively ignores or at least marginalises the historic Anglo nation.8 If the first people are recognised, then a sincere equitable approach to race relations in the highest legal document of the land would demand that the first nation likewise not be ignored. The cultural and legal distortions, under the current proposed amendments, would be damaging for generations. As usual, Abbott sought to moderate the most radical proposals, for example by seeking to keep recognition in a preamble instead of the constitution’s legally-binding text. But he missed the powerful symbolism of disrespecting the nation and the very real psychological effect that such a move would have on the largest segment of Australian citizens. Constitutional recognition, as proposed by Abbott, would reinforce the propaganda being fed school children by the Aboriginal industry and help bury Anglo Australia in a culture of guilt or effective invisibility.
The failure that attracted most attention was the Abbott government’s surrender to the multicultural lobby over its election commitment to reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). The government curried favour with a committee of hard-line minority ethnic activists who wanted to retain section 18C because it allows the prosecution of individuals for merely offending minorities. Since multiculturalists and their radical allies generally control the agencies that monitor and report “racism”, 18C is an effective device for suppressing White ethnic expression, including resistance to subordination and replacement-level migration. The section was used to prosecute journalist Andrew Bolt in 2011, drawing Abbott’s promise to repeal the totalitarian provision.
Abbott government ministers repeatedly conferred with the multicultural committee but made no effort to contact representatives of the Anglo community, broadly defined as traditional Australia. The ultimate collapse demonstrated Abbott’s naivety, his government’s lack of conservative principle and the power of forces openly hostile to any sense of Anglo identity.9
Australia Lacks a Conservative Party
This appalling record could be portrayed as “conservative” in comparison with the Labor Party, the Greens, the ABC or the Fairfax press. But the same comparative approach would judge the present Liberal Party establishment as subversive if Sir Robert Menzies or Sir Edmund Barton were taken as standards. The same judgement might be made about modern Labor if Arthur Calwell or Andrew Fisher were their standards.
Australia does not have a Conservative Party or a genuine party of National Labour. The Liberals and Nationals represent business sectors and socio-economic categories, not the nation. True, they have a disproportionately Anglo constituency, but only an implicit one. The leadership does not respect Anglo interests, even as part of the multicultural mix. In the lead-up to the 2013 election, Tony Abbott consciously disavowed his party’s traditional Anglo identity in order to attract immigrant votes.10 In Abbott’s view, “[b]ecause of our reputation for being a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) party, a lot of newly arrived migrants would probably think the Liberal Party was not for them.” To counteract that impression, the Liberals boosted the number of non-Anglo candidates to a record number. In itself that is not harmful. But there was no indication from Abbott of affection or respect for Anglo Australia, no message to immigrants that, of course, Australia is predominantly an Anglo society so they should accept the historic nation as the leading culture and people. He did not even acknowledge traditional Australia as part of the multicultural scene. This is identity politics unfettered by loyalty to tradition or nation, and hardly worthy of the Conservative label.
A true Conservative Party or National Labor party would be talking not only about restricting immigration, but about the need for a Ministry of Emigration.11
Mainstream politicians are not floating such ideas because they are the third-hand products of what sociologist Eric Kaufmann describes as radical-cosmopolitanism. Kaufmann describes how the latter defeated their conservative rivals in the great contest over control of elite culture in the U.S., by about 1950. Since then cosmopolitan hegemony has been working its way down the institutions as proposed by Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, mopping up pockets of conservative resistance while ethnically transforming Western societies using mass Third World immigration.¹²
In Kaufmann’s analysis the fundamental cause of the cosmopolitan revolution was not political parties but social movements, such as the New York Intellectuals. The latter had their roots in the 1920s inside and outside the universities. They were in full voice by the mid 1930s. By the 1950s they had scaled the ramparts of elite cultural institutions, mainly the top universities.
Kaufmann’s theory helps us understand the compromising of Tony Abbott’s conservatism. This occurred over decades starting with his university years, through the influence of ideas fostered in the academic cultural milieu of what is sometimes referred to as Cultural Marxism. It continued as he gained power, within one of the country’s two dominant parties. Power was not the problem, but ideas. The basic problem is the poverty of Australia’s political culture, resulting from the weakness of opposition to the radical push on social policy from the left in the universities.
Conservatives should learn from what cosmopolitanism has done to our leaders. They should work to improve the country’s weak political culture. This is the pool of ideas from which policies are assembled. Political parties are secondary because culture leads politics. Investing in the culture is prudent because original analysis and rhetoric require only talent and persistence, not large budgets. Dissemination can also begin on a low budget, compared to electoral campaigns which do require the cooperation mass media in order to transmit messages to the general public.
A long range strategy could see early results. Let’s go back to Tony Abbott to see what can be salvaged from the wreckage of his career (his career, our wreckage). To be fair to Abbott, he deserves to be judged in the context of his times. For many decades Australian conservatism has been dwarfed by the radical and corporatist leviathans that arose in the universities, schools, multi-national corporation, government bureaucracies and media after the 1950s. In that context of asymmetric contest, Abbott can be seen as fighting a rearguard action for conservative values, even if identity issues have been implicit and poorly supported theoretically. He was strongest where his conservatism was explicit, for example on border security, and countering gay marriage and the republic. He was weakest where his unarticulated intuitions were confronted by elaborated ideology regarding immigration, multiculturalism, gender equality and indigenous constitutional recognition. Abbott’s borrowed mantras did not protect him from the vitriol spat by the ABC-Fairfax-university-multicultural establishment. They could detect a bad liar. Despite substantial investment in currying favour, in the minefield of political correctness Abbott could rarely put a foot right.
Despite his compromised conservatism, Tony Abbott could rise to challenges. He was most effective in fighting clear threats, helped when at least one media outlet was sympathetic (News Corporation or Radio Station 2GB). An example is him turning back the boats, which Prime Minister Howard considered a more difficult task the second time around. Protecting the nation’s borders boosted Howard’s and Abbott’s credentials as conservatives, because conservatism is primarily about securing continuity of tradition, which entails protecting the nation’s sovereignty. Abbott also deserves honourable mention for moving to reverse Labor’s neglectful defence spending.
In his rising to meet security challenges, Abbott became a true leader. It is significant that this reactionary conservatism is exhibited by others in and outside politics.
Some events have elicited a conservative current in Australian politics that stands out from the usual mute acceptance of decline. It has poured forth from unexpected people. An example is the response of many Australian commentators to the current immigrant invasion of Europe. The radical right and left made predictable noises but it is middle opinion that deserves notice.
Even moderates are using apocalyptic language to describe the waves of immigrants now being admitted to Europe. They express grave concern regarding Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plans to take millions more migrants over the next years. Let’s start in Britain, where the famous author Frederick Forsyth says that the influx is a matter of life and death for Europe. He stated:
“The truth is, ours is a crowded continent and our homeland a group of congested islands. We cannot absorb 10 or . . . 20 million arriving from Africa and near-Asia, however much we sympathise with those seeking a better life, without destroying our own societies.”13
In Australia Mark Beeson, professor of international politics at the University of Western Australia, fears that the influx spells “the end of Western Europe.” Beeson writes that:
“The current influx of asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants into Western Europe presents a profound challenge to the European Union’s values, solidarity and capacity to simply manage and accommodate such a rapid inflow of people.”14
William D. Rubinstein, formerly professor of history at Deakin University, sees the influx as Europe’s “suicide.”15 Peter Baldwin, a member of the centre-left Labor government of Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, warns that “[a] flood of Muslims into the continent could lead to a civilisational catastrophe.”16 He recommends that Europe adopt Australia’s approach of closing its borders to refugees while taking an annual quota. Alan Dupont, an Australian professor of international security, argues that the massive immigrant influx risks undermining Germany’s cohesion and tolerance and is an opportunity for Islamic terrorists to “target and destabilise the European heartland.”17
A broad concern for Western civilisation is to be found in normal times among conservative commentators. John Carroll, professor of sociology, recently wrote about “why the West wants to lose.”18 He located the problem in the Gramscian process described above, of generally hostile cultural elites going back to the 1940s.
Even Malcolm Turnbull showed his conservative side (before entering politics) when he became concerned with Western societies’ low birth rates. He could see that Europeans were in peril of being replaced in their own countries. He might have been driven by affection for Europe. But then came the pressures from political life – the media, the bureaucracy and established lobbies. Turnbull has gotten into line as did those before him, though he had less distance to travel than Abbott or Howard on some issues.19
This protectiveness towards our Western civilisation is easily extended to Australia. But usually it isn’t, at least not with the same piercing clarity that emerges in response to overseas crises. The large immigrant intakes pushed on Australia by both sides of politics are screened for economic compatibility, not ethnic or cultural or religious. Our extraordinary refugee intake, the largest per capita in the world for permanent settlement, is not screened economically, with damaging economic results. The Gillard government found that, in 2011, 60 per cent of refugees had not found work after 5 years of residency, while 83 per cent were receiving welfare payments. Over 90 per cent Muslim refugees were unemployed after 5 years, with 94 per cent on welfare.20
Both categories of immigrants – points-tested and refugees – are contributing to the transformation of Australia at a similar pace as that now being experience by Germany, i.e. about one percent per year of the population. But if the influx into Germany threatens to be catastrophic, why are not more Australian commentators speaking up for their own country? Perhaps conservatives don’t trust their instincts when writing about home.
That is another reason why conservatives should invest their energies in social movements, so as to broaden and empower the conservative current, to extend its breadth and depth beyond immediate security to become a river of ideas. What that means in practical terms deserves a separate essay, but it entails building a networked infrastructure of researchers and writers, magazines, websites, forums, seminars, news and documentaries. To retain integrity the movement should guard its autonomy from political parties and the mainstream media, while taking care to remain in touch with citizens and their concerns.
– Frank Salter received his PhD in Australia (Griffith University) but spent most of his career at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology in Germany. Frank has taught in Britain, the US, Central and Eastern Europe. His books include Emotions in Command: Biology, Bureaucracy, and Cultural Evolution dealing with organisational behaviour and On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration, an evolutionary theory of ethnic solidarity and conflict. Now returned to his native Australia, Frank consults on policy and management issues.
- Frank Salter, “Hostile Western Elites: Greg Sheridan” Social Technologies (online) (22 September 2014) <socialtechnologies.com.au> (accessed 13 October 2015).
- See for example: Margot Saville, The Battle for Bennelong: The Adventures of Maxine McKew, Aged 50something (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2007).
- Daniel Hurst, “Tony Abbott tells UN ISIS has ‘declared war on the world’” The Australian (online) (25 September 2014 @ 10:05AM EST) <theaustralian.com.au> (accessed 8 October 2015).
- Tony Abbott, “The real issue is the changing face of our society” The Australian (31 May 1990) p. 8.
- Chip Le Grand, “Wilders has friend in Bernadi” The Australian (21 February 2013) p. 6. Quotes Tony Abbott’s criticism of Wilders: “I think that the Muslims in this country see themselves rightly as fair-dinkum, dinky-di Australians, just as the Catholics and the Jews and Protestants and the atheists, we see ourselves as Australians.”
- Walker Connor, “A nation is a nation, is a state, is an ethnic group, is a . . .” Ethnic and Racial Studies Volume 1 Issue 4 (1978) pp. 378-400 [DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1978. 9993240]; Frank Salter, “Towards a Ministry of Emigration – Australian Citizenship and Domestic Terrorism” Social Technologies (online) (11 September 2015) <socialtechnologies.com.au> (accessed 13 October 2015).
- David Brown, Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural and Multicultural Politics (London: Routledge, 2000) p. 139.
- Frank Salter, “The misguided case for indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Part I: The muddled debate over racial discrimination” Quadrant Volume 57 Issue 12 (2013) pp. 28-40; Frank Salter, “The misguided case for indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Part II: Race and the culture wars” Quadrant Volume 58 Issue 1 (2014) pp. 32-40; Frank Salter, “The misguided case for indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Part III: The ethnic bias of the Expert Panel.” Quadrant Volume 58 Issue 3 (2014) pp. 56-64.
- Frank Salter, “Section 18C, multiculturalism and power” Quadrant Online (28 March 2014) <quadrant.org.au> (accessed 8 October 2015).
- Steve Lewis, “Liberal Party swats the Wasp type with ‘more inclusive’ approach” The Daily Telegraph (online) (11 May 2013 @ 12:00AM) <dailytelegraph.com.au> (accessed 8 October 2015).
- Frank Salter, “Towards a Ministry of Emigration – Australian Citizenship and Domestic Terrorism” op. cit.
- Eric Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).
- Frederick Forsyth, “Our way of life is now under threat, admits Frederick Forsyth” Express (online) (11 September 2015 @ 9:56; updated 11 September 2015 @ 11:18) <express.co.uk> (accessed 8 October 2015).
- Mark Beeson, “The end of Western Europe?” The Conversation (online) (10 September 2015 @ 3:22PM AEST) <theconversation.com.au> (accessed 8 October 2015).
- William D Rubinstein, “Population, religion and immigration: The overflowing Third World” Quadrant Volume 59 Issue 7-8 (2015) pp. 44-48.
- Peter Baldwin, “Europe must close its borders to refugee influx” The Australian (online) (24 September 2015) <theaustralian.com.au> (accessed 8 October 2015).
- Alan Dupont, “Germany’s ‘friendly, beautiful face’ will come to cost European and other nations dearly” The Weekend Australian (19-20 September 2015).
- John Carroll, “Why the West wants to lose” The Weekend Australian (26-27 September 2015) p. 21.
- Malcolm Turnbull, “It’s the birth rate, stupid! Facing up to fertility” The National Population Summit 2003, Adelaide, South Australia.
- Summary provided by Nick Cater, “Nightmare behind the diversity dream revealed” The Australian (13 October 2015) p. 12.
This article is to be cited according to the following convention:
Frank Salter, “Australian Conservatism After Abbott: The Need for Social Movements” SydneyTrads – Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum (17 October 2015) <sydneytrads.com/2015/10/17/2015-symposium-frank-salter> (accessed [date]).