It seems that I'm not the only one to find the magazine uninspiring. Guy Rundle is an independent-minded Australian leftist. He's an editor of Arena magazine and he writes occasionally for the Guardian. Rundle wrote a critique of The Monthly last year. Having listed the feature articles of one edition of the magazine, he commented:
I’m sure that all these will be well-written and also that none of the ideas in them will be particularly challenging.
And, as the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, there seems a marginality to the concerns, a degree of preciousness in the approach...
That’s the core of the magazine, and there’s something missing, i.e. a core. From global economics, to what appears to be the meltdown of West Asia, from a critical account of Ruddism ... to the changing nature of identity … The Monthly seems to be missing a great deal of it. In the early period of Warhaft’s editorship there were essays by Anne Manne, which constituted the closest the publication came to mixing some Big Ideas into among the reportage ... Apart from the PM’s contributions of course...
All well and good, but aren’t there any other bloody ideas around, except those that flow from the PM?...
When the world is in face-masks, General Motors is asking to be nationalised, the Taliban is marching on Islamabad, the Chinese are calling for a new global currency, more live organ transplants are the result of cash transaction than donation, and the newspaper appears on the verge of winking out of existence, etc etc the failure to take on Big Ideas becomes unignorable, a gaping hole. To not recognise that the left-liberal ideology, really a late Whitlamism, of a well-connected elite is simply a bubble on the stream, is to miss a great historical opportunity...
That relative absence of ideas applies, I hasten to add, not only to the absence of writers further left than a leftish-centre, though their absence is striking — no Jeff Sparrow, Katherine Wilson, Mark Bahnisch, John Quiggin, Geoff Boucher, Larissa Behrendt, Humphrey McQueen, Terry Janke, Mark Davis (the Gangland one), Julie Stephens, David McKnight, Anita Heiss and that’s right off the top of me head — but no interesting classical/neo-liberals either — Jason Soon, Andrew Norton, Charles Richardson, Rafe Champion — or genuine conservatives like Mark Richardson, John Carroll, Pierre Ryckmans. No longer critical pieces from the likes of Christos Tsiolkas, Owen Richardson, David Bennett, Eve Vincent, Bob Ellis, Germaine Greer, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Mischa Merz, Gig Ryan … and on and on. Even leaving out people whose writing is too academic or activist you can field a pretty impressive team.
I would dare to suggest that a contents at least partly drawn from the above would render a publication with more punch than the current line up. Doubtless some of these people have been asked and declined (and some have got the occasional guernsey), but I know that most would jump at the dollar-a-word fee. Some are overexposed and you’d use them sparingly — certainly more sparingly than the limited roll-call of the existing Monthly contributors — but so many of the existing writers are, compared to the above lot, so goddam tepid.
I thought this interesting. First, Rundle gets the political spectrum right. He lists a series of writers on the left, and then some writers he calls classical or neo-liberals (i.e. right liberals) and then a few writers he terms genuine conservatives, namely myself, John Carroll and Pierre Ryckmans. (John Carroll is the author of the excellent work Humanism: the Wreck of Western Culture.)
Interesting too that Rundle correctly describes left-liberalism as an ideology; that he sees its followers not as underdog outsiders but as part of a "well-connected elite"; and that he views left-liberal ideology not as a universal and final truth bringing us to the end of history but as a bubble on the stream.
Note too that Rundle perceives the world to be "coming apart at the seams". There seems to be a growing perception across the political spectrum that all is not well with the West and that there are signs of decline.
There are shifts occurring in politics. Yes, they are happening more slowly than many of us would like. But think back to the late 1980s, early 1990s (if you're old enough). Back then left-liberalism utterly dominated Australian politics. It stood as a monolith that few were willing to openly criticise. If you wanted to be thought of as a good person you were supposed to embrace orthodox left-liberal views.
It's not that left-liberalism has entirely lost this status. It's still the largest single current of thought in the political class. But it's not as monolithic as it once was. It's not thought of as being as natural or eternal a source of political authority as it was in the late 1980s. Even in its Scandinavian heartland, mainstream left-liberalism has lost its monopoly on politics.
We don't know what opportunities this changing political landscape will eventually bring to traditionalists. I expect that there will be, at least, waves of opportunity that we need to try to put ourselves in a position to catch and make use of.