Civilisation beyond the con of neoliberalism

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It has been a good month for large issues. Just in time to arrest ponderous musings about Western Civilisation, up jumps Richard Denniss' cheeky funeral oration for the neoliberal settlement.

Quarterly Essay 70 Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and what Comes Next, by Richard DennissThe target of Denniss' Quarterly Essay, 'Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and what Comes Next' is the neoliberal assumption that an economy based on unregulated competition between competitive individuals will benefit society.

He does not spend time arguing with the theory, as most of us do, but points to the results: anxious, overworked citizens, inadequate services, flat wages, growing inequality, rampant corruption in massively profitable corporations and increasing distrust of politicians and institutions.

His most intriguing reason for not engaging with economic theory is that the interested parties have simply used it as a con in order to distract people from what is being done to them. It generates slogans like competition and small government, which, with the connivance of governments, corporations use to transfer resources to themselves at the expense of society.

Although competition can be beneficial, it has been introduced into areas where it is inappropriate, such as public utilities like electricity, and into social services like care for the aged and education. The appeal to small government and the labelling of taxation as a burden enable social needs to be set against economic growth, so that any push for increased benefits for the unemployed or Indigenous Australians can be presented as a threat to working citizens. Society becomes divided while the knowing run away with the loot.

Denniss regards this as a con because neither governments nor corporations believe in competition. On the contrary they use regulation to exclude it.

Privatisation is structured in such a way as to breed oligopolies or monopolies. Regulations on unions are introduced to prevent workers competing with employers; subsidies are offered to large companies to develop coalmines that otherwise would be uncompetitive; the efforts made by the government to prevent the predatory behaviour of the major banks from coming to light speak for themselves. Small government means spending government money for party political reasons on big enterprises of questionable value, such as the inland railway.

 

"To conceive the good of society as the product of individuals competing economically erodes all the connections that link human beings to one another, and particularly those connections that make strangers into fellow civilians."

 

Neoliberal doctrine is useful, however, in enabling governments to reject proposals for expenditure that offer a social benefit, such as providing decent support for the unemployed. They respond by asking, not how we can implement it, but whether we can afford it. The question central to discussion of any policy, namely what kind of society we shall shape by addressing or not addressing the need, is not even discussed. It is dismissed as irrelevant to 'economics'.

Denniss demonstrates convincingly the seriousness of our predicament and suggests helpful changes of orientation. The wasteland he describes, however, is worth dwelling on because it is a country of the mind that won't be changed simply by regulatory changes. It and the neoliberal theory that has engendered it are thoroughly uncivilised. To conceive the good of society as the product of individuals competing economically erodes all the connections that link human beings to one another, and particularly those connections that make strangers into fellow civilians.

Civilisation involves the nurturing of relationships in which love for persons trumps love for things, in which the first response to strangers is to welcome rather than repel, in which the delight of sharing is honoured more than success in amassing, and in which the needs of others prompt us to ask how they can be met, and not to state dogmatically that they cannot be met. Civilisation presumes that deliberations about public matters will transcend the power of interest groups. The common good measures individual goods.

Competition inverts all these relationships. It makes strangers out of friends, fear and envy to dominate love, the desire to possess to master the desire to give, and individual desires to trump common needs, and reduces public conversation to conflict between interest groups with the rewards going to the most powerful. In a word, a world enslaved by competition is uncivilised. What it needs is civilisation.

This, however, is not the same as Western Civilisation, a deeply ambiguous phrase. The fact that its most polemical barrackers have been equally committed to the neoliberal project ought to make us suspicious of it. It is often used to glorify the economic order that has white-anted civilisation.

To address our present discontents we do need a commitment to civilisation: to strengthen the bonds between people, based on a larger and deeper view of human wellbeing that embraces connections and relationships, in which the good of each person and of each group is bound up with the flourishing of all. That will call us to honour and to draw on all the texts and traditions, not simply those defined as western, which encourage the habit of asking what matters most deeply and have generated social structures that embody it.

Poetry, novels, religious texts, plays and films all explore relationships, including those involved in political and public life as well as personal ones. They reveal the poverty of much of our public discourse and prompt deeper reflection on what contributes to a good society. Without the habitual reflection and attentiveness that they demand the dethroning of one cheap and self-interested economic theory will simply be replaced by the coronation of another.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Richard Denniss, neoliberalism, Quarterly Essay

 

 

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Existing comments

Yes, Andrew, supportive relationships are pivotal to a civilized society: even the ancient Greeks, who failed the test dismally on some fronts (e.g. infanticide, pederasty), placed hospitality for the stranger high on the list of their values. But I think you overplay your hand on the nature of competitiveness - "Competition inverts all relationships." - Indeed, it can be abused, but competition is also conducive to growth. It is also intuitively natural, if the futile attempts to abolish scores in under-age sports are any indicator.
John | 26 June 2018


I might add that conspicuously lacking in this discussion of civilisation so far has been any mention of the soul; which could well be an indicator of how materialistic our society has become.
John | 26 June 2018


Spot-on gain, Fr Andrew: passionately concerned, thoroughly well conceived, and nicely written. How deep is our dilemma, then?: "The wasteland he describes, however, is worth dwelling on because it is a country of the mind that won't be changed simply by regulatory changes." I wonder if we are actually speaking about the heart? Once our ticker's sick, the body is in strife; as is true when a nation's heart is atrophying. " 'Twas early this morning; 'Twas before the sun was arisin'; Not a single bird was tweetin'; so You could hear holy angels sighin'. And some of them were weepin'; and As they were cryin' they began to chant: "Where is the human heart? Where've you put your heart? What've you done with your hearts, our friends? Where is your heart? Where IS your heart? Where is your heart today? We say it's not in a good place! Your heart's not in the right place! It's not in a safe place at all!" By now the sun was arisin'; Many birds began atweetin'; Couldn't hear holy angels anymore. Yet, out of a blue sky, angel tears arainin'; Callin' to our wayward human hearts; Callin' to the wayward human heart."
Dr Marty Rice | 26 June 2018


Show me a person who has not had their initiative, common sense and goodwill annexed by the language of middle management: unintelligent algorithms designed in the interests of greed for maximum efficiency and micro managed by officious morons. The mulish shortcomings of software narrow the mind and cultivate schmoozing and ultra idiocy. They paralyse the human heart and erase our capacity to solve human problems. Computer says no.
A J Stewart | 27 June 2018


Hi Andrew, Once again you have hit the proverbial nail right on the head! I was thinking while reading your essay; what is the Australian Church doing about this scourge on our society? Sadly, as has been the case in other social conscience issues affecting our country like the refugees crisis , the greedy banks etc , it has buried its head in the sand. At least Pope Francis seems willing and able to speak his mind loudly and incessantly. Maybe we need to take a page out of his book. We have the so called Plenary Conference in 2020 .I attended one session here in Canberra last week. It was good to hear the voice of the laity speaking up. But will our Bishops hear us and heed our calls for reform?
Gavin | 27 June 2018


You are dead right, Fr Andrew, when you say that neoliberalism is not analogous with Western Civilisation. Rather sadly, it represents the death of Judeo-Christian Western Civilisation.
john frawley | 27 June 2018


If Western Civilisation is “a deeply ambiguous phrase”, so too in neoliberalism. It’s very easy to proclaim one’s love of humanity, but not all roads lead to a “worker’s paradise.” The early Church fathers clearly saw through Marxism, with Qui pluribus, describing communism as “absolutely contrary to the natural law itself.” But 150 years later and notwithstanding the deaths of 100 million under communist regimes, Cardinal Marx is “impressed” with communist writings described by his own church as “satanic logic.” And notwithstanding 100 years of socialist failures, with Venezuela being the latest, our left-leaning education system produces millennials, 58% of whom view socialism favourably. Meantime our universities are busy shutting down free speech and our politicians are furiously enacting economy-destroying policies to appease the global warming gods. Karl Marx’s creepy poetry was prophetic: “Then I will be able to walk triumphantly, Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom. Every word of mine is fire and action. My breast is equal to that of the Creator.”
Ross Howard | 27 June 2018


John makes a good point. Competition is “intuitively natural”, but I suggest that like fire, it can be a good servant but a poor master. Clearly, there needs to be a balance. Neoliberalism chooses to make competition a god, and there lies the problem.
Frank S | 27 June 2018


Fr Andrew our whole society is based on competition, whether its Australian Rules, cricket, Tennis, AFL. The best players command the most money. Same with musicians. It is cultivated by our education system from the day we can run or read a book. One cannot separate Western Civilisation from Neo Liberalism.The latter is a by product of the former. Even China, which is hell bent to own our infrastructure and build a new world superpower, relies on competition. Eg the CCP Hong Kong own Alinta. The competition is heating up to offer the best short term power discounts. Gradually the CCP will outperform the UK. This is competition at its most insidious. SMH 30 Sept 2017 "The amount of Australian farm land owned by Chinese interests has surged tenfold in the past year, climbing above 14 million hectares or 2.5 per cent of all agricultural land. The findings from the ATOs Agricultural Land Register, released show the UK and China are the largest owners of foreign-held land in Australia, owning 27 per cent and 25 per cent respectively." So while we have the debate the competition for ownership of our infrastructure rages largely unnoticed. And Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Frank Armstrong | 27 June 2018


Humbling as it is to recognize how uncivilized we are it is good to know that when the touchstone is held up we are fragmented and callous in many ways. And competition is ok in some areas if the playing field, talents and SES are equal but to suggest it is always facilitative you have had to have consumed lots of cool aid. Wonderful how the neocon rich claim victimhood which in other circumstances is deserving of compassion. Evilly smart call. The churchs' silence-too busy with sexual matters and when you are part of the problem avert your gaze.
Michael D. Breen | 27 June 2018


@ john frawley | 27 June 2018. Bingo, John. This whole discussion and its preceding ones reveal how for so many, something can be so close to us we cannot see it, and that, like the proverbial boiling frog, we have lost the ability and even desire to be able to stand back for a bit to actually see and understand the slowly boiling context what we're immersed in. And to your comment I'd add neo-Marxism. So, now, what we are witnessing is the clash of 'neos' ( see https://www.instagram.com/p/BjfDblVBaHB/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=1grj9dt65ncrw ). History repeating itself - so boring, so embarrassing, so depressing, but sort of fun, at least for those competitively hissing at each other, and fascinating for the onlookers. In the end, I fear both are more like this: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjiuqqcHQ4k/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=2n2txv11nm83 . Neither are what Jesus/God/Love desires us to be.
Stephen de Weger | 28 June 2018


Ross Howard and Stephen de Weger should define their terms before posting! Education is hardly the captive of the Left, except to those whose prejudice is compounded by their blindness. Neo-marxism is also known as Critical Theory where action to combat social injustice is privileged over the glorious inevitability of dialectical Marxist determinism. Critical Theory encompasses a group of beliefs that have in common the rejection of economic or class determinism and a belief in the semi autonomy of the human person acting in social context. Its most prominent global intellectual, Jurgen Habermas, raised epistemological discussion to a new level by identifying critical knowledge as based on principles that differentiate it both from the natural sciences and the humanities through its orientation to self-reflection and emancipative action. Critical theorists fill in what they perceive to be omissions in Marxism with ideas from other schools of thought, including Catholic Social Teaching. In Catholic theology, Critical Theory is mirrored in the SEE/JUDGE/ACT praxis process of the Young Christian Workers movement. It has various applications in Literary Studies as well as in Education Studies, where its most prominent proponents are Professors Terry Eagleton of Cambridge and Terry Lovat of Newcastle (NSW), both Catholics!
Dr Michael Furtado | 28 June 2018


I recommend to readers who doubt the hegemony in Humanities Departments by neo-Marxist ideology in British, American and Australian universities, three books: "Geoffrey Partington's Teacher Education in England and Wales (London : IEA , 1999; Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals: how politics has corrupted our Higher Education (New York: Harper & Row, 1990); and Kevin Donnelly's How Political Correctness is Destroying Australia: enemies within and without, (Melbourne: Wilkinson Publishing, 2018). Or, for secondary schools consult states' such as Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and South Australia's curriculum statements in Humanities and English , beginning in the 1990s.
John | 28 June 2018


Thanks Michael, an excellent summary – I mean that. My own study will be based on a theory of clergy malfeasance which in turn uses Marxian, critical, feminist and labelling theory. What always concerns me is that when we become a theory, when we identify with a theory rather than use them to help us understand issues. This is what I was and am always referring to as one of the main reasons why we have so much conflict today - because we have lost our pivot so to speak and made ourselves into one and then wonder why people are saying we're unbalanced. It's not hard to tell when people's identities have been usurped by a theory or ism - they feel ‘personally’ attacked or go on to personally attack, whenever their ism/theory/self is questioned or criticised. Surely every theory can and should be questioned or criticised. Carl Popper seemed to think this was the correct scientific method. Thing is, today when we do, it ends up in a cat fight of people gobbling what they've heard or ingested through life. I'm sure I do this too, but I'm aware of it and trying not to, at least in my research, perhaps not so much here. But here, I’m just being Popperian, for the most. Those who feel threatened call it 'trolling' sometimes (hey Mark).
Stephen de Weger | 29 June 2018


"Education is hardly the captive of the Left, except to those whose prejudice is compounded by their blindness". What a fascinatingly myopic statement. Please elaborate, least I be misinterpreting you. Are even 'moderate' rights and moderately right wing theories and courses then fully accepted in the university - are they and their proponents the ones who get the jobs when women and men with a more left wing resume apply? Well, I suppose it depends on which school you are thinking. Now that would be a useful research project.
Stephen de Weger | 29 June 2018


@Frank S | 27 June 2018 Spot on, Frank, especially when combined with John Frawley's short comment above. So, the course of action isn't to try to eliminate fire (we can't anyway), but to train people to fully understand it, appreciate it, love it's positives even, and then how to control it, especially within .... themselves. Hmm, sort of works as an analogy.
Stephen de Weger | 29 June 2018


Just had to add, Michael...Ironically, if I said in my theory chapter that I was going to approach my topic like this: "Critical theorists fill in what they perceive to be omissions in Marxism with ideas from other schools of thought, including Catholic Social Teaching", I wonder how that would go down with my supervisors and examiners. (I am constantly being referred to Marxian theory/theorists). Maybe at a Catholic uni, I could do so. I wish I could use Catholic social teaching/theory but alas, there is no room in the uni -inn for such thinking anymore, not even the moderate. It is the Catholic Church which, if not officially, then as an undertow, is blamed for the social problems of today and sadly, I feel that I am contributing to this in some part with my 'secular' study. Maybe that's why I feel so torn ... that I have to try to work things out here, and on social media. It's a crazy world we are currently living in. I'm glad you've found a relatively comfortable position in its swirling inconsistencies and paradoxes and turbulent undertows. I'm just trying to do the same, really. Did you ever suggest applying Catholic Social teaching at Uni? Would love to know how it went if you did.
Stephen de Weger | 29 June 2018


It is true that naming the stage of international trade and social frameworks helps. I am impressed by the viewpoints in answer to Andrew Hamilton's praise of Denniss. Marty Rice replied in context to Andrew's closing statement and that is for me a sign of the freedom every individual has to right the wrongs whatever they are called. The Habermas ideas are only lately arrived in my kit but I think I like the optimism that is inherent in them. Money has not brought happiness so we do have to look elsewhere if that is the goal.
Catherine Carolan | 29 June 2018


Michael Furtado appears to see in Critical Theory what others recognize as yet another malignant solvent of Western Civilization emanating from the toxic swamp of Marxism. Michael Walsh’ book, “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West” describes how it promotes destruction, division, hatred and calumny, all under the guise of a search for truth. In his book “Fools, Frauds and Firebrands”, the philosopher Roger Scruton dissects all the fashionable thinkers of the Left who dominate the humanities in Western universities including Adorno, Lucaks, Gramsci, Sartre, Foucault, Deleuze and Zizek. In all of them empty rhetoric abounds over careful analysis, and blatant nonsense over respectable logic. He exposes the mendacious histories of Hobsbawm and the empty waffling of Habermas. But endless failures never deter the nihilistic Left. Lucaks declared a few years before his death that even if every empirical prediction of Marxism was invalidated, he would still hold Marxism to be true. Who really wants truth? By simply instilling Christian virtues into a society of violent drunks and prostitutes, one Catholic priest turned them into the nation’s finest citizens in one generation, with not one cent of public money: https://www.city-journal.org/html/how-dagger-john-saved-new-york’s-irish-11934.html
Ross Howard | 29 June 2018


Partington is widely recognised as a right-wing polemicist, rather than as a reflective and well-recognised scholar, who engages in theory wars in politics, history and education in the columns of the National Civic Council/DLP affiliated journal, News Weekly. Donnelly is a research fellow at ACU, where he is widely recognised as holding forth with resolutely conservative views on multiculturalism, inclusive education, human diversity education and critical pedagogy. He is pictured here in an article that explains this, in the company of two other persons not widely known for their temperance and equanimity in matters of social justice and outreach to the underdog. Tony Abbott and Alan Jones. https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/forces-gather-to-fight-australia-s-enemies-within-and-without-20180606-p4zju8.html
Michael Furtado | 29 June 2018


Michael Furtado. It was pleasing to see that you are reminding us that Tony Abbott and Alan Jones (neither of whom I support in the vast part of their utterings) have some good things about them, not widely known by others , namely, "their temperance and equanimity in matters of social justice and outreach to the underdog". Jones has been recognised by the Order of Australia for his substantial generosity to the less fortunate, something of which he never boasts in the public domain. Abbott is well known for his local community service and his genuine attempts towards the emancipation of our Aboriginal people, sadly a little disempowered in recent times, again something he doesn't widely proclaim. Unfortunately, their proclamations frequently do them both a great disservice. But hang on ! Did I mis-interpret what you have written?
john frawley | 29 June 2018


@ Stephen de Weger 29 June: "I wish I could use Catholic social teaching/theory but alas, there is no room in the uni -inn for such thinking anymore . . " This made me sad. "Here stand I. I can do no other." (Martin Luther - 18.04.1521). "We have no power to resist the truth; only to further it." (Apostle Paul about AD 55: 2 Corinthians 13:8). I faced the same mental challenge with my second PhD (in Humanities at Griffith University; available free on line: http://www 120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/file.../Rice_2011_02Thesis.pdf); and, after prayer, decided to fully express my faith in the thesis. There was of course a reaction. One chairperson of internal examiners refused to consider the thesis and had to be substituted. One eminent external examiner sent in a swathing criticism that also (providentially) demonstrated he had not read the thesis! Eventually, world leading examiners from the USA and from Australia gave it a glowing multicoloured guernsey! Witnessing to the truth (as we genuinely hold it) is often risky and liable to cause us troubles. But - hey - what a grand company we are in. All the best for your socially highly relevant and needful thesis, Stephen. Blessings from Marty
Dr Marty Rice | 29 June 2018


Dr Furtado, Professor Partington is especially qualified to produce the evidence he does in "Teacher Training . . . ". His detractors have never forgiven him for leaving the Communist Party in Britain, where he directed the education bureau and its operations. His main objections to the "New Left", as he calls his now-antagonists, were their disrespect for history and their anti-democratic tactics in dealing with those who disagreed with their ideology. Terry Eagleton left the Catholic Church to become a fellow-traveler of the Party rejected by Geoffrey Partington. His debates with Roger Scruton are interesting adjuncts to the educational debate. Finally, your comment on Kevin Donnelly is based on 'guilt by association' - analysis of his arguments would, I think, be more beneficial to discussion.
John | 29 June 2018


Good Questions, Stephen! Emeritus Professor Bob Lingard (UQ) was my PhD Supervisor. Bob isn't Catholic. His publications impress! My focus was on the funding of Australian Catholic Schools. At no stage did Bob raise any questions about the appropriateness of my topic choice, which is as germane a research focus, as it has perennially been for at least a century and a half. The two research methodologies employed were phenomenography (which is quantitative) and policy sociology, which is a study of what happens to schools when the regulatory agencies of the state are induced, through policy changes in 'hard (economic) times' to abandon Keynesian welfarist/statist imperatives and, instead, to pursue neoliberal objectives. Apart from swingeing curricular and pedagogic alterations implied by such deregulation, the inherent cuts to funding entailed in such exigencies have their precedent in the Thatcher/Reagan/Baker Education Reforms of the late 1970s and Eighties. This theme also resonates specifically with others that more broadly underpin Andy's highly policy-lucid essay and explains why I add my 'tuppence-ha'penny worth'. One examiner, Gerald Grace, headed the Catholic Educational Institute at London University. The other, from UWA, was non-Catholic. Both are policy sociologists. Neither raised concerns. My thesis recommended fully-funded Catholic schools.
Dr Michael Furtado | 29 June 2018


John Frawley, I am touched by your quixotic reminder, in a discussion that is about the deliberate and life-changing flow-on micro-economic effects of policy, that two prominent neo-liberal Australians, committed in every other way to the roll-back of welfarism and Keynesian policy outreach to the have-nots, otherwise personally express towards the poor in their miserable lives. Granted that there are gaps in everyone's moral discourse, given that we are but human and Catholics teach that it is through our recognition of our failings that we inch our way towards amendation, one has to wonder about the importance and sincerity of your claims, other than to bow to your superior medical expertise, perhaps, in gently explaining that, in both of the instances that you mention, a kind of political schizophrenia is to blame for the glaring gaps between both persons' private values and public-policy positions. In case you think that I jest, let me say that I enthusiastically endorse the view that virtue is by no means either a personal or public 'thing', but that, instead, each one of us is called to express and live it in both domains, as St John-Paul II, in his critique of dualism, enthusiastically recommended.
Michael Furtado | 29 June 2018


Dr Furtado. I adhere to the belief that there is always some good to be found and that in searching for good amidst the moral pandemonium that characterises our society we can achieve more than we can by always choosing the critical route determined by our own perceptions and biases as to what constitutes virtue. For me, it has nothing to do with what you perceive as my "superior medical expertise" [an irrelevant derogation on your part] but hopefully does reflect in a small way Christ's reminding his followers that the rancid, dead dog had beautiful white teeth. Time to see both sides, good doctor, as I'm sure your PhD supervisors advised.
john frawley | 30 June 2018


Ross Howard's two posts, citing the bilious views of Roger Scruton, speak for themselves. More objectionable is his reference to a website that co-opts the story of New York's first Irish archbishop, John Hughes, and which paints him as a resolute social darwinist of the Reaganesque variety. I had no difficulties in researching this take on a great and holy man at a terrible time in the history of an immigrant people. In checking his reference I discovered that the City Journal is a quarterly magazine published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in New York City and dedicated to the spread of an economic doctrine that is plainly anathematic to Catholic Social Teaching, viz. reaganomics. As for John's reference to Professor Terry Eagleton as an ex-Catholic, this eminent literary scholar, who tutored me between 1872-74, when I knew him especially well, attended Mass at Blackfriars, the Dominican House of Studies in Oxford, as celebrated by the then illustrious founding Editor of the Dominican arts/literary/theology journal, New Blackfriars. Eagleton also co-ordinated the Slant publication that explored complementary commentaries between Catholicism and liberation theology and which also reflected similar explorations by Roger Garaudy in France.
Dr Michael Furtado | 30 June 2018


Dr Furtado, the City Journal article was republished by The American Catholic which found it to be, “relevant to our time… Those concerned about poverty should closely study Dagger John’s approach.” http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/08/14/how-dagger-john-saved-the-irish/ That approach was to stress personal responsibility, sobriety, self-control and purity (no sex before marriage) which would “bring about an inner, moral transformation” which would ultimately solve their social problems. Like Hughes, all the American Founding Fathers knew that a free society could only survive if its citizens were virtuous. “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government” (George Washington). But cultural Marxists wanted to “free us from Western Civilization” (Lukacs) and “make Western Civilization stink” (Munzenberg). So they deliberately schemed to destroy Western Christian culture, especially marriage, family and morality, using vehicles such as Critical Theory. Since 1965, Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty has spent US$22 trillion on welfare projects but has succeeded only in creating a permanent underclass totally dependent on the hand-outs that Hughes despised as “soupery”. Black economist Walter Williams said, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do…destroy the black family.” Marxism/Socialism has failed everywhere and cost society enormously. Archbishop Hughes’s methods succeed, and cost society nothing.
Ross Howard | 01 July 2018


Dr Frawley, the need to cover both sides of an impossibly insurmountable moral argument is what drove Jesus, Goethe and, inevitably, my PhD supervisors to warn against the dangers of Faustian bargains. While acknowledging your superbly poised and keen determination to pirouette on the edge of a polemical tight-rope, as it were, doing the splits in matters of life and death for the wretched of the earth is hardly good balletomanic practice nor, I'm sure you'll agree, good for our moral digestion. I am by now more than a little tired of the turns and twists and other conjuring tricks flashed around in these columns by persons who call themselves Catholic, in opposition to the great gifts to post-Vatican II Catholicism brought to the wider table of discussion by the likes of the late Herbert McCabe OP (of New Blackfriars) and Terry Lovat, Australia's foremost Catholic religious educator. No derogation intended here; just a recommendation of reflection, amendation and the need to take sides at the end of the day, as per the advice of Albert Nolan. https://www.scarboromissions.ca/Scarboro_missions_magazine/Issues/1990/February/taking_sides.php
Michael Furtado | 01 July 2018


On Tuesday night, I attending an information evening at the Kathleen Syme Community Centre, Carlton, attended by about 50 young adults and arranged by "Young Votes" a group advocating for more public housing and opposing the Government's "public private" arrangements for the redevelopment of public housing estates. The privatising of the provision of public housing is demonstrably bad for society. Housing is an essential service and the values of fixed rentals, security of tenure and the protection of people who can't provide a roof over their heads can and should only be provided by Government. We wouldn't have any homeless people if the community would only wake up to the fact that the private sector has no intention of increasing the supply of public housing but intends instead to use the land asset to boost the supply of commercial rental housing driving up in the process the cost of rental properties. What struck me about the evening was the acute level of awareness and intellectual ability of the passionate young people in attendance fighting this cause and the frustration they expressed at the blindness of the community to the truth that the we are being exploited not only by the private sector but also by the Government which refuses to invest more money in public housing. to meet the needs of 82,000 Victorians people on the waiting list for public housing Why are we so blind to what is happening? When will we realise the terrible cost of leaving everything to the private sector?
Joe Edmonds | 01 July 2018


Thanks, Joe, for entering this debate by showing how the personal effort and individual resiliency discourse advocated by Ross Howard and John Frawley falls flat apart in regard to dealing with structural problems that no person on their own can surmount or arrest. Homelessness is but one example of a public issue that no rugged individual can overturn without an interventionist and regulatory framework with which to temper the excesses and drawbacks of the free market. While "personal responsibility, sobriety, self-control and purity (no sex before marriage)" are indeed commendable personal virtues that would “bring about an inner, moral transformation” there is no evidence that, on their own, they would ultimately solve complex social problems. Archbishop Hughes had the stentorian support of New York's St Vincent de Paul Society, which actively intervened in the market to buy up and rent accommodation in which to house the immigrant Irish, as does 'Vinnies' today, with its excoriating critique of the so-called 'free' or 'deregulated housing market'. And as for those two supposed exemplars of free enterprise and personal sobriety, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both built their fortunes on slavery while the latter fathered several illegitimate children by an enslaved African-American woman.
Michael Furtado | 02 July 2018


I haven't read Denniss' Essay, yet. But from what Fr H says, I may well be emboldened to go out and purchase a copy. Some of it seems excellent to this staunch advocate of a free market. Denniss seems to be whistling the tune that New Leftists such as Gabriel Kolko ("The Triumph of Conservatism") and "far right" Austrians like Rothbard, Mises and Hayek sang in close harmony for 50 years : businesses *hate* having competition, and some of them will do their darnedest to get the coercive arm of the state to eliminate it, or offset it by taxpayer-funded subsidies to themselves. And yes, they'll pass off favourable legislation as “expanding competition”. Thus, Kolko et al. have brilliantly shown that the Progressive Era "anti-trust" legislation that is lionised to this day by gullible leftist historians was actually initiated by companies on top of the pile who thereby manipulated the system to suppress more efficient upstart competitors. People often wonder why such consistent advocates of the competitive market as Mises, Hayek and Rothbard weren't rolling in millions donated by grateful capitalists. They forget that like anyone else in society, including unionists, politicians, nurses, environmentalists, bishops, etc, businessmen tend to be focused their own individual needs. They may advocate an untrammeled free market in theory, but when threatened with wipe-out by a competitor, they begin to hear whispers in the left ear.
HH | 03 July 2018


Apropos HH's post, I think there's a problem with terminologies like 'Far Right' and 'Far Left', perhaps brought to the fore by World Cup fever. Far better to introduce a North-South vertical interceptor to the conventional Left-Right economic continuum. The former would highlight and specify the positions of those whom HH mentions on a social scale with, say, those on the far Northern end constituting extreme social libertarianism (or individualism) and others at the opposite Southern end depicting extreme social conservatism, while the Left-Right horizontal spectrum registers positions on the Far Left collectivist end and the Far Right free-market end. It then becomes easier to unscramble, locate, describe, pinpoint, specify and analyse the confusion that HH seeks to make sense of.
Michael Furtado | 04 July 2018


Thanks, MF. I agree that the left-right model is overly simplistic when trying to categorise the spectrum of positions today. E.g. Max is ardently same-sex marriage but pro free market. Yolanda, on the other hand, is virulently anti same-sex marriage, but enthusiastic about big government solutions for poverty. How do we categorize Max and Yolanda: left or right? Be that as it may, my remarks above re. Denniss’ essay were confined to the competitive free-market/socialist-communist axis. Crony capitalism, be it in the form of favourable subsidies, elimination of competitors via “competition” legislation, and so on, is as antithetical to the free market as is common or garden theft, or socialism. There’s no need to go to another axis to work that out.
HH | 05 July 2018


Thanks, HH. I might disagree, if only because you implicitly seem to proclaim a kind of anti-politics. Since capitalism and socialism provide us with tools with which to discuss and decide, our necessary arm-wrestling here, as in the broader polity, must employ such epistemologies to ensure that we get the balance right, not only for ourselves but for the common good. It follows that there are aspects of both that are not only desirable but necessary and that it also helps to appeal to dimensions in politics that are not just economic but also social and, as you infer, ethical, that also require consideration. After all, and unless I've misread you, Catholic Social Teaching proclaims that politics and involvement in it are good things.
Michael Furtado | 06 July 2018


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