June 2013

Arts & Letters

‘The Lucky Culture’ by Nick Cater

By Mark Latham
HarperCollins; $29.99

For as long as I can remember in Australian politics, right-wing commentators have been complaining about the rise of a new class of left-wing intellectuals. This cohort has carried many labels over the years, such as chardonnay socialists and the cafe latte set. Now Nick Cater, in his book The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class, has devised three further descriptors: cosmopolitan sophisticates, the graduate class and bunyip alumni.

In a 361-page work, one would have expected these people to be identified and dissected – outed for their unsavoury contribution to left-wing aloofism. There is, after all, little point in throwing around labels unless they can be supported by detailed research, giving examples of the offending elites and the things they have been elitist about.

I had great expectations for the intellectual firepower mustered in The Lucky Culture. In the book’s acknowledgements, it is clear Cater has collaborated closely with the best and brightest of Australian conservatism, most notably his News Ltd colleagues Paul Kelly, Christopher Pearson, Henry Ergas and Rebecca Weisser, plus fellow travellers Peter Coleman and Gerard Henderson. This was to be their magnum opus.

But the results are feeble. I have read the book thoroughly and compiled a list of the “lefties” supposedly in control of Australia. They are, in order of appearance: John Faulkner, Deborah Cameron, Peter Garrett, David Marr, Kevin Rudd, Barry Humphries, Liz Jackson, Catherine Manning, Fran Kelly, Marieke Hardy, Bernard Keane, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Christine Milne, Kerry O’Brien and Denise Bradley.

For a class grouping, this one lacks cohesion, given the time and intensity with which its members squabble among themselves. Its influence is highly fragmented and easily diluted. For the ABC presenters named, a democratic discipline applies. If the public does not like what is being said, they can switch to another channel.

Most of the other names on Cater’s list are left-of-centre politicians who have struggled to control their own parties, let alone the nation. None has exercised power with the same consistency as right-wing icons such as the Murdoch and Packer families and John Howard. For most Australians, these so-called elites are relatively obscure, with only Gillard, Rudd and Swan qualifying as “household names”. If this is a new ruling class, someone needs to tell the people they are ruling.

Cater makes his case by assertion, not evidence. Most of his arguments are imported from neo-con journals in the US and applied crudely to Australian circumstances. Thus his book becomes an exercise in right-wing political correctness, positioning activists like Gina Rinehart as above criticism because, in Cater’s world view, “wealth carries virtue”.

Mark Latham
Mark Latham is an author and former leader of the ALP. His books include The Latham Diaries, Civilising Global Capital and From the Suburbs.

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