Anarchy rules

Just say you were on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and, coming up to the $500,000 question, Eddie asks you, as he would be highly likely to do at that moment, ‘What do the following have in common? King Humbert I of Italy, President William McKinley of the United States, King George I of Greece and Marie François Sadi Carnot, President of France? (a) John Howard denies knowledge of any of them and says we should move on; (b) Wilson Tuckey will not confirm that he has written to them; (c) Tony Abbott denies having funded them; (d) they were all assassinated by anarchists.’ Lock in (d) Eddie and let’s head for the million.

Not many contestants would get that right, but Joe Toscano, the subject of a brief, slightly awestruck report in a recent issue of The Australian, probably would. Who is Joe Toscano? I hear you cry. Well, he’s Dr Joe Toscano, GP, for a start and while that may not especially distinguish him from the medical ruck, the fact that he bulk bills does lend him a fading and arcane particularity. When you add that Joe is a radical anarchist and a sometime S-11 protester he bursts from the ranks of the grey and anonymous as surely as if he’s paraded down Pitt Street in peak hour wearing a jockstrap and playing the bagpipes.

Anarchism, as distinct from anarchy, has fallen on hard times since its heady days in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The founding father of anarchism, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, and his so-called Philosophical Anarchists, sought to remove the idea of authority from society, and replace it with extreme individualism, but they expected anarchic organisation of society to evolve without violent stimulus.

Proudhon would have been appalled by the modern equation of anarchism with random terror. Though it was definitely anarchists who finished off Humbert, McKinley, George and Marie François, (and who, unlike some latter-day ideologues of the left, right and centre, proudly owned up to their handiwork), the movement was blamed for many deaths of which it was innocent.

Joe Toscano is in the apparently contradictory position of being an anarchist—that is, someone who is opposed to all forms of government—and at the same time a vigorous campaigner for Medicare. I’ll leave Joe to sort that one out for himself while applauding the fact that a true anarchist has emerged at this time of anxiety and stress: such a manifestation allows us to identify the closet anarchists among us, one of whom pre-eminently is Wilson Tuckey.

He would be appalled at such an idea, but consider the evidence. In a flurry of activity a few weeks ago, he attempted to influence the role of a government official, accused an entire state of being soft on drugs, suggested that the whole Labor Party hated children and then, having done all this on Parliamentary notepaper or trumpeted it in the House, stood up in that same Parliament and, after vigorously justifying all his actions, about-turned and apologised for them abjectly in his own brand of tortuous, logic-chopping malapropisms. In comparison to Tuckey, Phil ‘Let me say this in relation to that’ Ruddock is a veritable fount of rhetorical limpidity.

If that’s not anarchy of a sort—even if only intellectual anarchy, a species with which Mr Tuckey has always shown himself to be peculiarly afflicted—then I’ll dust off my bagpipes, dig out the stiff and starchy jockstrap from under the old, still mud-encrusted footy boots and join Joe Toscano in Pitt Street.

But the Great Anarch, as Alexander Pope would have said, is Tuckey’s boss, John Howard. Returning from important talks on war, rumours of war and plans for war, Mr Howard found himself engulfed by a distracting confusion at the centre of which stood the hapless Tuckey. With drum rolls from the Westminster System booming in his ears and an image of his own Parliamentary Code of Conduct hovering above his head like the Holy Ghost, Howard rebuked Tuckey and let it go at that.

Just over 130 years ago, Mikhail Bakunin and his barrackers were expelled from the First International. The expulsion occurred partly because Bakunin and team were outvoted by the socialists and partly because they were regarded as too violent. The interesting thing is that, when told to go on a matter of principle, they went; though admittedly they probably didn’t want to stay. A kind of Westminster System among anarchists and socialists, forsooth. This is not the kind of behaviour for which Bakunin, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman and others of like beliefs were normally known. It is what we expect of our own leaders and representatives, but probably even Bakunin, as a spectacularly transgressing member of the Liberal-National Party Coalition, would have had no more than an irritable nod from Mr Howard and stern advice to ‘move on’.

Of course, it is distorting anarchism as a political doctrine to apply it to these and similar demeaning, shameful and embarrassing events and behaviour among our highest elected leaders. ‘Shambles’ would be nearer the mark. Or­—if we want to stick to an ‘A’ word to describe the Prime Minister’s brazen disregard for the Westminster System and the erstwhile impressive but now tattered and comic Code of Conduct—what about ‘arrogance’?

As for Tuckey: lock him out, Eddie.                           

Brian Matthews is a writer and academic.



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