A Confederacy of Dunces


These days conservatives are just gob-smacked at their own inability to land a decent smack on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s gob. Desperate to gain traction with an old agenda that the public is tiring of, the right has been looking for inspiration in some curious places.

On the political front, Tony Abbott talking up Peter Costello is sounding more like Billy Birmingham impersonating Bill Laurie ("I love him! I wanna boof him!! Get him up here!!!").

And if Michelle Grattan is to be believed, it seems Costello’s publisher might have a greater say in Brendan Nelson’s political future than the party room. The other day in The Age, Grattan quoted MUP CEO Louise Adler as saying: "Our advice would be to all our authors – including Peter Costello – that before publication they minimise media appearances". Yep, and keep your colleagues guessing in the process.

Meanwhile, in Kevin Rudd’s home state, conservatives have decided their fortunes are best served by merging into an entity whose name sounds like some weird Kiwistani soft drink.

On the allegedly intellectual front, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a former Dutch far-Right MP) wants to give Kevin Rudd lessons on the thought of neo-liberal author FA Hayek. Hirsi Ali might do with a few lessons on honesty and integrity herself, especially when it comes to filling out immigration forms. It was revealed in May last year that she manufactured key facts used in her asylum application. Her Dutch parliamentary colleagues abandoned her and she resigned in disgrace after being offered a lifeline by the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Rebecca Weisser, opinion editor of The Australian and (judging by this generous write-up) a huge fan of Hirsi Ali, writes:

"After the dinner, the Somalian-born Hirsi Ali said she would send Mr Rudd a copy of Hayek’s seminal 1944 work The Road to Serfdom. ‘I know he’s a busy man, so I’ll highlight the relevant sections,’ she said. ‘Hayek was a critic of larger government, a bureaucratic hand, to achieve social justice and in sharing income.’"

(If this piece is any indication, Weisser might also have some interesting things to teach Rudd on serfdom and slavery, which she claims was as much the fault of the enslaved peoples as it is of the West. According to her, recent efforts by some of the beneficiaries of that exploitation to apologise for it and make amends amount to "an orgy of muddled self-castigation".)

Hirsi Ali’s hubris is astounding. On the one hand, she claims to be a student of Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich August von Hayek. I can’t claim to be an expert on Hayek, but I did learn a thing or two about him when I attended a weekend Liberty and Society workshop organised by the Centre for Independent Studies in July 1996. The CIS is the think tank that invited Hirsi Ali and a number of other guests to visit Australia to speak at their recent Big Ideas Forum.

Our instructors included one Professor Wolfgang Kasper, who provided us with a set of notes entitled "Liberty and Prosperity". On page 17 of those notes, Kasper refers to volume 1 of Hayek’s book Law, Legislation and Liberty to discuss and differentiate two ways in which the interaction of diverse human actions can be coordinated or ordered.

The first of the two ways is an arrangement under which "commands are passed from top down and individual agents obey, in other words, a made or organised order".

The second arrangement is "a spontaneous or grown order in which independent people with diverse individual goals interact on the basis of some shared rules (institutions) and discover and test new knowledge in the feedback of signals they send each other".

And Hayek’s conclusion? That in modern complex societies, organised order just doesn’t work. Rather, what governments need to do is provide institutional rules like private property rights, the rule of law, contractual freedom etc. And that the most enduring and desirable social orders and institutions are the ones that emerge spontaneously from civil society.

Sounds good? Enduring social orders through spontaneity and freedom? I think it sounds quite OK. And I reckon so does Kevin Rudd. But what about Hirsi Ali?

Well apparently she has little or no idea of what Hayek is on about. How could she when she openly advocates the closing of faith-based independent schools and imprisoning those teaching intelligent design.

I’d like to offer my CIS seminar notes to Hirsi Ali. I’ll even highlight them in case she is too busy writing her next children’s book.

With such light-weight political and intellectual forces at his disposal to attack Rudd, is it any wonder those close to Peter Costello are predicting he will almost certainly retire from politics?

And as if to reinforce the intellectual eccentricity on the allegedly conservative side, Hirsi Ali was joined by an American global warming sceptic who still supports the Iraq War and who wanted the United States to invade Iran back in 2006!

If this is the best intellectual and political opposition so-called conservatives can offer Rudd, he can probably look forward to at least as many years in the Lodge as his predecessor. Aussie voters won’t need Hayek to convince them that spontaneously voting for Rudd at federal elections will make the country far more enduring.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.