McConvill Watch reports a sighting

There aren’t many topics that can tempt me out of self-imposed blogging retirement, but Coolhand James McConvill is one of them. I have to confess I’ve been wondering idly what happened to McConvill ever since his blog suddenly disappeared a few months ago at about the same time as he stopped teaching at La Trobe Law School (not long after mounting a (spoof?) blog-based campaign to be appointed Head of School at Deakin Law School).

Fortunately, my curiosity has been satisfied. I’ve just received a promotional spam email from James, revealing not only that he is now a corporate lawyer but has also just published a book which appears to be a compilation of his numerous thoughtful, incisive newspaper opinion pieces. Even more fortuitously, James’ spam also promotes a similar op-ed compilation of columns by his former Deakin Law School colleague Mirko Bagaric. Lawyerly solidarity compels me to share James’ email with Troppo readers, in case some of you might want to rush out and invest a few spare shekels in the Dynamic Duo’s respective words of wisdom:

In his recent address celebrating the 50th anniversary of Quadrant magazine, Prime Minister John Howard noted: “Despite a more diverse and lively intellectual environment in Australia compared with past decades, we should not underestimate the degree to which the soft-left still holds sway, even dominance, especially in Australia’s universities, by virtue of its long march through the institutions.”

This is certainly true, and I have outlined, on numerous occasions, the problems I believe this has generated both inside universities (low producitivity, low relevance in the social science faculties- and law schools in particular) and in the broader community (highlighted most recently with the role the “soft left” (or “latte left”- the term I use in my book “In the Pursuit of Truth”) played in the order of death by firing squad imposed on four of the Bali Nine by an Indonesian court.

In my book, “In the Pursuit of Truth: Reflections on Law, Life and Contemporary Affairs”, I outline, amongst other things, how the latte left pose an increasing threat to the common good and well-being of Australians. The book also includes an analysis of how in my opinion the infestation of the latte left in our universities has had a detrimental impact on the quality of these institutions, and the research coming out of these institutions.

Further information about the book is available here.

A recent article of mine, which I paste for you below, provides an overview of my opinion and the points made in the book, “In the Pursuit of Truth”. I welcome comments on the piece, and the arguments made in the book.


WAR OF THE WORLDS: Planet Civil Libertarian versus Earth  

The major threat to our security comes from an increasingly loud civil libertarian movement, argues James McConvill

American journalist H. L. Mencken once said: “The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.”

Mencken’s quote pretty much sums up the attitude of the average Australian. The average Australian cares little about fluffy concepts such as human rights, particularly the rights of others. Give average Joe the choice between a Bill of Rights and a plasma TV, and I think that you would have to place an order for a large amount of TV’s.

In Australia, if you are wanting to win friends and influence people, you do it by appealing to their hip pocket, not to their moral conscience. Yet, if you are unfortunate enough to flick through the editorial pages of the Fairfax broadsheets (particularly Melbourne’s Age newspaper), or turn on the ABC, you would think that I’ve lost touch with reality.

Well, in fact, it is the soft lefts in the media, and their civil libertarian friends in the social sciences faculties across the country, who left reality behind long ago. The result is a growing disconnect between the well-groomed elites and the hard-working average Australian.

The majority of Australians simply have little time for the misconceived bile stemming from the remote civil libertarians. That is why the circulation numbers of the Fairfax broadsheets are laughable. Apart from the precious academic and Camberwell housewives, nobody has time for the idealist dribble pumped out on their editorial pages day after day.

On Planet Civil Libertarian, every street corner has a shiny cafe with skinny lattes flowing like water. With people having very little to do in their day, with no responsibilities, and a constant hunger for blueberry muffins, everybody mingles around crying over coffee about the plight of the poor “refugees” coming for a visit, about how “Jihad” Jack cannot slip out for a smoothie at 1 a.m. due to the dreadful control order imposed on him from the bad people in Canberra, and then after a buzz of caffeine run over to the nearby garden park to jump for joy that Victoria will soon have a Bill of Rights.

It is not expensive to get to Planet Civil Libertarian. One simply needs to cruise down to the local newsagent to pick up a copy of The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald, open up the editorial pages and get a fix. If the newsagent is too far away, turn on 774 ABC.

Back on Planet Earth, things operate a little differently. While the cafes are springing up, people don’t have pictures of Papuan warriors and bomb-buddies of Osama Bin Laden pinned up above their bed. Instead of drooling over a pretentious Bill of Rights document, most people actually get excited about such things as paying off a family home, having the ability to put their kids through good schools, and appreciate not getting bombed on their way to work.

Civil libertarians are becoming louder and more organised in trying to switch people over to their side. They have even convinced themselves that they are stepping up to protect the public from the conservative government. But the reality is they are grandstanding. They are becoming desperate. As Professor Mirko Bagaric argues in his new book “A Matter of Opinion” (more information of this title is available here), civil libertarians have now become the extremists. The terrorists wage war through hijacking planes and bombing buildings; the civil libertarians have waged a war on mainstream public opinion through hijacking leftist newspapers and bombarding the ABC.

The average Australian wants just three things: national or military security, cultural security and financial security. If they were smart, the civil libertarians would concentrate on the possible human rights implications of the Howard Government’s Work Choices legislation. This is where the average Australian might be prepared to listen because workplace relations affects their financial security.

While the civil libertarians preach from their taxpayer-funded Ivy Tower about the plight of queue-jumping asylum seekers and those who have trained with the likes of al-Qaeda, the Australian people will continue to turn a deaf ear. So they should.

Dr James McConvill is a corporate lawyer and author of “In the Pursuit of Truth: Reflections on Law, Life and Contemporary Affairs” (Sandstone Academic Press, 2006).


Some of you might be wondering how McConvill manages to hold the above opinions while also professing to have been inspired into studying law by the inclusive policies of the Keating Labor government. Others might wonder how Bagaric manages to advocate total solidarity with the US in the War Against Terror (including legalisation of torture) while simultaneously supporting North Korea’s acquisition and testing of nuclear weapons as an entirely justified defensive response to America as the “most aggressive nation on earth”. If so, it is possible you lack a complete understanding of the Dynamic Duo’s wider purposes.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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36 Responses to McConvill Watch reports a sighting

  1. Sacha says:


    “The average Australian cares little about fluffy concepts such as human rights, particularly the rights of others.”

    That’s right – freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from torture. Glad to see that James is speaking out against these absurd ideas! No doubt he would be all in favour of being subject to these things, if that came to pass.


  2. Anna Winter says:

    Bloody hell, that man really hates coffee and cake.

  3. McConvill may be a bit ordinary, but Bargaric is a serious intellect. I’ve always thought that his arguments need to be knocked over without personal attacks on him. Just sayin.

  4. Kimberella says:

    Too many lattes on Chapel St!

  5. Jason Soon says:

    Now that we have ‘Gonzo’ Bird, McConvill’s writing style is so passe.

  6. steve munn says:

    No Skepticlawyer, shit like that deserves ridicule.

  7. Sacha says:

    Yes, personal attacks aren’t part of any serious argument.

    Sorry – does the famous tirade against coffee and cake appear in his book? I laughed a lot when I read it last year.

  8. Jason Soon says:

    the ‘shit’ above wasn’t written by Bargaric. I think Bargaric has a more sober writing style.

  9. Don Arthur says:

    Yes, you can almost hear McConvill sniggering to himself as he types out the Mencken quote… “The average man…” heh, heh, hah, hah!

    So let’s have some context. I think the quote comes from Mencken’s Notes on Democracy:

    The truth is that the common man’s love of liberty, like his love of sense, justice and truth, is almost wholly imaginary. As I have argued, he is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. He longs for the warm, reassuring smell of the herd, and is willing to take the herdsman with it. Liberty is not a thing for such as he. He cannot enjoy it rationally himself, and he can think of it in others only as something to be taken away from them. It is, when it becomes a reality, the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority of men, like knowledge, courage and honour. A special sort of man is needed to understand it, nay, to stand it — and he is inevitably an outlaw in democratic societies. The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.
    … What the common man longs for in this world, before and above all his other longings, is the simplest and most ignominious sort of peace — the peace of a trusty in a well-managed penitentiary. He is willing to sacrifice everything else to it. He puts it above his dignity and he puts it above his pride. Above all, he puts it above his liberty. The fact, perhaps, explains his veneration for policemen, in all the forms they take — his belief that there is a mysterious sanctity in law, however absurd it may be in fact. A policeman is a charlatan who offers, in return for obedience, to protect him (a) from his superiors, (b) from his equals, and (c) from himself. This last service, under democracy, is commonly the most esteemed of them all. In the United States, at least theoretically, it is the only thing that keeps ice-wagon drivers, Y.M.C.A. secretaries, insurance collectors and other such human camels from smoking opium, ruining themselves in the night clubs, and going to Palm Beach with Follies girls. It is a democratic invention.
    Here, though the common man is deceived, he starts from a sound premiss: to wit, that liberty is something too hot for his hands — or, as Nietzsche put it, too cold for his spine. Worse, he sees in it something that is a weapon against him in the hands of his enemy, the man of superior kidney.

  10. Sacha says:

    Wow – all the comments are labelled 1. on my computer.

  11. Bargaric does (write more soberly, that is). He’s relentlessly logical and casuistic. It’s like arguing with a Jesuit priest who’s got a law degree.

  12. Ken Parish says:


    I agree that at least some of Bagaric’s academic writing is serious and worthwhile, especially his earlier work on sentencing and similar issues (the refugee law articles that I’ve read also aren’t bad). I certainly wasn’t intending to suggest otherwise. However the torture article was extraordinarily simplistic and tendentious utilitarian pseudo-logic (and has been well debunked in subsequent scholarly work; I can give you some references if you’d like). Similarly with the article he wrote with McConvill about happiness research (see ).

    Bagaric’s MSM op-ed articles OTO, like those of McConvill, too often seem designed to do little more than adopt extreme opinions on controversial current issues. Nevertheless, as Jason observes, Bagaric usually has a more sober writing style, even in his MSM pieces, than McConvill’s above rant. However, he still seems prone to gilding the lily to put it mildly, as we discussed quite recently in relation to an opinion piece where he effectively asserted that research showed rehabilitation in criminal sentencing was a waste of time, even though his own earlier scholarly writing reached quite different conclusions. I suppose it’s possible that there has been more recent work completely debunking the effects of rehabilitative programs with prisoners, but somehow I doubt it. I think he was grossly over-simplifying for popular impact. Of course, you have to do that to some extent in MSM opinion pieces given tight word limits and the need to make one’s field accessible and interesting for a general audience. Moreover, the balance isn’t easy to achieve.

  13. Ken Parish says:

    I haven’t got the faintest idea what’s going on with the numbering and formatting in comments on this post.

  14. Original Ideas in Law and Jurisprudence series – Call for Submissions

    Sandstone Academic Press is pleased to announce our new law mongraph series, “Original Ideas in Law and Jurisprudence”, published by Sandstone Academic Press.

    As Editor of the series, Dr James McConvill will be very open-minded: with a strong distribution network in place, nothing will be considered too controversial, esoteric, or uncommercial. Dr McConvill’s goal in taking on the role of Editor of this series is to push the original idea to the forefront of legal scholarship in the twenty-first century.

    Oscar Wilde once said: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

    The “Original Ideas in Law and Jurisprudence” monograph series is designed to change that. The original idea, from whoever or wherever it emerges, will reign supreme as it deserves to be.

  15. Kimberella says:

    No problems with numbering in firefox.

  16. Don Arthur says:

    How can anyone quote Oscar Wilde saying that and keep a straight face?

  17. slim says:

    Wow! Is that stuff for real?

    I’m always suspicious of elite ideologues claiming to speak on behalf of ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’ Australians, whether the tower be ivory or corporate. It always ends in tears.

    As a teacher I know that kids will act down to the level of your expectations, so the trick is to have high expectations. I suspect the same can be said of a nation and its leaders.

    Our leaders set the level and tone of our social interactions, our civil debate, and our discourse on national values and aspirations.

    If our leaders are broad visioned, optimistic, and generous in spirit, they can forge a peaceful, prosperous, cohesive and stable civil society. Leaders who are narrow, vain, and avaricious, lead us to fear, anxiety, self-obsession, resignation, despair and apathy. And even to battle and self-destruction.

    It’s the same old story repeated throughout the history of civilisation. Always was and always will be I guess. Plus

  18. Okay, so he’s into vanity publishing. This is getting stranger by the minute…

  19. Sacha says:

    Hopefully actors would keep a straight face, Don! While Oscar’s work is great, it’s a bit bizarre to use it in an advertisement for a series of law monographs.

    This is seriously weird: the idea that someone is fighting the forces of elitism on behalf of the general population is very self-centred.

    From my personal observations, I think it’s true that many people are more interested in their personal, financial and cultural security than other people’s human rights (grammar?). But I don’t know what his point in making this observation is.

    One of his key points seems to be

    Well, in fact, it is the soft lefts in the media, and their civil libertarian friends in the social sciences faculties across the country, who left reality behind long ago. The result is a growing disconnect between the well-groomed elites and the hard-working average Australian.

    Hmmm – what about hard-working Australians (what does average mean?) who think that human rights are important?

    His main idea seems to be that the common people aren’t interested in human rights, only fantasy-land people are, and these fantasy-land people don’t care about our security, they only care about terrorists – they’re ridiculous.

    Am I missing something here?

    Of course, the arguments for and against different kinds of Human Rights Acts (eg the US Bill of Rights and the current Victorian Act) are real and valid, and important to consider, but James’ arguments above are moreso part of cultural wars than anything else.

  20. Chris Lloyd says:

    Coffee consumption in Oz has increased by a factor of 10 over the past 20 years. We are no longer a noisy elite minority. We are taking over…

  21. Don Arthur says:

    Sacha – “the idea that someone is fighting the forces of elitism on behalf of the general population…”

    It never occured to me to interpret the column that way.

    I assumed that he was paying out on BOTH latte sipping elites and the fearful, easily manipulated public. The clue is the Mencken quote.

    Mencken got off on Nietzsche — no secret there. And like Nietzsche he despised the ‘last man’ — a symbol of the degenerate herd who just wanted to be kept happy and safe.

    Admittedly I haven’t paid much attention to McConvill’s work so I guess it’s possible he just lifts out of context quotes and pastes them into columns without knowing what they mean.

  22. Ken Parish says:

    “Admittedly I haven’t paid much attention to McConvill’s work so I guess it’s possible he just lifts out of context quotes and pastes them into columns without knowing what they mean.”

    I have no idea whether McConvill is aware of the meaning, context or provenance of the Mencken quote, but I think it’s very clear from his column that he’s not casting scorn equally on left-leaning elites and the fearful ordinary public (in contrast to Mencken). Instead he’s pitching squarely to appeal to the “Howard battler”/Man on the Footscray Tram mentality or at least what he imagines it to be.

  23. Don Arthur says:

    Ken – I’m still having trouble reading it that way.

    People who want to pitch to the ‘battlers’ usually say ‘we’. McConvill says ‘they’. He doesn’t think he’s an average man and he doesn’t want you to think so either.

    I get the sense that McConvill despises anyone who is average and conformist. He wants to see himself as a powerful and original thinker – someone who refuses to play by the establishment’s rules or tolerate their mediocrity.

    He’s sneering at the latte-sipping elites for being too stupid to manipulate the ‘average Joes’ properly: “If they were smart, the civil libertarians…”

    Perhaps he also thinks ordinary people are too stupid to realize that he’s talking down to them.

    But like I say, I haven’t paid too much attention to McConvill’s writing so I don’t have enough context to be sure I’ve got this right.

  24. Ken Parish says:

    “He wants to see himself as a powerful and original thinker …”

    Maybe you’re right. Maybe I just can’t see it because the reality is that he’s anything but original judging by this material – just a legalistic echo chamber of Bolt, Blair, Ackerman etc.

  25. Sacha says:

    He certainly wants to see himself as an original thinker. I don’t know if he’s putting himself as part of the “common people”, but certainly working on their behalf, perhaps as an independent agent.

  26. Sacha says:

    I get the sense that McConvill despises anyone who is average and conformist. He wants to see himself as a powerful and original thinker – someone who refuses to play by the establishment’s rules or tolerate their mediocrity.

    It’d be interesting to hear James’ reaction to this. On his blog he did ask readers their view of him nominating to be an ALP candidate for the coming elections for the Victorian upper house.

  27. Geoff Honnor says:

    “He certainly wants to see himself as an original thinker. I don’t know if he’s putting himself as part of the “common people”

  28. Jason Soon says:

    You’re really reading too much into that, Don. McConvill wouldn’t know his Nietzsche from his nachos (he says with an elitist sneer).

  29. Don Arthur says:

    Jason – “…wouldn’t know his Nietzsche from his nachos”

    Everyone knows that nachos is more fattening than Nietzsche. Especially if you make it with regular mince instead of lean chopped steak.

    And nachos has way more cheese. Nietzsche might not be good for you but at least it’s not loaded with sticky American-style cheddar.

  30. Corin says:

    who is James McConvill – he hasn’t made a name in my world?? i saw two or three articles on ONO – most of which had little if any controversy and most I barely skimmed and have forgotten completely. If he’s good at self promotion – good on him ……. delusional – that the charge in your posts I see. Sounds a bit clicky all round! have you made onto the blog hall of fame etc etc – big deal.

  31. Paul’s material (linked above) is very thoughtful. Go read him.

  32. Graham says:

    I have been asked on a couple of occasions to referee (ie peer review) of joint pieces by McConvill and Bagaric. They were brief, unoriginal, unscholarly and poor borrowings of a very thin form of utilitarianism which for want of a better term calls itself ‘happiness’ theory.

    It is sad that conservative leaning academics are reduced to such self-promotion but on such things James McConvill tried to base his career. Australia needs self-respecting, serious, conservative thinkers.

  33. Jason Soon says:

    McConville is a conservative? What conservative would have truck with this latest trojan horse of social engineering, this balderdash that calls itself Happiness theory?

  34. minidim says:

    A couple of clarifications:
    1. James’ blog was not a spoof. He actually means what he writes.
    2. Sandstone Press (the publisher of his book of musings), apparently, was set up and is in-part owned by James.

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