Illiberalism ascendant: The Dunkley by-election and the cost of doing business

Mar 8, 2024
3rd January 2019, Melbourne Australia : Front view of the Parliament of Victoria with name written on a board and old Victorian street lamp close-up in Melbourne Victoria Australia

The liberal international order has been responsible for a great many deaths. If the “anti-liberal internationale” becomes ascendant, however, we will see those numbers multiplied exponentially. It is not a stretch to say that the Liberal Party’s campaign in the Dunkley by-election places them firmly in the illiberal category. This is hardly surprising since several Liberal Party grandees and other strategists are firmly ensconced in the Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s propaganda network, and he is the leader of that illiberal faction.

In December 2023, Donald Trump said that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” It echoes similar sentiments from the illiberal leader of the aspiring autocrats, Viktor Orbán: “We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race … and we do not want to become a mixed race.” The eugenicist messaging is reminiscent of the Third Reich, and Hitler used the metaphor of outsiders poisoning the nation’s blood in Mein Kampf. Orban has visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago this week as though the latter was running a parallel illiberal state.

The ideology that links the anti-liberal internationale can be defined as “traditionalism.” There is a philosophical version that inspires many of the leading actors and the White supremacist militants. The populist version creates a mythical past where a virtuous ethnostate functioned in unity and purpose. It is patriarchal: women knew their subordinate place, submissively breeding for the family and the nation. There is no room for Queer people in a world where the superior ethnic group must reproduce for national strength. There is little room for aberrant women who won’t be domesticated. And there must be no room for women breeding with men who aren’t of the privileged race.

The messaging deployed in Dunkley falls into this category. The Liberal Party’s leaders had chosen to dwell on borders and the dormant story of the High Court’s release of people indefinitely detained. Advance, an Atlas Network-connected body, that exists to foster community discord thus helping the Coalition return to government on the wave of grievance voting had paid to have lurid advertisements published on the issue (relishing its cashed up status including payments for “working” for its charity-status-affiliate).

Surprisingly, two days before the by-election, Victoria Police made a mistake by publicising the arrest on sexual assault charges of one of that category of detainee before, some hours later, admitting that they had mistaken his identity.

The Liberal leadership pounced on this timely error by Victoria Police and spent the hours and days following sensationalising the mistaken arrest and the threat to women in the electorate. Some of the wording demands the label fascistic politicking.

The Liberal Party and Advance did not succeed this time, even with the convenient mistake made by Victoria Police. The goal of the Atlas Network and philosophical Traditionalists has been the slow destruction of the modern, diverse, democratic project. The goal of the more extreme traditionalists has been Accelerationist. This demands shoving crowbars into the cracks in the democratic project and propelling it towards immediate destruction. The damage done in any one campaign must not be assessed on its own merits but in the steps taken to imminent or longterm collapse.

The Atlas Network’s goal has been to damage civil society around the world to make welcome ground for (American) corporations. Some of the donors and strategists see deploying anti-immigrant and anti-refugee messaging as a useful distraction from the ultra-free market goals. Promoting the hatred of Queer people, ensuring they are bashed or murdered or driven to suicide, is a small price to pay for people who think payouts to the families of the dead are cheaper than maintenance work on expensive infrastructure, the “cost of doing business.”

Other donors and strategists are firmly in the traditionalism sphere where they despise “woke.” For them this denotes societies that are inclusive of “race” and race-mixing, sexuality and gender diversity. The “unity” of their nostalgic imagined past is fractured by liberal tolerance of difference. This is central to Vladimir Putin and his ally Orban. It is Trump MAGA and, apparently, the Coalition’s Australia.

For these traditionalists, there is a “visceral disgust” felt at bodies that defy their straitjacketed definitions of acceptable. Queer and Brown people or non-feminine women, even the fat, are disgusting. And their bigotry-infused morality allows them to confuse that feeling of disgust for a “moral abhorrence” of the target.

The Liberal Party and Atlas-connected Advance both needed the imaginary crime of the refugee to be sexual in nature because the safety and purity of White women is one of their primary weapons against the rest of us.

Traditionalism is also entrenched in an early 2000s clash of civilisations where the “Muslim world” replaced the “Iron Curtain” as the implacable foe. Any implied Muslim (which includes Christian Palestinians as well as refugees) is utterly disposable in the existential battle they wage in their crusade.

Thus Israel’s “Jewish Nationalists” and India’s Hindutva are allies against the selected “Muslim enemy.” China is characterised as a global threat, so sometimes these figures care for the Uighur population suffering ethnic cleansing by China, but they are just as likely to share China’s characterisation of (Muslim) resistance to oppression as “terror.”

Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin are both eagerly awaiting Trump’s reinstatement, indeed probably shaping their own military goals to help him win in November. If Trump wins, these ethnic cleansers will be even freer to kill the inconvenient populations on the land they want for their empires.

Meanwhile, for free market devotees, the chaos will elicit plentiful disaster capitalism windfalls. And traditionalism’s disdain for empirical knowledge has been their friend in fighting climate science. Trump will roll back Biden’s crucial transition bill and free the illiberal petrostates from the despised limping towards some kind of international consensus on climate action.

When Liberal Party figures play Orbanist games to win by-elections, they further their last decade’s efforts to push Australia’s democratic process towards illiberalism.

All the people harmed – or killed – in the process are just the cost of doing business.


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