Australia needs intellectuals, says Nick Cater. In his new book The Lucky Culture he writes:
A nation is entitled to look to its intellectuals to articulate its common purpose, to pull together loose strands and write a narrative that says where it has come from and where it is going. Only they have the skills of abstraction and gift of eloquence to capture shared emotions, to explain the past, frame the present and embrace its destiny.
Cater argues that Australia’s intellectuals have failed to deliver. On the one hand is a new Knowledge Class that disparages ordinary people’s moral emotions and sense of common purpose. And on the other is a cowardly rump of conservative thinkers who have failed to champion the nation’s culture and defend it against attack.
"If a charge of intellectual cowardice were to be brought against conservative thinkers, the National Museum would be Exhibit One", writes Cater. A initiative of the Howard government, the museum came under the control of the became "an assault on the very idea of nationhood."
In Cater’s account the conservatives’ defence of nationhood was half-hearted. They failed to challenge Knowledge Class doctrines like diversity, historical injustice and compassion – "ideas that subvert the democratic principles of an ordered society."
It’s always been hard to pin down who ‘the elites’ are why we are supposed reject them as un-Australian. A new book review by Tony Abbott offers some clues. It also hints at why attacks on ‘the elites’ are likely to backfire for conservatives.
In the Spectator Australia, Abbott reviews Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class. He writes:
As Cater sees it, there’s a powerful new commentariat, dominant in the media, academia and public administration, that is every bit as condescending as the aristocracy he left behind in Britain. In contemporary Australia, the worst snobbery is not directed towards people of lower status, he says, but towards people of different opinions. He thinks that this ‘my opinion must be better than yours’ conceit is putting at risk the egalitarianism that’s at the heart of Australians’ sense of self.
What distinguishes this group from every other influential sector of society is its unshakeable conviction in its moral superiority. Everyone who disputes its thinking is not just wrong, but inferior. Critics of the politically correct consensus are not just bad thinkers but verge on being bad people, as those who are cautious about gay marriage are starting to discover.
Comparing the new commentariat to the British aristocracy makes it sound as if this is a problem of status. Like a bunch of obnoxious Old Etonians, the elites are snobs who consider their manners and way of life to be superior to those of ordinary people. But what made the snobbery of Britain’s upper class oppressive rather than ridiculous was that it was the snobbery of a ruling class. Without power, the snobbery of our elites would be no more threatening than the snobbery of a bunch of undergraduate hipsters.
During the mid 1970s Thatcher was listening to a member of the Conservative Research Department staff explain why the party should take a pragmatic ‘middle way ‘ between left and right. But before he could finish Thatcher reached into her briefcase and pulled out a copy of Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. "This is what we believe", she said. And slammed the book down on the table.
Some people say this story — told by John Ranelagh in his book Thatcher’s People — is a little too good to be true. But everyone agrees Hayek had a major influence on Thatcher and Thatcherism.
Hayek had a theory about how intellectuals influence politics. And it wasn’t as simple as getting politicians to read their books. Hayek advocated an indirect approach. When businessman Antony Fisher came to him asking how he could join the fight against socialism and promote the ideas of classical liberalism, Hayek told him going into politics would be a waste of time.
"Hostility towards benefit claimants is founded upon a moral instinct", says Chris Dillow. The instinct is the norm of reciprocity. According to this norm, people are entitled to the community’s help when they need it, but must also contribute in return. According to Dillow, many people worry that "that claimants are getting something for nothing" and "that ‘hard-working tax-payers’ are being ripped off".
Dillow is not alone. Peter Saunders of the Centre for Independent Studies suggests that the norm of reciprocity is a cultural universal. As a result: "In all human societies, long-term dependency on others without some form of reciprocity is associated with low social status, weak self-esteem and powerlessness."
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers a theory of how the norm of reciprocity developed. Individuals are better off when they are members of groups that work together. By working together hunters can catch more game and by sharing what they catch and gather, individuals members of a tribe are more likely to survive periods of illness or unreliable food supplies.
In his book The Righteous Mind Haidt argues that human beings gradually developed practices of reciprocal altruism that are underpinned by gut feelings about fairness and unfairness::
From its beginnings 70 years ago, the Institute of Public Affairs has struggled against class war.
According to a 1948 issue of the IPA Review, the post war period saw a "revolutionary change" in the distribution of income: "The lower incomes are now enjoying a much larger share of the cake, at the cost of very much smaller shares for other sections—for the middle incomes particularly, a catastrophically smaller share."
According to the Review, middle income earners were particularly hard hit by inflation. Unlike "the wage-earning masses", their incomes did not respond so readily to rising prices. And in any case, they were accustomed to buying a wider range of goods and services than wage earners. One is example is domestic servants.
Before the war many middle income professionals were accustomed to having servants to take care of time consuming household chores. But as the Review’s October 1948 issue explained: