John Howard often liked to describe the Liberal Party as a ‘broad church’. It is a wonderful piece of propaganda that he is rightly celebrated for. To him it was more honoured in the breach than in the observance, but it alluded to the wide range of beliefs compatible with Classical Liberalism. Likewise, its is a characterisation that says something for the tolerance of dissenting views within the scope of that political philosophy.
It has been over a decade since Mr Howard was ignominiously voted out of his parliamentary seat, and consequently out of office. During his tenure as Prime Minister the term ‘broad church’ was a fanciful guise for describing a loose form of factionalism. By being, or at least appearing to be, tolerant of a wide-range of views it is possible for a skillful political operator to diffuse tensions and pre-empt the formation of rigid factions within one’s own political party. As one former cabinet member put it, Mr Howard listened carefully, discussed, took your thoughts on board and then did what he was going to do anyway.
The philosophy of the ‘broad church’ idea has been abandoned lately. Under the current Liberal Government there seems to be a new guiding political thought that could only be described as the ‘narrow church of consensus’. In summation, this political philosophy is the equivalent of the medieval Catholic Church. The greatest achievement is the pursuit of both political correctness and the most consensual policies of the global elite. Of course, as with the Catholic Church of old, the greatest sin is heresy. Questioning climate change, unfettered immigration, state intervention in industry and utilities, or the welfare state is tantamount to an act of national disgrace. As Senator Anning has so recently learned, expressing views outside of the narrow consensus will have you denounced by the leader of every political party on the floor of Parliament. All persons of Anglo-Saxon descent (especially men) are expected to participate in constant self-flagellation for the perceived crimes of their forebears. Penance is expected in constant apologies to minorities, and cash payments to them through the welfare system.
Everyone is expected to toe the line. Even in dark corners in restaurants, you look twice before stating your sincerely held beliefs to confidants for fear of reprisals. Two students from the Queensland University of Technology, Calum Thwaites and Alex Wood, found out the hard way that the enormous power of the state can be brought bear on any obscure individual for posts made on the internet. The ‘narrow church of consensus’ does this all in the name of diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance. It is ironic, however, that these guiding lights of consensus result in a world where everyone looks different but thinks the same.
In a way the narrow church is a broad church, much in the same way the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is. The CCP tolerates eight other political parties in China as a symbolic gesture to the importance of mass movements in Marxian ideology. It is a façade of course. The CCP pulls the strings and policy is formed top-down rather than bottom-up. It is disturbing to see a similar type of uniformity in Australian politics. Less and less the major political parties (Liberal, Labour, and the Greens) are showing genuine political differences, and the discourse on the floor of parliament has devolved to a form of faux-debate. In reality, most policy garners bi-partisan support, and the political debate rages over obscure points of procedure or definition as seen in the recent ‘debate’ over the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The underlying philosophy for policy remains unquestioned, because to do so would result in dire recriminations.
This point was perfectly illustrated by the merry-go-round of denouncements made toward the aforementioned Senator Anning after his maiden speech in the Senate. The Senator made the calamitous mistake of questioning the current immigration policy with respect to the ethnic and religious composition of those settling in Australia. He also mentioned the importance of integration, and the primacy of traditional Western Christian values. The Prime Minister’s consequent response to the Senator was nothing short of an immaculate ode to the liturgy of ‘narrow church of consensus’. Mr Turnbull accused the Senator of racism claiming that his speech was an ominous attack on multi-culturalism. Harkening back to the White Australia Policy the Prime Minister also engaged in a public showing of penance for the heinous crimes committed by Australia in the past. He then proceeded to the shake hands with the leader of the opposition to the thundering applause of the chamber.
In an echo chamber, however, all applause seems thunderous. The response by all political parties to Senator Anning’s speech was nothing short of Orwellian. The defense of multiculturalism was actually a veiled attack on liberal values that are incompatible with the current consensus. The back-slapping and palm-pressing that followed was miserable. While it would be optimistic to think that this was a cynical display of bipartisanship, it is dismaying to realise that is was probably a sincere act on the Prime Minister’s behalf.
Over the past decade, during this transition from Mr Howard’s broad church to the narrow one, it is most alarming that independent thought and speech are being viciously attacked. In the Classical Liberal sense these are the most crucial freedoms. When those who dissent from the consensus cannot be shamed into repenting their heresy, coercion is resort of these new inquisitors. Only time will tell how successful they are.
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