Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Kaiserreich's War


The title of Max Hastings’ new book, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War (2013), almost says it all. An estimated 9.5 million military personnel, along with close to 7 million civilians, perished as a consequence of the First World War; and to those figures can be added 20 million wounded. Paul Ham’s 1914: The Year The World Ended (2013) is, in some aspects, no less a tour de force than Hastings’ Catastrophe. His character portraits are often interesting if one-sided, his account of the Battle of Marne detailed, and the suffering of ordinary people clearly depicted. Nevertheless, the ultimate significance of the First World War eludes him. After such horrific carnage, the hope that it would be The War to End All Wars was dashed with the Second World War’s death toll reaching somewhere between 60 and 85 million. What went wrong? According to Hastings, it was failure to understand the lessons of 1914, a problem that haunts us still, an astonishing one hundred years later.

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Monday 30 December 2013

2013: From Woe to Wilson

Prime Minister Gillard’s 2013 New Year’s missive to the nation was brimful of hope. Her administration, thanks to “strong public finances”, could get on with what it did best, helping to “modernise our country” and providing “welcome” assistance to ordinary Australians. The new School Kids Bonus meant that in 2013 the “typical family” was going to be $760 a year better off, while an injection of federal funds into education would ensure a Labor-governed Australia continued to become “a world leader in school education”. The PM even had a plan for electricity prices that would “hold bills down by up to $250 a year.” By July 2013 the Gillard government would be ready to launch the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). No wonder the upbeat finish: “So let's say Happy New Year to each other in a spirit of confidence and optimism.”

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Wednesday 11 December 2013

Boris the Wizard of Oz - Salisbury Review, Winter 2013-14

The redoubtable Boris had just won over the locals, extolling the merits of Melbourne, as he delivered the keynote speech at the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival: a city of “dynamism and openness and generosity” and “blessed like London with a superb climate, public bicycles, free museums, and a brilliant Oystercard system called the Myki whose complexities I have yet to fathom.” Maybe it was his unbridled enthusiasm that prompted Sally Roycroft, an Australian teacher, to acquaint the Mayor of London with her story. Possessing an Australian passport rather than a EU one, she informed him, had brought an abrupt end to her career as an educator in London.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt

The unanswered question accompanying almost every page of Carrie Rosefsky Wickham’s The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (2013) is whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood will turn out to be the solution to the country’s malaise. Wickham’s book, to be fair, was published before the majority of Egyptians, in partnership with General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, swept Mohamed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) from power. The reader knows what the author cannot know: the extraordinary events of July 3, 2013. What The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Evolution of an Islamist Movement shows, however, is that an associate professor of political science in an American university can provide a most valuable compilation of names, dates and events, while remaining surprisingly obtuse about the totalitarian nature of the phenomenon she is describing. The kindest evaluation of Wickham’s tone would be “studiously detached” so that we might connect the dots for ourselves.

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Monday 2 December 2013

Your Taxes, Their ABC

For one tantalising moment on the oh-so-progressive Jon Faine 774 ABC Melbourne programme, the earnestly progressive social researcher Hugh Mackay seemed to reach out a metaphorical hand to not-so-progressive fellow guest Nick Cater, author of The Lucky Culture: And the rise of an Australian ruling class (2013). Mackay, on the show to promote his own tome, The Good Life: What makes life worth living? (2013), assured the listeners that, as an advocate of the Golden Rule, he had been paying close attention to Cater’s argument, and even agreed with him that journalists hold attitudes notably different from regular Australians. Cater must have swooned at the prospect of somebody on the ABC, albeit a guest, endorsing his ‘New Class’ thesis.

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Sunday 3 November 2013

What John F. Kennedy's Assassination Did to America

Courtesy of The Onion: America's Finest News Service         

Being only six at the time of John F. Kennedy’s death, I have no idea where I was when I heard the news. Nonetheless, I was gripped – in a creepy, unsettling kind of way – by television documentaries and magazine stories throughout my school years postulating one conspiracy theory after another – fabricated photographs of Oswald posing with a rifle, an alleged gunman on the grassy knoll, the impossibility of “the magic bullet” hitting both Kennedy and Governor Connolly, the pristine bullet assertion, the Head of State’s head reeling back instead of forward after the fatal shot, Jack Ruby’s connection with the Mob, Oswald allegedly anti-Castro and not pro-Castro, the Oswald doppelganger theory, the perfidy of the Warren Commission, and so on. Many of the conspiracy angles might have been far-fetched, including the one about the driver of the presidential limousine, William Greer, and yet how could there be all that smoke and no fire?

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Saturday 19 October 2013

Peace in Obama's Time

The summit must have been a success: the White House spokesperson declared them substantive. “Extensive” and “candid”, said US Officials. No “overnight breakthroughs”, of course, but things are moving “forward”. It seems that all of the participants of the latest P5+1 Meeting in Geneva, October 15-16, are upbeat at its conclusion and everyone has promised to participate in another round of talks in November.

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Monday 30 September 2013

Reassessing the Iron Curtain

Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 totally undercuts the revisionist notion that the Sovietisation of Eastern Europe was a response to American belligerency. Roosevelt and then Truman, according Applebaum, were essentially bystanders during the Sovietisation of Eastern Europe. Iron Curtain convincingly demonstrates that Soviet-style communism, operating in the vacuum created by the collapse of the Nazi Empire, obeyed a totalitarian logic all of its own.

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Tuesday 10 September 2013

Aussie Green Bikers - Salisbury Review, Autumn 2013

British-born journalist Nick Cater emigrated to Australia in 1989 and his career never looked back. For nine years now he has been a senior editor at Murdoch’s flagship newspaper The Australian. Cater’s The Lucky Culture: And the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class (2013) argues that the good old days of Australian egalitarianism are now under threat from “a knowledge-owning nobility”. Cater asserts that where a spirit of fraternity and mateship once held sway in our young nation, and with it a sense of fairness and non-doctrinaire tolerance, now divisiveness rules. “Classless Australia” might be becoming a thing of the past.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Delusional to the end, Labor stays the course

Emotions, to paraphrase Clive James, are a tricky thing. In the midst of defeat a sense of hopelessness can often prevail, when hope is the quality required in such a situation. Conversely, during times of triumph it is humility, or at least clear-headedness, that serves us better than haughtiness. This particular reflection, admittedly, occurred to me as television pundits began calling the September 7, 2013, election for Abbott – and I sipped a celebratory glass of a 1996 Barossa shiraz.

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Sunday 1 September 2013

The Determination of Margaret Thatcher

In 1960, the political philosopher F.A. Hayek wrote an essay entitled “Why I Am Not a Conservative. Any conservative who expresses admiration for Hayek can expect to be challenged at some point for the alleged paradox of their position. Margaret Thatcher, a self-declared devotee of Hayek’s work and Leader of the British Conservative Party (1975-90), was once questioned in a BBC interview about the incongruity of her stance. The Iron Lady waved aside the objection. According to Charles Moore’s authorised biography, Not for Turning (2013), she was right to assert a connection between Hayek and the Conservative Party – her rendering, at least, of the British Conservative Party.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Kevin Rudd [Mark 1]

Shortly after the ALP’s resounding victory in the 2007 federal election, psychologist-activist Steve Biddulph wrote a triumphalist missive for the Sydney Morning Herald assuring us that “Rudd and Gillard are not in power for power’s sake” and that together they would make Australia “a better place for the people in it”. Moreover, the irresistible charm of “Kevin and Julia, as Australia already calls them”, might actually “herald the end of the Liberal Party itself”. According to Biddulph’s scenario, by 2013 federal politics would be a battle between Labor and the Greens, conservative politics having “withered away". Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy is Lindsay Tanner’s take on why the fairytale went wrong.

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Sunday 18 August 2013

Love in the Age of Choleric

Throughout the 2007 federal election campaign Senator Penny Wong declared herself to be in total agreement with the ALP’s anti-same-sex marriage policy. She argued – rather persuasively – that that “there was a cultural, religious and historical view of marriage between a man and a woman.” This past week Tony Abbott said the very same thing. While acknowledging that for many people, including his sister Christine, gay marriage represented “an important issue”, he believed in “evolutionary change” and did not want to be stampeded into a “radical change based on the fashion of the moment”. Senator Wong, who turned pro-gay marriage after the 2007 election, gave him a serve: “Note to Mr Abbott: Equality is not a fashion item.”

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Monday 12 August 2013

Roger Sandall, More Right Than Ever

Sunday, August 11, the day of the Rudd-Abbott debate, marks the first anniversary of the passing of one of Australia’s greatest thinkers, Roger Sandall (1933-2012). Sandall’s The Culture Cult (2001) is a relatively slim tome and yet it provides the sharpest of insights into an ideology that has, over the past half century, hijacked the Left in Australia and throughout the entire Western world. Marx is dead – long live anti-bourgeois bohemianism!

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Friday 2 August 2013

The Opium of Terry Eagleton

One of the more disturbing moments in Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right—no small thing in a treatise teeming with disturbing moments—is this:

Was capitalist modernity really necessary? How does one weigh the value of modern science and human liberty against the spiritual goods of tribal societies? What happens when we place democracy in the scales along with the Holocaust?  

It might take a second for the full implication of Eagleton’s last question to sink in, but when it does the reader finds himself confronted with an allegation both absurd and without any moral seriousness. Like some kind of malignant Quincy McGoo, Eagleton actually believes that democracy and the Holocaust are two sides of the same modern capitalist coin. How could a fellow who is the current Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster entertain such a notion? How can a man who entertains such a notion be the current Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster? If nothing else, Why Marx Was Right more than adequately explains Terry Eagleton.

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Saturday 27 July 2013

The Hitchens Brothers - Salisbury Review, Winter 2010-11

The class struggle is over. Christopher Hitchens, Marxist polemicist to the world, is no longer a man of the Left. On some days, confesses Hitchens, apostasy leaves him with a feeling akin to “the phantom pain of a missing limb”. On other days the sensation is more like “having taken off a needlessly heavy overcoat”. No more does he believe in a radiant socialist future and increasingly reflects “upon the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest has led”. Nevertheless, in his lively memoir, Hitch-22 (2010), Hitchens argues cleverly and in the end persuasively that advancing age has not betrayed the principles of his youth, and that he continues to be as radical and adversarial as ever. 

Sunday 21 July 2013

Courage in Flight [Complete]

Few have experienced a more precipitous learning curve than Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Somalia’s most famous (or notorious depending on your perspective) emigrant has completed a second autobiography, Nomad: A Personal Journey Through the Clash Of Civilizations (2010) at the relatively young age of forty. If her life continues to be as eventful as it has been until now – and her round-the-clock security regime does its job properly – we may see many more memoirs penned by the brave and articulate Hirsi Ali.                 

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Salisbury Review Conservative Classic #42 - Clive James, Cultural Amnesia

Malcolm Muggeridge once dismissed Clive James’ appetite for culture with the quip: “He seeks it here, he seeks it there, he seeks it everywhere.” The inference being that ‘Australian intellectual’ constitutes an oxymoron, and Clive James learning Russian (not to mention Spanish, Italian, German, French, Polish, Japanese and the rest) in order to read non-English works in the original was akin to putting lipstick on a pig. Maybe James was still smarting from that long ago taunt because in Cultural Amnesia he indulges himself with a couple of brief (and gratuitous) digs at Muggeridge.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Baulk Like An Egyptian

President Obama’s Middle-East policy is now on the ropes. His man in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, has been brought down by the Egyptian Armed Forces. The vast crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square burst into joyous celebration at the announcement of the news. “Freedom! Freedom!” Their pride and pleasure would have contrasted with the mood inside the White House. The loss of Morsi constitutes not only a deadly blow to the global ambitions of Sunni supremacists in the grip of apocalyptic millennialism, but also an enormous setback to Obama’s standing on the world stage.

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Sunday 30 June 2013

The Terrorist Delusions of Robert Redford

Have you noticed how the modern-day Left tends not to be at war with itself as it was in the old days? No more internecine sniping over doctrinal purity. No more blame game. Where’s that old-time fissiparous spirit when you need it? These days it seems the only crime a leftist can commit in the eyes of another leftist is apostasy. The current imperative – as exemplified by The Company You Keep – could be a line lifted from a Soviet-era poster: “Comrade, leave no radical behind!”

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Rudd's Rush of Blood

Is Kevin Rudd a charismatic nut job? A man who is so duplicitous and despotic that the business of running the country became paralyzed under his first prime ministership? So monomaniacal that for three solid years he furtively undermined Julia Gillard at every opportunity until he at last destroyed her? All of this, remarkably, has been suggested by those in the best position to know, Australian Labor Party parliamentarians, from Senator Wong to Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis. Why, then, have these ostensibly sane people done the bidding of a highly dysfunctional character – again, their depiction – by allowing themselves to be embroiled in his revenge fantasy?

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Sunday 23 June 2013

Modern Turkey's Last Stand

 At 6:00 p.m., on Monday June 17, 2013, the Standing Man came to a standstill in the middle of Istanbul’s Taksim Square. After undoing his backpack, and placing it on the pavement next to him, he quietly fixed his eyes on the giant picture of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). Though Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey, has removed Atatürk’s likeness from all school textbooks, he carelessly left this image of his secularist antecedent atop the Atatürk Culture Centre, immediately adjacent to Taksim Square. Hundreds of Standing Men – and, crucially, Standing Women – soon joined the silent protestor.

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