Three decades have passed since American political scientist Francis Fukuyama published his influential book The End of History and the Last Man. It was a reworking of an article titled “The End of History?” that he published in the northern spring 1989 edition of The National Interest.
For some reason, Fukuyama’s question mark did not make it to his book’s title. Nevertheless, the author was always fairly certain that the end of the Cold War had ushered in the triumph of the West. Alas, it was not to be – in the period about which Fukuyama was commenting, at least.
It’s always unwise to refer to the end of something since it involves a prediction. In short, any generalisation benefits from qualification. In Australia and other Western democracies right now we may not be witnessing the end of debate. But, without question, debate and discussion has been severely curtailed during the past few years.
There is nothing particularly new about what some call cancel culture, except for the word usage. Anyone involved in the public debate in the 1960s and ’70s – within the media and on university campuses and the like – knows that left-wing activists attempt to censor the speech and writing of some conservatives, with some success.
After a time-out for Covid-19 the writers festivals are with us again, where we witness those regarded as the best and the brightest get together in front of adoring audiences and speak about the book they have written, intend to write or whatever.
There was the Adelaide Writers Week (April) and the Sydney Writers Festival (May), with the Canberra Writers Festival and Byron Writers Festival (both this month) and the Melbourne Writers Festival (next month) to follow. All these gatherings are overwhelmingly funded by commonwealth, state, territory or local governments, sometimes through various arts bodies.
This year I have analysed the Australian speakers at these gigs of the intelligentsia in my Media Watch Dog blog. I have demonstrated, without correction from any of the organisers, that all are essentially leftist stacks. I am not suggesting that every participant on the speakers’ platform at every festival is a leftist, but many are. There are also left-of-centre types, social democrats and some apolitical individuals.
However, the key point is that it is almost impossible to locate any political conservatives who have received and accepted an invitation to speak at these events, which are financed by taxpayers.
The ABC is a conservative-free zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets. The management of the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster denies this but is not able to name any one such person who fits the bill – while the fact there are numerous left-wing ABC personalities is not contested.
In the current issue of the leftist The Monthly, labour employment lawyer Josh Bornstein rips into the Coalition for its alleged attack on the ABC when in government. He maintains that, due to pressure from the Coalition, “the ABC has been recruiting more conservatives” since the early 2000s. But Bornstein doesn’t name even one current ABC conservative.
It’s much the same with writers festivals, which also have become conservative-free zones. It probably does not matter all that much since such occasions are invariably situations in which the green left speaks to the green left. But it does make such events overwhelmingly boring – as is the practice of many ABC current affairs programs – when almost everyone agrees with almost everyone else on almost everything.
A couple of examples illustrate the point concerning the forthcoming intelligentsia get-togethers, which increasingly resemble the gathering of religious believers – except that secularism prevails.
In Canberra, there is a session titled “Grilling the democracy sausage” being chaired by Chris Wallace. Her guests are former teal independent candidate Jo Dyer, Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi and Melbourne retired judge Stephen Charles. Charles is no leftist but, like the other three, he strongly favours a national anti-corruption body to oversee Australia’s democracy. Not much disagreement likely here.
Head down to Melbourne and the pro-ABC team at the MWF has scheduled a session titled “Who Needs the ABC?” – taken from the title of the book by academics Matthew Ricketson and Patrick Mullins. In addition to those authors, panellists are ABC faves Judith Brett and Osman Faruqi, plus Jonathan Holmes (head of ABC Alumni) and Sophie Black (formerly of Crikey and who heads projects at the left-of-centre Wheeler Centre). Ricketson and Mullins (who is a fine historian) are essentially ABC barrackers who simply dismiss critics as ill-informed.
Perhaps the topic for the session should be renamed “Who needs debate?” after a session where all on the panel will essentially agree with each other and the view of not even one ABC critic will be heard. It’s destined to be like a religious Billy Graham rally of old – except the participants will “come on down” and declare their allegiance to the ABC.
It is this kind of mindset that makes so many ABC programs such as The Drum, Insiders and Q+A boring. In a recent article in Nine’s newspapers, its culture writer Karl Quinn attributed the consistent lack of political balance on Q+A to the fact conservatives are invited but decline to appear. Presumably because they will be outnumbered on the panel and subjected to a baying mob in the audience. There is some truth in this – but not much. There are many Australian conservatives who have been cancelled by the ABC – ABC management knows this – and do not appear or even get mentioned on ABC programs.
The fact is that there is more debate on Sky News in Australia and Fox News in the US than on the ABC. Sky has several left-of-centre paid contributors. Moreover, it encourages debate – as was witnessed recently when Andrew Bolt disagreed with Chris Kenny over the Indigenous voice to parliament and former Liberal Party candidate Katherine Deves went head-to-head with former Labor Party operative Nicholas Reece.
Last week on Fox’s MediaBuzz program, presenter Howard Kurtz presided over a debate between conservative Will Cain and liberal (in the US sense of the term) Laura Fink. There is no debate on the ABC Media Watch program.
Debate has not ended in Australia. But it is certainly in extremis on the public broadcaster and at literary festivals throughout the land.