The Greasy Pole

But The Australian is Elitist, Too

David Flint must be kicking himself. Watching the debate started by Nick Cater’s book The Lucky Culture, among John Howard, Mark Latham, Janet Albrechtsen (and many, many more), he must have trouble shaking the feeling that he’s missed out on his dues. After all, Flint had already written the book ten years ago, when it was a searing critique of progressive intellectuals called Twilight of the Elites. But then Allan Bloom had written it 20 years before that, when it was called The Closing of the American Mind. It was inspired by William F. Buckley’s seminal God and Man At Yale, first published in 1951.

“The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so.” That was Buckley, writing in 1955, but swap ‘Australia’ for ‘America’ and you have Nick Cater, today.

Swapping ‘Australia’ for ‘America’ is what The Lucky Culture does. The American right’s contempt for academia has been married with native Australian anti-intellectualism before, but the offspring was always sterile. Cater, who is the chief opinion editor at the Australian, has gone further, trying to inseminate our barren colonial history with the vital spirit of American individualist can-do. Watching his failed efforts to get Australian social  and American political conservatism to breed is like being party to one of those zoo mating programmes where they get pandas to watch porn, and just as unsuccessful.

Did you know there was a John Galt exclusion clause to the tall poppy syndrome, and that we didn’t used to make fun of people like Gina Rinehart? But of course we did – Rinehart’s own father was getting the same treatment half a century ago. As was Greg Norman two decades ago: “If someone in America bought a sports car, then other Americans would say 'nice car'. However, if someone in Australia bought a sports car, other Australians would scratch it”. And that’s how we treat our heroes. It wasn’t  progressive shibboleths ingested in latte form that lead to the keying, it was old, enforced egalitarianism loaded with a special hatred for the bosses.

It’s inevitable that an effort to make an egalitarian wonderland out of a place that spent 60 years run by a political faction called the Exclusives, quickly becomes an exercise in exclusion itself. In The Lucky Culture Aboriginals in particular seem to be shit out of luck. But there’s one exclusion that gives the game away. There’s an easy and accurate way to compare ‘elite’ and ‘mainstream’ opinion on a range of ‘boutique’ issues – opinion polling. A quick comparison of polls would open up the huge chasm between real and pretend Australia. Except, of course, it doesn’t.

Popular support for the beliefs Cater kvetches about spreads far beyond the confines of Darlinghurst dinner parties. Opposition to gay marriage runs at 33 per cent, limboing further down every polling period. Only 22 per cent of Australians would ‘never’ consider joining an environmentalist group. The Australian’s own opinion polling found that 83 per cent of respondents believe the ABC’s coverage of climate change is unbiased. A majority of us are more worried about US foreign policy than Islamic extremism. If graduates have foisted their beliefs onto a resistant populace, the people have acquiesced with spectacular ease.

It’s no wonder The Lucky Culture has to resort to dowsing rod methods of discerning ‘the mainstream’, because any real metric would not only destroy the book's argument, but leave the author’s own stablemates hopelessly marooned. Look at support for the  Iraq War without UN sanction (70% opposition), ‘wage flexibility’ (22% support in WorkChoices form), or privatisation (just 22% in favour, and less for electricity and water), and you’ll quickly realise the editorial line of The Australian is about as fringe and elite as it gets. These privatisation fans aren’t yeoman, genius-of-the-land type drovers, they’re inner-city graduates as well, only of economics departments. Any sign of contempt for this departure from the concerns of ‘ordinary Australians’, or outrage about policies being smuggled in by unmandated means seems to be curiously absent.

That’s not surprising – like hipsters, the political elite always loudly voice their hatred of the political elite. But beyond the tired cup-and-ball game swapping out economic and cultural objects of derision is the real elitism – the relationship between the two. Out there in the dark Nick Cater, Mark Latham and Helen Razer are stumbling up against the edges of post-political technocratic consensus. But that’s for another time.

Richard Cooke

Richard Cooke is The Monthlys contributing editor. 


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