Five Fantasies about Tony Abbott

The fantasy about distributism

Abbott’s relationship with B A Santamaria, still a compulsory mention in every op-ed about his political character, implying that he represented some strain of mainstream Australian conservatism which opposes free-market neoliberalism. Look, I like G K Chesterton as much as the next guy (if I were to meet Abbott, my first question would be, “do you like Chesterton?” and my second would be “what do you think of his anti-semitism?”) but this idea is as much a fantasy as The Man Who Was Thursday. The last positive traces of distributism in Australian political life were probably the soldier’s settlement schemes of the twentieth century: intended (by Santamaria and others) to breed a race of stout yeomen capable of resisting the corruptions of modern life, actually resulting in some of eastern Sydney’s drearier tract housing.

In reality, there’s no Australian conservative movement of any significance which opposes capitalism. (This is why I don’t like to call them ‘Tories’: Australian conservatism starts with Locke, and any attempt to pretend otherwise is just cosplay.)

The fantasy about social conservatism

Speaking of B A Santamaria, much of his later career was devoted to plaintively challenging the huge, progressive shift in the ability of the state to police sexual behaviour which took place in the last two decades of the twentieth century. This rout of social conservatism was so dramatic that we’re still in the swirling confusion after the battle, and the stupider members of the right are still running around with Cory Bernardi, unaware that they’ve lost.

All that Abbott could do in this field was shore up Howard’s rearguard action against marriage equality, which is doomed anyway, as eventually we’ll need to recognise marriages ratified by other jurisdictions. There’s no suggestion that the LNP at a State level are going to change anything in this regard.

There’s a really interesting story to tell about how mainstream conservatism came to a rapprochement with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, a reform which up until the 80s they (and a large part of the ALP) had been firmly against, but a conservative tradition as unreflective as Australia’s is unlikely to tell it.

The fantasy about the boats

The fantasy about what’s actually happening under the veil of operational secrecy; the fantasy that the Dickensian legal trickery of extraterritorial detention won’t eventually fall apart at the seams; the fantasy (from the nice left) that all of this is somehow a radical degeneration of Australian law and morality, rather than a continuation of its traditional racialised brutality.

The fantasy about an Oxford education

The English, when they speak of Oxford, talk mostly about class. Australians, of either political persuasion, talk about brains, despite the fact that the Rhodes Scholarship has no particular academic entry standard above what’s normally required. It’s rather touching. One thinks of the Rhodes Scholar as a stock comic character in such nostalgic entertainments as Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, and wonders what Max would have made of Tony.

The fantasy about ‘economic management’

Here’s a scary thought: Abbott and Hockey weren’t exceptional, the remnants of an otherwise competent and sane conservative party at the end of some dreadful process of Faulknerian decline. They were perfectly representative Libs, running on nothing but half-inarticulate social prejudices and Baden-Powellish ‘character’. Turnbull had to get rid of them before they completely wrecked the fantasy of the Liberals (also based on half-inarticulate social prejudices) as the party of (stop laughing up the back there) fiscal responsibility and (look here) reform.

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