Thursday, October 05, 2006

Quadrant: desperate for an enemy

I don't know a lot about the magazine Quadrant. I'd heard of it and recently I discovered an edition lying around at a family member's house. Besides this, I've had little exposure to it. When I came across the magazine recently, I read an article by Paddie McGuiness, the current editor and was shocked at the tone of anger, resentment and hatred of the Humanities in Australian Universities and the way that the Australian Research Grant Scheme is set up to, in his opinion, favour the Humanities. I flicked through the rest of the magazine and the views it reflected were much the same. I threw it aside, looking for something more interesting to read. It was only after hearing a moving interview on Radio National yesterday with previous Quadrant editor Robert Manne commenting on Prime Minister John Howard's speech at Quadrant's 50th anniversary dinner, and then doing a search on the Internet, that I found out a bit about the magazine's history, and the role it has played in the so called "Cultural Wars" in Australia. For those familiar with its history, this is probably rather dull but I was fascinated to find out how the magazine was set up in Australia in the 1950's as part of a defensive against the spread of communism in the West, and the powerful Australian figures that have been associated with the magazine over the years.

When I imagine the group of extraordinarily wealthy and powerful Australians that attended the anniversary of Quadrant on Tuesday night, all rubbing shoulders and basking in their own glory, at least a dozen little jigsaw pieces fell into place for me in terms of understanding what has happened and is continuting to happen in Australia's political and cultural landscape. As Robert Manne so eloquently pointed out, this group has been working hard and largely successfully at defining Australia in terms of an ideological struggle. But what I realized is that this idealogical struggle was to a large extent articulated long before Howard was elected around a decade ago. It dates back to the onset of the cold war in the 1950's. Writing on the history of the magazine, Cassandra Plybus notes that, "Quadrant was the brainchild of Richard Krygier, the founding secretary of the Australian branch of the Congress for Cultural Freedom which was established by the CIA in 1950 as a key element in their strategy to combat Soviet propaganda."

What is so notable to me about Howard's regime is this absolute committment to constructing an idea as well as the lived reality of Australia's nationhood in terms of a fight against an enemy, and how this stance has been fuelled. For years, the "enemy" was conceived as the Intellectual Left in Australia and in particular, any individual or group who articulated a critical view of the entrenched narratives that had become historical orthodoxy in Australia, particularly narratives of Australia's discovery, exploration and contact with Indigenous Australians. The construction of the Left as being the "enemy" of Liberals in Australia and by implication the "enemy" of liberal democratic thinking is maintained and reinforced today through a stream of finger-pointing rhetoric, cleverly "dropped" to the media, and immediately gobbled up, like so many chocolate-covered poison pellets. Howard's numerous interferences this year into Australia's education curriculum and his assertions of the curriculum being "hijacked" by political correctness and post-modern thinking is a case in point. But as Manne so succinctly summed up - ideological struggles can only maintain their momentum by convincing others of the ascendancy of an enemy. If the so called enemy is in decline, then what's the point?

I wonder if it is not too far fetched to suggest that the "discovery" of the new enemy of terrorism is a necessary move that has come about with the marginalisation of the Left in Australia and the increasing difficulting in convincing any "ordinary Australian" of its threat. The fear of terrorism fuels an entirely new (old) ideological struggle, and is the new object for Howard and his Quadrant fellows to continue to define Australia in terms of its enemies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you helped me with my homework. :D