Friday, December 06, 2013

Not a thought revolution

Clive Palmer is an Australian mining magnate who threw a lot of money into the last election and won a seat.

In his maiden speech to parliament Palmer called for a "thought revolution." Unfortunately, rather than proposing anything new, he presented yet again the ideal of an "economic man" whose first commitment is to economic matters. He said,
Australia needs a revolution in the way we think, in the way we boost our wealth and economy for all our citizens...Our main concern needs to rest with how we can grow and expand our economy and create more wealth.

This is just more of the same from right-liberals. Left-liberals too, when you get to the crux of what they believe, think that a professional career is the main prize in life.

However, in another speech Palmer did reference the concept of fidelity. He got it disastrously wrong, but it's interesting that it still has significance for him.

Fidelity, as I understand the concept, is a turning toward the relationships we are made for, and which call us to service as an expression of who we are. There are many such relationships, but one of them is to our ancestors.

Palmer had this to say:
We need to make sure we can generate more prosperity and growth for Australians so that families have a better standard of living.

We have a very lucky country and we're standing on the shoulders of our ancestors to carry our tradition forward to the next century.

Again, there's that ideal of the "economic man" - that what matters is success in the market. But nonetheless Palmer, for rhetorical effect at least, still invokes the idea of having a debt to previous generations and a responsibility to carry forward a tradition. There is still some semblance of an idea of fidelity toward one's ancestors.

But he has misunderstood the tradition he is to carry forward. Federation of the Australian states was argued for on the basis that economic considerations shouldn't outweigh ties of ancestral kinship. For instance, the following poem was recited at federation meetings by a future PM, Alfred Deakin:
From all division let our land be free,
For God has made her one: complete she lies
Within the unbroken circle of the skies,
And round her indivisible the sea
Breaks on her single shore; while only we,
Her foster children, bound with sacred ties
Of one dear blood, one storied enterprise,
Are negligent of her integrity.—
Her seamless garment, at great Mammon's nod,
With hands unfilial we have basely rent,
With petty variance our souls are spent,
And ancient kinship under foot is trod

Palmer is reversing the message of the generation that federated Australia: he wants to steer course according to "great Mammon's nod" even if this harms the ties held sacred by the federation poet.


  1. What does he think the main concern is now if it's not about wealth?

    1. He still thinks the main concern is about economic matters. He is still pushing forward a view of economic man. I was just interested that he still has some kind of an idea that he is supposed to have fidelity when it comes to ancestry.

  2. I don't necessarily see anything objectionable in those Palmer quotes. I haven't read his actual speech, but is there anything necessarily wrong with "growth", "prosperity" and a "better standard of living"? Greed and crass materialism is one thing, but creating wealth to make a better life for yourself and your family, or to improve the quality of life of the whole nation, shouldn't be something conservatives set themselves against. The alternative is deterioration, or stagnation. Maybe that wasn't what you meant, but it's the only conclusion I can draw, based on those quotes you've provided. But then again, I haven't actually read the whole speech.

    1. Npinkpanther, the point is not that conservatives are set against a good standard of living. What we are set against is the reduction of man to "economic man." If that is all that right-wing politicians can manage then we are lost.

      People sometimes wonder how the West got into the mess that it's in. They shouldn't wonder. If you look inside the heads of the political, intellectual and religious classes you will find nothing there but losing ideas.

      The idea of "economic man" is one of these losing ideas. It typically leads to a nation being treated in economic terms, as if it were a company. And it leads too to an impoverished view of what a man is, and what he is called to do in life.