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The Usual Suspects

'Quadrant' at 50

 
Cover: December 2006 - January 2007December 2006 - January 2007Long read
Quadrant turned 50 this month. That is a notable achievement, and it did not go unnoticed. Its golden-anniversary dinner, held in October, was apparently quite an occasion. It was not cheap to get in, but the house was full. The prime minister attended and spoke with warmth and admiration of his favourite magazine. His elite audience, according to the columnist Miranda Devine, included "poets, historians, journalists, a High Court judge, a chief justice, Liberal and Labor politicians, a Catholic cardinal and an Anglican bishop".
Few little magazines live so long or rise so high. How good is that? Well, Quadrant readers will understand that age is not a good in itself. After all, the ABC is old. Nor will elite patronage do: Quadrant is loud in its disdain for elites (particularly if they are baby boomers aged about, well, 50). So longevity and Establishment links cannot be enough. If Quadrant is to be applauded, there must be more.

And indeed there is. Looking back over the 50 years, I am struck by the eclectic range of contributors and the themes they have addressed, eclectic in commitments, interests, approaches, style, tone. And provenance: just sticking with the letter P for a moment, there have been painters, philosophers, poets, politicians, professors, psychologists, pundits, punters and the occasional polymath. The rest of the alphabet is also well represented.

Looking a bit more closely, there is the sheer distinction of so many of the writers and writings in the magazine. I started to compile a list of people whose writings remain interesting and whose names still resonate, but abandoned it when it became too long to use. Quadrant approached distinguished writers, but it also made some distinguished, by airing early works, inviting essays that would not otherwise have been written, encouraging writers who didn't know they had something to say, providing congenial space for experiments as well as more elaborated ideas.

Quadrant was also a cosmopolitan magazine, and a cosmopolitanising force, from the start. Founded by a Polish refugee from Nazism and communism, focused on the affairs of the world, attracting writers from round the world, it had none of the parochialism typical of Australia at the time, or since. Reading the first Quadrants, with their bracing one- or two-page ‘comment' by the first editor, that remarkable poet, writer and thinker James McAuley, one is taken by the cultural richness, range and assurance of his thought, the grace and power of his prose, and the intellectual altitude at which much of the discussion in the magazine occurred. The contribution to our public intellectual conversations and life has been huge.

If it were just a magazine of ideas, though, it is not clear that our prime minister would have been so enthusiastic, or the dinner so well attended. But Quadrant was always something more. It was driven by moral-political commitments. The PM particularly praised its current commitments, seen as natural developments of a great tradition. And apparently he is not alone, since nothing quite like this latest celebration has happened before. It is worth investigating what has become of those values and commitments.

Central among those of the founders was liberal democracy, with its attendant political freedoms and their institutional and cultural underpinnings. These were construed not as the preserve of one party or another, or the Left or the Right, but as what was common and essential to free societies. These were not abstract concerns - as the founders of Quadrant knew - because they were under challenge and threat. They had been destroyed wherever the totalitarian regimes of Nazism and communism had power. By the time Quadrant began, Nazism had been defeated, at terrible cost. Communism was undefeated, covered large parts of the globe, was militarily powerful and enjoyed support, particularly among intellectuals, in many democratic societies, including Australia. Quadrant loathed both, but Nazism was gone and communism was strong. So Quadrant began life as an anti-communist magazine.

That was not an easy way to win friends, particularly among Australian intellectuals. Quadrant's values were often despised in our often petty, always polarised and, at times, almost invincibly parochial public culture. Passionate commitments to communism were often based on no knowledge or understanding of the terrible realities of communist regimes. Those realities were not easy to understand in Australia, and there were people who did not want to understand them.

Over time, Quadrant's commitments changed and moved to other subjects, as is natural. But we can speak sensibly of a Quadrant tradition of fighting good fights, in circumstances where it was typically unpopular and lonely to do so. The present Quadrant claims to be the natural inheritor, contemporary custodian and continuing defender of that tradition. Its friends see its current prominence as belated recognition, and just reward, for the good fight it has long fought. I don't share that happy belief.

I should declare an interest. In one of the several recent tributes to Quadrant and its founders, Greg Sheridan finely and accurately observed that "Many people contributed to Quadrant's success, no one more so than Richard Krygier ... he embodied everything that was grand and magnificent about Quadrant." Richard Krygier was my father. He founded Quadrant, and devoted the rest of his life (which ended in 1986, just on the magazine's thirtieth anniversary) to it, and to keeping it afloat (no small task). He was loved in Quadrant, and he is warmly remembered still - and rightly so.

We were close, and Quadrant was an ever-present part of my own life from childhood. I played small parts in it while my father was alive and after he died. I was on its editorial board from 1975. I wrote for the magazine. When Robert Manne (now the chairman of The Monthly's editorial board) became the editor in 1989, I accepted his invitation to join the management committee. When Manne resigned in 1997, I decided, a few days later, to resign in support of him. That ended my relationship with the magazine. It was a difficult decision to make then, and to live with at times since, upsetting as it did one of the givens of my life and some people dear to me. But it is not one I would undo.

I don't mention any of this to bolster some spurious claim to filial insight, authority or grievance; just to make my location plain. Given my biography it would be silly, indeed fraudulent, to pretend to disinterest in these matters. I am interested, in every sense of the word. Some will find my connection, others my defection, enough to disqualify whatever I say. Others will draw opposite conclusions from the same circumstances. I hope a few will be prepared to distinguish the argument I advance from whatever they imagine are my motives.

*

In his speech at the dinner, the prime minister praised everyone involved with the current Quadrant with obvious sincerity. He praised their values and their courage, reminded them that they were, as they had always been, a small, beleaguered but powerful force of civilisation, non-conformity and rightness. Just as they had once fought against communism, now they fought a lonely, courageous and essential fight against the hordes of leftist clones of political correctness, who were being spewed out of what could only with charity and scare quotes be called institutions of ‘learning'. The PM was determined to beat them in the ‘culture wars', and valued Quadrant's support. It was nice of him to say all that, the assembled diners must have thought, and perceptive, too. But it wasn't particularly original, since they have been saying it about themselves for the past nine years. In particular, the editor of Quadrant, PP McGuinness, has been saying it. (He is not alone, of course. Keith Windschuttle, for example, makes the same points, just adds references.)

I don't want to suggest that everything in Quadrant can be reduced to what I cite below. Not even the editor can be. He has, for example, a bullshit-detector which is always turned on and is, from time to time, well tuned. And since Quadrant is a large ‘little magazine', a balanced appraisal would have to deal with many other elements. There are essays on questions of morality, history, science that do not all share the editor's preoccupations or tone, and that's even occasionally true of essays on politics, more occasionally universities, more occasionally still Aborigines. The literary pages have a distinguished tradition and a more-than-distinguished current editor (Les Murray), who has his own priorities.

But the editorial presence in a little magazine is a peculiarly important one, particularly when it is strong. To adapt another author, Karl Marx, from another context, it bathes the whole "in a pervasive lighting ... a special atmosphere". Though many contributors overlap changes of editor, the atmosphere of Quadrant differed under McAuley, Donald Horne, Peter Coleman, Manne and now McGuinness, to name only the most influential of them. Apart from what the editor attracts and chooses to run, he lends a tone, a sensibility and an order of priorities, out of all proportion to the amount he writes in it. All the more so if he chooses to editorialise at length, as the current editor does. You can learn a lot about a magazine by attending to its editor.

What does one learn in this case? Above all, who and what he despises. And that is a lot to learn. For he despises so many and so much. Journalists are certainly up there, particularly ABC journalists. They are, at the same time, obnoxious and, alas, immune to reproof. Even with a board now full of friends and contributors to Quadrant - Janet Albrechtsen, Ron Brunton, Keith Windschuttle - and a new general manager appointed by them, McGuinness laments:

the ABC remains in safe hands. There is no revolutionary, no ideologue, no hot-eyed burning reformer, to disturb its ageing and placid dissemination of the small-l liberal platitudes and soft leftism of the last 30 years. The loony feminists, the look-at-me homosexuals, the ecumenical searchers for the meaning of life, the anti-Catholics, the advocates of Papuan independence, the supporters of Fidel Castro and similar Third World dictators and murderers, the America-haters, can rest secure. So can the Howard-haters, long protected by McDonald at the ABC.

Not far behind the ABC is the press gallery in Canberra. As reported by this discriminating opponent of "the kind of bile, bitchiness and personal hostility which has become all too common in the media":

all the parrots in the Canberra press gallery petshop subsequent to the 10 November [2002] elections were squawking about the need for the government to have a third-term agenda. But why? It is clear enough where the hacks are coming from ....

One campaign later, we find the same "hacks" "exhibiting the general bias of the unthinking leftism with its far from eternal verities which is the dominant mode of thought of the ill-educated products of our university humanities departments".

That last phrase reeks of tautology, since, after a few issues of Quadrant, it is hard to conceive of a well-educated product of our university humanities departments. As plenty of articles and editorials lumber to maintain:

the humanities are being, and largely have been, destroyed in the name of the meaningless subject of "cultural studies" and corrupted by "postmodernism", which has become a substitute for thought and scholarship. Little of value is produced by the adherents or fellow travellers of this school, who are more concerned with political fashion amongst the lumpen intelligentsia than any analysis. Much of what they produce is propaganda or worse. Absurd subjects like "gender studies" or, even worse, "queer studies" are solemnly treated as worthy of respect, and projects of research are proposed which add precisely nothing to the sum of human knowledge.

"The humanities" are a rather large territory. What would it take to become conversant with what is going on there, even in one discipline? What leads and moulds a field, what is the relative importance accorded by scholars to one approach or another, what is the balance between traditions and fads, what stays around, what goes, what refines, what corrupts, what are the controversies and why, what lies behind a label, what are writers' reasons, as distinct from soundbite caricatures of their conclusions, or the labels under which they get pinned? What would it take to assess the worth of any of this? A good deal more than we ever get from Quadrant. Instead, complexities and controversies are breathlessly bowdlerised and labels are cherry-picked, all with a view to evoking a knowing and contemptuous snigger - cultural studies, postmodernism, gender studies, queer theory, wink, nudge, say no more - rather than engaging in serious argument. As it happens, I'm not a partisan of any of those labels, but I know there's more to some of them than you'd learn from Quadrant, there are other labels in the humanities, and there is more than labels. And whether there is more or less, you won't be in a position to judge from what Quadrant says about them. You will know, however, what you should think.

Quadrant recently produced a T-shirt with the witty logo, "I've never read Quadrant because I don't like it." A lot of people think that way, and it's a silly way to think. But, since there is no evidence that McGuinness has read anything but his own team of humanities-hunters on any of these matters, a classicist might fittingly respond, "Tu quoque", and a Shakespearean, "Hoist by your own petard". Given the religious efflorescence in recent Quadrants, reflection on motes and beams might also be in order.

Another highly suspect category for McGuinness is lawyers, particularly international lawyers, more particularly international lawyers who speak of human rights. Thus:

As we have seen with the extension of the right to a fair trial to include legal aid, the lawyers have been taking over not just the making of the law but the purposes of the law, and in doing so are in effect making a bid for institutional political power. And in the meantime they are making a pretty bad job of elementary human rights and liberties.

International lawyers are much worse, usurping the prerogatives of democratic governments on the basis of "a new version of natural law in which God is replaced by lawyers". The point of these concoctions is plain:

What matters is that they can be used for domestic political purposes against our own governments and laws when they disagree with them but know they cannot get popular support to change them. The international lawyers of Australia are determined that human rights become a cloak for the building up of their own undemocratic political power, through treaties and courts, to implement whatever good or bad agendas they might have. They have only contempt for democratic rights and ordinary people.

This happens to be a field I know something about - though, unlike McGuinness, I don't know everything about it. There are serious issues of legal and political principle and controversy buried here, but none is advanced by this mix of obvious ignorance and purported omniscience, pummelling simplifications and omnipresent derision.

*

What, in any event, do all these journalists, humanists, lawyers and so on have in common? Two things, it appears. One is their age. The ones that matter, or at least the ones we should loathe, are all baby boomers (with the possible exception of those emeritus boomers Sirs Ronald Wilson and William Deane, who are distinguished by supporting a boomer cause, notwithstanding their advanced years). This meant that they came into universities in time to be ideologically infected by the ideas of the '60s. Unless they have defected to Quadrant, like Windschuttle (who really was so infected), they haven't had a good thought, or indeed any thought of their own, since. On the contrary:

the "progressive" Baby Boomers were born, intellectually, to group-think. They became a generation of humanities students who did not study, positively disliked reading, and in the case of the lowest echelon became quasi-literate teachers ... The whole package of progressive ideas of the 1950s and 1960s ... became the orthodoxy to which most of them have remained intellectually and emotionally wedded ever since. The bright shining ideals of 30 years ago became tickets to advancement under the Whitlam government and after and are now the musty conventions of an ageing generation; the "progressives" are now the real conservative establishment.

The other disabling vice of these groups is that they are, or imagine themselves to be, elites. This little word has a lot of work to do. The malignity of our elites is an ever-present theme. There are so many examples and they spray all over the place, so it is hard to select representatives, but one may suffice. In an editorial on the Tampa crisis, McGuinness begins by rejecting, as he often does, any comparison between the behaviour of Australian citizens and that of Germans under Nazism. Raising and rejecting the allegation is useful to him, as I have elsewhere argued it is to Windschuttle, as a polarising device: anyone who disagrees with them on Aborigines or refugees or immigration must be calling Australians Nazis. And as soon as one has denounced the allegation as outrageous (a denunciation not hard to defend), the game's over. Nothing more to show. Least of all, whether there might, nevertheless, be anything worrying in ways we have acted, or whether we might have acted differently and better.

At one point in this piece, however, McGuinness's habitual analogy-aversion deserts him:

The truth is that the people of Germany in the interwar period were betrayed by their elites - the political class, the communists who saw the social democrats rather than the Nazis as the enemy, and the military. We are being betrayed by our elites, who seem to think that the people if they are not obedient sheep must be disciplined, figuratively, with the knout and the whip. The responsibility for the rise of the Hanson phenomenon must be laid directly at the feet of the contemptuous inner-urban elites ... Only the political elites, inflated by their own moral vanity, believe that we should welcome sight unseen anyone who tries to sneak in the back door.

There's a measured analogy for you! It's a real question, by the way, who the "we" are who are being betrayed. And where is John Howard in all this?

Apart from who they are, what do these people do that is so objectionable? Well, the "new cultural and literary establishments", the "noisily compassionate", are full of "smug and certain assumptions", they are given to "mawkish sentimentality" and "hypocrisy", they "prate of compassion". Instead of engaging "in detailed, and rational, debate on policy matters", they "weep and moan, and abuse the government, the prime minister, the bureaucrats and anybody else who tries to consider what the details of our immigration policy should be." They "indulge in pharisaical displays of compassion - something the political elites and most of the professional do-gooders in our society are all too prone to do." Truth be told, the poor Pharisees come in for quite a bit of stick in Quadrant these days.

Why should this matter? If you don't like them, why not just find some Sadducees to hang out with? But it is not so easy, for the Pharisees don't keep to themselves:

What is objectionable about the orthodoxies now fashionable amongst the educated middle classes (those who can usefully be referred to as the "chattering classes") is that they have become increasingly oppressive. Moreover with the takeover of the universities by the post-1968 generation these orthodoxies are perpetuated through education, in the indoctrination of both future school teachers and of future generations of all professionals, including the next generation of academics. The rise of "political correctness" has made dissent from the progressivist consensus more difficult ... The consensus pervades the media ... There is even a kind of neo-McCarthyism which encourages the pursuit and the abuse, or ridicule, of any who question the consensus.

As McGuinness explains, in terms familiar in Quadrant tradition:

While the Cold War is dead it has been succeeded by an attempt to impose on the community as a whole a mindset which derives from the sixties and seventies and is reminiscent of the same kind of "party line" approach to thinking on intellectual and policy issues.

In the old days, it was clear where the party line came from: the Party. Here, things are a bit different. But if political correctness is amorphous, according to McGuinness, it is powerful enough, and must be clear enough, to brook no dissidence. In universities, outside the hard sciences, there's nothing else. In the ABC, don't even think about it. Press gallery: ditto. Lawyers: why ask? And, though you might already have guessed it, "Where Quadrant is unique is in its dissent from the fashions and the ‘progressive' consensus of the so-called liberal intelligentsia of modern Australia. This has led to a campaign of defamation and malicious lies directed against it." There is "no examination of anybody's actual opinions and analysis, but just a labelling according to willingness to conform in opinion with the majority." There's that petard again.

*

Quadrant stalks political correctness perhaps more than anything else (OK, I haven't counted, so maybe it ties with postmodernism; in any case, there is little distinction drawn between the two in Quadrant). It's a useful term, because its contours are so elastic. Still, in a number of articles by Quadrant authors, there has been some attempt to specify them.

Frank Devine understands political correctness as a form of "coercive sanctimony". In his jolly way, he assures us that "the tide is running out on political correctness from the Left." Actually, that sentence is a bit long, since he doesn't allow that political correctness could come from anywhere else. The only time his good humour threatens to desert him is when he considers Mark Latham's (highly plausible) suggestion that:

Both sides practise a form of political correctness, aimed at restricting their opponent's agenda. The progressive side is critical of people who openly discuss questions of race, culture and identity politics. The conservative establishment is hostile to anyone who questions the ethics and credibility of its members. The combined impact is to foster conformity and predictability in public debate.

No, no, no, according to Devine. Political correctness is exercised over the Right, not by them. I spend a good deal of time in central Europe, with its history of Ustashi, arrow crosses and swastikas, its ordinary fascists and clerical fascists, quite apart from its bloody communists, so I was surprised to learn from Devine that:

Coercion is not unknown to the Right in modern times, but mostly it has been exercised with a surly consciousness of sin. I don't believe the Right has indulged in exaggerated displays of holiness, nor donned the cloak of untrammelled virtue, since the Crusades. When it comes to sanctimony, the Left has had a near monopoly.

Where on Earth does this stuff come from?

By contrast, Peter Coleman, a former editor of Quadrant, is still one of the best writers in the magazine. His reflections on political thinkers and intellectuals, here and abroad, that he has known or read are subtle, perceptive, open to complexity. They have an old-fashioned class rare in today's Quadrant, or in our writing generally. Still, he has also fallen for "political correctness" as an all-purpose analytical device.

On Coleman's reading, political correctness is "a heresy of liberalism. It emerges where liberalism and leftism intersect," spawn of the New Left of the '60s. Unlike Devine's coercive sanctimony, which is like a virus that anyone might catch (though "since the Crusades", only the Left has), Coleman's descriptions suggest not a mere attitude but an active planning agent, a movement. Continuing the New Left's "long march through the institutions", it does things. It calls for the politicisation of life. It is particularly intolerant ("those who do not conform should be ignored, silenced or vilified. There is a kind of soft totalitarianism about Political Correctness"). Its partisans are "self-righteous in a quasi-religious spirit". It spurns economics and targets "culture and the guiding ideas of a society" and - some good news - it "aims to achieve its objectives without violence. It is not ruled out entirely. It is tolerated or even encouraged in certain circumstances. But it is not necessary or fundamental." This is quite a package, parts of which are recognisable, others arguable, all universalised somewhat further than any evidence might support. And the homogenisation and conglomeration of all these tendencies, the suggestion that they are all part of a concerted strategy, part of a movement, offers hostages to conspiratorial fortune.

After Coleman, the quality falls and the temperature rises. Thus, Geoffrey Partington captures the hostage offered, and won't let it go. He finds ‘it' active pretty well everywhere on the Left, mostly in the places we would expect from reading Quadrant's editorials, though there is one surprise. Among the defining characteristics of political correctness are "double standards and special pleading", at which "the Murdoch press, especially the Australian, excels". Details are provided. By now, it's not clear whether Partington is shooting at the same target as Devine, who has long worked at the Australian. Doesn't matter much, since precision has never been the aim of this game.

Partington's catalogue of the detestable features of political correctness makes for pretty bleak reading, but he ends on a reassuringly happy note:

Objectionable as it is, PC is by no means so great a threat to Australia and other liberal-democracies as were communism and fascism. The hooligans of the campuses, even when gathered from several continents at Seattle, are not so frightening as the Storm Troopers or Red Guards. The thought controls operated by the ABC, the Murdoch press and the rest of the PC media are far less effective than the censorship operated by totalitarian regimes. The success of the No vote in the recent referendum [on the Republic] is evidence of the limited effects of PC propaganda. The PC merit our contempt rather than our fear.

That's good to hear, though I guess not for them. We might recall, however, that (as the prime minister noted) Quadrant used to criticise not only communists and their sympathisers, but also the New Left's insidious assumption of "moral equivalence", according to which, "people in the West were no less oppressed than people under the yoke of communist dictatorship." The distinctions between communism and democracy are moral, qualitative and categorical, not just differences of technique. In these attacks on "PC media", the moral distinctions are obscured again (and again), but now from the other side. Partington might have learnt a little more about moral discriminations from his many years with Quadrant. So too for McGuinness and "neo-McCarthyism".

The same applies to Coleman's talk of "soft totalitarianism" and Les Murray's of "quasi-totalitarianism". Totalitarian is like "pregnant": you are or you aren't. It is total. Qualifying it in these ways is semantic nonsense: added to "totalitarian", "soft" or "quasi-" mean "not". Rhetorically, however, they suggest the opposite.

Readers of a certain age, and that will include many Quadrant readers, will remember the scene early in Casablanca, where the police are ordered to "round up all suspicious characters". An English couple asks a local what is going on. He replies, while picking his addressee's pocket: "Two German couriers were found murdered in the desert ... the unoccupied desert. This is the customary roundup of refugees, liberals and uh, of course, a beautiful young girl for Monsieur Renault, the Prefect of Police." A little later, Renault is asked by a Nazi what has been done about the murder. He replies that, "realising the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects." The film ends after the corrupt but ultimately decent Renault witnesses his friend Rick shoot the Nazi: he orders his men to round up the usual suspects. It's a useful thing to do, it seems, when you don't know what is really going on, or you don't really want to know. And the phrase has another association for me. I recently bought a dictionary with the euphonious title, The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés. Clichés are precisely what one turns to when thinking gets too hard but you can't stop talking.

*

According to its editor, Quadrant's mission is:

To defend the great tradition of free and open debate, to make possible dissent, while at the same time insisting on both civilised discourse and rational argument. This mission is not the same as at Quadrant's founding, but it is not dissimilar. For while the communist dictatorship is no more, the love of anti-democratic dictators still survives among many intellectuals, as does their determination to impose their own strange beliefs on the population as a whole.

The prime minister agrees. Among Quadrant's innumerable virtues, it is "the outpost of lively non-conformity", both in the causes and the people it supports. As to the former:

of the causes that Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart none is more important than the role it has played as counterforce to the black-armband view of Australian history. Until recent times, it has become almost de rigueur in intellectual circles to regard Australian history as little more than a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare.

As to the latter, there is its "willingness to defend both Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle against the posses of political correctness".

Blainey was treated disgracefully by many of his colleagues, particularly leftist colleagues, and Quadrant was right to defend him. It was also in its character and tradition to do so. To my knowledge, all Quadrant editors would have done so (and none, as it happens, did so more prominently than Robert Manne), whether or not they agreed with what he said about matters of current debate. On that, opinions can legitimately differ.

Windschuttle is altogether different. First, it is not clear what he suffered, other than a fame that had hitherto eluded him, a seat on the ABC board and at the prime minister's table, adulation from his newly found Quadrant friends and reciprocity from those he derides (a happy combination for a contrarian).

Secondly, the prime minister has somewhat confused attack and defence. Windschuttle was the spearhead of a concerted and vehement attack on others, begun in the pages of Quadrant and continued in the press, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History and many other places. As is typical of the new school of polemic, Windschuttle blended a homogenised, undifferentiated and politically correct melange, known as historical orthodoxy, which he then attacked. He accused its practitioners of fraud, incompetence, ideological manipulation and invention of evidence - not surprising, of course, since they were children of the '60s. His overarching aim was to defend "the character of the nation" against its detractors, to deny that there is anything in our collective history that we have reason to feel pained connection with, or shame for. Not everyone agrees, which is one reason his attacks drew a strong response. Another is that when attacked, as the sign in the French zoo has it, animals often defend themselves. A third, which cannot be denied or excused, is that there are people happy to think in terms as simplistic as those of their critic, who demonise "the character of the nation", who react reflexively and with hostility to any criticism, as does he. Their views are properly criticised for that. Quadrant saw, for today it only ever sees, the third group, and it saw them, for today it only sees them, on the Left.

Friends of Quadrant scoff at suggestions that it ran a campaign on these issues, but it's hard to see what else to call it. Three essays (20,000 words) by Windschuttle on massacres, another on historians who talk about massacres, another replying to critics of his accounts of massacres, as well as many more on anything you can think of; several favourable articles and reviews of his book; two long chapters by John Dawson (taken from his book, Washout, published by Windschuttle), seeking with bravura incompetence to discount the book Whitewash's substantial critiques of Fabrication; plus two favourable reviews of Dawson; plus, of course, the egregious Devine on all of the above; plus, on child removal, Ron Brunton, the lead counsel for the Government in the Cubillo case and the Commonwealth solicitor general in the same case; plus articles from select interested parties (no theft, much protection); plus several tasteless spoofs on child removals and apologies which must have caused a few chuckles at Quadrant; plus editorial after editorial, plus ... as McGuinness likes to say, the list is endless.

As for dissent, there is not much to say, or to see. On the rare occasion it appears, the editor is inclined to abuse the author in that month's editorial. See, for example, the editorial comments on SG Foster in the March 2003 issue, in which the same Foster has a piece rebutting Windschuttle's denial of "the great Australian silence". You know what to think of him when you're told that he is one of those "engaged in an historic struggle to insist that all history must be interpreted through a ‘progressive' lens", one of those who "perceive the past of all peoples as culminating in their silly little discourses about colonialism and the rest". Similarly, the poor executive director of the Western Australian Museum, Gary Morgan, offers two articles in one issue, in reply to two earlier Quadrant attacks: one on the National Museum, by Windschuttle, and one on his own museum, by Rod Moran. Each is given space to reply, immediately after Morgan's pieces on them. Just to leave nothing to chance, the editor writes:

Dr Gary Morgan's contribution is not published because of its quality - on the contrary it is notable for its reliance on ad hominem abuse and attempts to discredit the standing of the authors - but to ensure that the defence should be heard.

Adam Michnik, the great Polish ex-dissident, once explained that there were many different reasons to be anti-communist. A liberal democrat might oppose communism because he loved freedom. Others - nationalists or religious fundamentalists, for example - might not have anything against despotism, but be angry that it was not their despotism. I think an analogy might be drawn with today's Quadrant. Is the problem with the politically correct that they press for conformity, or that it's the wrong sort of conformity? Since Quadrant is not full of surprises these days, the evidence seems to support the second hypothesis.

*

Two of the least attractive elements of our public culture - though the competition is fierce - are that we think in labels and hunt in packs. The combination makes it easier than it might be to identify (and fabricate) enemies and recognise friends, but it has little else to be said for it, outside war. And whatever your position in the culture wars, a condition of realism is to recognise that these are not real wars.

Quadrant had enemies when it began, but it also sought to recruit friends. So long as anti-totalitarianism was shared, people could and did differ in many ways. Among the best of the Quadrant crowd, enmity was a price you might expect to pay for a good cause. You might worry about that or not, like it or not; but you didn't glory in it, still less find your raison d'être there. There has been a tendency for that to change. Quadrant started in opposition to what Owen Harries and Tom Switzer call the "shallow, reflexive, progressive orthodoxy" of Australian intellectual life. Over time, having become used to being labelled, derided and dismissed for no good reason, indeed often for the worst of reasons, some Quadrant people came to adapt to the role of pariah. They came to like it, even to cultivate it. To be despised by those you despised - to be contrarian, that ugly boast-word - became a confirmation of one's rightness and courage. This is amateur psychology, to be sure, but based on observation and introspection over a long period.

Today, polarisation has returned and self-glorification has been added. Indeed, it has never been stronger than in the present Quadrant, albeit with much less justification and, morally, for more dubious stakes. Shallow, reflexive, reactionary orthodoxy is, after all, not an obvious improvement on its antipode. Not then, and not now. Where Quadrant once appreciated the complexity and variety of motives, options and choices, exhibited curiosity and even occasional puzzlement, raised the tone and enriched the vocabulary of debate, its central role now is as radical vulgariser and simplifier. In particular, its energies are directed to composing an enemy, against which it and its allies can flaunt their fearless contrarianism. The intended reduction to which this leads is a simple choice between one identikit pack - the usual suspects - and the anti-pack pack, Quadrant's herd of independent minds.

At the start of this essay I mentioned my father. I have no idea where he would lean in this sad story, though there are times when I'd like to know. He loved Quadrant, but he died 20 years ago, a lot has changed, and he was a thoughtful man. He was also a person of taste and what used to be praised as discrimination. While I can't speak for him, I remember how he spoke. He was fond of a phrase coined by his former compatriot Szmuel Gelbfisz, better known as Samuel Goldwyn. "Include me out," my father liked to say, when the occasion warranted. And so do I.


About the author Martin Krygier
Martin Krygier is a professor of law and social theory at the University of New South Wales. He is the author of Civil Passions: Selected Writings, a collection of essays.