Howl of the despondent historian

 

Building bridges, by Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com

Jane Doulman is completing a Phd in history at the Australian National University (ANU). Her subject area is the history of Australian foreign and defence policy.

 

Never before in my life have I felt compelled to write to a paper or to a journalist or a forum such as Webdiary. Like so many, I am beyond fed up with an inert, intellectually lazy, nepotistic ALP that refuses to grasp the dangerous long term implications of the current government.

I recently decided to vote Green in the next election. It was a profoundly sad decision to make, as I have voted Labor all my adult life.

Where do I stand on Bob Brown’s behaviour last week? We have a Westminster system of government, and anyone who stands and speaks before it must understand that interjection is the Australian way. Long may it prevail.

As for last week’s short-lived US Occupation of Canberra, well it was ‘interesting’ – as in the spirit of the Chinese curse! One can only imagine what living in Baghdad must be like.

On the state of the nation, our decaying democracy and the false projections of fascism onto the Greens by another Howard headkicker, where does one start? I sit at my desk piled high with books and journals and notes on Australian history. Outside, it’s one of ‘those’ Canberra mornings: the magpies swoop and warble with their usual irreverence, the sky is that unmatched, opalescent blue that haunts and defines the memories of the expatriated and exiled.

And then there are the snow gums; to touch them is to know this land is profound beyond imagining. Physically, Australia is so beautiful, and yet, for some time now, I have privately questioned the hearts and minds of its people and the intentions of its leadership.

I look out my window and think, why do I feel so troubled? Why this sense of foreboding? Why am I, quite frankly, afraid for my country? Why has Brandis’ speech struck a vein of fear in my being that I never thought existed? Why am I thinking, as a once passionately proud 8th generation Australian, I am ashamed of this country, I don’t like what it stands for anymore. Why, for the first time in my life, am I thinking perhaps, when I finish the Phd, we should leave?

Yes,¬†Philip Gomes’¬†citation of Mussolini is correct. Fascism is about corporatism and the slow, sly, insidious subversion of the democratic process, which you have very capably written about. Yet most historians will tell you that, unlike capitalism or communism or socialism, as an ideology fascism is notoriously hard to define. It’s vague and conveniently malleable. Yet there are certain defining characteristics, many of which have disturbing parallels with the way this government plays its politics.

The George Brandis¬†speech, and its attempt to undermine the Government’s (now) most potent threat by projecting onto it Howardism’s own malignant tendencies, was a popular Nazi tactic. It’s a classic tool of collective psychology and mass manipulation. Goebells perfected it. You say what once seemed unsayable, you let the proverbial fly, the leader – seemingly benign – disassociates himself, meanwhile the seeds of doubt are sown, and the headkickers party on…

The parallels between the Howard Government’s modus operandi and the German and Italian fascists are numerous. Let me identify a few.

Recently a joke did the rounds in Canberra – I think the wonderful, lapsed liberal Hillary Bray (crikey.com.au) started it – that the PM must have been sorely disappointed when the Ship of Death eventually landed in Eritrea, because he lost an opportunity to be dockside and welcome home our ‘heroic’ sheep. As Homer Simpson says, ‘Its funny cos its true’.

No doubt about it, Howard loves those photo ops with the khaki set. Don’t be fooled, this is not the self-indulgence of a wannabe. One of the most notable features of fascism is militarism and the manipulation of the past – the military and therefore ‘heroic’ past – as the underpinning of an acceptable nationalism.

Howard’s repeated invocation of the Gallipoli/ANZAC myth, his almost pathological obsession with worshipping at the Australian Altar of Mars, his exploitation of our military history to serve his own political ends, is nothing less than a cynical propaganda exercise in the best fascist tradition.

It taps into a fundamental weakness in the Australian collective psyche: the naive, deluded, populist belief that Australia is the nation of ‘good blokes’ who only fight in ‘good’ wars, for ‘good’ causes. When those ‘bad’ others attack, its not because of what we have done, its because of ‘who we are’. Vote for me, your ‘good mate’ ‘Honest’ John, and by association you are part of this myth. You are are a ‘good Aussie’.

Hitler did it too. Vote for me – yes folks, they voted for him – and by association you are part of Valhalla. Mussolini invoked the glories of Rome. People just love to believe this self-indulgent, vicarious and usually erroneous guff.

The truth of the matter is, Australians are like any other people. There are the good the bad the indifferent and the downright bloody ugly. In our short history our soldiers have had their moments in the sun, and they have had their less proud moments. Ask Lee Kuan Yew for his most salient memory of the Fall of Singapore and he will tell you it was the sight of Australian soldiers running away – but we don’t hear about that, do we?

This constant harping on a very narrow aspect of our history and the myth that the digger is the definitive Australian icon due to some kind of innate purity is used by Howard not only as a way of flattering Australian sensibilities, but also to cancel out those other aspects of the past the average Alan Jones listener prefers to deny: convictism, the frontier conflicts and their aftermath, and even the long-forgotten fact that in the late 19th century Australia was universally regarded as a paragon of social and political progressivism and a model society.

In the great tradition of 20th century fascism, Howard and his advisors are the penultimate collective psychologists: they know what Australians love to hear about themselves. Joe Goebells would indeed be proud. The creation of linkages between a heroic past to justify the present is pure fascism.

But wait, there’s more! Another key characteristic of fascism, particularly in the German model, was the glorification of the body beautiful, sport and the ridiculing of intellectuals. Like Hitler, Howard is, physically, the ultimate concave-chested weed. But as we know, Howard never misses the photo op with whichever athlete is the golden boy or girl of the Australian media.

Note the presence of those good blokes, golden sons of Oz John Eales and Mark Taylor at the Bush barbie. Note Howard opening the Rugby World Cup. Note Howard at Wimbledon whenever he can get there. Sport is used as a tool for defining so-called Australian nobility of spirit.

Marx once said religion was the opium of the people. Well in this country it’s sport. It’s a form of social control and Howard knows it and uses it magnificently.

As for the role of intellectuals in the Howardist paradigm, the fact that Windschuttle won the PM’s prize for Bullshit In Service Of The State sums it up. One can only hope that in a hundred years or so Australian historiographers will look back and interpret Windschuttle’s work the way Nazi art is seen now: vulgar, lacking in intellectual rigour and emblematic of a coercive nationalism based on self deceit, lies and exclusionism.

Of course, as you know Margo, Howard is a consummate media player. It’s not polite to mention this around PR types, but Goebells wrote the course for Spin Doctoring 101 and Howard’s use of tox jocks to disseminate ‘the message’ is as if he never leaves home without the textbook. Go for the lowest common denominator, never underestimate the gullibility of the public and, of course the number one principle of fascist propaganda management: THE BIGGER THE LIE THE MORE PEOPLE BELIEVE IT (Children overboard is a case in point.) Bolt, Albrechtson et al perpetuate the deceit.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this howl, Howard’s use of Brandis (and the Grand Inquisitor himself, Tony Abbott) to articulate and apply the gutter aspects of his politics and ideology, and his strategy of distancing himself from such statements mimics Hitler himself.

Bob Brown is not a fascist, and he is not a Nazi. These are words with the darkest of implications. For any Australian with an understanding of what they mean, the most frightening thing is that the accusers are the guilty ones, and they have the power.

Never, ever, did I think I would feel so profoundly sad and worried about the direction of Australian politics. My only hope is that Australians will finally see that the Emperor has no clothes and that, sometimes, there are more important things in life than a tax cut and a first homebuyers grant.

Leave a Reply