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.
- Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
- Put Windmills in National Parks
- Magnifying National Disasters
- Please Don't Feed the Animals
- Buy Birdsville Made?
- The Economics of Flood Risk
- Touring Bureaucrats
- Our slip-shod laws to blame
- Why Wind Won't Work
- A Profusion of "Prices"
- R.I.P. Ron Kitching - pioneer, explorer, author, family man, entrepreneur, scholar
- The Carbon Pollution Lie
- Closing Down Australia
- The Anti-Industry
- The Pyramid Builders
- Carbon Tax Bribery
- Crown Monopolies
- Carbon Tax Job Losses
- What Next, a Tax on Water?
- Carbon Health Warnings Coming Soon
- Growth Mythology
- The Tax Collection Industry
- Propaganda Puts Paid to Proof
- The Milk of the Welfare Teat is Watered Down
- "Crops for Cars" as Bad as Everlasting Drought
- Poll speech sets record
- The Emissions Trading Casino
- The Contract Society
- A Model Ministry
- The Five Point Plan to kill the economy with High Cost Electricity
- Put a Sunset Clause in the Carbon Tax
- Stuck on Red
- Time to Butcher "Aussie Beef"
- Carbon Tax Lies and Bribes
- The Middle of the Road
- United against taxes
- Call for Govt administrator
- Property & Prosperity
- "The Science is Settled" BUT Durban Climate Summit Not Cancelled
- No End to Fuelish Policies?
- The Right to Discriminate
- Sell the CES
- Free Water Costs Too Dam Much
- Creating Unemployment
- Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
- 1985 news item on Tax Payers United, Centre 2000 and the Australian Adam Smith Club
- Having the numbers is not the same as having the truth
- Who's Who in the Workers Party
- David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
- Caught in a welfare whirlpool
- Global Warming Season
- Mining in Queensland, Past, Present and Future
- WEATHER IS USUALLY UNUSUAL
- Political branch formed
- Ron Manners on the Workers Party
- Viv Forbes on Libertarian Strategy and the Constant Resources Myth
- The New Brisbane Line?
- Carbon Lies
- We Mine to Live
- Save the taxpayer
- Solving Three Canberra Problems
- Vested Interests in the Climate Debate
- Carbon Tax Retrospective?
- Carbon Price Propaganda Taxes the Truth
- Don't Burn Food for Motor Spirit - Feed People not Cars
- Two Big Climate Taxes
- Greens Rediscover Hydrogen Car
- Atlas of Australia
- Shutting Out The Sun
- Safety Mania
- Coal - Sinking in the Swamps
- Hobbling the Competition
- Cubic Currency Coming
- "Dear Government"
- Viv Forbes mocks Flannery in 1988
- What we have is not a drug problem but a drug law problem
- Smoking, Health and Freedom
- Privatise Now! while they are still worth something
- The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
- The New Federalism
- Sunset for Solar Subsidies
- The mouse will roar
- The Road to Homelessness
- Planning & Prosperity
- Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
- Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
- Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
- Our homeless regulation refugees
- Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
- Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
- Singo and Howard Speak Out Against the Crackpot Realism of the CIS and IPA
- Singo and Howard on Compromise
- The Middle of the Road