Since the Australian election result the response from the media commentators has been a predictable triumphalism from those on the right, hand-wringing and quiet anguish from those not on the right. And no doubt there will be amplified versions in the days following George W Bush’s election win in the States.
However, I believe that both the right and the ‘not-right’ (I wouldn’t say ‘the left’) are wrong in their responses to recent political developments. The reason for this is that they both operate according to the liberal hypothesis that nations exist as assemblages of citizens who have a choice as to which policies their government pursues: they can either go for a dynamic, deregulated world of entrepreneurial capitalism without worrying too much about ‘society’, or they can go for a blend of dynamic capitalism and social democracy, a cuddly world of targeted social policies, recycling and reconciliation. Both sides of politics believe that, fundamentally, either model will work long-term -it’s merely that the right would see the social democratic world as painfully undynamic and not developing capital quickly enough, and the ‘not-right’ would see the right’s vision as cruel and socially divisive.
On the other hand there is the view that in the long-run there is no choice, that neither the fundamentalist market vision of the right, or the social democratic model (market vision with a couple of coats of quick-drying concern) will preserve a technology-based society in Australia (or anywhere) beyond the horizon of global warming and the oncoming exhaustion of fossil-fuels. There have been too many doom-mongers already since the 1960s to want to join their ranks, but it is looking more and more as if our dreams of continuing to develop as both sides of politics would wish we can are utopian visions, more suited to an imaginary world of unlimited resources, rather than the world of limited resources we actually inhabit, and which we are rapidly depleting. Whatever choices the electorates, whatever the ideology followed, in the various developed countries it is likely the developments of the next few decades will necessitate similar responses across all these countries.
So if we ask which kind of politics makes more sense, the answer, on a fundamental level, is neither, because both are based on the idea that business as usual can and must continue as at present. If, however, we ask which type of politics is likely to prepare us better for the very great changes to our way of life and world-view that are surely ahead then you should say the ‘not-right’, as sensible social-planning, redistributional policies and more egalitarian societies, it can be plausibly argued, are likely to cushion the shock of the transition to the world beyond modernity better than market-oriented individualistic solutions (social democratic Denmark, for example, has managed better than any other country the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as the source of its energy needs, and now generates forty percent of its power from wind turbines). And the right’s market solutions in a world of declining prosperity and resources are likely to be Orwellian, to say the least.
It is to be hoped that the lesson that Labor learns from its 2004 election defeat is not to jettison its few useful policies and try to ape all the absurdities of the Howard government’s irrelevant agenda, but to consider what long-term changes are inevitable, what the implications of these are, and what policies would best prepare us for these changes.
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