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Viv ForbesOur Sacred Land & Other Essays (first published by Business Queensland and Common Sense in 1994), issue no. 101.About the Author»

Mr Downer tells us his goal is to shift the Liberal Party back to the middle of the road. And every year his party seeks to discover political truth by consulting public opinion polls or counting votes in national conventions. We are told there is no longer room for rigid principle — we must adopt moderation, compromise and pragmatism as our principles. This search for the middle of the road is not the solution — it is the problem.

That great Frenchman, Frederic Bastiat, could have been quoting from a modern political manifesto when he wrote, 150 years ago:

“Highway robbery,” the wise men said, “is neither good nor bad in itself; it depends on circumstances. All that needs to be done is to keep things evenly balanced and to pay us government officials well for this labour of balancing. Perhaps pillage has been allowed too much latitude; perhaps it has not been allowed enough? Let us see, let us examine, let us balance the account of each worker. To those who do not earn enough we shall give a little more of the road to exploit. For those who earn too much, we shall reduce the hours, days or months during which they will be allowed to pillage.”

According to Bastiat, “Those who spoke in this way acquired for themselves a great reputation for moderation, prudence and wisdom. They never failed to rise to the highest offices in the state.”

As for those who said: “Let us eliminate every injustice, for there is no such thing as a partial injustice; let us tolerate no robbery, for there is no such thing as a half-robbery or a quarter-robbery,” they were regarded as idle visionaries, tiresome dreamers who kept repeating the same thing over and over again. Besides, the people found their arguments too easy to understand. How can one believe that what is so simple can be true?

Ours could well be called “The Age of Relativity”. There is no longer a correct answer to any moral question — the truth is obtained by opinion polls. In any dispute, the judgement must be in the middle ground between the adversaries.

But the truth need not lie in the middle. If you believe in conscription and I believe in volunteers, do we compromise by retaining conscription and turning a blind eye to deserters?

A mixture of good and poison is still poison. Or as Ronald Reagan said so clearly “Moderation can be over-done. Do you want your surgeon to be moderately competent? Do you want your banker to be reasonably honest?”

There is a place for compromise, but it is not in matters of principle. As the UN is finding, you cannot be even-handed between aggressors and defenders. Once some degree of aggression is accepted, there is absolutely no point at which the line can be drawn and the slide into savagery arrested.

Our “even handed” media has much to answer for. When a bunch of thugs calling themselves a union besiege a small non-union business to prevent others from dealing with him, it is called a “dispute”, as if both side were equally to blame. Our “moral” statesmen then seek a compromise solution between one man’s right to peaceful trade against another group’s right to coercive blackmail. And naturally, in this era of democracy-gone-mad, the compromise is invariably closer to the group with the greatest numbers.

Those with a blind faith in head counting should remember, even if a million men say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

The Age of Relativity is also corrupting the legal system. The clear straight road of the rule of law such as seen in the ten commandments is being concealed by the clammy fog of ministerial discretion and retrospectivity seen in many of our Ten Thousand Annual Regulations. Even Genghis Khan recognised the dangers of capriciousness in a ruler, “At all times his people must know that his laws are undeviating, and that a certain action will bring a fixed and certain result.”

The political expression of the Age of Relativity is called pragmatism, and it is lauded as a virtue by people who should know better. Pragmatism got us into the mess we have today. Its zenith was surely seen in the answer of a candidate for the Australian Senate in 1980. When asked about his policies he answered, only partly in jest, “Policies? I have no policies. Policies are for people who can’t make up their mind on the spur of the moment.” Perhaps he too was seeking the middle ground?

The surrender to pragmatism has been accelerated by sloppy thinking about goals and tactics. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of tactics, swim with the current.”

The defenders of the free society are the chief victims of the pragmatists, for pragmatism is itself a principle, but not one consistent with freedom. The touchstone of the pragmatist is, “There are no fixed principles — all that matters are the practical effects” (and this usually refers only to the short term effects on those with a direct interest). Such a principle is the total antithesis of the rule of law, the unconditional protection of property rights, the absolute freedom to trade and the total sanctity of contracts.

The followers of Karl Marx have been the most outstandingly successful politicians of the twentieth century. Starting as a philosophical novelty in the drawing rooms of a few prosperous intellectuals, Marxism grew until its ideology imprisoned two thirds of the world and severely restricted most of the rest. Their opposition has consisted chiefly of pragmatic conservatives whose fear was not of the principles of Marxism, but rather of the speed at which they were being introduced.

Never have the Marxists depended for their success on the agnosticism of pragmatism, and never did they seek the middle ground. Their visionary attachment to ideological purity won the minds of generations of idealistic youngsters, many of whom had no idea of the origin of the ideals they were embracing. And their pragmatic tactic of ruthless exploitation of every opportunity insinuated their ideas into every aspect of community life. (While all the time they disarm their opposition with the cry “Let’s keep this non-political”).

Lenin himself described their strategy as “ideological pragmatism” — utmost flexibility in tactics combined with an unshakeable commitment to basic doctrinal beliefs.

The search for popularity and the middle of the road is a search for power and position. But as Robert Haupt said recently, “When Australian political history is written, who sat in the Lodge doesn’t count for much; whose ideals prevail is what matters.”

Australia is still in the grip of the collectivist ideology. This scourge will not be removed by middle-of-the-roaders, even if they win hollow victories at the polls.

Our only hope is the steadfastness of people like John Howard, within the Liberal Party, and the radical conservatism of various mavericks and zealots outside it.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
  2. Put Windmills in National Parks
  3. Magnifying National Disasters
  4. Please Don't Feed the Animals
  5. Buy Birdsville Made?
  6. The Economics of Flood Risk
  7. Touring Bureaucrats
  8. Our slip-shod laws to blame
  9. Why Wind Won't Work
  10. A Profusion of "Prices"
  11. R.I.P. Ron Kitching - pioneer, explorer, author, family man, entrepreneur, scholar
  12. The Carbon Pollution Lie
  13. Closing Down Australia
  14. The Anti-Industry
  15. The Pyramid Builders
  16. Carbon Tax Bribery
  17. Crown Monopolies
  18. Carbon Tax Job Losses
  19. What Next, a Tax on Water?
  20. Carbon Health Warnings Coming Soon
  21. Growth Mythology
  22. The Tax Collection Industry
  23. Propaganda Puts Paid to Proof
  24. The Milk of the Welfare Teat is Watered Down
  25. "Crops for Cars" as Bad as Everlasting Drought
  26. Poll speech sets record
  27. The Emissions Trading Casino
  28. The Contract Society
  29. A Model Ministry
  30. The Five Point Plan to kill the economy with High Cost Electricity
  31. Put a Sunset Clause in the Carbon Tax
  32. Stuck on Red
  33. Time to Butcher "Aussie Beef"
  34. Carbon Tax Lies and Bribes
  35. The Middle of the Road
  36. United against taxes
  37. Call for Govt administrator
  38. Property & Prosperity
  39. "The Science is Settled" BUT Durban Climate Summit Not Cancelled
  40. No End to Fuelish Policies?
  41. The Right to Discriminate
  42. Sell the CES
  43. Free Water Costs Too Dam Much
  44. Creating Unemployment
  45. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  46. 1985 news item on Tax Payers United, Centre 2000 and the Australian Adam Smith Club
  47. Having the numbers is not the same as having the truth
  48. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  49. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  50. Caught in a welfare whirlpool
  51. Global Warming Season
  52. Mining in Queensland, Past, Present and Future
  53. WEATHER IS USUALLY UNUSUAL
  54. Political branch formed
  55. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  56. Viv Forbes on Libertarian Strategy and the Constant Resources Myth
  57. The New Brisbane Line?
  58. Carbon Lies
  59. We Mine to Live
  60. Save the taxpayer
  61. Solving Three Canberra Problems
  62. Vested Interests in the Climate Debate
  63. Carbon Tax Retrospective?
  64. Carbon Price Propaganda Taxes the Truth
  65. Don't Burn Food for Motor Spirit - Feed People not Cars
  66. Two Big Climate Taxes
  67. Greens Rediscover Hydrogen Car
  68. Atlas of Australia
  69. Shutting Out The Sun
  70. Safety Mania
  71. Coal - Sinking in the Swamps
  72. Hobbling the Competition
  73. Cubic Currency Coming
  74. "Dear Government"
  75. Viv Forbes mocks Flannery in 1988
  76. What we have is not a drug problem but a drug law problem
  77. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  78. Privatise Now! while they are still worth something
  79. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  80. The New Federalism
  81. Sunset for Solar Subsidies
  82. The mouse will roar
  83. The Road to Homelessness
  84. Planning & Prosperity
  85. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  86. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  87. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  88. Our homeless regulation refugees
  89. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  90. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
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Forbes has long been active in politics, economic education, business and the global warming debate, and was winner of the Australian Adam Smith Award “For outstanding services to the Free Society” in 1986.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5