The publication of Peter Coleman’s collection of essays with some memories and reflections is a reminder of his remarkably productive career as a public intellectual. Those who do not share his politics should note that his first book in 1974 was a scathing critique of Australian censorship. Obscenity, blasphemy, sedition: censorship in Australia.
This demonstrates that he is not a conservative of the kind piloried by Hayek, but a true classical liberal. Duffy and Snelgrove reprinted the book “because of its entertainment value (due to Coleman’s wonderfully light but effective style, and the intrinsic interest of its subject matter), its importance as a work of popular history, and its new relevance at a time when there are increasing attempts to censor the Internet.”
The Russian Revolution and its aftermath was the defining issue of the 20th century to assess the integrity and credibility of journalists, commentators and intellectuals. The overwhelming majority failed the test. Peter Coleman and Robert Manne did not. This prompts the idea of an essay to compare and contrast the careers and contributions of these two public figures.
“Peter Coleman and Robert Manne are Australia’s two most interesting public intellectuals. Discuss”.
They were both prepared to make the hard yards when it was very unfashionable in intellectual and academic circles to tell the truth about communism. Later on Robert Manne lost the plot, but that is another story.
I just want to suggest that Peter Coleman is our most productive public intelectual, if not the most rich and famous. Check out the record.
In sporting terms Coleman was probably never the best on the field, or the winner of medals at the end of the season but it would not be a surprise if his team mates voted him the “game ball” for the effort and the example that he provided.
1974 (reprinted in 2000) Obscenity, blasphemy, sedition: censorship in Australia. Brisbane: Jacaranda Press. 211 pages.
1978 with Les Tanner Cartoons of Australian history. West Melbourne: Thomas Nelson.
1980 (reprinted recently) The heart of James McAuley: life and work of the Australian poet. Sydney: Wildcat Press. 132 pages.
1984 Memoirs of a slow learner. Pymble: Angus and Robertson. 166 pages.
1989 The Liberal Conspiracy. The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe. New York: The Free Press (Macmillan). 333 pages.
2008 With Peter Costello The Costello Memoirs. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. 400 pages.
The latest, a rich and varied collection of essays and reviews.
More of his books and editorial contributions are listed here. Such as:
The collection of essays on Australian Civilisation which he edited (the introduction which he wrote was on line but the link is now dead).
The biography of Bruce Beresford Instincts of the Heart, 1993.
The recent biography of Heinz Arndt.
Editor of a collection of “incorrect essays” by unfashionable thinkers.
Editor of Quadrant for many years, plus editorial roles with The Bulletin and other periodicals.