Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The dawning of the Age of Unpleasantness

  • 28 February 2014

The age of entitlement idea is shallow and facile not only because it is apparently selective about those who are entitled and those who must relinquish whatever entitlement they have managed to lay claim to, but also because the 'end of an age' is such a venerable and much resurrected image which historians, writers, politicians in particular, and others turn to their various purposes at different times.

In the last couple of decades we have lived through the age of endings. The 'end' of the communist regimes, the fall of the wall, the 'end of history', the end of nature, the death of God, the death of the novel, the bonfire of the vanities, the end of ideology, the demise of the book culture, the age of anxiety, and so on and on and on ... until we reach the end of entitlement which — set against its family background of this or that conclusion, this or that 'dying fall', this or that last gasp — looks feeble and derivative. And it is.

Announcing the end of an 'age' is just another way of obscuring the truth that you're not quite sure, or perhaps haven't the faintest idea what the hell is going on; or that you suspect what's going on but not how to influence, redirect or stop it. So you fall back on this persuasive notion of a great shift in the times, you claim to have detected that one sweep of history is mysteriously running out of puff and another — of an as yet unknown type or tendency — is about to supervene.

Joe Hockey, the Federal Treasurer, is just such a detector, but there is one difference: he claims to know what the next 'age' will be like. In a word, it will be — for those whose entitlement is disappearing — unpleasant.

Those who announce a new age, or the death of the old one, seem to be ahead of the game, but are of course always a step or two behind it. Before he could make his tendentious pronouncement about the 'end of history', Francis Fukuyama had to observe and, so to speak, accredit the end of the Cold War. One of the more famous and well-known 'ages' was 'The Age of Aquarius' ('When the moon is in the seventh house ... And love will guide the stars ... Aquariuuuuus!'). But though the song proclaimed an age,