A Letter to Sussan Ley and the Liberal Party of Australia

June 18, 2023
Dear Sussan, if I can be so informal; since we are being so populist in the singular messaging (as if the population can ‘buy’ no more than the one message), I was struck by your sharing of an intimate set of moments with Peter Dutton, and “talking about a subject that he [Peter] may not […]
Dear Sussan, if I can be so informal; since we are being so populist in the singular messaging (as if the population can ‘buy’ no more than the one message),

I was struck by your sharing of an intimate set of moments with Peter Dutton, and “talking about a subject that he [Peter] may not know about, he gets involved…”

In fairness I sat and carefully listened and watched the video, and, yes, the motivations are genuine and the compassion is to be commended, but it seems that the Liberal Party of Australia cannot understand the depth of liberal philosophical thought; since Menzies compromised too much in the conservative agendas.

The thinking is philosophically uncritical. It is not nuanced and ‘charitable’ in thought. That last term is from the critical thinking field of learning, and is not about “charities”, but infers being genuine in taking a deeper view of the society, the politics, and the ideological thinking of ‘the other’ . That last term is from Emmanuel Levinas; and to illuminate its semantics, for example, do you understand my use of the term ‘ideological’. Are you charitable enough to understand that being ‘charitable’ has higher moral value in most philosophical versions of liberalism than the narrow and mean-spirit version of classic economics-driven liberalism?  I have to explain these basic terms because of a lack of education among politicians  — in the political approach — relying on “public relations” rhetoric. I am charitable enough to your message that Peter is a genuine person. I never doubted that, as another person who happens to be a scholar in personalism. But are you charitable to my deep concern — most alarmed concern — as a liberal? I am deeply concerned by the phrase that [he] “may not know about [‘the issues’], he gets involved…”

The great walkout, in recent times, of the Teal liberals from the Party speaks to the problem that I am hopefully conveying to you in a way you can understand. The problem stems from a historical thread of anti-intellectualism, most formative in American culture, and first and most significantly analysed by Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963). Saying, “he [Peter] may not know about [‘the issues’], he gets involved…”  is to infer the political types of anti-intellectualism which Hofstadter speaks of, and that I have translated to the setting of Australian history. The question of the educated Australians reading the email and listening to the video is why doesn’t the Leader of the Opposition, and potentially the next Prime Minister, know! The political rhetoric is the same populist appeal that Hofstadter, an American liberal, criticises. It is exactly the same criticism that the Party makes of “leftist activists”: “you are involved, but you do not know!”

Can the Party handle the truth, the historical truth of its situation? The Party always assumes that in difficult times that it can get out of its mess through public relations rhetoric, ignoring the Teal liberals’ prime criticism that the Party had abandoned good policy. For example, going back to Hofstadter, the Party’s historical platform is, more often than not, read as an Americanised obsession with “business”, as it first developed in the early twentieth century. As a significant historical thread, it ended up in Trumpism. Again, if the Party had listened to the Teal liberals, before the great walkout of the last election period, the Party would have not been in such a mess.

Educated Australians have had enough of the political propaganda which continually insults their intelligence. This is why the Coalition lost office at the 2022 federal election. I refer to it, sociologically and in the theories of personalism, as ‘bubble thinking’. Trying to sideline the intelligence by making populist emotional appeals will not work. The Party is most likely to be in the political wilderness for a few electoral cycles, except if it can quickly 1) get educated, 2) stop the nonsense rhetoric, and 3) formulate new and better policies. The Australian public just want good policy, and they will vote for any fool if they think the fool can get it for them as a person. This is the problem of populism. Fools, in the end, do not deliver good policy. I suggest from my own scholarly position to look at the works of more compassionate, more communitarian, and more intellectual liberals. I will not list-off my favourite historians, sociologists, and philosophers. It is time that the Party did some scholarly work, and I know many underemployed researchers, struggling in the political “business as usual”, who can assist the Party to think through the issues I have raised in this letter and could translate into good policy. It seems that governments, oppositions, and the bureaucracy have not been listening to the educators and researchers over the 30 years of my working life. I am hoping, Sussan, you might look to change that policy pattern.

Kind regards,

Historian, MPHA (Qld), Ph.D. (History) UQ., Grad. Dip. Arts (Philosophy) Melb., Grad. Dip. (Education) UQ.

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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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