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2015 in review: Abbott's culture war

  • 11 January 2016

First published 29 October 2015

Just when the ringing of the words 'I stopped the boats' had finally subsided and you were getting used to the idea of business agility and economic innovation as the key battlegrounds for the next few years, who should pop back up but the former Prime Minister and Culture Warrior in Chief, Tony Abbott.

Abbott's Margaret Thatcher memorial speech — in which the words 'a hint of Thatcher about my government' were used with apparently no irony whatsoever — was a truly stunning example of revisionism, hubris, and utterly confused ideology.

If you haven't read about it yet, you'll no doubt be shocked to learn that the focus of the speech was on stopping the boats, how Abbott stopped the boats, how Europe should stop the boats (or like, buses, I guess), and why stopping the boats is a moral imperative.

And it's this question of moral imperative that is particularly interesting. Abbott suggested that 'the safety and prosperity that exists almost uniquely in Western countries' is not an 'accident of history' but rather the product of 'values painstakingly discerned and refined'.

It's pretty clear that Abbott is talking about so-called Christian values here, although he doesn't articulate it in so many words. This makes his next line all the more confusing: 'The imperative to "love your neighbour as you love yourself" is at the heart of every Western polity ... but — right now — this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.'

It's clear for Abbott that moral imperatives, the 'Western' or Christian values that he loves so much, are entirely subsumed by the higher motivating purpose of protecting that Western culture from perceived attack by people who come from a marginally different cultural tradition. At the heart of his assumptions is the notion that Islam is fundamentally different or at war with his world view, which is rubbish.

This is textbook clash of civilisations stuff, and one gets the sense that Abbott, with his prioritisation of cultural protection over adherence to the value that culture espouses, would've been more at home in the Crusades than in modern global politics. It's also the sort of misguided junk sociology that saw us go to war with 'terrorism'.

Now, Australia rejected the Abbott experiment, and doesn't particularly care about a culture wars-based conceptualisation of global affairs. What Abbott apparently hasn't realised is that the electorate tired of him in part because