In a recent speech to CEDA, John Howard denounced an “avalanche of political correctness”. In fact, Howard has helped promote a stifling version of political correctness – on the Right of Australian politics.
For decades, John Howard has had a sore head about what he calls “political correctness” – a trendy, dominating, left-leaning progressivism, as he sees it. It was his favourite political chew-toy when prime minister. On leaving office in 2007, he claimed that tearing it to pieces was one of his proudest achievements.
Denouncing political correctness was always a part of his phony elite-versus-battler strategy. He depicted all progressive views as merely the politically correct views of an out-of-touch elite, and reactionary views as the heartfelt passions of the true-blue battlers. Promoting this strategy, Howard snuggled up to talk-back radio. He adored this insult machine, which was always on his side. Its ceaseless blame-storming showered bile upon the politically correct of the Left. It helped shoo the battlers away from progressive parties. It fed the resentment and fear of the little people against all those below them on the social scale, especially the poor and the newcomers. It was indispensable in sweeping a fragment of those on lower incomes into the arms of the political machines controlled by the very wealthy – to make “a broad church”.
Promoting this strategy inside the Liberal Party, Howard and his mimics proceeded to drive the moderates out of the party as too politically correct. They welcomed in reactionaries, ready to “throw off the muzzle of political correctness”, ready to talk “tough” on every issue, while proudly winking at red-neckery. The Pecksniffs, Bumbles, Gradgrinds, and all those with the smallness of spirit of your average Grantham grocer, have become a majority in the party.
All of this pointed the way to a shiny reactionary version of political correctness – a PC of the Right – fashionable and habit-forming. Its elements are painfully familiar.
Patriotic correctness: we live in an exceptional nation, the greatest on earth; its history is an uninterrupted sequence of stand-tall moments; and all critics are simply self-loathing anti-patriots who are “on every side but Australia’s”; these traitors “parade their moral vanity” by finding faults in our past.
Plutocratic correctness: the rich are the true heroes, “lifters”, who have only themselves to thank; they are the risk-takers and job-makers who deserve every tax break they get as a reward for effort; rising inequality is simply the price we must pay for economic progress and growth; and all attempts to achieve greater equality and fairness reflect a contemptible “politics of envy”; those promoting equality are losers, “the enemies of achievement and aspiration”, for whom “profit is a dirty word”.
Punitive correctness: the poor are all shameless shirkers, “layabouts”, “bludgers” and “leaners”, who have only themselves to blame, and they must be hunted back to work; just as the “low-life” criminals are incorrigible “grubs” who should be locked up for longer and longer, if only the left-leaning, politically correct, elitist magistrates and judges would listen to public opinion.
Prudential correctness: the welfare state, and all public goods and services, must be squeezed, defunded, and eventually residualized, so that people, especially the youth, are forced to make provision for themselves, forced back to “self-help”, because we must “teach them to stand tall”; and public money diverted to underpin private choice, in education and health, is a good idea, because private is always best.
Pious correctness: we are a Christian nation, and we must defend the historic values of Western Christian civilization, the imperishable truths of the Judeo-Christian achievement – unless, of course, our friends have to torture our enemies, which we can quite understand, or incinerate our enemies, which we will boast of doing.
Patriarchal correctness: God made men to be leaders, the hunters who “bring meat back to camp”, and God made women to be homemakers and child-minders; so just accept the biological realities all you “relevance-deprived” man-hating “feminazis” and “snowflakes”, whining about discrimination and harassment.
Puritanical correctness: men who love men and women who love women, and all the rest who do not fit in to the God-given pattern, are just sexually confused; we do not need to make any special legal provisions for them, but we can pray about them.
Pugnacious correctness: we must prepare for infinite warfare, and arm ourselves to the teeth, and anyone with doubts is “soft on terror”; we can sneer at the preachy “compassionistas” of the United Nations and all multi-lateral diplomacy on arms limitation, because we believe in the dogma of deterrence, the sacred alliance with the USA, “peace through strength”, and “carrying a big stick”, and building “regional superiority” in submarines, and “first-day-of-the-war” capability in air-power, at whatever the cost, because of the “geo-political realities”.
Post-factual correctness: climate change is not yet proven; science is divided on whether mankind is causing it; and only “know-it-all” elitists, alarmists, and anti-capitalists try to baffle us simple folk with statistics and science.
Primeval correctness: everything was better, long, long ago – when Australia had prime ministers who were loyal royal-smoochers, when Australia was united and sensibly white, when Australia kept out trouble-makers (anti-fascists and so on), and when people with strange-sounding names and funny clothes could not come here anyway.
It is Howard’s long-cherished hallucination that people are somehow prevented from saying any of this reactionary guff. Supposedly, the iron heel of left-wing political correctness on the throat of ordinary people prevents them from daring to speak their minds. Supposedly, only heroic and defiant men, such as John Howard, have made it possible for people to speak up.
The truth is that you can hear every element of the new right-wing political correctness spouted all day on trash radio, and you can read the same stuff churned out daily by the hireling scribes of the one press mogul who dominates the print media across the nation.
Assoc. Prof. Douglas Newton is a retired academic. He is the author of a number of studies of war and peace, including most recently, The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War, 1914 (London, Verso: 2014) and Hell-bent: Australia’s Leap into the Great War (Melbourne: Scribe, 2014).