Quarterly Essay #37

What did George W. Bush and John Howard do to conservatism?  In their wake, the conservative parties in the US and Australia seem to have lost their way – they no longer have a vision of the future.  Their neoconservative foreign policies and neoliberal economics have been discredited, and they are split on climate change and much else.  How did the Right in Australia end up in this place?  How might it renew itself?

In this groundbreaking essay, Waleed Aly begins by unravelling the terms Right and Left, arguing that they have become meaningless – they only foster a political conversation that becomes more about ‘teams’ than ideas.  He discusses neoliberal economics and its corrosive effect on the social fabric, and how, in response, Howard-style conservatism was all too ready to dictate social values, even to the point of prescribing who or what is Australian.

Aly discusses what a better conservatism might look like.  He argues that the political issues of the day, such as climate change and the financial crisis, mean a reactionary brand of politics is unlikely to work because public opinion is swiftly leaving it behind.  He draws on the work of conservative thinkers such as John Gray, Owen Harries and even P.J. O’Rourke to sketch the kind of conservatism that seems scarce in Australia, but which would be a welcome presence.

Quarterly Essay #37 - What's Right? The Future of Conservatism in Australia
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