The cultural agenda: 25 years on

In the mid to late 1980s some of the agenda of economic rationalism had gained bipartisan support (against hysterical resistance from both sides of politics). However as Michael James (sometime editor of CIS Policy and later Agenda) pointed out, social democrats only wanted deregulation of the economy to generate more revenue for their Big Government and Nanny State agendas, as Tony Blair demonstrated in a spectacular manner.

So far as the battle of ideas was concerned it was apparent that we (classical liberals) could win every single philosophical and economic debate and still our broader agenda would not be understood among the general public or get to first base in the political program of the Coalition parties as long as the left dominated the cultural and intellectual agenda by occupying the key institutions for promulgation of opinion. The schools, the universities, the ABC and most of the mainstream media, many of the policy and planning units of the public service, the whole array of taxpayer-funded agencies of the grievance industries and last but not least the literary/cultural classes who write the books and the poems, produce (and review) the films and the plays and the book festivals that impact on most people rather more than the occasional publications of the CIS and the IPA.

Of course the CIS and the IPA and others have not been idle on this front but we are still deep inside the red zone and we need something like a 40/20 to get out of it.

Getting back to 1987 or thereabouts, I was inspired by the example of someone called Browning (Robert Browning?) not the poet but a man in Victoria who studied the structure of all the consumer protection and advocacy groups. He found that a handfull of people turned up on multiple boards and committees, demonstrating that small numbers of people can make a big difference when they have the right (left and ALP) connections. A similar study of many other networks of left-dominated activists in the public and NGO sector would be equally revealing.

Cutting to the chase, I had no funding or institutional base for this work but I had a look at the editors and support staff and boards of the “little magazines” that played the role of the blogs to circulate non-mainsteam opinions in the old days. Some of them have gone, notably the Age Monthly Review and many of the people have gone as well, so people who are not poor and old will see a lot of unfamiliar names. This does not have much significance at present, just a historical snapshot that some may find interesting.

Moving on to the Third Millenium, the internet provides a medium where pamphleteers no longer depend on the Gestetner machines and the postal service, and letter boxes. We can now pursue the cultural agenda on line to tell people about forgotten or under-rated thinkers and writers. Such as Jacques Barzun, Yvor Winters and James Mcauley, Liam Hudson, Karl and Charlotte Buhler and Rene Wellek, Peter Bauer, Ian Suttie and William Hutt.

And don’t miss the ongoing IPA/Mannkal program on Western Civilization!

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8 Responses to The cultural agenda: 25 years on

  1. PSC

    League. A 40/20 kick is a big boot up the field which if you hit the field and then go into touch gives you a scrum.

  2. blogstrop

    So far as the battle of ideas was concerned it was apparent that we (classical liberals) could win every single philosophical and economic debate and still our broader agenda would not be understood among the general public or get to first base in the political program of the Coalition parties as long as the left dominated the cultural and intellectual agenda by occupying the key institutions for promulgation of opinion. The schools, the universities, the ABC and most of the mainstream media, many of the policy and planning units of the public service, the whole array of taxpayer-funded agencies of the grievance industries and last but not least the literary/cultural classes who write the books and the poems, produce (and review) the films and the plays and the book festivals

    Rafe, you don’t “win” by being correct. You win by carrying the voters. Until the so-called “libertarian” or genuinely “liberal” conservatives play the realpolitik game and get serious about it, we’re stuffed. The other mixed up mob have the race in their pocket until the voters wake up, or the countervailing forces get to grips with the mechanics of democracy, really.

  3. Poor Old Rafe

    Interesting image in the montage. “…tasty snack or pointer to the collapse of western civilization?”

  4. Jim Rose

    John Howard wrote a nice essay on quadrant on all this a year or so ago. how labor never supports economic reform while in opposition.

  5. Alan Moran

    THE analysis of the consumerists was “The Network” by Bob Browning. A very well researched piece which showed how the consumerists had inveigled their way into a great many insitutions (the ALP promoted two leaders, Allan Asher and Louise Sylvan to dizzy heights in the Productivity Commission and ACCC. And a great many others got similar stipends and platforms on which they could parade their anti-market agitprop.

    One problem with the book is that it was written at a a time when the new focus for this activity was becoming the environmental movement whose propagandists spectacularly exceeded the consumerists’ success.

    And as you say we do not have that story fully documented, not that Browning’s illuminations dented the mendacious consumerists’ ALP fuelled career rises.

  6. one old bruce

    Rafe, I remember all that but I think it goes deeper. There was certainly broad acceptance among policy makers on left and right of the practicality of ‘economic rationalism. And yes the left just wanted to fund pet projects.

    However classical liberals in the 1990′s weren’t just opposed by some outside influence. Note how often one heard of well-known policymakers being criticised for a ‘lack of compasion’ by their own families, sometimes their own wives, children, or siblings – who simply did not understand the principles (eg one hears Adam Smith crudely summarised as saying ‘Greed is good’!). One can’t just blame the TV! If major liberals can’t even persuade their own families, it is surely a much deeper problem.

    Historicall, the way the masses (such as ordinary Americans especially – Australia was always more tribal) understand liberal principles is if the majority run their own businesses and see it first hand, which is less and less the case.

  7. one old bruce

    sorry for spelling errors – compassion, historically, unclosed quotes…

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